Friday, July 31, 2009

The Idea of Justice

Amartya Sen presented at the London School of Economics this week on his new book “The Idea of Justice”. I set the alarm to remind me book a ticket for the event. However, 800 tickets were snapped up in 5 minutes as soon as they went more

Sunday, July 26, 2009

BBC Proms - Cambridge University

Last Wednesday, the three of us attended the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, in conjunction with the celebration of Cambridge University's 800th year anniversary and great musical tradition.

In front of the Royal Albert Hall

This Prom was particularly interesting because everyone on that grand stage had a Cambridge connection. The choirs were from St John's and King's colleges. Five of the six composers either studied or taught at Cambridge. And a friend of ours was also in the choir.

The Proms lasted for more than 2.5 hours. Based on last year's experience, I found it strange that this time the Proms started with the national anthem - God save the Queen. When the song was sung, Priti tapped on my shoulder and asked to look back. She pointed at the seating behind us, "There. That's Prince Charles."

It then became clear he was there to grace the event. After all, he was from Cambridge too. The Vice-Chancellor was also present with him.

Prince Charles leaving RAH

The Proms started with an interesting contemporary piece of music. However, the second half of the play was too melancholic to my liking. Perhaps I don't know how to appreciate it. Overall it was a good night out with a good company.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I was walking along the southbank. A decent man approached from the right. He looked desperate. He asked for help.

"Brother I need a favour from you", he took out his ID from the pocket and showed me, "I am a despatch and my vehicle has ran out of fuel".

I suspected something amiss. Deep inside I knew what was going to unfold. I expected he was going to tell me a sob story and then ask for money. It's something I have heard many times.

I brushed him off and told him I was rushing to the Royal Festival Hall to meet some friends, which was 15minutes from where I was. I told him I was already late. I looked at the time. It was 6.10pm. I showed him my watch and explained, "Look, I am supposed to meet my friends at 6. I'm already 10minutes late!"

I apologised and moved on. He came from the side and pleaded again.

"Brother please. I am an honest man. I don't have money with me now. I would be really grateful if you could help me. I am from Pakistan and I am an honest Muslim man trying to make an honest living in this country. Please trust me. I have a family and I am not what you think I am. I just need some money to refill the tank. Once I'm done with my delivery, I'll return you the cash. Please!"

I stopped and listened. In my heart I was doubting him. Then I started questioning my conscience. What if he was genuine? Why should I be another Londoner who's always wary of the public? Is there really no one in London that I could trust? What would I lose by helping him anyway, even if he was a fake?

I asked how much was he after. He said, "£25"

"£25?!!" I exclaimed. "Why do you need so much money for? It could last you a week!" I reasoned.

"Big vehicle, brother. It wouldn't last the day but still will help."

I asked for a collateral. He suggested his driver's license and mobile phone. But it wouldn't be appropriate since he needed both to drive and return my cash. I asked for his mobile number and ID. I took a photo of the ID. Only now I realised the ID was expired!

Mahmood Khan, the scam criminal

I agreed. We went to the nearest cash machine and I withdrew £25 for him. I didn't pass the cash to him immediately. I insisted to see his stalled vehicle. He said it was a mile away from where we were. I said I will still want to see it. Still, I felt something was amiss.

I called his mobile number and found the number didn't work. I told him that. I was waiting for him to convince me. He said it was in the car turned off. That was strange. Why would anyone put his phone in the car in an emergency??! The £25 was still in my pocket. I refused to let it off easily. I made him work for it. We walked a little further and stopped. He took down my number and name and promised to return call.

He sensed I wasn't comfortable with him. He reiterated, "Look brother, you can trust me ok. I am an honest man. I am Muslim. My religion forbids me to lie. I will go to hell if I lie."

I took little comfort from his words. I was weighing what I should do next. I thought we have taken each other for a ride too far for £25. It wouldn't worth my time for £25. That's what I pay for a 10k run here and the effort he took to fleece me, if he intended to, was much more than I would put in a 10k run.

I wonder who took who for a ride now. I already have in possession of his ID card and mobile number. I have his photo. I had the better side of the bargain now. He would have more to lose if he lied.

I didn't want to waste anymore time. I thought I had quite a good experience indulging and learning how the whole scam was taking place. I had enough. I passed him the notes.

He thanked and offered a hug. I backed off and wished him luck. He dashed to his delivery van, perhaps.

I called the Metropolitan Police immediately and made a report. The officer heard the entire story. But the officer was optimistic. He said I could be doing a good deed and have helped someone in trouble. He praised me for it. I was the pessimist. I told the officer that I wasn't uncomfortable with the £25 but the number that I rang from my phone. The engaged tone was a little disturbing.

I stopped short of being a racist. I didn't emphasise his nationality but I did emphasise of the need to be very concern with anything that has got to do with mobile phone, southbank, petrol and the month of July. He could immediately connect the dots.

I reinforced this by telling him, "You know, it's shocking what people can do with mobile phones nowadays. They can go with anything. You never know where they'll detonate next!"

