The reading notes record thoughts from things I read. 這網誌是我的一些閱讀後的思考和摘要記錄。My website 我的網頁: http://raympoon.playgroundhk.com

竊聽風雲3

竊聽風雲3剛剛上畫,似乎大家都很期待。上兩套竊聽風雲電影口碑都不錯,題材吸引,劇本故事複雜,拍攝手法現代。竊聽科技是現代大熱議題,以之為背景已吸引不少觀眾,劇本的社會議題亦相當到肉。

第三套亦是用這一個模式,議題是講地產。以前的電影描寫科技,觀眾認定是科幻,非常誇大。但經Snowden一役,大家才發覺先進竊聽科技是真實的,而且全世界各國都已廣泛採用。電影所說要借用電訊公司協助來竊聽電話其實已算是低級技術。劇本情節很複雜,兩個多小時的說故事時間很緊張,很多情節都匆匆交代,要留心人物關係才明白。各演員的演出就一致好評,尤其是老演員曾江,演技非常精湛。

tsang

故事骨幹是新界地產發展的勾心鬥角。劇情我不評論,以免破壞大家看故事的期望。但有一點想說的是新界用地大問題:丁權。這一個非常有爭議性的政策是大忌諱,影響新界原居民的極大利益,亦影響香港的整體經濟發展。政府幾十年來想處理這個問題都不得要領。林鄭曾經大膽提出一些可能性,但新界原居民已群起攻擊,結果很快就不了了之。

記者追問導演為何要選擇這一個題目。他說明知山有虎,偏向虎山行。意思是已預期既得利益者會向他發動攻擊。他大膽地虛構一個故事,說政府決定停止丁屋政策,不再批出丁屋。為補償已擁有的丁權,可讓他們集中興建三十層高的大樓,可使用地更有效率。地產發展大戰由此引發。這一個說法和林鄭所提出的不同。林鄭所建議的是分階段減建,但現時一代的原居民仍可享用。以陰謀論來推測,以電影這一個軟性方式來提出這個議題可能別有用心。一是政府知道高調單方面提出行不通,所以用其他方式先在社會引發討論,培養民意致時機成熟。二是原居民界亦知道這個政策不能永久持續,如需解決,不如找一個有最大收益的辦法。不論如何,電影界可能被鼓勵或協助拍攝這個題材的電影。實情如何,可以看看各方反應。電影宣傳在幾個月前已開始,而電影在早前已在大陸上畫,香港亦在今個星期四公映。直至現在,口頭攻擊仍未開始,而影評亦迴避評論有關丁權的情節。我覺得這是風暴前的沈寂,大家都在等候他人開腔。起碼這是一個好預兆,有可能檯底討價已開始。

Transcendence 超越潛能

幾個月來腳部不適,要像CHT一樣暫時休息。旅行暫時不去了,連兩小時的電影都不能應付,只可以支持一個半小時的音樂會,還要有十五分鐘中場休息。近來狀態轉好,想去看電影諾亞,看看聖經故事怎樣被惡搞,不過已經落畫了。今天轉去看超越潛能 Transcendence,算是有點收獲。

看電影介紹說是科幻電影,電腦想統治人類。但有些影評說是愛情電影,男女主角至死不渝。我覺得導演在言情方面做得不錯,手法淒美無奈;只看電影表面,確是愛情得不得了。但看看電影的骨幹,又覺得概念很科幻,取材於現時流行的觀念和尖端科技發展。雖然如此,影片沒有驚人的特技,所謂高科技產品都是我們已常見的資科庫、互聯網,連一些高科技的機械人都欠奉。

劇本的主要概念是人工智能。這些研究想跨越科技和意識,生物有機的代謝和自我意識的關係。在另一方面,很多研究以科技提升智能,最基本是眼鏡,很多人都用,再者是Google Glass;而以機械協助或加強身體機能已很常見,自我控制的機械人亦在研發中。互聯網上驚人的資料和知識我們已垂手可得,下一步是要植入腦部使可隨時使用。

tcd

男主角是一位研究人工智能的科學家。在一次演講中,有一位觀眾質問他是否想自已創造一位神。他的回答是我們不是一直都在這樣做嗎。這其實是劇本的重點。幾萬年來,人類將不能超越不能理解的事物創造為神。研究智能的工作,一直是想將腦部思維資料化、數碼化、程式化。現代科技已做到很深入,但人工智能雖然知道事物的各種原理和定義,但不能理解道德上的對與錯;這是人類感情上的缺陷而產生的非邏輯性的決定。在一次偶然的機會,在生死關頭,男主角的思維模型被上載到電腦。科幻故事在此跳過了已知的現實,直接描述當人類意識被加在無機的資料數據上時,電腦便有了意識,變成了有人類思考能力的機器。這一個科學與哲學的問題,曾經產生了不倫不類的科學道德論,亦曾引發機器統治人類的陰謀論。

但這只是劇本其中一個說故事的方向。當人類有了更大的能力時會發生什麼事?有人類意識的機器處身於現代科技環境,全世界資訊知識自由流動,而雲端運算使他無遠弗界,變成了無所不知,無所不在。他的智慧以幾何級數增長,什麼難題都找到方法解決,無所不能。就此到達了神的境界。

當了神之後他躊躇滿志,要造福這個世界,要使其他人都生活得更好。正如世上所有的意識型態、政治理想、宗教至理一樣,都是想要其他人都分享,依從。這些動作的口號不只是要改變人類,而是要 transcend 升華他們。當這一些偉大的志願被人類有缺陷的感情思維帶領,後果多是不堪切想。

