The Imitation Game – A Mind-blowing Must-See Movie

I think the last time I wrote a movie review it also had the word ‘Game’ (ok Games). I seem to have an affinity towards that word. I know some of you have been waiting on a write-up of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, but the movie was so ho-hum that it’s not really worth my time to write anything about it. In fact, this one sentence is one sentence too much. The Imitation Game, however, is a movie I recommend EVERYONE to watch.

I’ve always loved movies that are based on true stories and last night I watched a film that still has my mind tingling today. The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, is based on the true story of the late cryptanalyst Alan Turing.

In a nutshell, and I am fully aware that my brief description won’t do justice to Turing’s accolades and exactly what influence he’s had on our world, Turing was one of the most influential men (dare I say, THE most influential??) in the development of computer science as we know it today. It’s due to his brilliance that the concept of a computer exists in our present day – sure, computers would have developed sooner or later but Turing sped up this process by a good 30 years by single-handedly providing the concepts of a general purpose computer – an idea that was completely unfathomable back in the 1940s. A machine that can perform mental computations of a million men in just 20 minutes? Impossible! Not according to Alan Turing…

The Imitation Game focuses on the part of Turing’s life where he was recruited by MI6 during the days of WWII to help decode the Nazi’s Enigma machine, a machine created by the Germans to encipher and decipher secret messages. Turing’s pivotal role in creating a machine that cracked intercepted messages from the Nazis enabled the allies to strategically win several crucial battles. It is estimated that due to the brilliance of Alan Turing, WWII was shortened by 2-4 years and an estimated 14 million lives were spared. Winston Churchill stated that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.

You need to watch this movie because you need to know the story behind the man who has shaped your life as you know it today. If you’re reading this blog post, you have him to thank for it.

You need to watch this movie to see how society’s intolerance and ignorance inhibited the opportunity for people destined to do great things for the world. It was an issue back then and though things have progressed in the past 60 years there are still many barriers that need to be knocked down before we’ll be able to live in a truly free and equal society.

Alan Turing was homosexual; he never hid or denied this fact and once this information came to light he was persecuted. It didn’t matter how much he had given to the world, his sexual orientation was the one single factor that mattered and for that, he was demonized and made out a criminal. Given a choice between going to prison or to be treated with an experimental hormone to “fix” his sexual orientation, Turing chose the latter. Essentially, he was chemically castrated and rendered impotent. Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley, was a fellow cryptanalyst who faced social barriers of being a woman in a “man’s” field. Bearing the pressure to get married and have kids, as is a woman’s duty, and facing the stereotype of having an inferior brain, as women do, Clarke almost missed her chance in being one of the key players in breaking the Enigma.

It makes me boil to think about how many people were and are prevented from having their dreams and talents realized because of society’s intolerances of what is deemed right/wrong and appropriate/inappropriate.

From beginning to end, I was sucked into The Imitation Game. I laughed, I cried, I was enlightened; I felt so emotionally attached to Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing that I actually left the cinema enraged over the events and injustice that lead to his unfortunate death (that was not a spoiler alert FYI). I loved this movie – you will too. Satisfaction: Guaranteed.

Bath: #Hacked

I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in the midst of a hackathon but here I am, one day after Halloween, playing around with data, surrounded by 40-something other hackers.

How it all began

I was approached by the founder of Bath: Hacked, a not-for-profit initiative that makes open data available for people to make useful things (usually apps) that will benefit the city of Bath. Unsurprisingly, the organization consisted mostly of males and the founder feared it would end up turning into a ‘boys’ club’. He contacted me via She Codes: Bath to see if I’d be interested in getting involved. Before I knew it I found myself on the steering committee to help organize this weekend’s 36 hour hackathon. The committee consists of a lot of dedicated team members and it’s amazing to be involved in something that a) people are so passionate about b) does something for the greater good. I love the concept of living in a ‘smarter city’ that encourages its citizens to come together to build things that will help make Bath a more accessible city.

