31 March, 2010

Changing What is on Your Plate

How to feed the world ? from Denis van Waerebeke on Vimeo.

This interesting video was made for the «Bon appétit» exhibition in Paris science museum (Cité des sciences et de l’industrie). It was aimed mainly at kids aged 9 to 14, but I must say that this 52-year-old also learnt a fair amount.

As many of you know, the NGO that I work with in Kimilili, Kenya is trying to set up a gardening vocational training program. The program goals are the following,

"Our CBSM Gardening Vocational Training Program teaches women co-ops and youths from our Youth Vision program about sustainable agriculture and good business practices. The participants formed their co-ops under supervision of community elders, and work in collaboration to implement good farming practices and create small-scale garden businesses.

We are presently cultivating two acres of leased land; growing a variety of vegetables and grains using drip irrigation systems, poly culture techniques, and other practices in hope that we can increase the yields of these gardens. We would like to extend the scope of our present program and establish a permanent self-sustaining vocational training program in the next two and a half years. To this end we need to establish better collaboration with sources of information and training and to find proper funding. The practices taught and used in our program focus on counteracting the devastation the persisting drought has and is creating in our community."

That is the sort description. The long one would take a long time to point out all of the challenges. Yet, I must say that the people involved in the project, both locally and internationally, are such a motivated and resourceful group.  I thought I might mention a few of the challenges in the next while so that you could send me your ideas and feedback on how to manage them. You can either leave a comment here or write to me (virtualredtent at yahoo dot com). Please feel free to pose any questions or make any comments you wish.

28 March, 2010

Loving my Kids

I love me kids. Not in a small way, but in a way that often takes my breath away. Especially on mornings like this morning, when there is anticipation in the air.

The last days have been consumed with making check lists and buying travel items for my daughter. She is getting ready to take off on an adventure tomorrow with her best friend. They are flying to Grenada to visit my mother and friends. Just knowing how smart and self-assured she is, helps me get over my nervousness about her flying the coop.

Then there is my son, who is quietly getting ready to fly to southern Italy to visit his other family. He doesn't talk much, nor does he make many demands, but he makes his presence felt by sending me messages in form of links on my google reader. Today's favourite is,

Don't make decisions when you are angry.
Don't make promises when you are happy.

I have been known to do both. Particularly the later. It is wonderful to read some piece of advice that doesn't need explanation. Blatant truths. We need them sometimes.

26 March, 2010

So Right

Just got a link to this wonderful succinct observation about relationships:
Image found on YimmyYayo's blog.

25 March, 2010

Social Skills

I was looking through flickr for some creative commons photos concerning social skills and stumbled upon this photo,

It’s well worth going over to Will Lion’s photostream and look at other of this work. Most of his graphics contain quotes, observations or statistics about media and culture.

My son just came in and told me a joke he heard on a science podcast.

“What is the difference between extroverted and introverted mathematicians? The extrovert looks at your shoes.”

23 March, 2010

Factual Credibility and Moral Expertise

Sam Harris TED Talk, “Science can answer moral questions” is eloquent to the ninth degree. He interweaves logical argument, irrefutable examples, and just enough humour so as not to appear arrogant or glib… what a delightful inspirational talk to watch over my early morning tea.

The real crux of his presentation occurs around sixteen minutes into his talk. He argues that in most scientific fields, we only listen to those scientists that posses credibility. Mr. Harris then says the following,

“Whenever we are talking about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. That is what it is to have a domain of expertise. That is what it is to have knowledge count. How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere there is no such thing as moral expertise? Or, moral talent? Or, moral genius? How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count? How have we convinced ourselves that every culture has a point of view on these subjects worth considering?”

This talk made me reflect over the last months of media coverage of political conservative dissidents and crazed Tea Party protesters in the battle to pass the US health care reform bill. I wonder how much of the essential good of the original bill (e.g. public option) had to be dismissed because too many voices lacking in factual clarity or moral expertise were heard. Why were these people given any credibility or such a large degree of coverage?

22 March, 2010

Everyday Heroes III

Everyday heroes we encounter are important influences on our lives. They have the ability to alter our thinking and, often, even the direction of our decision-making. This post is part of a series I am writing about the heroes I have met.