這個神的問題怎樣解決?又正如歷史所證明,除非是一個物外的神或是視萬物為芻狗的神,其他擬人的充滿人類感情的神是虛假的,亦是不能久存的。

電影的結局又是老生常見的技倆,以電腦病毒對付電腦。電腦病毒大家都知道只是一種電腦程式。很多電腦神童都懂得防禦。以神級的超級人工智能電腦來說,程式員寫的電腦病毒只是小兒科。但神卻被解決掉了,原因是這個擁有人類意識的神同時亦擁有人類感情上的缺陷。在最關鍵的時刻他要決定去消除病毒還是要擁抱愛人,時間只足夠做其中一樣。最後一刻,人性流露,他選擇了愛,不再做神。這是一個相當隱誨的訊息,指出人類複雜的感情並非源於神。

 

Wars that Changed the World

Wars that Changed the World
Charles Messenger

wars_that

Evolution not as Charles Darwin saw it does not follow a smooth path.  There are many kinky events which could change the direction of evolution abruptly.  Similarly, the evolution of civilizations does not go smoothly one book at a time.  There are kinky events along the way that could change the course of history.  In Charles Messenger’s book, these events were human created wars.  The book gave a focused analysis of 25 wars which were considered significantly enough to have changed the world.  I chose four of them below which I think are interesting and have some factors which are less known.

Charles Martel against the Moors (AD 731-9)

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western Europe was divided among three kingdoms: Visigoths in Spain, Franks in France and Lombards in Italy.  When the Islam was born in the 6th century in the Arabian Peninsula, it quickly spread through the Levant, Asia Minor and North Africa.  It was only stopped from spreading into Europe by the Byzantium.  But the Moors in North Africa advanced into Spain by sea and moved upward to France.  The tactic was to try to take Constantinople from the rear.

Charles Martel of the Frankish kingdom was the main force in Western Europe in the 8th century which stopped the Moors and kept them in Southern Spain for several centuries.  He was crucial in keeping Islam out of Europe and saved Christianity.

The success of the Moors transformed Andalusia of Spain with Islamic culture.  Its architecture affected European design from then on.

Charles Martel granted his land to his sons and let them rule independently while pleading loyalty to him.  This in effect created the feudal system which remained as a major form of governance for many centuries to come.

The Crusades (AD 1071-1254)

The Crusades starting from the 11th century was a series of campaigns by the Christians aiming to regaining Jerusalem from the Muslims.  The significant ones are the Fourth and the Seventh Crusades.

The Fourth Crusade was planned to capture the Dalmatian coast of the Balkan Peninsula.  However, the Crusaders were then diverted in 1204 AD to besiege Constantinople and then sacked it, to the surprise of the Orthodox Church Christians.  The Byzantium took refuge in Asia Minor and could only return and regain Constantinople seventy years later.  This unethical event of the Catholic Christians marked the permanent separation of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

The Seventh Crusade was a failure.  It was the campaign which revealed that regaining Jerusalem was not possible.

A major legacy of the Crusades was the creation of the military religious orders, which transformed Christians into soldiers; notably the establishment of the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller which were also known as the Knights of St John, and the Teutonic Knights.  They all developed into power centres vying for wealth and into war machines.

Spanish conquest of Mexico (AD 1519-39)

The 16th century was the Age of Exploration when the Europeans discovered America.  Among the numerous efforts of colonization, it was the Spanish conquest of Mexico led by Hernan Cortes which had the most far reaching consequences for the American culture.

The conquest was not easy, with Spain being so far away, strong resistance by the local Aztec people, and so few Spanish soldiers against a large population.  But the advance in weaponry gave the Spanish the upper hand.

As a result of victory and the wish to push Christianity, the Aztec empire, together with her religion, culture and history were completely destroyed.  The Aztec civilization was almost out of existence.  Even modern archeology effort has great difficulties in knowing the details of the Aztec culture until today.

Thirty Years War (AD 1618-48)

These were purely religious wars originating from the rise of Protestantism, and the split of Catholics and Christians.  At that time, Germany was a collection of princedom states under the overall umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire, with the emperor elected among them.  The north and east states opted for Protestantism, while the south and west states remained Catholic.  The wars started when some states expelled the corrupted Catholic bishops, and the German states engaged each other in war.

The war spread to Denmark in 1625.  Denmark formed an alliance with England and France to help the northern states of Germany for fear that any Catholic victory could undermine her interest.  Sweden entered the war in 1630, defending her interest from both sides.  The wars entered the France-Swedish alliance stage in 1635, with the alliance gaining the upper hand against Spain.  At last, in 1648, the Peace of Westphalia was signed, with the Holy Roman Empire declaring amnesty.  All German states were granted autonomy, with Catholic and Protestantism states given equal status.

The Thirty Years War was a complicated war involving all states in Europe for a very long time.  The result was the demise of the Holy Roman Empire.  The victims who suffered most were the general population.  In the most contested areas, as much as two-third of the population perished.