M signed up for the hackathon and decided to study up on the available data. One dataset interested him in particular – the BANES Live Car Park Occupancy dataset that informs how many parking spaces are available in most of Bath’s major car parks (that’s parking lots for the non-Brits). Before he knew it he started creating a nifty little app that people could go on to check car park info rather than driving around in frustrating trying to find a car park with available spots. Six hours later Bath Car Parks was ready to be launched. One tweet later and half of Bath is now applauding M for his creation. All this just from using data that’s freely available for anyone to use – I love it!

Bath Car Parks appWhat M created from open data
Bath Car Parks tweetOne tweet later…

Anyhow, I’ve digressed. Back to the hackathon. Generally (and by generally, I mean in my own opinion, which I’m going to assume is the opinion of the majority…) non-developers are daunted by the idea of participating in hackathons. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible and while we obviously wanted developers to participate, we also encouraged anyone who had an interest but didn’t have much experience in the computer programming world to attend. Building a great app requires a diverse set of skills and many don’t realize that they may possess skills that could contribute to an amazing app: ideas people, analysts, designers – these are all people that a hackathon could benefit from.

While there is a competitive element to the event (prizes, prizes, so many prizes!) it’s also a great environment to learn in. We’ve got committee members floating around to help those who need it, and while we were going to offer tutorials for the learners we ended up dispersing them among more experienced teams that were more than willing to take the learners under their wing – how fantastically supportive 😀

Yours truly received a tutorial on how to manipulate data and create interesting visualizations of the content. Seeing as my life is all about food I decided to play around with the BANES Food Hygiene Ratings dataset and I managed to whip up this little bad boy! I wanted to locate all the restaurants in Bath’s city centre (BA1 and BA2 post codes) with a food hygiene rating of 1*. This is what I came up with.

The cool thing: this all comes from live information which means that the plots will change as other restaurants are added/food hygiene ratings change.

The not-so-cool thing: the platform I’m using doesn’t make it possible to view the restaurant’s name on the plotted map and you have to click on ‘view details for this row’ in order to get more information. Not very convenient for the user.

At this stage I’m not exactly at the level where I can create something suitable to compete for the grand prize of £500 but give me a year and we’ll see where I stand then 😉

Later skaters, it’s hack time!


Fall lovin’

When it comes to pizza quattro stagione is usually my go-to but in a non food-related sense the only stagione I need is autunno- autumn! In my ideal world it would be autumn every single day of the year. Perpetual Indian summer – crisp weather, sunny skies, vibrantly coloured leaves of saturated reds, copper orange and golden yellows, hearty soups, and pumpkin EVERYTHING – what more could you ask for?

Beautiful scenery on the I-90 en route to BostonBeautiful scenery on the I-90 en route to Boston
The first sign of fall in TorontoThe first sign of fall in Toronto

I’ve always had a certain fondness of fall, not just because of its associated beauty, but also because of all its related events. Back in my more youthful days (as I am now a haggard old cat lady, minus the cat) I always had so much to look forward to in the fall. While other people mourned the end of the summer I embraced what was around the corner: Birthdays galore, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Halloween. I haven’t kept secret how much my friends and family mean to me so I think that fall holds a special place in my heart because I’ve always associated it with a time of reconnection. No matter where my friends and I are we can always count on October bringing us all back together for one event or another. And I mean, when these reunions are accompanied with things like pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and wursts you can see why I’d be on cloud 9, right? Now that I’m across the Atlantic and with friends having grown-up commitments (i.e. babies, babies, babies!) these reunions are a little more difficult to organize but it’s still nice to have the association, to reminisce, and to still be thankful of all that’s good in my life. I’ve noticed a spike in Skype calls and instant messaging lately, which goes to show that even if I can’t be somewhere in person I’ll try my damndest to ensure I connect somehow to continue on with tradition.

Oktoberfest 2007 funOktoberfest 2007 fun

Unfortunately, I currently live in a place that doesn’t fit my ideal October mould. I’m surrounded by nature, yet all I’m currently seeing is GREEN and BROWN! Trees here seem to go from a luscious spring green straight to brown…and skip all the magnificent and glorious colours in between!

