National Refugee Day 2021

#WeAreScotland

June 20th is National Refugee Day. This opinion piece by Alf Dubs in the Graun points out that if the current policies of the UK government were extant in pre-WWII days, then thousands of Czech refugees, including those of the kindertransport, spirited away from the Nazi occupation by the actions of Doreen Warriner, Nicholas Winton and others would not have been saved. Sad, but true.

As one of the kindertransport children himself, Dubs credits the saving of their lives to the  compassion of one man, Winton, and the humanity of the country.

Personally, I find it rather sad that Dubs remains unaware of the real driving force behind the exodus of the Czech refugees, Warriner, but that’s not nearly as sad as the loss of this country’s humanity, particularly as demonstrated by its current government.

Dubs may not have known of the wider history of the kindertransport, but you can read my take on the bigger picture from the perspective of my father and paternal grandparents  pictured below, here.

Czech refugees at High Cross Castle, an English Lake District youth hostel. My grandfather is at the extreme left and my grandmother and father are front row left.

… and to top it off, the grand-parental origins of my family comprise more than just a political refugee; they include a displaced person, an economic migrant and a geordie. #diverse

Anglo-Czech, Irish-Italian, European. #WeAreScotland

A limerick a week #248

A bit of a Grilling…

This week’s ALAW is inspired by (i) a recent night out that ended up at a venerable Aberdeen institition and (ii) the pecuniary perils of sampling its menu of single malts. 

A chap once went out on the lash
And drank away all of his cash,
But he gave not a damn,
Drinking dram after dram.
‘Twas a Rabelasian stramash!

(Despite the impression given by the limerick, social distancing was observed at all times on the evening in question and no miscreant behaviour took place! The bit about pouring all your money down your throat is, though, sadly true.)

Postscript: although it is now a very welcoming pub, The Grill has history. Being a ‘men only’ pub at the time, it was invaded by female trade unionists in 1973, but even after that women were not allowed to be served until 1975 and female toilets were not installed until 1998! You can read some of its history here.

A limerick a week #247

Algorithms + Data Structures = Bollocks

… more often than you’d think.

I’d never actually heard of algorithms until many moons ago when, as a 23-year-old zoology graduate, I needed to bring my maths, stats and computing up to speed if I was to get the job I was after as a fisheries scientist.

So, being a glutton for punishment, I signed up for the most masochistic educational experiences of my life aka the University of York’s MSc in Biological Computation.

One of the books on its reading list was entitled ‘Data Structures + Algorithms = Programs’. Well, that equation was news to me, but despite my less-than-mathematical brain, I somehow managed to pass the course and went forth having successfully added ‘algorithm’ to my lexicon.

Scroll forward many years, and algorithms seem to rule everything from Little Britain’s ‘Computer says “No”‘ to recommendations for pages or ‘friends’ to follow on social media. A bank manager won’t refuse you a loan, but an algorithm will!

Of course algorithms can be seriously flawed. As the Graun reported nearly a decade ago:

“the very feature that makes algorithms so valuable – their ability to replicate human decision-making in a fraction of the time – can be a double-edged sword. If the observed human behaviours that dictate how an algorithm transforms input into output are flawed, we risk setting in motion a vicious circle when we hand over responsibility to The Machine”.

The most notable flaws appear to be that ‘human behaviours’ are often biased, sexist, racist or as many other ‘ist’s, subconcious or otherwise, that you can think of. That’s not something to desire in an objective decision-making system, particularly when, as last year in the UK, many students’ exam outcomes were downgraded based on their schools’ past results despite their own, individual strong performance.

On a lighter note, the weakness of algorithms can be seen in some of the recommendations made to me on social media.

As a bit of a canal anorak, I follow the ‘Foxes Afloat’ Instagram page and their YouTube channel and I have occasionally ‘liked’ one of their posts. So why, as a benign anti-monarchist, does my ‘like’ of an Instagram post about a gay couple living aboard a narrowboat with their cocker spaniel Otis, result in a recommendation for an Instagram post that shows HRH the Prince of Wales (alongside the present Mrs Wales) simply because you liked a post from foxesafloat?

Or why should Facebook feel a recommendation is in order for me to join a Facebook Group of manicure enthusiasts, or one of horse lovers, simply because some friends are members WHEN I DON’T HAVE ANY FACEBOOK FRIENDS!

(I don’t like Facebook, I’m on it, or rather my dog is, because it’s the only way to receive notifications about her agility class and that’s the way it will stay because although I have friends that are on Facebook, they are precisely that, friends, and Facebook has nothing to do with it!)

So, today’s limerick is a bit of a rant…

Insta’s ‘recommend’ algorithm
Deserves to be met with derision
‘Cos I always dislike
What it thought that I’d like.
It’s just guesswork that’s lacking precision!

A limerick a week #246

Running out of time…

I was sorry to hear that the British long distance runner Ron Hill had died recently at the age of 82.

Not only was he the UK’s leading marathon runner of the 60s and early 70s, but he was also a manufacturer of running kit that never wore out – perhaps that’s why his business ran into financial difficulties in the early 1990s!

I still have a pair of perfectly serviceable Ron Hill tracksters from the late 1980s!

Longevity extended beyond his eponymous running kit as he also ran at least one mile a day for over 52 years; his continuous daily running streak ended in 2017 at the age of 78!