Name: Maria and Helmut
Profession: social worker, mathematician
Marital Status: married
Children: three daughters
Place of Origin: small villages in southern Germany

How we met:

Maria and Helmut moved into an apartment in the house where I was living when Maria was veryvery pregnant with their first daughter. The owner of the house was an eccentric landscape architect, whose offices and private residence were on the ground floor. I was living in the attic apartment. Maria and Helmut moved into the apartment on the second floor.

Maria and Helmut were the first “alternative” people I met in Erlangen, a politically conservative region of Germany. Alternatives, are people who are green, liberal, environmentally conscientious and politically engaged. Now, I may have been liberal, but more or less out from default: being young and having artistic leanings. I had no notion whatsoever about any of the other things. It took me quite a while to find out what those things were, because Maria and Helmut don’t talk much about their beliefs, they live them.

What changed my thinking:

These two people have shown me over the past three decades in the most mild and graceful way that social and political conviction is not ideology but a life practice.

21 March, 2010

Everyday Heroes II

Everyday heroes we encounter are important influences on our lives. They have the ability to alter our thinking and, often, even the direction of our decision-making. This post is part of a series I am writing about the heroes I have met.


Name: Professor Wang
Profession: professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Marital Status: married
Children: don’t know
Place of Origin: Mainland China

How we met:

Professor Wang never extended a cheerful greeting to any of his students when he encountered them outside the lecture hall. Unless you counted the clearing-his-throat greeting he occasionally extended as he walked pass, staring straight ahead. All of his students could imitate that particular clearing-his-throat sound perfectly. When Professor Wang gifted a student with it, the student was likely to speak in an awed voice recounting the momentous moment to others.

Students either loved or hated Professor Wang, whereas Professor Wang seemed to hold all students in complete indifference. Not in the sense he didn’t care, but in perfectly balanced neutrality.

It was said that Professor Wang discovered the transistor. (For those of you who don’t know what this component is, it represents the beginning of electronics.) Not as the Nobel Prize winner, but as the PhD student that did all of the legwork for the two professors who received the acclaim.

I took two of Professor Wang’s courses: Quantum Physics and Advance Laser Theory. Professor Wang’s teaching style was Zen-like in it’s simplicity. He would walk into the lecture hall with only a piece of chalk in his hand, write the last formula he wrote on the board in the previous lecture and then continue to fill the blackboard with endless mathematical arguments and extrapolation of physical phenomena.

What changed my choice of career:

Professor Wang was invited to spend a sabbatical in some think tank in the States. Upon his return, we asked him if he would give a lecture on his field of research. The next day he enters the lecture hall with his customary piece of chalk, as well as a large map of the human body’s meridian lines. To our surprise, he proceeded to give us a three-hour passionate lecture about “Chinese medicine and the future of western diagnostics”. After the lecture, I went and asked him where I could go to work in medical equipment engineering. He told me Germany.

19 March, 2010

Everyday Heroes I

Everyday heroes we encounter are important influences on our lives. They have the ability to alter our thinking and, often, even the direction of our decision-making. This post is part of a series I am writing about the heroes I have met.


Name: Sandhya
Profession: mechanical engineer
Marital Status: married
Children: son and daughter
Place of Origin: Pune, India

How we met:

In 1985, a friend of mine asked me whether there was any possibility that I would take on a boarder from India for six months. Sandhya had been selected by a UN committee to be included in a group of 28 women engineers from various developing countries to go and do research at universities in England and Germany. Sandhya had arrived in Germany three weeks previous and was in misery. The university made arrangements for her to live in a student residence. She hadn’t had much to eat since she arrived because she could not face the general filth of the communal kitchen and the stink of the meat. My friend knew I was a vegetarian and so she hoped I would allow Sandhya to live with me until her contract was over and she returned to Pune.

The arrangement was that she would have my living room as a bedroom and we would share kitchen and bathroom. In my mind, it was just a practical solution to a bad situation. She was having a hard time adapting to the southern German love of meat in every form and manner. I had a room she could use. I wasn’t looking for friendship.