Greenery everywhereGreenery everywhere – Oct 2014

I’ve been itching to whip out my camera to capture my highly anticipated fall pictures but I have yet to snap any pictures. It’s heartbreaking, really. And not only that, pumpkin treats don’t seem to be a thing here. *tear*. Thank goodness for Starbucks and its omnipresence because PSLs (that’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes for all you newbies) are the only thing that have been able to hit the sweet spot. I suppose the lack of fall treats is good for my wallet because anyone who knows me knows that as soon as you stick ‘pumpkin’ in front of something I’ll buy it. Pumpkin risotto…pumpkin soup…pumpkin pie…pumpkin beer…pumpkin ice cream. *drool a la Homer Simpson*.

Pumpkin e'rythang!Pumpkin e’rythang!
Giacomo's in North Boston - best pumpkin ravioli out there!Giacomo’s in North Boston – best pumpkin tortellini out there!

Anyway, for now, here are some throwbacks to more October-ish days!!!

Friends reunitedOctober babyfest = Friends reunited
Scary times HalloweeningScary times Halloweening
Roomie bday celebrations 2013Roomie bday celebrations 2013
Oktoberfest 2013 - chilling out with Hans and random dude.Oktoberfest 2013 – chilling out with Hans and random dude.
The shortie and I - Oktoberfest 2013The shortie and I – Oktoberfest 2013
Thanksgiving sister reunion!Thanksgiving sister reunion!
Thanksgiving dinner - with pumpkin beer, obviously!Thanksgiving dinner – with pumpkin beer, obviously!

Me, my Code Club, and I

I’ve been involved in the tech world in some way, shape, or form for a while now. As a Gen Y-er who’s active on every single social media platform available and can be found glued to her phone, it’s safe to say that digital is a big part of my life. M, who’s a programmer, has been urging (or nagging…or pestering…however you’d like to put it) me to learn how to program for quite some time. So while that got the ball rolling, it was my experience working as a marketer for a startup company that really pushed me to want to develop some, at the very least, basic tech skills.

You see, while I had plenty of skills in marketing, the skills proved to be quite futile when it came to marketing a software that I was not at all familiar with (“An IDE? Uh, whaa….?”). I had to work with developers on a daily basis and I was suddenly inundated with terminology that I’d originally left reserved for diginerds. Client-side and server-side? Git pull and commits? Apache and SQL? My acting skills sure improved as I pretended to understand various languages (JavaScript, Ruby, PHP) but did my programming skills improve? Not so much.

Needless to say, I’m no longer working at that company but my experience there did make me aware of how much I wanted to learn at least the basics of programming, as I’ve come to realize that I love the startup world. I love the innovative atmosphere, I love the collaboration and reaching for the stars attitude and there seems to be a different kind of work ethic in the startup world. I’ve done the big corporate world gig and it’s not for me. Being at a desk from 9-5 with a to-do list and constantly checking the clock to see when I can go for my lunch and when I can leave the office is not how I want to spend 1/3 of my day. But what do you need in a startup world? Programming skills.

What I realized I needed to do was to get out of the ‘I *SHOULD*’ mentality and undertake more of an ‘I *AM*’ mindset. So what did I do to alleviate my complacent ways? I started off by participating in tech meetups, and it was during these meetups that I met other females who were also interested in learning how to program. Like myself, they all had reasons why they hadn’t really started learning how to program yet (couldn’t find the time, didn’t have the resources, lacked the motivation) and that’s when the wheels started turning to form a coding club. I wanted to create a space where females who wanted to learn how to program could get together, use each other as a support mechanism and achieve their goals.

And bam, that’s how SheCodes: Bath was born. Yes, it’s for females. Why? Because guys already dominate the field. Guys don’t need a coding club – any meetup group involving programming out there is dominated by guys. I wanted to create something where females would feel comfortable attending…because, well, boys are scary!

