Tenko Logo

Back in 2020, after having spent the best of the past two decades in bioinformatics (first in academia, then in industry), tinkering with machine learning and data science to cure cancer™, I decided it was time to move onto the next challenge: solving climate change™.

Ideation phase took a while, and wasn’t as smooth as planned, due to some, err, unforeseen circumstances. Things went a bit like:

  1. First half of 2020: getting asked about 5 times a week to join in on some new medtech/pharmatech venture “planning for the next pandemic”. 😑
  2. Summer 2020: “hmm, I wonder if that whole climate thing might not be the next big thing we need to worry about. Perhaps this might just be the right intersection of personally care about, topical to my skillset, and might get paid for. Dare I say ikigai!?”
  3. Late 2020: exploring the space and spending endless hours on video calls with everyone I know somehow involved in climate and climate tech. Realising that:
    • Consumer advocacy apps are great, but not my jam.
    • Carbon counting is a bit of a scam <cough>greenwashing</cough>, and by 2023, there will be more carbon counting apps/websites/services than humans on earth.
    • Mitigation (carbon capture and other cool hardware moonshots) is great, but my physics/mechanical engineering days are a little too far behind…
    • Everyone is so busy putting little Carbon Neutral by 2050 stickers on their website and recycling coffee pods at the office, that literally no one has a real clue how climate change is impacting us now. And very clearly it is.
  4. New Year’s Eve 2020: settling on the decidedly unsexy but intriguing challenge of modelling the economic impacts of climate change. On business (a girl’s gotta eat). The real fun begins: which impacts (weather disasters? geopolitical strifes? taxes? regulation?), which businesses (mustard seed growers? semiconductor manufacturers? logistics companies?), which regions (South East Asia? Europe? North America?)… Deciding to keep it simple and do it all.

And here I am, 18 months later, working with a team of brilliant people, building some very cool models and data products centred around climate, risk, and economics.

My personal outlook on the climate crisis is considerably more bearish than the IPCC consensus (itself a lot darker than the mainstream view). In the immortal words of my old friend John Maynard: in the long run, we’re all fucked. In the fairly short run: also.

But one of my few bright hopeful spots in that bleak landscape, is the potential for existing technologies to assist us with resilience: remote sensing data that can predict in near-real-time when and where crops will fail, roads will flood, or factories will shut down, and help us find the best way to minimise these impacts. We will need that level of scale and precision, to measure and adequately respond to the global crisis currently unfolding.

As I often do when having to name a new project, I lazily dug into Japanese for this one.

Kikō (気候), the word for climate, was a little too generic for trademark purposes, but Tenkō (天候) a concept halfway between climate and weather (天気, tenki) had both a nice ring to it, and some auspicious homonyms (転向: change of direction…).

As it turns out, the choice was fitting: Tenko (the company) is not really about climate or climate change (this vague and distant threat that people keep pushing to some distant horizon in 20 or 30 years). Rather, it is about climate-related impacts (and particularly the weather, but not only).

More generally, Tenko is about using data (of which there is a lot) to measure risks (of which there are a lot).


春風吹又生

Because that is where I get to hear from all my friends and family scattered around the globe, and none of them are likely to resume yearly postal newsletters, or follow me onto some new experimental social media platform any time soon. Despite Facebook’s best efforts, I still manage to get a few occasional glimpses into the lives of the ones I care about. Which is nice.

I won’t be deleting my Facebook account, because it just isn’t worth the hassle. Thanks for coming to my TED talk and have a great day.

As for why I will no longer use Facebook…

Not because of the frenetic mining of my personal data: everything they could grab has long been grabbed, and will live in their datacenter long after the end of humankind.
Nor because they betrayed my trust by selling access to my private conversations to whatever government or company gave them a few bucks for it: they never had any of my trust for them to betray in the first place.
Nor even because their mix of greed and incompetence singlehandedly took the world that much closer to the global dystopia we were all warned about before the internet even existed.

I no longer post on Facebook, I no longer “like and comment on what my friends have to say”, I no longer “engage” with Facebook contents… because I am so fucking tired of playing guinea pig to 20-year-old brogrammers looking to optimise their metrics by turning my reptilian brain against me.

Because for every tiny bit of actual news from a friend, I have to sift through a million attempts at goading me into clicks and likes and emoji angry faces. Because ‘liking’ that thoughtful progressive feminist queer-friendly left-leaning post, will have no other discernable effect on the real world, other than trading me a short-lived bout of smug self-satisfaction in exchange for yet another datapoint heaped upon my ad profile.

Because even when my feed is not entirely made up of shitty clickbaits trying to weaponise my emotions, the remaining leftover content overwhelmingly features those people most desperate to convince the rest of the world that they are doing great-so-great-look-at-my-fabulous-holiday-selfie-great. And because resisting the constant urge to feed the great data moloch with the dregs of my own online persona, is downright exhausting.