烏克蘭事件

烏克蘭事件的誰是誰非,東西方各說各話。問題的近期起源是烏克蘭內部的民主紛爭,親歐和親俄派別在爭權。本來大家期望可以用民主方法解決,但局勢惡化至暴力奪權,引致東西方大國介入。他們的企圖並不是為烏克蘭人民著想,而只是為本身利益,希望主導烏克蘭未來的政治取向。

初步交鋒,俄羅斯先失去親俄政權,但取得克里米亞半島。西方指俄羅斯分裂烏克蘭又吞併其國土,但俄羅斯指是當地人民自決,是民意所向。結果是西方無能為力,任由俄羅斯主宰局勢。我起初以為克里米亞半島會宣佈自治或獨立。但俄羅斯眼見西方反應軟弱,就直接將之納入國土,省卻了要聯合國承認的步驟。

烏克蘭陷入混亂時,東西方國家已為此對峙。但美國和歐盟並不理解俄羅斯的決心。俄羅斯對烏克蘭,特別是克里米亞半島,是有很深的情意結。這使俄羅斯比以前對付格魯吉亞和波羅的海小國時的手段更強硬。對付烏克蘭,俄羅斯不惜一戰,是有其歷史淵源。

奧圖曼帝國以伊斯蘭教立國,在十四世紀興起,迅速席捲中東、北非、黑海、巴爾幹半島,並在十五世紀攻陷君士旦丁堡,消滅拜占庭,之後統治烏克蘭南部幾百年。直至十八世紀,俄羅斯帝國的嘉芙蓮大帝在一連串的 Russo-Turkish Wars 中擊敗奧圖曼,國土伸張至黑海南岸。烏克蘭和克里米亞半島屬俄羅斯有二百多年。這片海岸對俄羅斯十分重要,嘉芙蓮大帝下令興建軍港,烏克蘭的 Odessa 和克里米亞的 Sevastopol 都是在那時從無到有。俄羅斯繼之建立歷史悠久的龐大黑海艦隊。大量的俄羅斯海軍將領和軍人更舉家移居;二百多年來,這個區域全是俄羅斯人。我在兩年前曾到訪這兩個城市,發覺大部份居民都是俄羅斯人,語言以俄文為主,路牌和商店招牌都寫俄文。沿岸和市中心有不少紀念碑,都是悼念俄羅斯將領和軍人。大家都稱這一個區域是烏克蘭裡的俄羅斯。

為何克里米亞卻屬於烏克蘭呢?普京明言是被克魯曉夫出賣。雖然在第一次大戰後,烏克蘭已全屬於蘇聯,但其民族主義很強,時有動亂。其時克里米亞半島是獨立個體,直屬俄羅斯。在1954年,克魯曉夫和烏克蘭簽定條約,將克里米亞半島撥歸烏克蘭。這個行政決定其時影響不大,因為烏克蘭是附庸國,是蘇聯的一部 份。但當蘇聯於1989年瓦解後,烏克蘭宣佈獨立,問題就來了。當時的臨時解決辦法是烏克蘭同意將 Sevastopol 的軍港設施長期讓俄羅斯的黑海艦隊使用。這個安排當兩國關係良好時還可以。但每當烏克蘭對西方表現善意,俄羅斯就會大為緊張,使用各種方法干預。今次烏克蘭政變,俄羅斯就乾脆取回克里米亞半島。

以俄羅斯的立場,她是有歷史責任去維護當地大多數的俄羅斯人的安全和利益,而她已經做到了,應該還會堅持下去。但克里米亞半島孤立於俄羅斯之外,資源和食水要依靠烏克蘭。長遠的目標有可能是要佔據烏克蘭東部,以支援克里米亞。而且烏克蘭東部省份亦有大量俄羅斯人聚居,要鼓動他們要求獨立很容易。如果有動亂,而烏克蘭要鎮壓,俄羅斯就有藉口干預。西方國家的憂慮並非無因。且看局勢發展如何。

回收的真相

回收乃世界熱潮,環保界視之為頭號宣傳目標。政府亦要跟隨,但其回收政策十分不足。下面的報導正正顯露了政策的漏洞。政府的做法主要是撥地和現金資助,以為市場可以自行發展出回收行業可持續的生態。其一個主流概念,是視垃圾為廢物,處理的方法是堆填或焚化;而回收只是邊緣利益,只適用於很少部份的垃圾。

香港急劇發展,幾十年間已成為世界大城市,七百多萬人聚居在很小的空間。香港需要輸入大量的物資,而產生的垃圾數量是天文數字。比例較少的可回收部份已是很大的數量。以前所有垃圾都混雜一起送去堆填區,只有很少會被回收處理。隨著回收熱潮興起,可回收垃圾的數量大量增加。以前小規模的回收營運方式已追不上。

垃圾是沒有人想要的,有價的是其中的有用物料。一個完整的垃圾回收政策,是要考慮整個過程,由垃圾源頭、分類、回收物流、清理、轉化、以至有用物料的市場策略。政府的政策只做了第一步。從仁愛堂的例子可以看到,回收業借助政府而有了地又回收了垃圾,但卻無力處理以致最後可能要棄置於堆填區。這說明在整個過程中仍需要有政策協助。死結在,第一,分類和清洗需用大量人力,需要統籌有效率的團隊和適當的機械協助;第二,轉化為有用物料有多種方法,需要科技界協助又要使之工業化;第三,海外市場調查和推動,以使回收的有用物料有出路。政府在所有方面都應提供協助。

仁愛堂的例子並不單一。世界各地都不想輸入垃圾。經妥善處理後的可以即用的物料才有市場。除了塑膠廢料外,廢紙亦有此現像。未經分類的廢紙又混有雜質會被視為垃圾,很多國家都不接收。另一個令人擔憂的是玻璃瓶回收,因為現時宣傳的使用方式非常有限,結果可能是大量玻璃瓶無法處理。比較理想的是金屬回收。可 能金屬有價,而處理亦較容易。