When I met her, we went through the guidelines of this arrangement: we’d each buy our own food, each person wash their own dishes, I liked to shower in the mornings if she could shower in the evenings, she could do laundry any time she wished, she could use the phone and just needed to keep a list of the calls she makes… It wasn’t a business arrangement (she wasn’t paying rent), but it was rather cut and dry.  

The first evening she came back from working at the research institute she was loaded down with all sorts of groceries. After a perfunctory “how was your day” sort of conversation, I went into my bedroom to read and listen to music. In the next hour, all sorts of delightful aromas began to whiff under my door. A tentative knock, Sandhya asked whether I would like to share her dinner with her. I thought it would be rude not to do so on the first evening of her arrival, and accepted happily. It goes beyond my ability to describe how delectable the meal was.

This procedure happened the next night and the night after, at which time it became very apparent that Sandhya loved cooking, I loved eating, and we had endless topics to converse about.

How she changed my thinking:

Sandhya had a husband and small son back home (she had a daughter as well later on). Her parents were both teachers. She had had an arranged marriage. When I asked her whether she was happy with her marriage, she asked me to be more specific. So, I asked her if marriage had lived up to her expectations. At this, she laughed and laughed, and said it is better not to have any expectation about marriage, for they are bound to be disappointed. The expectations, not the person.

She told me that she truly thought there were no persons better to judge who she should marry than the people that loved her most on this earth- her parents. She couldn’t imagine any twenty-year-old having enough maturity or sense to chose properly someone for her to spend her whole future with. Also, even though she went into her arranged marriage with full acceptance, she knew that her children would marry for love. It wasn’t because she discounted the practice of arrange marriages, she just knew that her world was changing.

Sandhya showed me there was another world outside of the one I had experienced and the one portrayed by the media. She made me realise that love need not be the initiator for marriage, as long as it becomes the motivator to stay married. She also showed me that her blind trust in her parents ability to choose wisely, contradicted mine completely in my parents. I always resisted my mother’s vain attempts at matchmaking. These ranged from the lonely Scotsman who played his bagpipes at sunrise on the edge of the cliff outside my parents’ home, to a charming ne’re do well who said he worked for the US treasury, but everyone suspected he was a spy.

18 March, 2010

It's a Dog's Font World

Have you ever tried to match typefaces of fonts with the physical characteristics of dogs? This image was created by Günter Eder, Roman Breier, and Marcel Neundörfer in Vienna. Can you think of any other matches?

17 March, 2010

Search for the Wow

Seth Godin has written a very interesting blog post about how the Internet has created two new ways of creating and consuming culture. The first is a way for people (amatuers) to create and publish content on the net.

The second is,

"... distracting and ultimately a waste. We're creating a culture of clickers, stumblers and jaded spectators who decide in the space of a moment whether to watch and participate (or not).

Imagine if people went to the theatre or the movies and stood up and walked out after the first six seconds. Imagine if people went to the senior prom and bailed on their date three seconds after the car pulled away from the curb."

He challenges us to think about how this quick fix behaviour does not remotely allow for thoughtful inquiry and deep experiences. It is really a dilemma we all face. When it comes time to consuming online culture, I must say that I am guilty of a quick fix read through my google reader list. This leaves me terribly unsatisfied, and after reading Mr. Godin's post, I will endeavour to change this. I will read the posts to the end or not at all.

And, as far as this behaviour when creating content.. I know that after four and a half years of blogging, I am struggling to figure out a way to write relevant and meaningful content. In an attempt to overcome this lethargy, two blogging friends and I have decided to create a work group where we,

  • reflect upon what blogging has meant to us
  • explore what, if any, motivation exists to continue
  • redefine a mission or vision the blog should take
  • make suggestions about how to change the direction
  • offer support to each other through the next year
 I'll let you know how this group progresses.

16 March, 2010

Cooking Traditions

Recently, the British cook, Jamie Oliver, received a TED Prize and gave a rather entertaining and informative presentation. Basically, he more or less said we have to cook again and eat real food. Something you would think is self evident, but none the less, the statics of the average citizen's eating habits speak otherwise.

Yesterday when I was walking past the local vegetable shop and saw these bundles of soup greens. I rejoiced in their colour, as well as to the fact that they were still being sold. Not only small vegetable shops, but also large department stores sell selection of vegetables that you make into a soup base for making soups. This means people are not only making their own homemade soups, but they are making them according to the traditional method.

