Monday, January 29, 2018

IBM Photo Shoot

Back in the end of November I participated in my first photo shoot.

As part of a global marketing campaign, professional photographer Mike Webb travelled to shoot IBMers all over the world.

The photo shoot was surprisingly fun.
I finally received some of the untouched photos.  I doubt that any of my photos will be used but who knows?

Friday, January 26, 2018


So here's the deal.  On 12-13 January, Czechs went to the polls to elect a president.  In order to run for president a candidate needs either 50,000 signatures from the public, 10 signatures from senators or 20 MP signatures from the Chamber of Deputies, plus file applications at least 66 days prior to the election.  Of the nine qualified candidates, none won enough votes so the top two finishers face each other in a run off election this week.

The two candidates are the incumbent President, Miloš Zeman, and Jiří Drahoš, the former President of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

I don't get a vote but I'd definitely prefer Drahoš.  Anyway, Zeman supporters left this flyer in my mailbox today.
Stop Immigration and Drahoš supporters.  This country is ours.
Vote Zeman!

Seriously!?!?!  Czechland has population of 10,597,473 people with only 4,95% foreigners.  43,6% of all foreigners come from Slovakia and Ukraine.  The country has only admitted 14 refugees.  So what exactly is the immigration problem?

Update:  Well Zeman won re-election.  President Zeman won with 51,36% of the vote and will remain president until 2023.  Voter turnout was 66% and the entire election came down to a difference of 160,000 votes.

Drahoš took 48.63% of the country.  But in Brno he won 57,58%.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


My 1,400th blog post.  Lucky for me it still doesn't look like I'll run out of material to write about anytime soon.

Czechoslovakia would have been 100 years old this year.  The country dissolved in to the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic in 1993.  Of course, it's still funny that so many people think that Czechoslovakia still exists.
As the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart at the end of WWI, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president, founded the Republic of Czechoslovakia (RČS) on 28 October 1918.  The new country of 13,5 million people was made of up the areas of BohemiaMoravia, Czech Silesia, Slovakia, and Carpathian Ruthenia, which contained some of the most industrialised regions of the former empire.

The First Republic lasted from 1918 to 1938.  In 1920, the country's official name was changed to the Czechoslovak Republic (ČSR).  Československo was one of the world's ten most industrialised states, the fourth in Europe, and had a thriving democracy.  After 1933, it was the only functioning democracy in Central and Eastern Europe.

Following the Munich Agreement and the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland.  The country also lost southern parts of Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia to Hungary and part of Silesia to Poland.  This pretty much ended the First Republic and the new Second Republic only lasted for 169 days until Germany occupied the rest of the country in 1939.  From 1939 to 1945, what was left of Czechoslovakia was split into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the Slovak Republic which was set up as a Nazi puppet state.  While there was no more Czechoslovakia, a government-in-exile, the Third Republic, continued to operate from the UK.

After WWII, Czechoslovakia regained its pre-war borders except for Subcarpathian Ruthenia which was annexed by the Soviet Union.  President Beneš stripped citizenship from ethnic Germans and Hungarians who took German or Hungarian citizenship during the occupations.  The new government then confiscated the property of about 2 million ethnic Germans and expelled people from the country.  This was the background for the Brno Death March.

The country fell into the Soviet sphere of influence and became a satellite state.  From 1946 to 1948, Czechoslovakia had a coalition government until 1948 when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČseized power in a coup and eventually established the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR).

In 1968, Alexander Dubček became First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party.  He began a liberalisation period known as the Prague Spring.  It was referred to as "socialism with a human face".  This didn't go over well with Moscow and in August 1968, the Warsaw Pact (except for Romania, Albania, and East Germanyinvaded the country and put a stop to the liberal reforms.

During the 1970s the country saw a rise of dissidents including playwright Václav Havel.  Dissidents were under the watchful eyes of the StB and faced political and economic persecution.

As communist governments began falling in 1989, the Velvet Revolution began on 17 November and lasted until 29 December.  The demonstrations brought about a peaceful end to the 41 years of one-party communist rule.