The officer comforted me and asked not to worry too much. He took down my statement and thanked me for flagging this up.

I called the Pakistani swindler's office awhile ago. It was a despatch office and they work 24-7. I asked for verification of the person. They confirmed he has left since February this year. They gave me his other mobile number and house telephone number. I called both numbers and they didn't connect.

I reported to the office again. I was passed to the operations manager immediately. They considered this a breach of the company's security. Many more people could be swindled through the misuse of the company's ID. The manager was very concerned and promised he would raise the issue to his bosses and report the case to the police immediately. He also promised someone from his office will follow up the case with me come Monday.

Mahmood Khan is a disgrace to his religion. He obviously messed with the wrong guy. I hope and I believe the law will catch up with him soon. For me, I've had a good time with his ride even though I knew I would be fleeced. It's weird I allowed this to happen. Who would?!

I have lost £25 today but he has lost more. Mahmood Khan's life is now ruined. I have successfully made him a listed criminal, cracked the scam and got him having sleepless nights and living in fear of the law catching up with him soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dartford Half Marathon

Finally after days of doing research and reading up on the Skins ICE compression half tights, I have bought one for myself. The damage was £54 and the male pride from wearing it.

So I received the tights on Wednesday, signed up for the Dartford Half Marathon the next day and ran it on the Sunday. Now I have taken less than a week to make a decision to run a half marathon without training. My colleagues who checked on what I did for the weekend suggested I see a psychiatrist if the "condition" worsen to 24 hours.

It was my second time in Dartford and the first time doing a run there. I must say I loved it. The event was well-organised even though I wished it started later. I was doing a mad rush on a Sunday morning to catch the only train to arrive Dartford on time for the race from London Waterloo East.

The set up of the race was plain. Nothing in the race that says "Dartford Half Marathon 2009" except for a random few printed boards. I would have expected that at the start/finish gantry. Makes good photo opportunity. But overall was a good run. Didn't achieve my PB but still I was satisfied as it was not as challenging as some reviews made it to be. Mile 9 to 10 was quite a drag as it was just going uphill.

Start/Finish at the Central Park Athletics Track

The course was mostly flat with a long stretch of undulation towards the end. Other things about the race:

1. This was the first time I raced in Skins. Sorry, I won't post photos of me in them. I feel camp wearing and appearing in them. It's white, revealing, leaves nothing to the imagination and could pass as porn!

2. I was such an idiot to buy the powergel when it was given free just across the stall I was buying from. And the seller wouldn't tell me this tip!

3. The race was held in conjunction with the Dartford Festival. So there were many stalls, exhibition booths and performances after the race.

4. Some parts of the race was confined to the footpath and running in single file was quite a pain. Many lost opportunity to overtake because of the live traffic.

5. Best part of the race from mile-10. Downhill all the way to the finish!

6. The medal. What were they thinking?!

The inferior looking medal

The official results are out. My time was 1hr 38m 33s. Position 121 of 603. Considering I didn't train for this and hit the wall, I would attribute a portion of this success to Skins.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

ESD Annual Dinner

Last Wednesday was the annual dinner for the MPhil students and alumni of the Engineering for Sustainable Development programme in Cambridge. It was held in Corpus Christ College - another highly noted networking event.

Professors from various departments

Eskandar catching up with Professor Guthrie

There are currently 29 students this year, a huge reduction from last year. 42 alumni returned for the annual dinner. It was really nice going back to Cambridge after one year. Six of us were from the same batch - Joan, Kyrea, Gareth, Gina, Eskandar and I.

Batch of 2006/07 with Professor Ainger

Cambridge still looked the same. It has to. It has been since 800 years ago. I would be gobsmacked if it turned into a modern city. The roads looked narrower. Cambridge looked so much tinier than I first saw it. The eyes must have been playing tricks trying to readjust to the London scale of things.

Current students adapted our previous performance to their rendition of the "8 months of the MPhil". 8 months? I don't remember it was that short. Still I think our performance was better. At least ours made sense even to other alumni.
Dinner at Corpus Christi Dining Hall

The centre still have very strong links with the alumni. One thing I learned about studying in Cambridge is that we learned a lot from our professors and lecturers but we learned much more from each other. This experience is priceless. Professor Guthrie's profound words so correctly put it that "[people who come to Cambridge] never really believed at first and expected that they'll be told, but later find out that they've learned so much more from each other than they'd ever learn from the staff."

An extract of Professor Guthrie's speech

Coming together and sharing each other's experience in the "working world" reminded us of what brought 198 graduates to do the course in the first place. It was one common objective that brought us together and the change that we want to make for a sustainable future.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sheep across London Bridge

Today marks the 800th year since the first London Bridge was built. The present bridge is the third. Yes, London Bridge has fallen down, not once but twice. I have wrote about this before.