For those of you who have never made soup base but would like to give it a try:

Lia's method for making soup base

Cut up carrots, celery root, leeks, parsley into 2-3 cm sections
Add 2-3 tbsp of olive oil into bottom of large soup pot
Saute the vegetables in oil at high temperature for 5-10 min.
Mix in generous amount of salt
Add loads of cold water into pot and bring to boil
Let the vegetables boil at lower temperature for 30-40 min.
Remove vegetables when soft and mushy
Let soup base cool down and remove any film at top of pot

15 March, 2010

Elder as an Expert

This large poster now hangs on a building across the way from where we live. It is an advertising campaign to encourage cross-generational relationships.

The slogan is in the form of a short newspaper partnership ad:

Expert on love relationships seeks someone to do chores.

My translation does not really do justice to the beauty of the slogan. The slogan communicates well how building social interaction between elders and younger people can be a mutually profitable relationship.

Their site (in German) is explained as such,

"Elders are experts about life/living. They have experienced much and have survived much. In this Caritis blog, 52 authours write about various sides of life as an elder."

14 March, 2010

Glued to the Stream

I've been glued to the Women of the World, Stories and Solutions conference live-stream this weekend. Fascinating panel discussions, speeches, talks, and discourse from women at the forefront of politics, economics, entrepreneurship, and social reform. Fascinating.

On a totally different note:

70 Million by Hold Your Horses ! from L'Ogre on Vimeo.

The video is described as,

"An entertaining and cheeky music video for “70 Million”, hit song by Franco-American band, Hold Your Horses!, offers a wink at art history as band members playfully reconstruct famous paintings in an off the wall lyrical interpretation all their own."

12 March, 2010


Dinner-for-One sits quietly at a corner table during the After-Work-Party. Her red wine a subtle, or is that conservative, contrast to the Two-for-One cocktails marching by, adorned with cut fruit, glitzy umbrellas, and soldiering stripped straws.

10 March, 2010

Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish

This is one of my new TED favourites: passionate, articulate, funny, and darn convincing... it doesn't necessarily present the ultimate solution (thank heavens, because we know that doesn't exist) to feeding the world. Instead, Mr. Barber, just asks us to think about the possibility of adopting ecologically sound systems towards helping create sustainable agricultural systems.

07 March, 2010

Dreams of Spring


A dear friend of mine, who comes from Cameroon, wonders at Germans' obsession with the weather. Having been born and raised in a country where weather is mostly warm and sunny and in no need of comment, the idea of spending time talking about what is happening outdoors seems odd. Looking back over my posts in the last months, I fear I have also mentioning the weather much too often. Sorry, dear friends, I'll try to mend my ways. Yet, I can not help but mention how I yearn for spring to come. Don't you?

04 March, 2010

A bit shocking

A colleague told the following story during the break today:

Recently, I went with my young granddaughter (four years old) shopping. We went and bought some clothes for her at a department store and then went and bought some clothes for me. She and I went into a crowded changing room so that I could try on some clothes. She saw me nude and said very loudly, "Granny, how come you have hair down there?" I responded, "Women always have hair there" Which she vehemently responded, "Mommy, doesn't!" A silence descended upon the changing area, and then there were a few chuckles and snickers to be heard.

02 March, 2010

Elegy of the Flowing Touch


Elegy of the Flowing Touch, by Christopher Middleton

Walking along the canal early this morning, the dark snow clouds above lend a dramatic atmosphere to the city’s silhouette. I watched a flock of ducks float upon the dirty waters amongst the winter debris, and wondered about spring.

01 March, 2010

Bad Indigestion

The city has these small battery run street cleaners that usually skim along the sidewalks like a chunky skater. I've always thought of them as superfluous, better at polishing the sidewalks than cleaning them. Just now, one of them went across the two street corners in front of our apartment building and it picked up all the grit that collected there throughout the winter. It was interesting to see how much sand and gravel that little-engine-that-could was able to pick up. Mind you, it got slower and slower and then slowly tip toed down the road towards the dumping area with what looked like a very bad case of indigestion.