October 2, 2019

it was “surreal” last night.  on ABC last night, it featured MoJo (an iconic advertising consultancy and, eventually, a “full-blown” agency)that influenced and shaped Australia.  For those that don’t know, ABC  is a national TV channel that’s mainly funded by the government and disallows all forms of commercialism (including ads) – you can’t even discuss (much less promote) any brands on their shows.

it was so meta.  Admittedly, they have a programme called Gruen that “humorously” critiques ads but this somehow felt different as it impacted Australian culture.  It can be argued that it was simply a mirror and a true insight into the Australian zeitgeist.

While prior to them “proper” American or British accents were used to voice over commercials, authentic Australian enunciation and expressions were instead  used (although they were considered “vulgar” by the “establishment”). i think this “honesty” was greatly appreciated by the Australian public. i now believe that you should never be ashamed of your actual heritage despite what you were “taught” and the constant stream of messages to put you down. i’ve got a feeling that’s why they dislike the old country so much – it is said that POME was originally an acronym for Prisoner Of Mother England.

Hogs (Paul Hogan better known by some Americans as Mick “Crocodile” Dundee) was the human face of a former tourism campaign – i challenge anyone to say it wasn’t effective as Australia moved from the 78th preferred holiday destination by Americans to the 7th.  Prior to him, it was all wildlife (like koalas and kangaroos) and he was even recognised, arguably, as Australian of the Year for its success.  The catchphrase was even adapted to the Yanks: “put another shrimp on the barbie” – as no one Down Under referred to them as “shrimp” but as “prawns”.  They say a real measure of a tourism campaign isn’t just about the foreign visits but also abut how good the locals feel about their country.

learning to un-learn

September 30, 2019

my accent (along with my disability) makes it difficult for me to be understood.  My English was influenced by American (as they “imposed” their educational system on us, unlike the Spanish who “chose” us to be “ignorant”) but someone born Sate-side could easily tell i didn’t grow up in America.

we spoke English at home as my parents spoke different dialects – sadly it was their only common language.  i learned Tagolog (comprising most of Filipino) from the “streets” (as this was only a subject in school during my time – the medium of instruction is in English).  Suffice it to say, my vocabulary in Filipino isn’t “great” or “refined”.

Although i was taught the letter “j” in our alphabet, it is pronounced as “h” in our native tongue – so producing a “hard j” is more difficult for me (and is further compounded by my current speech quality).  During my education, “z’ was not part of our alphabet (i think it’s now included) so this is also not an “easy”  sound for me.  Essentially, my condition impairs my ability to produce “active” (that is, with the voice turned on) sounds.  While previously i made “fast progress” through daily practice and sheer will, i need to be more conscious now as i have a tendency to revert to old habits as my speech patterns are already well established {this is not helped by my age).  Case in point, (unlike consonants) there’s an “acceptable” range for vowels which children “easily” mimic and older people struggle with (that’s why it’s easier for you to learn another language ehen your “younger”).

i’ve got such a “bastardised” accent (as my pronunciation of syllables doesn’t “neatly” fall under one language) that i can pose a challenge to my speech pathologist.  =)

I originally thought of doing both a presentation and blog post but due to time pressures opted for the latter. Here’s a concise version of what I ended up doing…

I’ve used a “structured” approach to impart more formality but being a blog post I decided to make it more “medium-friendly”.  =)

A.  Introduction

A.1 Description and Background

Since New York city had over 60 million visitors last year alone, it may be useful to recommend hotels based on their physical proximity to major attractions (such as Central Park – not Central Perk of Friends fame) or what I called Places of Interest (or POI for short)using the Haversine formula – it’s a technical way of measuring distance between points using Latitude & Longitude (I won’ bore you with the details as it uses a lot of Trigonometric functions).   Essentially, it was envisioned to help plan your trip to the Big Apple.

A.2 Data

It used “free” data to determine which hotels are in which neighbourhoods and in which boroughs (so I used an API called FourSquare to get some of the place information).  Unsurprisingly, the major hotels were clustered in and most POI were located in Manhattan.