Here’s the limerick…

An athlete who could never stand still
Kept on running and running until
He could no longer race
Or keep up with the pace
‘Cos by then he was over the hill

A limerick a week #245

Cummings and goings…

So, former Tory advisor Dominic Cummings has gone to war with the UK’s Tory Government via his appearance this week before Parliament’s joint meeting of its Health, and Science & Technology Committees. (Personally, I think it’s a bit rich for Cummings to try to come across as the good guy in a nest of vipers, but c’est la vie!)

Anyway, Government Ministers subsequently had their chance to respond to his claims, but, interestingly, the only thing this stooshie between former colleagues has laid bare is, to use an erstwhile phrase, them’s ALL bas**rds!

An eye test chart inspired by Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle (a place I know well through family links)

As an advisor he ended up branded
A liar and most underhanded,
But Cummings, it seems,
Plots revenge in his dreams.
OMG the ego has landed!

Postscript: anyone who viewed last week’s ALAW solely through the email that is automatically sent to subscribers, may be wondering which Gershwin classic had never been so ill-suited to me.

Sometimes the WordPress notification emails don’t render the posts in their entirety (and often render them badly!) and missing from last week’s notification was an embedded video clip from the film An American in Paris showing Gene Kelly singing and tapping along to I got rhythm

(You can always view the posts as intended at: https://blog.piscibus.com)

A limerick a week #244

Tap is back!

In my youthful, rugby-playing days I lacked the ability to sidestep or jink so I was never picked in the backs, but played as a forward where the game was less finessed and just a bit more ‘agricultural’.

I have since learnt that I bring the same agrarian attributes to my attempts at tap. I’ve missed them, but, as Aberdeen’s Citymoves dance classes recommence after lockdown, never has the Gershwin classic been so ill-suited…

A dancer once thought that he would
Tap just as fast as he could.
Though his footwork was crass
He brought joy to his class
‘Cos he made all the others look good!

A limerick a week #243

Bringing up the rear (again)…

I’m not quite sure where this week’s ALAW comes from. Maybe it’s that I’ve not been away on holiday for a while and the last one, June two years ago, was a holiday in Mallorca that inspired ALAW#142.

Anyway, here’s a corresponding limerick to that one, with the lascivious rôles reversed in aid of ALAW gender balance…

There once was a lass from Mallorca
Saw a bloke whose butt was a corker
When she first made a pass
She felt quite an ass
Which, really, she shouldn’t have ought ter!

Postscript: Yup, I know. It’s the third time I’ve used ought ter as a rhyme; the second time it’s been done in association with shouldn’t have; and this week it’s not even a true rhyme, but, hey, throw me a bone! You try writing 240+ limericks without any repetition and with 100% perfect rhymes🤪

 

A limerick a week #242

Hmmm, nice buns!

I woke up this morning – ALAW publication day – with no limerick in mind. Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately given what it gave rise to) a quick read of today’s Graun elicited the fact that lockdown has seen the number of British naturists ‘soar’.

Apparently…

British nudists’ group reports exponential growth in participation in online events since pandemic restrictions came into force“.

A nude bakery class seems to be popular, Naked kitchen with Pam, no less, but one in which participants’ webcams must be switched on to avoid “lurking perverts” – perish the thought!

Anyway, thus inspired (as an occasional-but-fully-clad baker myself) a quiet, contemplative walk in some woodland avec mon chien resulted in this week’s less than memorable ALAW.

One of the posters I put together a few years ago to publicise my old work team’s coffee club and home-baking extravaganza. Perhaps a revamp into ‘Home Baking for Nudist’ is called for?!

A baker was really quite lewd
When baking some bread in the nude
‘Cos to knock the dough back
He gave it a whack
With a tool that’s exceedingly rude.

A limerick a week #241

The sphere of influence

Spherocytosis, usually a hereditary condition, is one in which the proteins that are supposed to make your red blood cells (erythrocytes) form into biconcave discs are miscoded and, instead, ultimately result in smaller, spherical cells (spherocytes).

Erythrocyte (left) and spherocyte (right). The images are not to the same scale. The spherocyte is smaller than the erythrocyte. (Images from “Tabuk University Hematology – 1, MLT 205 Hereditary Spherocytosis” Mr. Waggas Ela’as)

Spherocytes are broken down by the spleen much more readily than erythrocytes and this may lead to various issues including a haemolytic anaemia.

All of which is why I’m giving a shout-out to The Tall Child who has non-hereditary spherocytosis (his was a spontaneous case). Although not anaemic, his blood haemoglobin is at the low end of normal. Spherocytes are also known to offload oxygen to cells less efficiently than erythrocytes so, coupled to low haemoglobin levels, one consequence can be to become fatigued more easily. Despite that, over the course of nine weeks he has followed the UK NHS structured ‘couch-to-5K’ programme and, last week, he successfully hit the thirty minute run on target.

Not the end of the final run in the programme, but an earlier one in which he out-sprinted me at the finish (he has youth and long legs on his side!)

Well done Ben, that’s brilliant!

A young man with odd-shaped corpuscles
Once ran from Dundee o’er to Brussels.
He trained for the fray
On the couch-to-5K
And it gave him some very sore muscles!