ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

So… The JCI Scotland National President Lesley Fowler nominated me for the Ice Bucket Challenge, to help raise awareness and funds for the disease known as ALS. Although I’ve accepted her challenge – I now question her judgement and authority… Winking smile

I first heard about ALS back in February this year, when I saw this video. It’s a really, really heart-warming story on how technology can help those with ALS.

Further to that story, Microsoft recently ran a one-week “hackathon”, where developers could spend time creating innovative solutions that demonstrate the power of software. The Ability Eye Gaze project won this year’s //oneweek Hackathon – the project was focussed towards creating innovative new ways to help people suffering from ALS. Read more about it here (and also see current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s Ice Bucket Challenge!).

The best Ice Bucket Challenge I’ve seen, though, has to go to Bill Gates – who takes it to a whole geeky new level!

I’d really encourage you to visit the ALS Association website to find out more, and also to donate if you can. (UK folk – I’ve seen quite a few friends donate to the UK equivalent of the ALS Association, so you might want to visit the Motor Neurone Disease Association website and contribute there. ALS and MND are different descriptions of the same disease…)

In addition, I’ve followed Lesley’s lead (OK, so her judgement isn’t that questionable) and have also made a donation to Nothing But Nets. This is a campaign run by the United Nations Foundation to help combat the spread of malaria. JCI has partnered with the UN to help raise awareness and funding for this initiative, and I’d urge you to find out more at the Nothing But Nets campaign here and, again, to make a donation if you can.

Finally, to help spread the icy-cold fun around the globe, I’d like to nominate three international friends for the Ice Bucket Challenge… Roger Pichette from Canada should be able to take this in his stride – being a hardy Canadian, he should be used to the freezing-cold climate and thus a small bucket of icy water shouldn’t faze him! My next nomination is to Annalisa Schembri from Malta – Annalisa, I’m very jealous of the beautiful weather and brilliant sunshine that you enjoy in Malta, so please accept this petty gift of refreshing icy-coldness from me! And my final nomination goes to the person who kept me safe, and looked out for me, all through my time at JCI Academy – Naoki Ogura of Japan – sorry for being mean, but it will be completely hilarious to see you drenched in ice water! Smile

Back to School…

It is only my first full day in Handa, Japan – and already I’ve had one of the best experiences of my life! I’m visiting Japan not only as a tourist, but also as a fleeting participant to its way of life. Thanks to JCI Japan, I’ve already visited a temple, an elementary school, and will be living with a host family for the duration of this weekend.

In a day full of experiences (each meriting a blog post of their own), it’s our visit to a Japanese school that proved the most eye-opening, and humbling.

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I was totally unprepared for the warm welcome from all 800-ish pupils of Midorigaoka elementary school – our arrival was marked by cheering from a welcoming party at the school entrance, and it wasn’t long before we were whisked away to be greeted by all the pupils in the main school hall. A very surreal experience – we were paraded through the hall, following the lead of our flag-bearer, and then seated at the stage to say “hi” and to introduce ourselves to the entire school.

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After introductions, it was time to join our class for some “lessons”. Hello, Midorigaoka class 6-4! Smile

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These elementary kids were around the ages of 11-12. And despite knowing barely any words of English, they were more than eager to try and help us settle into class, and to take part in their calligraphy lesson. Although we had one translator for the three of us JCI members in this class, we didn’t have to call upon his help often, as the children really were keeping an eye out for us, and helping/explaining to us via gestures and actions whenever it looked like we were struggling.

However, it was lunchtime and the subsequent “clean-up” time that proved an utterly eye-opening and humbling experience. It was simply astounding to witness!

Lunch doesn’t take place in a school canteen, but instead in the same classrooms where lessons take place. The children all re-arrange their furniture into columns.

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Some of the children would then put on hygienic overalls and proceed to serve food to all of their classmates. Some were responsible for putting the food onto trays, and others were responsible for serving those trays to the tables. They all looked like they were having fun, but were extremely quick and efficient at the same time!

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The clear-up process after lunch was no less efficient. Pupils put away their own trays (stacking the individual bowls), and even went as far as to separate straw from milk carton, before flat-packing them for recycling. I was amazed at the attention to detail!

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Foolishly, I thought that clearing plates was the “clean-up” time. But I was incredibly wrong. Clean-up time is where the whole school would spend 15-20 minutes helping to clean every aspect of their school. In the classrooms, pupils rearranged desks and started sweeping and wiping the floors…

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But the clean-up process wasn’t limited to the classroom! Everywhere in the school, pupils had chores to perform – whether it was washing windows, weeding the school garden (and wearing cute hard-hats whilst doing so), or clearing leaves – it was astounding to see an entire school so efficiently clean up and – more importantly – take pride in how they performed their duties. There was no half-hearted attempts here – everyone was really making an effort to do their jobs well…

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(See that last pic – that was me trying to give the pupils a hand. I was promptly told off by one of the children for not holding the broom correctly and not sweeping with enough effort, and was actually shown how to sweep the floor properly. How embarrassing to be corrected by an 11 year old!)