There was a celebration at London Bridge today. As a result, the bridge was pedestrianised. To celebrate this event, there was an enactment of the medieval life in London. After all, London Bridge was the first bridge connecting two parts of London, the north and the south as they are known today; separated by the River Thames.

Among those traditions enacted was the medieval education, handicrafts and the work of the mysteries and guilds. But the highlight of the event was the Liverymen and Freemen exercising their ancient ‘rights' to drive sheep ‘tax free' across the Bridge.

Medieval education

Traditional handicrafts

Liverymen and Freemen exercising their rights to drive sheep across London Bridge tax-free

Liverymen and Freemen in those days were members or freed members of Livery Companies. Livery Companies are in my opinion similar to professional institutions in our modern time. It's easy to identify a livery company because "The Worshipful Company of.." would precede the name of the livery. For example, The Worshipful Company of Bakers, The Worshipful Company of Carpenters, The Worshipful Company of Engineers, The Worshipful Company of Constructors etc and the list goes on.

One of the weird privileges of a liveryman is to drive sheep across London Bridge tax-free. In the medieval days, London Bridge was a toll bridge and one had to pay to get their sheep (or other animals) across.

A video of the ceremonial rite by the Lord Mayor of London

So getting across London Bridge tax-free was a privilege. It must have been like in today's context of passing through tolled highways without having to pay toll!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

London to Brighton Bike Ride

Last month I participated in an event to cycle 54miles (86km) from London to Brighton. It was a charity event for the British Heart Foundation.

The company I work for partially sponsored 70 of us for the event. I was lucky to be shortlisted last minute - two weeks before the event! At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to represent the company, so I didn't prepare for the race. I didn't have a regimented training like I had for the marathon nor a proper bike to go long distance. Two weeks weren't enough to prepare for the event. So I went with my mountain bike. It proved to be a struggle riding 54 miles!

Three of us from the same office

27,000 cyclists participated in the ride. We started at different times at Clapham Common. Of the 70, three of us were from the same office. We made prior arrangements to meet up and start together. Well, we did start together but ended up breaking off as soon as the ride started.
Start line

Greg who was on a hybrid bike was "technologically" more superior than us. And my colleague admitted defeat to me right from the warm up session. We acknowledged we could not keep up with each other even before the race. So we agreed to meet up at the finishing line.
A red bus got caught in the middle of us

The ride was more difficult but also more fun than I expected. People and bikes came in all shapes and sizes. There were as many road bikes as there were mountain and folding bikes. Yes, plenty of Bromptons too!

I was a little jittery when I first started because (1) I didn't prepare for the race and (2) I have never cycled more than 25miles in my life!

However, after 10miles into the race, I gathered enough confidence to finish the race. Halfway through, I had a flat tyre. Don't know if I was lucky or unlucky. The tyre punctured in front of an official bike service provider. What are the chances?! The bike mechanics were very helpful. They helped replace the spare tube that I brought, for free. In hindsight, I am glad I brought a spare tube or I would be in trouble as I didn't carry cash with me to buy one.
The mechanic replaced the tube in less than 5 minutes!

The most difficult part of the race was Ditchling Beacon. Cyclists must ride up a winding and steep road for more than 2km before flattening off at the peak. This part reminded me of the steepest climbs at Genting Highlands. A colleague challenged me to ride up Ditchling Beacon without getting off the bike. I took up the challenge and proved myself worthy. The bike computer at one point showed "2 mph"! People who pushed their bikes were faster than me. Many cyclists didn't bother struggling up to the peak. My head nearly exploded from asphyxiation!

Climbing Ditchling Beacon

At the peak of Ditchling Beacon

The road after Ditchling Beacon was the best part. It was all the way down to Brighton. The descend was steep and I hit a top speed of 40mph with a mountain bike. This leg was notorious. Some people lost control and crashed at high speed. The consequences must have been dire.

The last 2 miles to the finishing line was a pain. We had to abide traffic rules and there were no preferential treatment to cyclists even though it was OUR event! We were directed to use the cycle lanes and stop at traffic lights. This slowed our progress tremendously. We even had to stop for pedestrians to cross the roads! The traffic jam created by us from road closures didn't help either.

Finally when I crossed the finishing line, I couldn't wait to get out of the bike. I just didn't want to be on the bike seat anymore. My back and bottom was aching like mad!

I breathed a sigh of relief that I managed to cover 54miles and reached Brighton in one piece. My time was 5hours 10mins. Nothing to shout about.
At the finish line

The company booked the entire terrace of a luxury hotel to celebrate our arrival. We were fed with lots of food and drinks. We had the best view of Brighton and its famous pier from where we were. The party must have cost us a bomb! Still it was a befitting welcome for us who just couldn't be asked to travel any further to reconvene.
Celebration at the hotel terrace overlooking the iconic Brighton Pier

The best thing for me this time, about the ride is not about breaking new limits and getting a medal for it, but knowing that I have overcame the anxiety, fear of uncertainty and challenges of the Ditchling Beacon because of wanting to pedal and make a difference to someone's heart and life.