最後一點,是環保界和回收界怪罪政府宣傳不足,認為應該教育市民將垃圾分類再分類。即是希望市民做多一點工夫,使回收業的分類工作更容易。塑膠要分膠樽膠袋再清洗乾淨,紙張要分紙盒報紙光面紙。以後屋苑的回收不是用三色桶,而是七色或十色桶。我想如果有適當教育,再過一代可能會有一部份市民照做。希望其時垃圾回收隊伍亦可以將十種垃圾分開處理。

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耗千萬公帑 招標冇人吼
仁愛堂搞回收 2,000噸廢膠未解決
【本報訊】政府隱瞞本地回收業欠缺支援下的垃圾圍城危機,獲2,500萬元公帑資助的仁愛堂塑膠資源再生中心廢膠爆滿,廠房積存逾2,000噸廢膠,中心 設備無力解決,以招標形式處理。回收業界透露該批廢膠無利可圖,相信無人接手,耗數以千萬元公帑營運的回收企業,收回的廢膠恐最終傾倒堆 填區。

本報昨實地觀察仁愛堂在屯門環保園約5,000平方米廠房,目睹積存的打紮塑膠連綿不斷,堆叠了三至四層,連附近一塊足球場大的空地放滿廢膠。廢膠種類達十多種,逾半屬未經分揀的廢膠,亦有一批屬工程膠的水馬,但該類塑膠破碎技術較複雜,回收業界指仁愛堂設於環保園的廠房,每日可處理的廢塑膠量僅20噸, 現有設備根本無法應付。仁愛堂指自中國大陸去年推出「綠籬行動」,限制外地廢膠入口,本港市面廢塑膠回收活動幾近癱瘓,因此中心 收集大量來自社區回收網絡的塑膠,囤積的廢塑膠已超出可處理量。環保署承認本地回收市場收縮,很多商業回收商停止收集廢塑膠,其間靠仁愛堂收廢膠,現時已近飽和,故批准中心出售塑膠存貨,騰出空間繼續運作。中心近期先後兩次招標,其中一次將逾1,700噸的各式塑膠以打包形式招標,希望有回收商承接。但多間接獲標書的回收商向本報表示不會入標,有回收商指該批廢膠有逾千噸屬未分類雜膠,接手後處理每噸要虧蝕500元。另一次招標 約600噸廢膠樽為主,仁愛堂指招標項目屬商業活動,拒絕透露細節及詳細內容。

【漠視問題】
有環保團體及廢料回收商批評,今次仁愛堂廢膠爆滿事件,暴露政府的回收政策欠監管,以及公眾教育不足,令市民並無做好廢物源頭分類的前期工作。有環保團體指,若政府不正視相關問題,「仁愛堂事件」只會不斷重演。有環保回收經驗的綠領行動總幹事何漢威表示,根據外國推行家居回收政策的經驗, 當地居民會自動將廢物分類及清洗乾淨才交給回收商。但他批評,港府多年來並無教育市民正確使用三色回收桶,「唔少市民當三色桶係垃圾桶,令回收成效大打折扣」。他批評政府在回收過程中並無做好監管責任,「若回收商冇依足要求去做,令廢料變成垃圾,如果政府再唔正視問題,『仁愛堂事件』只會不斷重演」。

何漢威預料,一旦實施家居廢物徵費,三色桶的垃圾回收量將會激增,令相關問題惡化。他促請當局除加強正確廢物分類教育,及加強監管回收程序,「例如喺三色桶附近加設閉路電視,監督回收商同市民有冇違規」。香港環保廢料再造業總會會長劉耀成表示,絕大部份的塑膠、廢紙及鋁鐵均可回收循環再用,「大前提係要做好廢物源頭分類,以膠樽為例,如果源頭做好分類,大部份膠樽只需要用清水洗淨就可以回收做塑膠原料」。
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有機食物不可治食物敏感

有物食物出發點很好,提醒大家要注意濫用農藥的害處。但近年已漸變質。一是變成宗教式的迷信,以為有機食物無所不能。二是變成上流社會的玩意,價錢比別的食物貴幾倍,窮苦人家可以免問。三是商家掌握了心理,有機變成廣告口號,質素成疑但貴價照舊。

有機食物的好處限於沒有農藥。其他的性質和普通食物一樣。但常聽到的宣傳卻是好處無限。下面的報導就是有機食物假借一些個案誤導大眾。有機資源中心可能是一番好意,宣傳一下有機食物可治食物敏感,但醫學根據全無。幸好有專家現身作證,打破謬誤。其實只需要有普通常識,都會知道食物敏感存在已久,早於農藥被使用前已有不少病症。

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踢爆有機食物謬誤 冇證據治食物敏感

今年五歲的顏子康,自出生以來受濕疹困擾,久醫不癒。顏太曾向中西醫求診,甚至嘗試各種偏方,例如以金銀花煲水洗澡,但仍無效。後來得知兒子患有食物敏感症,顏太聽從兒科醫生的吩咐,戒吃雞蛋﹑小麥及牛奶這些致敏食物,並進食有機食物,兩至三星期後,子康的皮膚便已好轉。

上月尾,香港有機資源中心舉行了一個記者會,還邀請顏太出席,分享有機食物如何舒緩孩子食物敏感。該中心發表的調查指,在孩子患食物敏感的受訪家庭中,近46%的家長認為吃有機食物可改善情況。然而,食物敏感的真正成因,是某些蛋白質刺激身體免疫系統,釋放敏感信號物質,例如組織胺會導致皮膚出紅疹,又癢又腫。而許多有機食品,例如有機雞蛋,其實一樣有致敏蛋白質,即同樣會令人敏感。

