Quote of the day

"The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
Plato (427 BC - 347 BC)


The kingdom strikes back

First I was afraid...

I made it! I have witnessed my first ever British strike... For a French expatriate, it's like realising that there are Paul bakeries in Great Britain. It's like the first time you discover a bunch of Baby Bel in dairy aisle of your local Tesco. It feels a little bit like home.

We are so used to facing strikes in France that I was starting to feel slightly unsettled after three years in this country. Where were the Unions? No sign of angry Students willing to recall their parents' revolutionary protests. No burning tires or anti-CAP farmers uloading tons of sheep dungs in front of the Parliament. London was a quite place, the capitale of the Kingdom of social piece. Was until this week.

London was pretrified.

For two days, the main Union of Transport for London has imposed a strike to gain a salary increase for their members. Almost no tube were consequently navigating in the London underground. You had to opt for alternative transportation modes: buses, car, bike, your good old feet or for the lasiest, to work from home. Like every former Parisian I had also pulled my old roller-blades out the attic, just in case. As a matter of fact, in Paris, when TfL-equivalent RATP is on strike, there is no public transportation at all. So having the luxury to enjoy double-decker buses in sunny London was almost a treat. Almost.

Having to live without you by my strike

But these two days were also an experience. The opportunity to discover some new insights about the locals.

First, strikes are qualified as "industrial movements". I found this choice of vocabulary very interesting. Why "industrial"? By definition it would imply that the movement was produced by the industry, and yet public transportation is not an industry but a service. If I look further down the dictionary I can read that industrial is relating to a noisy, experimental genre of music that originated in the 1970s... Unless this refers to the noise of the vindicative crowd of underpaid tube staffs, I am not sure that I found a proper rational.

In France, we call these protests "mouvements sociaux", social movements. The reason is obviously that the protest are intended to ask for social benefits: pay rises, shorter weeks, subventions, more paid holidays, more bank holidays, more holidays, etc. Maybe it is in the History of each country that lays the solution of my riddle. France is the country of human rights. It is a democracy (from ancient Greek "dēmos" = "common people" and "kratos" = "rule, strength"). It gives the power to common people who can and should voice their opinion. On the other hand, the UK is the home of the successive industrial revolutions. Here lays its history, its own past glory... So that is maybe the reason these movements are refered to as "industrial": they remind the hard working people that we think we nowadays are that our ancestors have suffered for us. It may be some kind of a tribute?

The second learning is that in such abnormal conditions, the average Brit remains an average Brit. Although the BBC called these two days chaos or mayhem... Compared to past experiences, I can confirm that this was pure fun. The locals were waiting dilligently their bus, in well-ordered queues. The only people trying to sneak in were tourists and foreigners. And when the bus driver was announcing that there was too many people in the bus to take more on, the next people in the queue accepted the statement without shouting or insulting anybody. The only complaint I heard was about a football fan who would not be able to get to Wembley to see the national team slash Andora 4-0 that night. A well-ordered turmoil, as usual on this side of the Channel.

Every good thing has an end.

But tomorrow, Friday, business as usual. The tubes will be transporting their lot of workers across its underground network. "Mind the Gap" and "Keep your belongings at all time" will be repeated thousands of times to fellow travelers... I don't even know if the TfL staff got what they were protesting for. That is also the charm of such an amateur action: in France, were striking is a national sport, you would protest until you get what you want or at least part of it. And that means that a strike has a start but no set end... That is not the case here. We knew we were up for two days strikes, and we got two days, on the dot. As I said, a well-ordered turmoil.

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Slick chop-stick-style.


Just bumped into this vlog (video blog) about an American in Tokyo. Kevin Cooney is a writer, comedian and performer born and raised in New York but currently residing in Japan. His approach is somehow aligned with my own take on life that I try to capture in my own blog: cultural differences are interesting, even if they can make you smile at times.

Since I have myself walked the streets of Tokyo and Japan, his stand-up resonates to me. But I guess it would to anyone genuinely open-minded about what is available out there. What I liked about Japan was that the cultural choc is not biased by a so-call difference of economic development. This country is as advanced if not more than most of the Western countries. They have simply adopted a different route which drove them in a different place. Not better, not less enticing. Simply different.