Following the Velvet Revolution the country became the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (ČSFR) which lasted until 31 December 1992.  The Velvet Divorce split the country and on 1 January 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic were established.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

More Foreigners Here

In Czech Republic there are almost 517,000 foreigners which is about 4,7% of the population.

The top three groups of foreigners are from Ukraine, Slovakia, and Vietnam.  The next largest groups are from Russia, Germany, and Poland.

In Brno, there are over 30,000 of us here and we come from more than 150 countries.

Like Czechland, the top three groups of foreigners in Brno are from Ukraine, Slovakia, and Vietnam.  In Brno, the top three groups make up almost half of all of the foreigners.

Maybe I should start saying "Czechkraine" instead of "Czechland".

Joking aside, this is a great place to be.  Czechland is one of the most peaceful countries to live in.  It's one of the cheapest countries to live and retire in.  And it has both the lowest unemployment and youth unemployment rates in the EU.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Republic of South Africa

South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa.   The country is huge!  It stretches from the South Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and it's almost twice as big as Texas.  It borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and it completely surrounds Lesotho.

The Republic of South Africa is home to almost 56 million people.  There are three capital cities.  Pretoria is the administrative capital and where countries keep their embassies.  Bloemfontein is the judicial capital and Cape Town is the legislative capital.  Johannesburg is the country's largest city.

South Africa has some of the world's oldest archaeological and human fossil sites.  The first Europeans arrived in 1652 and there were many power struggles between the Boers (Dutch descendants), British and local tribes.  In 1910, the Union of South Africa was established.  In 1961, the country left the British Commonwealth and became a republic.

In 1948, the National Party came to power and instituted its apartheid policy that increased the racial segregation that began under Dutch and British colonial rule.  All people were classified into one of three races which allowed the white minority to enjoy the highest standard of living in Africa while the black majority was completely disadvantaged.
Apartheid finally ended in 1991.  The first universal elections took place in 1994.  The African National Congress (ANC) won by an overwhelming majority and has been in power ever since.

South Africa is a multiethnic society with about 80% of the population having Sub-Saharan African ancestry.  The country has eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu.  The four most spoken first languages are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English.

South Africa has the second-largest economy in Africa and the 34th largest in the world.  Along with Brazil, Russia, India, and China, it is the fifth of the "BRICS" which is the association of five major emerging economies.  However, there is still a high rate of poverty.  The Rand is the national currency.

It is a country of firsts.  It is the first country in the world to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in its Constitution.  In November 2006, it became the first country in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage.

South Africa is the only country in the world to destroy its nuclear weapons.

There are about 7 million people in the country living with HIV-AIDS which is more than anywhere else in the world.

Crime is a major problem.  About 50 murders are committed every day and an estimated 500,000 women are raped each year.  There are more private security guards in the country than the police and army combined.

Here are a couple of short YouTube videos about how powerful the country is and about its corruption problem.

©Test Tube News
©Test Tube News

South Africa is way far away.  As the southernmost country in Africa it is actually closer to Antarctica than it is to Czechland.  It's about an 11 hour flight from London.  I'm going in July for a week.  I know it's a short amount of time for such a long trip but I'll just have to cram in as much as I can.  I'm flying in to Johannesburg and out of Cape Town.  At least I am right now.  Cape Town has a major water problem right now so who knows what the situation will be in July.

©CBS News

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The E's

Under EU law, E numbers, or what I call "the e's", are the codes used to identify the food additives in Europe.
You find these on food labels over here.  It can be hard enough reading an ingredient label in English.
Forget about trying to figure out Czech, Danish, Lithuanian, or Finnish.  So the e's make it way easier to understand.  All of the e's are broken down to the following groups.