Hi Dave, why don’t you let all your friends know what a cool person you are by posting these pictures of your weekend in the Hamptons! Just click here and I will post it all on your behalf!

In conclusion

I shall still try to keep up with your Facebook wedding announcements, birthday reminders and holiday pictures, and I might even occasionally hit that ‘like’ button, when my frontal lobe fails to catch the electrical impulse in time, but I will continue to do my utmost best to keep my interactions with Facebook at a minimum.

I might even resurrect this blog, and party like it’s 2009 again.

The year is 2017, and voicing your concerns at the idea that vigilantes can just punch people they disagree with, makes you slightly worse than Adolf Hitler.

This whole discussion started on Twitter. Now summing-up and continuing in a medium where every nuanced argument does not have to fit in a neat 140 characters ((This other post gave a good summary of my own thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, with a needless anti-intellectual, leftwing-strawmaning tangent in point 4.)).

“Why do you love Nazis so much?”

If you remotely know me and utter that statement, you are being a glib arsehole. If you don’t know me at all, you are still favouring ad hominem while completely missing the point. Either way, I am afraid there is just no point discussing further.

“You aren’t a Nazi. You are way worse: you are an appeaser !”

Remember when Bush Jr used that term to attack people who opposed the war in Iraq? Congratulations, you have just used a Dick Cheney talking point to justify the use of gratuitous violence.

“Appeasing” does not mean what you think it means. Appeasement was the cowardly policy of letting Hitler murder his people and invade neighbouring countries, in the hope that he would enjoy his victories and stop there. The farthest victories enjoyed by our 21st century nazi so far, has been the ability to broadcast his spiteful bile to a bunch of basement-dwelling internet trolls and talking to the occasional moron journalist (more on that in a minute). Your problem is with free speech and its limits, not “appeasement”.

“Calling for genocide is not free speech.”

We are finally in somewhat-sane debating territory. And you are right: even the US’ extremely permissive free speech laws prohibit incitement. That’s great news: someone ought to drag this muppet to court and make an example out of him.

Except: chances are, he never outright called for genocide, because like most semi-successful scumbags, he is smart enough to know how far he legally can go.

Most of his statements, however, would easily land him in a European court, where people are understandably more touchy about the whole nazi-speech thing. I happen to lean with Chomsky and against this attempt at legislating hate away, but I would not necessarily think that people on either side of that debate are freedom-haters or nazi-lovers…

The crucial word in all the above is “legal”. That bit of nazi-punching occurred in a country that enjoys a reasonably sturdy (if imperfect) legal framework that offers some decent amounts of protection from physical oppression by civilians ((Yes: with many systemic oppression issues. But the sources of that oppression are overwhelmingly agents of authority, not sociopathic weirdos wearing a frog lapel pin.)). If you object to speech: you have legal recourses. If these recourses are lacking, you still have many options to fight back without resorting to punching. But the fact you don’t have legal recourses in a lawful state would be a good indication that you are not being directly threatened physically, and that’s where most people consider punching a no-no.

“As a non-oppressed person, you are not entitled to have a position on this”

First, this is a comically bad application for this argument. As a very-white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, financially-secure guy, there are very few discourses I could legitimately cry oppression about, and yet as it happens this is the one instance where I am fairly sure I have a lot more personal skin in that game than the sheltered black-bloc teenager with anger issues who socked our nazi ((Before you howl at my reductive characterisation of typical black-block protesters, you better make sure you know what you are talking about. Because I was a stupid teenager once, and I have a pretty good first-hand idea.)).

Moreover, that is an incredibly silly thing to respond to someone voicing concern about the legitimisation of violence in a civilian context: it might be relevant if I was defending his right to free speech, but I am not. I am defending his right to not be punched, as long as he does not present a clear and present danger to anyone.

“If punching people is off-limits, I guess you’d rather we engage nazis and be nice to them”

Actually no. There is a huge array of options between “engaging” (or even “tolerating”), and punching. My preferred option by far, would be to completely shun and ignore that sort of abhorrent but fringe views, and instead focus on the much more concrete danger of a toxic authoritarian moron (and his cronies) heading one of the most powerful country on Earth. But I realise this is a lot more difficult than reposting cool memes of a hateful leech getting repeatedly elbowed in the face, to a cool beat.

“That nazi is now a walking joke who has gone into hiding and lives in fear: Punching Works!”

Ignoring the whole “end-justifies-means” angle for a second, even this tiny achievement is verifiably false: never has there been more mentions of him in my social media feeds, the guy is now giving interviews left and right and featured in every single news outlet. Congratulations on giving a piece-of-shit nazi the kind of media exposure he could only ever dream of a week ago. Hope that meme was worth it.