那麼上述調查是否有誤導成份?香港有機資料中心的總監黃煥忠對此否認,並有以下解釋:「其實背後的原因是吃有機食物,可以減少致敏原,因為沒有農藥及化肥。」他又補充說,調查只是家長自己的看法,並非科學實證。

不過,記者訪問了香港過敏協會主席何學工醫生,他顯然不同意黃煥忠這種說法。何氏指出,食物所含的農藥對人體造成不良反應,只能算是中毒,而非食物敏感。他又指,有研究比較過進食有機菜與一般蔬菜的老鼠,結果在免疫學分析上,兩者的健康並無顯著分別;換言之,現時仍未有醫學證據,證明有機食物可改善人類的敏感機理,而作為醫生的他,亦表示不會推薦有機食物治療食物敏感。
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一個世紀反式脂肪的生與死

美國科學人雜誌三月號報導,食物及藥物管理局於去年十一月宣佈氫化植物油不能被視為安全產品。這個決定會使美國企業不再生產氫化植物油,從而停止反式脂肪 的供應。

反式脂肪 Trans-fat 是脂肪酸的一種,但在自然界中並不存在。脂肪酸有飽和與不飽和兩種,牛油豬油含飽和脂肪酸較多,而植物油含較多不飽和脂肪酸。在1901年,德國化學家 Wilheim Normann 發明了氫化方法,將植物油中部份不飽和脂肪酸轉為飽和脂肪,使之有牛油的特性,可以用作人造牛油。但氫化過程會產生反式脂肪酸,存在於產品內。

反式脂肪隨著氫化植物油在二十世紀誕生。在很短的時間之內,食物工業界就已經明白氫化植物油的經濟效益,可將廉價的植物油加工變成人造牛油, 以代替供應較少又較昂貴的牛油。牛油在食品製造過程中責任重大,現在有了廉價代替品,大量的食品如糕點、餅乾、麵包,都轉用人造牛油。在 1912 年,Wilheim Normann 因氫化植物油而獲得諾貝爾獎。

因人造牛油的普及,反式脂肪就廣泛存在於各種食品之內。初期大家對反式脂肪在健康方面的影響都沒有認識。食品界的反應是食物製造用少了牛油, 價廉又物美,要大力推廣。而醫學界亦覺得進食了較少的動物脂肪對心血管健康應有幫助。但在七八十年代,問題開始浮現。隨著人造牛油的廣泛使 用,心血管疾病的數字卻急速上升。在八十年代,科學家對人造牛油的進食做追蹤研究,竟然發現經常進食人造牛油的人士其心血管發病率比其他人要 高出百分之五 十。

同期醫學界亦對反式脂肪的新陳代謝機制作出研究。他們發現反式脂肪和飽和脂肪都會增加人體內的低密度膽固醇。但反式脂肪還會減低高密度膽固 醇,對人體的害處更大。

基於各項研究的結果,在2003年,食物及藥物管理局規定食品標籤需要註明反式脂肪的含量。這一個規定亦引起社會上的警惕。有民間團體發起禁 用反式脂肪運動,而很多食品工業亦自動減少使用人造牛油。市面上含反式脂肪的食品減少了百分之七十五。但根據統計推算,餘下的百分之二十五仍 可引致每年七千宗心血管死亡個案。

2013年的新規定,會使生產商停止製造氫化植物油。理論上反式脂肪就可在食品之中絕跡。從二十世紀初期開始,反式脂肪進入食品工業有一個世 紀。 期間受害的人數不斷上升。幸得科學界和醫學界的努力,經過一個世紀,才可將這個錯誤糾正。

不過大家不要高興得太早。雖然美國已實行禁用氫化植物油,但其他國家還需要一段時間才會跟隨,其間又會有既得利益的食品工業界提出反對。之後 亦難保有人使用黑市的廉價氫化植物油。在香港,反式脂肪含量需要註明在食品標籤上。請大家小心選擇。

They want to know where you are

Location-based services have been growing some years ago, starting from RFID devices.  Initially, they are for industrial use, tracking cargoes, sales items, and sometimes persons using bracelets or identity cards.  RFID are close-proximity devices and signals are read by RFID detectors at close range.  Later, with more powerful detectors and GPS technology, location-based services extended to geospatial level.

Such services are now extended to the commercial world with the proliferation of smartphones.  Firms want to know where you are.  Many people also want others to know where they are.  It is a widespread practice that people stamp their own location at social media, letting others know where they are and what they are doing.  This information turns out to be useful to business and so companies are all engaging in the effort of knowing where you are.

Computerworld has an article last month detailing the latest development of location-based services and their effect on personal privacy.

Your whereabout is tracked at three levels: vicinity, presence and department.

With a smartphone, your location is easily obtainable through the GPS satellite network.  There are already many apps which enable a person to locate the whereabout of their friends.  The location obtained through GPS is not very precise, only to within a few blocks.  Thus only the vicinity of location is known.  But this is already sufficient if someone wants to track down another person.  On big data level, location of the mass could provide valuable demographic information on traffic, crowd control and rescue operations.

To pinpoint the presence of a person in a building, some more information is required.  There is now an apps used by many department stores which offer shopkicks whenever the customers visit the stores.  With prior registration, a customer’s smartphone is recognized within the store, and shopkicks in the form of cash points or bonus points are automatically rewarded to the customer’s account.  Customers could earn money just by browsing in the store.  It is a very effective way to attract customers.