E100 - 199  = Colours
E200 - 299 = Preservatives
E300 - 399 = Antioxidants & acidity regulators
E400 - 499 = Thickeners, stabilisers & emulsifiers
E500 - 599 = pH regulators & anti-caking agents
E600 - 699 = Flavour enhancers
E700 - 799 = Antibiotics
E900 - 999 = Miscellaneous
E1100 - 1599 = Additional chemicals that do not fall into standard classification schemes

Taking this Dutch mayonnaise label as an example.
E270 = Lactic acid (preservative)
E330 = Citric acid
E202 = Potassium sorbate
E160a = Alpha-carotene, Beta-carotene, Gamma-carotene (yellow-orange to brown)
E385 = Calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetraacetate

The European Food Safety Authority sets the rules on food additives, definitions, conditions of use, labelling and procedures in Regulation EC 133 / 2008.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Add 1 Challenge

It's time for me to buckle down and seriously improve my Czech.  I took private classes but those ended a couple of years ago.  While I do speak Czech everyday it's not like I'm really improving.  Yes, I can go to the grocery store, mail something at the post office or order a taxi on the telephone.
But I use the same sentences every time so it's not like my Czech is actually improving.

I've got about two years until I start getting my paperwork together to apply for Czech citizenship.  In order to apply I will have to take a test to prove my Czech is at the B1 level based on the CEFR.  My Czech, right now, is probably somewhere between A2 and B1.  But for the citizenship test I will need to have solid B1 knowledge.  So I've decided to join the Add 1 Challenge.

The goal of the #add1challenge is to hold a 15 minute conversation in a foreign language after only 90 days.  Here's how it works...

You have to pick one language that you want to study.  Then commit to a non-negotiable study routine.  My goal is to study for at least 45 minutes per day, five days a week.

Every day you record if you met your daily study goal or not.
There's a private Facebook group and a Slack channel for people to help hold each other accountable.

Along the way there are various assignments and mini-challenges.  Plus every month you need to submit a YouTube video of yourself speaking in your target language.  Everyone has to submit a Day 0 video to show what their current level is.  Then new videos at Day 30 and Day 60.  On Day 91, the final video is due where you have to speak entirely in your foreign language with a native speaker for at least 15 minutes.

I can tell that this will be quite the challenge.  I like the thought of having a goal and controls in place to help keep me motivated.  I had never made a video before so that was a new experience.  I hope to learn how to add in subtitles for my next videos.

Here's my Day 0 video.  Wish me luck!

Update:  No 60 day video.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

No More Surcharging

Effective today new EU regulations go in to effect and I'm very happy about it.

Now when you pay for something in the EU with either your credit or debit card, the seller is no longer allowed to charge an extra fee.  Yes!  No more surcharging.

Ryanair used to do this and it always pissed me off.  Now they aren't allowed to charge me a fee for paying with my card.  It's about bloody time.

The rule applies to all card purchases, in shops or online, made in any EU country.

American Express or Diners Club cards, or corporate credit cards where the employer is billed can still be charged an extra fee.

Another new rule has to do with direct debits to your bank account.  If you cancel a service but your account is still auto-debited, then you now have the right to have the payment refunded within 8 weeks.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Middle East

There are no hard rules about where exactly the Middle East is.  Some consider it to be a geographical term and others consider it a political one.  The term "Middle East" began as a Eurocentric term for the area separating Europe from the Far East.  Most agree that the area consists of the transcontinental region from Turkey to Central Asia, plus the Gulf Area.  Many also include Egypt due to its territory in the Sinai Peninsula.  Others consider North Africa to be part of the Middle East as well.

Definite Middle East countries include: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

North African countries that often get lumped in are Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Sudan.

Middle East history goes all the way back to ancient times.  It is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Many other ancient belief systems such as Zoroastrianism were also established here.

Islam is the largest religion in the area.  Almost every country, except Cyprus and Israel, have Muslim majorities.  Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain are mostly Shia while most of the other countries are predominately Sunni.  Islam plays a huge role here as the legal systems in most of these countries are influenced by Islamic law.

©Test Tube News

It's a scary place for gays.  Being gay is illegal and punishable by imprisonment in Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the U.A.E.  In Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, it is punishable by death.   Most of these places aren't high on my travel bucket list anyway.

Arabs are the largest ethnic group in the Middle East.  The five most spoken languages are Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, and Hebrew.

With such a large region there are of course many problems.  One of the biggest problems is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  One of the biggest mistakes lately was President Trump, going against years of U.S. prescient and recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.  Almost every other country in the world recognises Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem as illegal which is why all of the foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.  Here's an NBC video I found out on YouTube showing some of the reaction to the U.S. action.