Logo - created by Dodify's Maria QuilesLogo – created by Dodify’s Maria Quiles


The concept of the group is quite simple, really. We get together on a weekly basis and using Codecademy tutorials we’ve been teaching ourselves the likes of HTML, CSS, Python, Javascript, and JQuery. Everyone learns what they want to learn and the time spent in our little room is dedicated solely to taking in the information Codecademy has to offer us. Sometimes I let M come along as the class ‘tutor’ in case anyone gets stuck on something but for the most part, it’s just myself and my faithful club members, a cozy group of 5-6 people. I’m not expecting any nominations of being the ‘Next female to change the digital world’ or anything, but I’m quite proud of what I’ve achieved so far. It may be baby steps, but hey, at least I’m moving!

The number of followers is more than double who I'm following - huzzah!The number of followers is more than double who I’m following – huzzah!

Assisted Dying – Should it be legalized?

Today’s post takes on a more sombre mood. Yesterday on my way to work I passed by a sign advertising a debate about assisted dying that was open to the community. Seeing as my alternative option for the evening’s activities revolved going to a bar I decided instead to attend the hot topic debate.

It is currently illegal in England to assist with suicides, although multiple attempts to introduce bills to legalize the act have been made. Interestingly, a YouGov poll found that 75% of the British public agreed with the proposal of the Assisted Dying Bill, which is to be debated sometime this year. I wasn’t quite sure what the status of assisted suicide is in Canada but a quick search showed me that Quebec was the first province to pass the bill just recently – June 2014.

The bill that’s under proposal would follow that of Oregon’s assisted dying bill, called Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act , which would legalize physician-assisted dying under very strict restrictions:

-The consenting individual must be over 18 years old

-They must have been diagnosed by a physician with a terminal illness that would kill the patient within six months

-The request must be made by the terminally ill individual

-The request must be confirmed by two witnesses, one of whom is not related to the patient

-The patient’s diagnoses must be confirmed by two physicians

-The patient must be free of any mental illness that could impair judgment (if a physician believes the patient’s request is motivated by depression or coercion then a psychologist’s evaluation would be required).

The debate was held at Bath URC and I was surprised by the amount of people who showed up for the debate. One quick glance around and I can safely say I was by far the youngest one in the crowd. The two guest speakers were:

1. Sophie Pandit, who supported her mother’s decision to have an assisted death at Switzerland’s Dignitas Clinic, and

2. Dr. Nigel Rawlinson, who works at Dorothy House hospice care.

Sophie relayed her experiences of watching her father die ‘naturally’ of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), an incurable degenerative disease involving the gradual deterioration and death of specific volumes of the brain. She spoke about watching her father lose functioning of his body parts and apologized for using the comparison of her father looking like an Auschwitz prisoner when he neared his final days, his body just skin and bones due to his inability to drink or eat. When her mother, Dr. Anne Turner, got diagnosed with the same disease years after she knew right away that she wanted to be in control of her own death. When Dr. Turner first explained to her family how she wanted to plan her own death they were all shocked and against the idea. Without the support of her family, Dr. Turner attempted suicide by overdosing on drugs and placing a bag over her head. She failed in her attempt and it was at that moment that her family realized how important it was for her to not experience her final days in as much misery as her husband. That was the pivotal moment where Sophie made the choice to help grant her mother this last request and thus her research into assisted suicide began.

They ultimately decided to enrol Dr. Turner into the Dignitas Clinic, based in Zurich. The requirements to be accepted by the clinic are that one must be of sound judgement and must also submit an in-depth medical report that establishes the patient’s condition. The patient him/herself must decide on their own free will that they want to die and the patient must be in a good enough condition to take the lethal overdose themselves. Having someone else administer the lethal dose would otherwise be known as euthanasia, a completely different topic.

Sophie’s tale was a little heart-breaking to hear but she seemed to take great comfort in knowing that her mother’s last days were spent as *her mother*, not a soul-less body that was just waiting to shut down. I later discovered that this journey was turned into a movie called ‘A Short Stay in Switzerland‘ and was nominated for numerous awards including the BAFTA Award for Best Single TV Drama and Best Actress! I definitely need to put it on my must-see list.