To gauge the preference of customers, it is more useful if the precise location at a particular department is known, or better still, what merchandise they are interested in.  Some companies use the blue tooth technology which could triangulate smartphone signals and obtain its accurate location within the store.  Some stores even invite customers to scan the barcodes of merchandise to obtain detailed information and be rewarded with discount.  At the same time, the store could record the wish of the customers for future reference.

Besides the NSA and the CIA, many companies are very eager to know where you are.  They could get the information without your knowing, or provide some incentives so that you are happy to give them the information.  There are now a lot of people willingly or intentionally letting their location known to others.

Whether letting others know your location is a good or bad thing remains to be a personal choice.  But such personal data have been a target of commercial war, with the customers in the dark.  The article disclosed two cases where rival companies may be competing to use such data.  One is anti-showrooming.  Customers always go to showroom to examine a product and then go home to buy it online at a lower price.  If the location of the customer is known, discount could be offered right away, closing the deal before the customer leaves.  The other war occurs when a rival company captures the identity of valuable customers at prestigious locations and offers them alternative products.  All in all, these involve the use of personal data for which the customers may not approve.

At this smartphone age, there is still one thing you could do to protect your location.  Just turn off your phone if you want to.

The Wendell Funk I Know

I came to know Mr. Wendell Funk in the 1960s.  My father passed away when I was still young, studying in primary school.  My mother had to look after six children by herself.  She worked as a workman in the government, earning very little.  Luckily we lived in public housing and her small salary was just barely enough to get by.  Cost of children’s education was a problem.  There was no free education in Hong Kong at that time.

Children were trouble free.  We did not actually feel the difficulties.  My mother looked after all of us well, and we truly enjoyed ourselves among siblings.  While in junior secondary school, someone introduced my family to the Foster Parents Plan.  I really could not remember the details as my mother took care of all the arrangements.  All I could recall was that Mr. Wendell Funk was my foster father and there was a monthly subsidy of about forty dollars a month.  It was a substantial sum as the average monthly salary of a normal worker was only about two hundred dollars a month at that time.

What I could really remember was the regular exchange of letters between us.  It was not easy for a secondary school student to write letters in English.  He was very kind and told a lot about himself.  I knew he was working in the Colorado Mountains, owned a shop selling supplies to skiers.  The Foster Parents Plan subsidy stopped when I finished secondary school.  Shortly after, our correspondence also stopped.  I thought he no longer run the shop in Colorado.

More than forty years passed.  My mother passed away in 2005.  In sorting through the things she kept, I found several letters from Mr. Wendell Funk, probably unknowingly kept by her at the bottom of the drawer.  It brought back some memories.  So I started looking for a way to make contact.  However, the old address which was only a postal box number was no longer reachable.  Furthermore, after so many years, I figured that he should be over eighty by then.

In 2012, I came across an American company on the Internet specialized in selling personal information.  I did not know how this company could collect personal information and organize a database.  However, as the personal information were open to the public for search at a price, I thought they must have been collected through public sources.  The first search was free of charge.  So I typed in Wendell Funk for a trial.  There were over twenty persons of such name in USA, and the first search could only yield very limited information, including age and the city they lived in.  Contact information could be provided paying only a few dollars per name.  I therefore chose two names whom were over sixty and were living in the central states near Colorado.

I sent them both a letter explaining the background and my intention.  In about a month, a reply arrived from Quincy, Illinois.  Mr. Wendell Funk could not remember me, but he did recall sponsoring a child many years ago.  But I was sure that I found the right person.  I could recognise his handwriting which was the same as the letters he wrote forty years ago.  So I sent him a copy of the letter he wrote in 1969.  He was very glad in seeing that.  It brought back a part of history of him.

We then resumed our regular letter exchange, and I came to know much more about him and his life.  First I checked on his address from Google Map and tried to find out his exact location.  To my surprise, the address on Google showed that it was the Illinois Veteran Home.  He was a ninety years old veteran living there.  That was the first time I came to know that he was a soldier in the Second World War.

We talked about religion.  I thought Americans before World War II were faithful people.  He confessed that his faith cracked at an early age.  He studied at a Methodist school.  The pastor told him that they were better people than the other students at the Baptist school and Christian school.  But his best friend was at the Baptist school and he knew himself was not a better person than him.  As he grew up and became more rational, he considered religion was only a delusion.  In the 1940s, racial discrimination was rampant in the United States.  When he was a young soldier, once he took a bus and went to sit down at the back with black people.  The bus driver stopped the bus and ordered him to sit in the front with other white people.  He had to reluctantly comply, but he regreted the incident for the rest of his life.

I was curious about his participation in the war.  He belonged to the Air Corp of the US Army, a mechanic supporting the air force.  His special skill was the maintenance of the dynamo in the engine of aircraft.  He said he did not participate in combat duties.  His closest experience with the war was a tour at an US air field in Europe behind the front line.  His assigned duty was to exchange the batteries of aircrafts.  When I browsed Youtube, I accidentally found a video recording of him being interviewed at the Veteran Home.  The interview was part of the Hans Holdiman Project recording the comments of veterans on the war.  It was prepared for submission to the Library of Congress.  The video recordings were the collection of the Quincy University, subsequently uploaded to Youtube.  It can still be viewed at http://youtu.be/RDG0FaKxKYU.  During the interview, Wendell Funk expressed great regret on the war, which inflicted great misery to mankind.  A war should not be started by any country for whatever reason.

In the 1960s, both his parents passed away.  Having fallen in love with the outdoor, he moved to Colorado and lived in the mountains.  There he started a small retail shop serving the mountain recreationists.  It was during this period when he assisted me across the Pacific through the Foster Parents Plan.  In our correspondence then, I only learned about his life in the mountains.  He seemed to enjoy himself very much in this life style.