After “clean-up” time, all the pupils headed back to the hall for a dancing lesson. It was quite surreal to see hundreds of schoolchildren dance to a Japanese pop-music video, but it was definitely fun and I can see how it helps to foster a community spirit amongst the pupils.

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After the collective mad fun that was dancing (800 kids all dancing in semi-unison, with teachers and staff taking part as well), it was time to say farewell…

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Honestly, I was really quite sad to leave. What was ostensibly a visit to an elementary school was actually one of the most enjoyable and interesting experiences I’ve ever had… Not because we were visiting a school (fantastic though the staff and pupils were). But it was because the visit was an incredible insight into the Japanese ethos and mentality. Here, children (in what would be our equivalent of primary school) were incredibly well-behaved, welcoming, and eager to study and to contribute towards the school and to each other. I still marvel at how they were serving each other school lunches and helping to clean the school. I begin to see where the Japanese work ethics come from – their pride in their work, their willingness to contribute to a “greater cause”. And I firmly believe it instils a sense of responsibility and independence into the children here, which will carry with them into their adult life. Everyone was enthusiastic – there was no lethargy or unwillingness to contribute, and everyone seemed to have fun at the same time. An utterly stark contrast to the sometimes lazy and self-entitled attitude of a few of the children you see in the UK today…

I came to the school already with a large sense of respect and revere for the Japanese work-style and ethics. I left the school with those opinions reinforced, and also completely humbled by what I had seen from the children there. Certainly, *I* learnt a lot personally from the few hours I was there. I also think other countries could do likewise, and might benefit by taking a few notes and pointers from the Japanese education system…

And this on the first full day of my visit to Japan in JCI Academy. My mind is boggling at what I’ll see next…! Open-mouthed smile

(My sincere and heartfelt thanks to JCI Japan, and to our host for the visit and former Midorigaoka pupil Kazutaka Amaki, for providing me with an opportunity to take part in an everyday Japanese school routine. It was fascinating, insightful, and fun. I am so completely appreciative and humbled to have been able to take a peek – and to participate – in a typical Japanese school day.)

Bieber Beliefs

This exchange on Twitter amused me today…

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My link referenced to this:

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@UKBing followed up with:

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It made me smile. Humanises the team behind Bing UK… 😉

Facebook… Twitter… Tools for Troublemakers and Terrorists?

Wow!

There’s been a lot of news in the UK recently about how “Social Networks” have become the new tools for anarchists, troublemakers and terrorists…

Just look at BBC News yesterday (click through for the full article):

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Twitter was also labelled a potentially dangerous tool, with police considering a temporary shutdown of the service:

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So – it appears that, yet again, new technology is a large part to blame for the ills of today’s society.

What utter tosh!

It appears that the police, politicians and certain segments of the media have yet again failed to understand that technology is merely a medium for content.  Let’s face it – Facebook and Twitter help to connect people together – nothing more and nothing less.  If we had found out that certain subsets of the London rioters had coordinated their gatherings through (voice on) mobile phones, would we not scoff at the idea of the police proposing to shut down the mobile networks for a period of time?  So what makes Twitter exceptionally bad?  It’s just a different (and newer) medium of communication, after all…

I still remember the early days of the Internet – when the public and press were sceptical to this brave, new, connected world wide web.  Just over a decade ago, the Internet was perceived by some to be nothing more than a festering cesspit of porn, paedophilia and instructions on how to build bombs.  At least we’ve grown out of that mind-set!

Common sense dictates that if you find people inciting unrest on Facebook or Twitter, then you close down those particular accounts, not the medium.  Just as you’d take down a racism-inciting web or blog page, and not over-react by blocking the entire Internet.

Hopefully the stone-age technophobes come to their senses and understand that we shouldn’t be criticising the medium, but rather focussing efforts on those who are abusing the medium.  Facebook and Twitter are no different from mobile networks or anything broadcast over the airwaves – it’s just a newer, faster way of connecting people…

In short – I will be indignantly outraged if I read any more headlines like the one below

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Dead Plumbers

I saw this sinister message at the bottom of a Windows Live Messenger window this morning:

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It’s somewhat weird to be told by Messenger that each week, approximately 4 plumbers will die.  Eek!

However, it’s just a scare advert for the HSE’s asbestos awareness drive.  Certainly worked, though!