Dr. Rawlinson took on the view of helping patients stay as comfortable as possible until the body naturally shuts down. Admittedly religious, he clearly stated that his talk and discussion points were of a secular point of view. He stated that as a doctor, it’s difficult to imagine being put in the decision of ending someone’s life when the body is still fully functioning. He also stated his views of the slippery slope argument – if you allow a bill to assist those who are terminally ill to die what’s not to push the bill even further to allow those with manic depression or severe mental problems to also end their life?

After the two talks the audience was given the opportunity to discuss amongst each other our viewpoints and to see what brought people to the talk. The free coffee/tea and cookies/cake was a nice way to get everyone talking! I went to the talk solo but joined a group of people and it was interesting to hear the different points of views. There were two priests (female, if that’s of any relevance) in my group who, surprisingly, were pro-assisted dying. It was interesting to hear them state that so much of the bible is up to one’s own interpretation and that it was of their views that terminal human suffering isn’t something they felt was right. Actually, of the 5 people in the group I was the only non-religious one there and every single one was on the pro side.

I can’t say that this is a topic I’ve given a *great* deal of thought to but my initial instinct is that yes, I am pro-assisted death. I believe that in circumstances where one is terminally ill, suffering, and is just playing the waiting game of what day is going to be their last day then yes, who are we to say “no, you’re not ready yet, you need to wait until your organs naturally fail or your heart naturally gives up.” To force someone to unnecessarily suffer seems inhumane.

That being said, I do understand that there is a slippery slope effect. Why is it only terminally ill patients who get this ‘way out of life’? What of those who don’t have the capacity to live a good quality of life? My friend, who is a nurse who works in a nursing home, thinks this law should be extended to the nursing home patients as well. She cares for patients who have no will to live, who are alone and have no family who come visit – basically, people who are just vessels with a beating heart. They don’t know when they’re going to die but they wouldn’t mind if it was the next day. i.e. They *want* to die. We (as in Canada) are running out of space to care for the ageing population.

Is this a morbid and sick solution that could take care of multiple problems?

As the discussion progressed I thought of something else that could be an issue. I wanted to ask the panelists their thoughts but was too shy to speak in front of the whole crowd. I fully understand that the assisted death needs to come from the patient and it is *their* decision to make. But what about the ripple effect of how it would/could affect other people? My worry would be that those closest to them may not have the capacity to handle this decision and in the patient’s passing, something negative could occur. Should close family members be required to go through some kind of counselling to properly prepare for this drastic event? Or should it be up to the patient to know the consequences of his/her actions and how others will be affected? Are patients being selfish by wanting an ‘easy’ way out or is it the patients’ loved ones who are being selfish by not letting them end their suffering?

I was intrigued with the figures stated during the talk. Interestingly enough, since the inception of the Death with Dignity Act in 2013, a total of 1,173 people have been prescribed with the lethal medication. Of the 1,173, 752 patients have died from the medication – so only 64% have gone through with the act. At Dignitas, of those who are ‘approved’ and given the green light to be assisted, 70% do not return. It appears that people are comforted with the fact that *if* they want to go they have that option. The option is viewed as an insurance in case things take a turn for the worse and life becomes unbearable.

People speak about death like it’s a horrible thing, that it should be a hush hush topic to be put on the backburner. A topic that people don’t want to talk about – but why? Death is natural. Everyone is born and everyone will die. To be clear, I’m only referring to ‘natural’ deaths when I speak about death not being horrible. Those who have had a long and fulfilled life shouldn’t have to fear the inevitable. I find it strange that if I bring up death, say speak about my ageing grandmother whose health is rapidly on the decline and whose end may be drawing near, some people will respond with “no, no Hazel, don’t think about that! I’m sure she’ll be around for awhile!” While some might call this positivity, I call it disillusionment and an inability to face reality. If I talk about wills and what would happen *if* something were to happen to me/parents/whoever I’m sometimes faced with “Why are you even thinking about that? Nothing’s going to happen!” Really!? Death will happen. Prepare to accept it.

I’m so glad I attended the debate and very happy that the City of Bath opened up this topic to the public. It’s something that needs to be openly discussed and it definitely gave me some food for thought – feel free to fuel my thoughts and let me know how you feel about the topic.

Ciao ciao,