Most importantly: assuming it even achieved any measurably positive result, what is the end game here? Do we go around punching every nazi sympathisers until not one dares speak up in public ((Good thing they don’t have any worldwide network that would let them anonymously share their despicable ideas and organise from the comfort of their home, safe from punching, huh?))? Obviously, we next have to do the same to every racist arsehole out there ((Unless you think it is acceptable to only wish black people dead, as opposed to both blacks and Jews. But you don’t, do you?)). Or perhaps we start with all the homophobic scumbags freely spouting their hate on TV?

Guess you have a lot of punching to do. Off you go then. Good luck and remember: thumb always on the outside.

“Whatever… It won’t achieve much but at least it felt good watching a nazi getting punched.”

… is probably where that debate should start, if everyone was honest with themselves.

And yes: it did feel good watching that spiteful piece-of-shit getting sucker-punched mid-sentence. It still feels good after repeat viewing, and some of these nazi-punching memes are outright hilarious.

But there’s a major difference between having a positive visceral reaction to an act of violence, and intellectually condoning and defending it. That difference is the essence of modern democratic societies: the idea that might does not make right ((And for the love of Hobbes, spare me your arguments about State violence, and resistance to it. This particular internet-forum nazi was most definitely not an agent of the State nor exercising violence in its name.)).

Once this is acknowledged, feel free to accept the use of extra-legal civilian violence in times of peace as an agent of social change, but do not be surprised when you find yourself in the company of the very people you claim to be fighting.

“OK. Maybe not a great idea. But really not worth fretting about.”

Because when a populist authoritarian xenophobe just became President of the USA and is pushing to keep his own privately-ran militia, what could go wrong with the legitimisation of unsanctioned violence committed by private citizens?

How much do you want to bet, that this video will soon resurface, reframed as an example of the lawlessness of the land and the need for more authoritarian control? When your grandma from Kansas sees the video of a nicely-dressed gentleman with a friendly demeanour, speaking in a reassuringly calm tone, getting suddenly knocked out by a masked assaillant, do you think she will think “that nazi scum had it coming”? And if you just said “screw stupid grandma and her Fox News-bred ignorance”, congratulations: you are a perfect example of how a populist moron with marginal support managed to win that election.

The main reason punching nazis is bad ((Assuming you live in 2017 DC, and not in some alternate dimension where the Reich controls the Eastern seaboard…)), is that, on top of achieving no measurable positive long-term result, it will likely bolster the moral and PR position of said nazis and other, less cartoonishly evil but no less despicable, people.

“Had there been more nazi-punching in the 1930s, maybe things would have turned better”

… is what you might say, if you have never opened a history book describing the ascension to power of the German Nazi party in the 1930s.

One of the main reasons Hitler was able to transform a thin electoral victory within a weak-but-functioning democracy, into complete totalitarian control, in a matter of years, was precisely the perception that public order was no longer assured and that social norms had broken down. A perception mostly orchestrated by nazi propaganda, but conveniently supported by a decade of street violence by post-spartakist KPD and other radical leftwing movements. It did not matter how morally justified or isolated these acts of civilian violence may have been: they were propped up as examples of the failings of democracy and, by the time the Reichstag burnt down, enough Germans were fine with a dictatorship.

To be very clear: the vast majority of that nazi punching was entirely justified, and you would have hopefully found me cheering on the punching if not outright participating. But never use it as an argument that pre-emptively punching nazis in the street is how you prevent nazis from gaining power, because that’s demonstrably false.

“Shut up already… Alt-right stooge…”

At the end of the day, I do not think this incident is either the next Reichstag Fire, nor as innocuous and laugh-inducing as some would want it to be. I am fairly confident that the vast majority of people who disagree with me on this somewhat-academic issue are not bloodthirsty beasts. I may also be completely blind to the very real and impending risk of that nazi’s ruthlessly organised online paramilitary organisation taking over the country tomorrow and putting his unfathomably horrid ideas into practice. Maybe that black-bloc guy was actually a time-traveller who prevented the next Hitler. In any case, I think it is a debate where it is perfectly possible to hold either opinion and still be a very decent person one might enjoy a cup of coffee with ((By comparison, I doubt I could even enjoy a post-apocalyptic survival meal with a Trump supporter.)).

Interestingly enough, that is not the position of many people on the opposite side of this debate. Apparently, merely questioning whether punching people is OK, automatically moves me from the cozy near-radical leftwing views I always foolishly thought I held, to the outer fringes of Pepe-loving foaming Rightwing Twitter trolls. At least based on some of the lovely measured reactions I got on Twitter on occasions where the topic came up ((I would bet a tenner that this guy, for example, is busy patting himself on the back for telling off one of them Trump-loving nazis…)).