Here is episode #1 of the series of mini-clips, shot in 2006:

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Cliffhanger, search to the top

Lost in procrastination

First I wanted to apologise for my less frequent postings. I have been very, very busy these days at work and consequently have not had the time to properly blog about the things that I have in mind. So please bear with me, there are a few thoughts around cultural differences, across countries and across generations, coming soon.

But as I said I have been busy working on a very secretive project that has finally come to the open today. As you may have heard through the press, social media, etc. Microsoft has decided to launch a new search experience, under a new brand: Bing! I have long thought about whether it would make sense for me talk about that in this blog as I tend to dissociate office and home, chore and leisure... But this has taken so much of my time lately that the limit between both spheres has blurred. I have been thinking a lot about it and then here was today's homepage, a mountain dweller... So I could not resist any longer.

Bing, a new search experience
Bing, a new search experience

I will not resist any longer because I genuinely think that the search experience is something new and different from the other engines available out there. As you may have noted the service in the UK is in Beta: Microsoft has something like 60 engineers based in London dedicated to localise the global experience to the very specific needs of the British surfers. They work on the algorithm, the front and the back end to lift the Beta tag in a few months time... To know more about the UK features, have a tour of the already-available features at http://www.discoverbing.co.uk/.

But in the meanwhile if you would like to get a better sense of what is coming, have a play with the US product which is available in its full feature set. How to do so? On the top right corner of http://www.bing.com/ you can select your contry. Simply click there and select the relevant destination.

Let me draw your attention to some features that I personally find great:

  • The rich image homepage: when connecting to http://www.bing.com/ you will notice that the search box is embedded in a vibrant image. It changes daily, and is country-dependant. So this enables to have pictures that reflect what is happening near you. You will notice on the US site that you have hotspots on the image, providing with some information about the bespoke image and its subject. For someone like me, a photo-enthusiast keen on learning new things every day, this feature touches me straight in the heart. I have my new home page!
  • The categories to refine my search: I guess I am just like you all, I have learned to work my way through the search engines. I typed a keyword, get some results, click through the first ones and realise that that is not exactly what I am after. So I refine my query using more keywords, some quotation marks and & signs... Ultimately I make my way through. But on Bing you can see that on the left hand side the engine is offering you a series of option to refine automatically your search, stripping out irrelevant results. I am not talking about the usual 'image', ' video', 'news' categories that you can find on most of the engine no matter what you are after. I am refering to tabs that are dynamically populated depending on what you look for. Type Wimbledon, and you get 'tickets', 'video', 'results'... Type MP3 player and you are prompted a whole new set of refinments like 'Brand', 'Accesories', etc. Ultimately it helps you click on the right link first time, instead of going through the pain of the try-and-miss process.
  • Save and share your search: Bing saves your search history so that no matter your series of searches you can always come back to what you previously looked for. Even better, you can share this history through social media (Facebook, Windows Live...). Helpful when you plan your next trip with your wife...
  • Travel-planning becomes a no brainer: talking about travels, Microsoft has integrated a series of new technologies in its new experience, from mapping solutions to restaurant reviews. Farecast for instance is just brilliant. If you search, let's say, a flight between NY City and Atlanta, the engine will provide you with some price comparisons and tell you, based on statistics, if the price is likely to go up or down. You can then make your purchase decision without the pain of discovering that you could have saved 15% by waiting an extra week.

The freedom of choice

I have picked up just a few of the innovations that are available or about to be launched. There are a lot more in the pipeline, and even more in the sleeves of the developers. But what I like most about this experience is the fact that Bing does not try to be like Google. I have come across a brilliant quote by this reknown philosoph called Homer Simpson (1987-): "Kids, you have tried your best and you've failed... The lesson is clear: do not try!" Well, Microsoft has stopped trying to be like Google and started offering a radically different approach.

By reading this blog you must have probably realised that I see in cultural differences a source of enrichment, of dynamism, of enthusiasm. I despise what we call in French "Pensée Unique" (uniform thinking). I hail the difference of point of view. I therefore like that from now on, I have a choice between two search engines offering me different experience. Choice is a key element of freedom, isn't it?

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