Our correspondence broke off thereafter.  It turned out that he sold off his shop after ten years in the business and moved to Alaska.  He was a bush lodge caretaker there for three years.  Alaska was an ever colder place than Colorado.  But I think the wilderness would better suit his taste.  However, the job folded when the price of crude oil went down in the early eighties.

In 1984, he went for a trip across the Soviet Union.  At that time, Soviet Union was still under communist rule and travelling was not easy for an American.  He joined a 17-member group with a Russian handler and went to Moscow and Leningrad.  We discussed the scenery in Russia.  Many communist constructions including the underground were visited, but not surprisingly not many Orthodox churches.  He had a good impression of the GUM department store where he spent a few hours.  The department store was adjacent to the Red Square, but he could not find it until a young policeman who could speak a little English came to the rescue.

Back from the Soviet Union, he joined the US Peace Corp and went on a two-year tour in Botswana.  The Peace Corp was a volunteering service representing USA in developing countries.  Volunteers lived and worked in that country and contributed in education, technology transfer and emergency relief.  His work in Botswana was the teaching of agriculture at junior secondary level.

After the Botswana tour, he returned to Colorado and undertook a wide variety of jobs.  Then he decided to settle down in Illinois in 1996 to be near to his younger brother.  In 1998, at the age of 75, he went on a German container ship as the only passenger on a six-month journey around the world.

funk

Finally, in 2004, he went to live in the Illinois Veteran Home.  At such old age, he was still considered healthy.  There were three grades of care at the Home: self-care, intermediate and intensive.  He was at the self-care grade and was assigned a small single room of 9.5 ft by 10 ft, with wash basin and basic furniture.  Bath room was just down the hall and the dining hall was two blocks away.  He resisted a hip replacement and had to use a cane.  Otherwise, he did not have problem walking.

He was a keen writer, and wrote to the local newspapers for a number of times.  For his love of nature, he wrote extensively on conservation.  His other focus was freedom, and he had great sympathy on the American indians.  His 90th birthday was 8 March 2013.  I sent him the peotry of Auden as a birthday present.  He seemed to be very delighted about it.

Since we resumed correspondence in 2012, he was very deligent in replying.  Whenever I sent a letter, a reply from him would arrive in two weeks.  Taking into account the postal delivery time, he should have replied it within a few days.  However, after April 2013, there was a long pause and I did not receive any reply.  In that Summer, there was serious flooding in the middle and southern states of USA.  Illinois was in upper Mississippi basin and I thought the flooding could affect that area.  Then one day in June, I browsed the Internet and searched for the Herald-Whig, a local newspaper of Quincy, looking for news of flooding there.  The river bank was flooded but the city was not affected.  Then, to my surprise, I browsed the obituaries and found that Mr Wendell Funk passed away just a week before. May he rest in peace.

我認識的 Wendell Funk

我是在1960年代認識 Mr. Wendell Funk。在我很年少時,其時還在讀小學,父親就已經去世。母親要獨力撫養六個小孩。她找到一份政府工作,只是做一個工人,工資十分微少。幸運地當時我們 已是住在資助房屋,租金不多,而母親的微量薪金僅僅可夠一家人過活。但小孩子的教育費用就的確是一個大問題。在那一個年代,香港還未有免費教育。

少年快樂不知愁。其實我們少時不是十分真正感覺到生活的困難。母親照顧得我們十分周到,而我們大家亦十分享受兄弟姊妹之間的共處。當我在初中的時候,有人 介紹我家到國際培幼會接受援助。其間的細節我已經不能記起,因為所有的安排都是由母親一手包辦,做好了一切的手續。我可以記得的只是 Mr. Wendell Funk是我的契爺,而每一個月有大約四十元的援助金。以當時的生活水平來說,這已是一個相當的數目。當年一個普通的工人平均每月工資只是大約二百元。

對我來說,比較印象深刻的是我們定時的書信來往。在當時,要一個中學生以英語寫作信件不是一件容易的事。他是一個很慈祥的人,信中講述很多有關他自己日常 的事情。我知道他那時在科羅拉多山脈地區工作,經營一間供應滑雪人士用品的小商店。幾年後,我完成中學教育,而國際培幼會的資助亦停止。不久之後,我們的 書信來往亦停止了。我估計他可能沒有在科羅拉多州經營商店了。

四十年匆匆過去了。母親於2005年去世。在整理她的遺物時,發現幾封由 Mr. Wendell Funk 寄來的信件,可能是她不經意收藏在抽屜裡。這些信件帶來一些回憶。我於是嘗試找一找聯絡的方法。但可惜信件所載的地址只是一個郵箱號碼,亦已不能聯絡。經 過這麼多年的時間,我估計他現在應該已超過八十歲。

在2012年,我在互聯網上找到一間美國公司,提供出售個人資料的服務。雖然我不知道這間公司如何搜集個人資料又可建立資料庫,但因為這些個人資料公開讓 公眾搜尋,又收費供應資料,我想資料應該是從公開的名冊取得。第一層的搜尋是免費的;於是我打入 Wendell Funk 試試。原來美國起碼有二十多人是用這一個名字。第一層可以看到的資料很有限,除了名字就只有年齡和居住城市。其餘的聯絡資料需要付費數美元才會供應。我選 擇了兩個人的資料,他們都超過六十歲而且住在接近科羅拉多州的美國中部州份城市。