There's currently a big regional power struggle in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Each wants to be calling the shots in the region.

©Test Tube News

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Arab Republic of Egypt

Egypt is considered the cradle of civilisation and was one of the world's first nation states in the tenth millennium BC.
The Arab Republic of Egypt, جمهورية مصر العربية, sits on the Mediterranean and links Africa with the Middle East.

Egypt borders Palestine's Gaza Strip, Israel, Libya, and Sudan.
It is more than three times the size of New Mexico.  Cairo is its capital and largest city.

Egypt is home to over 97 million people making it the most populous Arab country and the third largest in Africa.  Most of the country is desert so around 95% of the population lives in about 5% of the country, within 20 km (12 miles) of the Nile River.

Egypt was ruled by Persians, Greeks, and Romans, before the Arabs arrived in the 7th century and ruled for 600 years.  The Ottoman Empire took control in 1517 until 1914 when it came under the British Empire.  In 1922 it became a monarchy and gained partial independence from the UK.  It gained full independence when it became a republic in 1952.  It merged with Syria in 1958 to become the United Arab Republic, which dissolved in 1961.

The Egyptian Pound is the official currency.  Egypt is a regional power and is Africa's second largest economy.  It is one of only two Arab countries, along with Jordan, to have signed peace treaties with Israel.

Islam is the state religion and it is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country.
Egypt is not a place to be gay.  While homosexuality is not illegal, the state uses morality laws against debauchery to fine and imprison people for up to 17 years with or without hard labour.

Arabic is the official language.  Egyptian Arabic is well understood across most Arabic-speaking countries due to the popularity of Egyptian cinema and music.

Here are a couple of short videos I found out on YouTube about what's going on in Egypt.

©Test Tube News

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordon المملكة الأردنية الهاشمية, is in the Middle East at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe.  Jordan borders Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.

Jordan is home to more than 10 million people and the country is a bit smaller than Indiana.  Amman is the capital and its largest city.

The area was under the Ottoman Empire for 400 years until the end of WWI.  The Emirate of Transjordan became a British protectorate in 1921.  In 1946, it became the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan and took its current name in 1949.

The country is a constitutional monarchy where the king has wide executive and legislative powers from the government and parliament.

Arabic is the official language and about 95% of the country practices Sunni Islam.  The Jordanian dinar is the official currency.

Jordan is considered to be one of the safest countries in the Middle East.  Along with Egypt, it is one of the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel.

Jordan is part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) where the EU tries to increase links with its neighbours.  Jordan has "advanced status" allowing for more exports to the European Union.

Here's a short video I found out on YouTube about Jordan.
©Test Tube News

Monday, January 8, 2018

State of Palestine

The State of Palestine, دولة فلسطينis the de jure sovereign state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  All of the Palestinian territory combined is a bit smaller than Delaware and it is all located in Israel.  The West Bank borders Jordan and the Gaza Strip borders Egypt.

Along with the Vatican, Palestine is recognised by the United Nations as a non-member observer state.

Palestine is home to over 4,5 million people.  It's administrative centre is in Ramallah but its capital is East Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel in 1980.  East Jerusalem has 456,000 people of which about 60% are Palestinian and 40% are Israeli.

Arabic is the official language.  As it doesn't have a currency of its own, people rely on the Israeli shekel, Jordanian dinar and Egyptian pound.

There has never been a country called Palestine.  The area was ruled for centuries by the Ottoman Empire and after WWI, the League of Nations placed the area under British mandate.

In 1947, the United Nations recommended the British Mandate for Palestine be divided to create two countries - Israel and Palestine.  The Jews accepted the recommendation but the Arabs didn't.  On 14 May 1948, the Israeli State was proclaimed and the very next day the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq all invaded.  Israel won and ended up claiming more land.

I'm planning on another trip to Israel in February.  Hopefully, there won't be any rocket attacks coming out of the Gaza Strip like last time.  On one of the days I hope to enter the West Bank and visit Bethlehem.

Here are a couple of short videos I found out on YouTube that gives a bit more background.

©Test Tube News
©Test Tube News