And that, (not so) ironically, is a good example of why allowing the free punching of nazis without due process, is a dangerous idea.

IMG_8265

  1. Start your title with a number.
  2. Include random grandiloquent synonym for “great”.
  3. Attach irrelevant but eye-catching stock photo loosely-credited picture nicked from Google Image.
  4. Throw a dice, pick a list item and single it out in your title, to fool people into thinking the list was put together by someone who gave a fuck.
  5. Include a few useless factoids and thoroughly obvious common-sense observations as filler.
  6. Sunny weather often follows bouts of rain. Except when it doesn’t.
  7. The Jews control the media and are conspiring with the reptilian political elites to enslave the human race.
  8. Include at least one moronic / blatantly false / controversial item, to goad naive people into engaging with your list on social media, thus giving it more exposure.
  9. Stop and contemplate the vacuousness of your existence.
  10. Come to the frightening realisation that you are an insignificant leech on the backside of Humanity, whose contribution to the Joy, Happiness or Anything Good to the world is a net negative.
  11. Jump off a bridge.

Last year, rather than attending my traditional KFC christmas party and New Year’s Eve public drunkenness at the local temple, I met up with a few old friends from around the world, for 2 weeks of fun and adventures in Vietnam.

Technically the longest vacation I have had in… many many years ((assuming we conveniently exclude month-long bouts of fun between jobs)). Our (very) haphazardly planned trip to Vietnam surpassed most expectations and turned out surprisingly well, in light of the low number of missing body parts upon return.

 

A full recount would be way too tedious, so a few (badly outdated) Cliff notes instead:
Continue reading

So, it would appear that I may have brought back a small caffeine problem from my Vietnam vacation.

Along with over a kilo of that sweet magical bean powder one uses to produce that delicious sirupy black nectar of the gods they call coffee over there.

Which in the grand scheme of things could have been way, way, worse. Given the region’s history, an opium addiction was not completely out of the question.

Still, I feel I may actually need to sleep at some point.

ken-sama

A perk of being a long-term resident in a country that is currently sitting atop most lists for “cool vacay destinations in the world”, is being asked on a weekly daily basis:

“So… What are your Tokyo/Kyoto/Japan tips and recommendations?”

To which I politely smile and internally try to decide whether the person asking is mentally diminished or just hailing from an Internet-free country. Because all I hear is “Could you google Lonely Planet’s Top 10 List of Things to Do in Tokyo for me?”…

Since there is clearly no useful or interesting answer to that question, and since it is a lot easier to be negative than positive ((Exhibit A: over ten years of writing on this very blog.)), I instead decided to compile a near-exhaustive list of places and things that you should stay away from, when you visit Tokyo.

You will notice an important overlap with aforementioned “Top 10 Tokyo whatever” lists commonly found elsewhere, and there’s a good reason for that: these are mostly places that were interesting/special at some point long ago or fit well-enough in the trite “Japan-be-crazy-yo” narrative, to make them ideal candidates for lazy tourist guides and other lists catering to the lowest-common denominator.

Rule of thumb: if you are the sort of tourist who loved their visit to London’s Piccadilly Circus, Paris’ Champs Élysées, NYC’s Times Square or SF’s Fisherman’s Wharf, this list of don’ts is emphatically not for you. In fact, you can even use it as a blueprint for your dream Tokyo visit. For everyone else, here you go:

Maid Cafés

aka Maido Cafés

Last cool/interesting: Never

Who goes there: 20% Japanese (otaku on the spectrum and/or sex-offence-on-minors-under-the-age-of-consent waiting to happen), 80% tourists that heard these things were super popular and cool in Japan.

Selling points: Bland overpriced biscuits served by pimply high-school students to awkward shut-ins and clueless tourists in a hastily-refurbished Akihabara apartment. Basically like Applebees, with more pedophilia and shittier food.

Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori

Last cool/interesting: 2004? 2001?… Whenever the dozen Japanese girls who used to buy their cosplay outfit there graduated from high-school.

Who goes there: 99% foreign tourists (about half Western tourists, convinced that the other Chinese/East-Asian half are authentic locals). 1% Nigerian guys pretending to be from Chicago to sell you authentic American hip-hop streetwear.

Selling points: Foreign otaku cosplay-freaks. Foreign tourists busy photographing authentic Tokyo cosplay-freaks who were seated a row behind them on the flight in. Souvenir shops for tourists. McDonald’s. Starbuck’s. Shops that sell wacky t-shirts that read “Stupid gaijin” or “Looking for Japanese girlfriend” in Japanese. Zero actual Japanese people cosplaying.

Continue reading