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Travel guidelines

I’m reminded again of the necessity, in certain countries, for the traveller (ie tourist) to submit to the authority of a succession of personal guides. In the Berber village of Chebika our driver and guide, Taher, passed us over to Hassan, a cheery local guide in traditional dress, who not only helped us scramble up … Continue reading

Bulk data collection and privacy

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said that when crossing a busy road he instinctively looked away from oncoming traffic for fear of having his image captured on a dashcam. People are more easily recognised face-on than in profile. That short observation from his book Permanent Record delineates some salient themes in the so-called smart city: risk, … Continue reading

Nested parentheticals

Sometimes it’s hard to get back on track. People tell stories and construct arguments with subplots and digressions. It’s fine for stories to wander. But for coherence we expect the story-teller to return to the main point, to rewind the string they just unravelled back into a neat ball. One of Trump’s improvised speeches illustrates … Continue reading

Infinite souq

Retractable queue barriers funnel airport passengers in twisted but orderly lines. These security labyrinths manage large numbers of people within a confined space. They also keep people on the move, turning compliant travellers into unceremonious processionalists. Umberto Eco thinks the detective story is like a labyrinth. He identified 3 types of labyrinth: the kind that … Continue reading

Escapology 101

Biologists and animal behaviourists refer to their study of escape responses as escapology. Fish, cockroaches and higher animals move at speed in a direction away from an immediate threat from a predator, but not always, and not directly. The direction of the escape travel depends on the lay of the land, the position of likely … Continue reading

The treehouse

A treehouse provides both prospect and refuge. It’s built to position its residents some distance above the ground. A treehouse is organic and improvised, structured to oblige its particular and uncertain superstructure — the tree. The structure is usually additive. It looks as though it could extend further into the tree canopy, and even connect … Continue reading

Wild signs (Africa edition)

As anyone who walks, treks, or rambles in the countryside knows, nature is replete with messages. Animals deposit and pick up trails and traces. They communicate within and across groups, populations, species and families. They broadcast, narrowcast, and live stream messages to friends, rivals, predators and prey, deliberately, inadvertently, or even falsely. Not all channels … Continue reading

Riddle of the Sphinx

When is a riddle like a passcode? That’s not a riddle by the way. The Sphinx guarded the gate to the city of Thebes and required travellers to answer a riddle before gaining access to the city. Riddles are a bit like passcodes. They typically present as permutations, combination of elements, albeit for small numbers, … Continue reading

Families and crime: Kompromat 102

“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” said convicted felon Michael Cohen, “I put family and country first” (ABC article). This is clearly no legal defence, but an attempt at public sympathy at least. He loves his wife and kids. How bad can he be? Loyalty to family … Continue reading

Individual-1: Kompromat 101

I’ve been trying to understand how Russia and the Kremlin are reputed to exert their soft-power influences on other states. I’ve seen plenty of films about espionage, blackmail and corruption, but I usually miss the twist in the plot that explains the hold that one state agent has over another — perhaps because such misdemeanours … Continue reading

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