B. Methodology

I used clustering to segment my data (thankfully, the hard bits are already implemented). Freakishly, the cluster of neighbourhoods corresponded to the NYC boroughs (you know somebody worked it out).  This was confirmed visually (after all, seeing is believing) by something called a Folium map (see below).

This is one of the “cool” tools available at your disposal.  This is not, in and of itself, conclusive proof but you can “go down a deep rabbit hole” of data to assert your claim.  This is, by no means, the only “weapon” available to you but it sure is pretty.

C. Results

Unremarkably, the data merely confirmed what we’ve always known:  hotels are near one another and sites are chosen for their proximity to popular landmarks and sought after amenities – it’s so obvious, duh.

D. Discussion

It’s not always about generating new insights.  It’s sometimes about “empirical”  confirmation of things we just take for granted as true.

E. Conclusion

I can talk until I’m blue in the face but you’ll probably pay me no mind and tune out (if you haven’t already). In short you can use Data Science (and its associated tools) can be powerful in uncovering secrets.

If you’d like to read a more detailed and “serious” document, the full  report can be dowloaded at

If code is more your thing, a Jupyter notebook in Python can be obtained from:

If you’re generally more interested in GitHub (and open source computing), you can go to the following address:

This has mainly been about content but, in my experience, context can be just as, if not more, important – that’s how you should think about Data Science!

system of a down

February 7, 2019

they showed The Godfather series on free-to-air TV (i rewatched the first two instalments but not the third which i don’t really like.  IMHO, the second film is one of those rare gems when the sequel is as good or better than the original).  I felt bad for the character Michael.  Like Abigail in the film The Favourite (side note: the Academy recognised the Aussie screenwriter), (in my experience) it usually doesn’t really matter if you start out as well-meaning but being part of a “corrupt” system changes you accordingly.

As Trevor Noah talks about apartheid, Hannah Gadsby about marginalisation, and Dave Chappelle about #MeToo, they all point out that these issues are systemic and deeply-ingrained.  Good individuals acting independently are insufficient to effect cultural change – it takes targeted actions (sometimes done in concert) for meaningful results.

i know New Amsterdam is just a tv show (mostly involving trite Hollywood pablum) but occasionally Dr. Goodwin showcases important lessons for us all: he may be over-idealistic at times but, essentially, the key is to understand the underlying structure that causes systemic issues.  It is difficult to improve systems but a good understanding is a vital start.


stranger in a strangeland (2)

November 17, 2018

i’m a sucker for good food.

and most of what I ate was tasty.  It reminds me of Melbourne (where I studied for a year) in that on almost all street corners you could get a decent cup of coffee (kudos to the Italians!), it was like that with food.  Not that the food wasn’t good in Melbourne (like New York, it clearly was influenced by the plethora of immigrants) but the food in Tokyo was something else (they have the most Michelin restaurants in a city in the entire planet after all).  If possible i prefer “cheap” grub (but like my sister says:  “Nothing is cheap in Japan) but i’m known for saving so i can spend for an “expensive” meal – i just value experiences over things.  To paraphrase Antony Bourdain:  good food is often simple food.