我給他們每人寫了一封信,解釋來意和背景。大約過了一個月,竟然收到了回信。Mr. Wendell Funk 說他已不能記得我,但依稀記得很久之前曾助養過小孩。但我就可以肯定已經找到正確的人,因為我認得他信中的筆跡,和他在四十年前的信件一模一樣。我將一封 他在1969年寄來的信影印一份副本送給他。他看了之後非常高興,因為信件帶來他一部份的歷史。

我們隨即回復互相以信件溝通。我對他本人和他的一生就有了更深的了解。首先我根據他的地址用 Google地圖搜尋,看看他準確的位置在那裡。我很驚訝地發現 Google 地圖顯示的地點是伊利諾州退伍軍人之家。他原來是一位住在那裡的年約九十歲的退伍軍人。這是我第一次知道他原來是參加過第二次世界大戰的軍人。

我們談及宗教。我以為二次大戰前的美國人都有信仰。他告訴我他的信仰在很年少時就已破裂。他在一所循道會的學校上學。牧師對他說他們比其他浸信會和基督會 的學生是更好的人。但他最好的朋友是在浸信會學校上學,而他自覺並不比他們更好。當他漸漸長大更明白事理,就覺得宗教不可信。在1940年代,種族歧視問 題在美國仍很嚴重。當他還是一個年輕軍人時,有一次他乘坐巴士,走往後排黑人坐的座位。巴士司機停車命令他坐回前列白人的座位。雖然他不情願地照做了,但 他一生對這件事都覺得不安。

我對他在戰時的參與覺得很好奇。他原來隸屬於美軍的空軍部隊,是支援空軍的機械員。他的專業技能是修理飛機引擎內的發電機。他說他從來沒有參與戰鬥任務, 而最接近戰場的經驗是曾經被派往歐洲戰場,註守於一個位於戰綫後面的空軍基地。他的工作只是為戰機更換電池。我較早前在 Youtube瀏覽,無意中找到一段錄影,是他在退休軍人之家接受訪問。該段錄影是 Han Holdiman 計劃的一部份,訪問退休軍人對二次大戰的印象,準備呈交給美國國會圖書館。這些錄影現被昆西大學收藏,又上載到 Youtube.  現時仍可在Youtube看到:http://youtu.be/RDG0FaKxKYU。在訪問中,Wendell Funk 對戰爭極度遺憾,認為它對人類帶來極度痛苦。任何國家都不可用任何理由發動戰爭。

到了1960年代,他的雙親相繼過世。因為他愛上了戶外活動,於是移居至科羅拉多州的山區。他在那裡開設了一間零售店,服務前來山區的旅遊人士。在這個時 期,他通過國際培幼會越過太平洋對我提供協助。在那時的書信來往,我得知他在山區中的生活。他似乎非常享受這一種生活方式。

我們的通訊之後停止了。原來經營了十年後,他將商店賣了然後移居亞拉斯加。在那裡,他任職於一所森林旅店。亞拉斯加比科羅拉多州還要寒冷。但我估計荒野風景應該更適合他的口味。但到了八十年代初期,原油價格下跌亦使到旅店生意要結束。

在1984,他到當時的蘇聯旅行。其時蘇聯仍是由共產黨統治。美國人要去旅行並不客易。他參加了一個十七人的團隊由一個俄羅斯人帶領前往莫斯科和列寧格 勒。我們談及俄羅斯的風景。很多共產黨時期的建築包括地下鐵車站都曾參觀,但卻只參觀很少數的東正教堂。比較印象深刻的是金百貨公司,參觀了幾個小時。雖 然金百貨公司就在紅場隔鄰,但總是找不到。直至一位略懂英語的年輕俄羅斯警察施以援手。

從蘇聯回來,他參加了美國政府的和平部隊,被派到非洲的波扎拿為期兩年。和平部隊是一個義工組織,代表美國在發展中國家執行和平任務。義工在該國家居住和工作,主要協助教育、科技轉移和緊急援助。他在波扎拿的工作是教導初中學生農業知識。

波扎拿任務之後,他回到科羅拉多州做了幾份不同的工作。最後在1996年,他決定返回伊利諾州定居,以較接近他的弟弟。在1998年,他已是75歲,還登上一首德國的貨櫃船作六個月的環球旅行。在船上,他是唯一的旅客。

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在2004年,他進入了昆西市的伊利諾州退休軍人之家。雖然年紀已很老,但他的健康仍然良好。該院的護理分為三級:自理、中度和高度。他屬於自理級別,有 9尺半乘10尺的獨立房間,內有自來水和簡單的傢俱。洗手間在大堂而食堂就在另一大樓。他拒絕接受膝蓋手術,行路需要拐杖協助;除此之外,他行動尚算方 便。

他很熱心寫作,經常投稿於當地的報章。因為他熱愛大自然,所以有很多有關環保的議題。他另一個焦點是自由,尤其是特別同情美州印第安人的景況。2013年3月8日是他90歲生辰。我送他一本Auden的詩集作為生日禮物。他對此十分高興。

自從我們在2012年回復通訊以來,他很勤力回信。每次我寄出一封信,他的回信總會在兩星期內收到。計一計郵遞所需時間,他應該是在一兩天內就回信。但是 在2013年4月之後,有很長的時間我沒有收到他的信。在那一個夏天,美國中部和南部的州份都有嚴重水災。因伊利諾州在密西西比河上游,我估計該區亦受水 災影響。在6月有一天,我在互聯網搜尋昆西市的報紙 Herald-Whig,找一找水災的新聞。河水淹上了河岸,但市中心沒有受到影響。我瀏覽到訃聞頁,駭然發現 Wendell Funk剛於一星期前離世。願他安息。