over there they seem to like their KitKat ™ (apparently this translates to the Japanese kitto katsu, meaning good luck or surely win   which explain its popularity) .  They’ve got the most assortment of favours i’ve ever seen:  strawberry, apple, Tokyo banana (a lot of their snacks have a combination of this fruit with chocolate), ube (purple yam quite popular in the Philippines) , wasabi (a type of Japanese horseradish), maccha (two variants of green tea – a “sweeter” one for the kiddies and a more intense one for adults),  miso (fermented soybean), sake(there were two variants of the rice wine alcohol:  Masuizumi or plum), and soy sauce.   Those were the ones we saw.  Apparently, there are also cherry; lemon; kiwi; mango; pineapple; maple; cappuccino; blueberry cheesecake; cookies plus; apple vinegar; azuki bean (more commonly known as the adzuki bean); apricot seed; baked potato; chocolate and  grilled potato; white peach; white and yellow peach; chocobanana; banana minis; bitter chocolate; i-stick (frozen dark chocolate);  pumpkin; baby pumpkin; sports drink; strawberry fromage (French for cheese); blueberry fromage, strawberry milk, French Bretagne milk; French salt; salt watermelon; fruit parfait; college tater (which i assume is a form of potato); double berry (a combination of blueberries and strawberries);  anko (red ben paste) and maccha; red bean paste; sweet bean paste; Yubari melon (a type of Japanese cantaloupe); Nasu Kogen (geographic highlands in Japan) milk; soybean powder; strong soybean flour; Houji tea (Houjicha is a roasted, Japanese green tea); jasmine tea; maccha milk; Muscat of Alexandria (a white wine grape variety); and brandy & orange variants. I’m guessing not all were ‘successful’ or that some flavours were only available for a limited time.  My philosophy has always been to try food – if you don’t like something then fair enough, at least you tried it (that’s why it took me awhile to taste rabbit because growing up I had them as pets – forget that they’re technically rodents).  I found the Tokyo banana and “dark” maccha okay but found the ube, wasabi, and “light” maccha too sweet (i suspect they were blended with white chocolate).  i missed out on trying the soy sauce and sake variants because of “quantity” issues.

we tried McDonald’s there:  not because we craved the familiar but because they are prone to localisation.  In the Philippines, they’ve got Fried Chicken (with rice if you want) and Spaghetti prompted (i guess) by the local competitor Jollibee (and as far as i know, the only place in the world where they are ranked second as far as hamburger chains go).  My wife & i had the Ebi (Japanese for shrimp) Fillet and my son had the Chicken Teriyaki burger. For dessert, we tried the Choco Pie (not the “white” one, the other one tasted like the hazelnut spread) and the Cinnamon Melts(it was good and “deconstructed” but i’m a sucker for a decent Cinnamon Roll)).

we ate at two places that our niece recommended: a sushi and a ramen place.  Both were “cramped” and my wife had to feed me (as I needed both hands to hold onto the tables there).  The sushi restaurant was like a sushi train in that there were no servers.  Instead, you ordered your item from a touch screen and it was delivered on one of three “tracks” (i think they must have corresponded to the price).  It was “good” and my son had seven plates.  i had more but “stopped” myself as i’m trained to eat a lot.  It was a “cheap” meal and you could tell as the rice easily separated from the fish (but i prefer sashimi from sushi anyway, although the hallmark of great sushi is supposedly the quality of the rice and not the seafood).  On the other hand. you had to pre-order your food from the ramen place using a vending machine.  you could even order the house ramen to take away – we didn’t as we didn’t want the hassle of dealing with fairly strict Australian Customs.  Both were off the beaten path and hidden away,  prospective patrons were unlikely to just wander off the streets of Shinjuku and the restaurants probably relied on word-of-mouth for custom.

i first had my taste of Uni (Japanese for sea urchin) at the “cheap”sushi place.  i also tried it at an “expensive” place.  Frankly, i’m obsessed with the uni  they serve in Japan.  It tastes different and MUCH better than the ones in the US, OZ or the Philippines (regardless of the price-point).  My working theory is:  since a lot more people order it in Japan so any stock doesn’t have to be stored for a long time so it is much fresher and, therefore, tastier.

i gained some weight because as my wife puts it:  what i had in a day, i’d usually consumed in a week.  She noticed more as she had to push me around.  It was not until i got back to OZ that the difference was obvious to me:  i became heavier there but at least the kilos seemed “distributed”, here i get a “ponch” on my tummy first.

aside from seeing the sights, we try to “eat like locals” when we can – i think it opens your mind further.  As Andrew Zimmern puts it:  “Food is a passport to adventure”.  And to paraphrase the late, great Anthony Bourdain: Travel changes you.





stranger in a strange land

November 9, 2018

we were recently in Japan for my wife’s conference.  she usually doesn’t bring me and my son but my in-laws were also overseas – while I can manage on my own (admittedly, with some difficulty), I can’t look after my son and all his needs.  It was a holiday tacked on to a business trip.  There’s a lot to unpack so where do I begin.

language problems were common so my wife had great difficulty arranging for an accessible room for me.  Once she said “accessible” and got “accessi” as a clarification. Another time, she mentioned with enough space to accommodate a “wheelchair” she was told that there was no “chair” in the room only a “sofa”.  Apparently, they refer to it as “barrier-free” over there but knowing that fact didn’t really help.  Thankfully, she had a relative there that could speak the language.  She facilitated the search but some things were still lost in translation.  We managed to get a room that fit all three of us (instead of the two rooms that seemed at one time, the only option for us).  However, they could only manage a short, plastic stool instead of a shower chair so my wife helped me to sit down so I could shower by myself (and not have to get her wet in the process). To some extent, this reminded me of a few of the challenges that we faced in US hotels.  One of the “accessible” rooms was on the ground floor but there were only stairs entering the hotel – luckily there was a rail i could use to go up and down.  Moreover, my wife had to help me shower.  There was another room were the bathroom was suitable but getting there on my own was problematic: a bed effectively blocked my path.  There too was no ramp at the hotel’s entrance but there were also steps and a rail for me to hold onto.

most of their street cuts were too “high” – so my son and I had to help my wife get me on the pavement as my combination, “lighter”. travel walker/wheelchair doesn’t allow for “self-propel”-tion. And, most lifts could only hold me and my family (did I mention I’m claustrophobic and try to avoid elevators if possible – I know, ironic for someone who has difficulty walking and can’t use escalators or travelators) as well as difficulty getting me out of typically-narrow hallways.  That said, we took trains most of the time (as taxis were really much more expensive but occasionally depending on the destination we didn’t have much choice ) because all platforms were (eventually) reachable via lift(s) (granted some were outside the station, some times you had to take more than one, some escalators could be made wheelchair-friendly with the assistance of staff (a first for me) and it’s not for people who are easily lost/poor at directions) and there were prominent “gaps” on to and off a few trains.  But this was better than our prior experience, as we learned first-hand, there were only a few elevators (only select stations had them and they weren’t always working) on the New York subway.

In 2020, Tokyo will host the Paralympics.  In my mind, that’s both good and necessary.  Usually, hotels have only one or two barrier-free rooms despite UN WHO stating that about 10% of the world’s population identifying as disabled.  Sure, not all of them require mobility or sensory aids but that’s still grossly disproportionate.   We missed the mad-rush for hotels in making rooms more accessible by a month.  Like America, the intention is there.  It only goes to show that it’s only not just an issue of wealth or access to technology but about education.  Originally I was upset  (admittedly, i still sometimes do in very extreme cases but you shouldn’t hold it against people for their ignorance but inform them of the proper “etiquette” (and the often unintended consequences of their actions).  Say what you will about Australia’s shortcomings when it comes to disability but i’m yet to find another country that does it better.




born to run

November 24, 2017

PBS Newshour showed again Part 1 of Jeffrey Brown‘s interview with Bruce Springsteen (originally aired December 19, 2016; the video url: ). It was meant to be a promo of his memoir but it was much more to me.

He might not be my favourite artist or a technical singer but like he says: he’s learned to ‘inhabit his songs’ which makes his songs more believable.  Moreover, his working-class roots makes him seem authentic and relatable. I don’t pretend to be an expert on him (or his numerous works) but it wasn’t until I heard the original acoustic (and much more slower) version of ‘Born in the USA’ that I thought I understood the lyrics and what that song was truly about.

As he says in his interview and his in his new memoir “I wasn’t modest in the assessment of my abilities. Of course, I thought I was a phony (sic). That is the way of the artist. But I also thought I was the realest thing you had ever seen.” It’s about dichotomy, I guess – existing on two different planes at the same time.  For me, a real artist lives (and exists) with contradictions – they are only human after all.

You can watch Part 2 at