Erenlai - Alice Lin (林炳秀)
Alice Lin (林炳秀)

Alice Lin (林炳秀)

Alice is a Taiwanese-born journalism major who spent most of her childhood in Windhoek, Namibia. Having left home at a young age for boarding school, she has since then lived in Singapore, New Zealand and France. She worked briefly as a translator for a Paris-based NGO and recently returned from a work placement in Morocco, where she freelanced for local papers El Watan and Morocco Today. She is now studying in France.

Alice worked as the English editor of eRenlai from December 2008 to June 2009.

Friday, 28 October 2011 14:21

India, China and Their Digital Natives

We've been digging through our archives, and found this gem of an interview from 2009 in which Nishant Shah, the Director of Research of the Bangalore Centre for Internet and Society, discusses the changing definitions of the term "Digital Native", the effect that the internet age has had on India, and provides a more balanced viewpoint on China's "Great Firewall of China" than the usual barrage of criticism.

India and its Digital Natives:

Alternate for readers in China

The Great Firewall of China: Censorship or Safeguard:

Apologies, this video is unavailable to readers in China



Wednesday, 20 October 2010 17:40

從地方到國際: 聯合在地與全球力量因應氣候變遷


2010年11月8-9日將於台北縣政府舉辦《從地方到國際: 聯合在地與全球力量因應氣候變遷》國際研討會,歡迎各界共襄盛舉! 這次藉由城市的對話來為台灣發聲,也讓我們透過參與這場盛會,表達台灣願與全世界共同解決暖化問題的決心!


Thursday, 18 March 2010 18:27

Foreign students in Asia: Singapore

Alice Lin has spent time all around the world. How does she evalutae education in Singapore?

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Wednesday, 03 June 2009 01:58

The 'Duch' Trials

Ponchaud comments on the ongoing Kaing Kek Iev ‘Duch’ trials and has a rather critical point of view: He affirms the abomination of the Khmer Rouge crimes, but has described the trial as ‘hypocrite’ and ‘unfair’. According to Ponchaud, all the countries that are now judging the Khmer Rouge have supported them until 1989 for geostrategic reasons, and it is only now that the Khmer Rouge leaders are old and powerless that the international community decides to take a stance against the Khmer Rouge crimes. Furthermore, Ponchaud questions the relevance of merely trying leaders such as Kaing Kek Iev when the U.S have had an equally guilty part in the civil war. “From the 6 February 1973 to the midnight of 15 August 1973, the U.S army have dropped 239 000 tonnes of bombs on the little Cambodia who had not done anything”, says Ponchaud.

Francois Ponchaud is French priest from the MEP (Paris Foreign Missions Society) who has spent the last forty years in Cambodia and the refugee camps on its border with Thailand. As author of Cambodia: Year Zero, he was amongst the only foreigners to have witnessed the Khmer Rough regime, and was the first to have exposed the genocide to the world.


Tuesday, 26 May 2009 00:37

Roxana Saberi's Release

Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist and a friend, who was recently released from Tehran’s Evin prison - much to the relief of family, friends, online petitioners and anyone who was aware of her situation in the world. Roxana was arrested in late January this year and was initially thought to have been arrested for purchasing a bottle of wine, a Foreign Ministry spokesman later said she was detained for working in the country with expired press credentials. After weeks of detention inside Tehran’s Evin Prison, she was convicted in the revolutionary court on April 14 of espionage for the United States. They couldn’t be any further from the truth.

For six years, Saberi has worked openly as a freelance journalist in Iran reporting for outlets such as NPR (National Public Radio), FSN ( Feature Story News), and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). From 2001-2003 Saberi reported from Iran and was revoked of her press card in 2006, obstructing her from reporting from within the country as before. Roxana then decided to instead travel to other countries in the region, contributing stories that otherwise go uncovered.

I first made her acquaintance in 2007, at a film festival whereby her partner Kurdish Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi was invited for the screening of his films in Paris. Roxana was anything but ordinary, from her heritage to her life as a freelance journalist for the last 8 years, I truly thought she possessed the very qualities that one can only hope to achieve very late on in this career. Our acquaintance came shortly after my enrolment in a journalism school and knowing her has somewhat reinforced the love I have for journalism, and encouraged me to pursue a less conventional route in the many things I do. Roxana Saberi was to me, an epitome of an accomplished female journalist and I am confident to see her past this ordeal as courageous and determined as I remembered her, as the political games continue and press freedom declines.

In 2009, 19 journalists have been killed and 142 remain imprisoned in the world.

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Friday, 22 May 2009 00:00

Local psychologist helps children with HIV

On another one of the wet afternoons in the city of Phnom Penh, I met up with Van Kamol, now the technical advisor at the Psychosocial Services Organization (PSO) to talk about his projects in the medical field that concerns the two of the most vulnerable people in Cambodia- the HIV-infected and children.

From 2005 to the end of 2008, Kamol conducted a project to help children infected with HIV, usually acquired through birth from HIV-positive parents.
These children immigrated along with their parents from the provinces to Phnom Penh because their parents were often discriminated at work and in the communities. Upon moving to Phnom Penh, these parents work as moto-taxi drivers, in garment factories or in farm labour. With little time to care for their children, the children are often left to their own devices and without proper nursery education. The main aim of their project, apart from taking care of the children during the day, was also to educate the children and provide them with the necessary documents to proceed to primary school.

Friday, 22 May 2009 00:00

Meeting Francois Ponchaud

Ponchaud on his past and current projects
If you’re ever in need of an expert’s view on Cambodian culture and society, Francois Ponchaud is the man you should look for in Phnom Penh. A resourceful peacemaker, the amount of developmental work that Ponchaud has accumulated over the last ten years in Cambodia is astounding. In his forty years in Cambodia, Ponchaud has not only witnessed the beginnings of the Khmer Rouge regime but was also one of the first to denounce the Khmer Rouge atrocities. Apart from having written hundreds of books and translating the Bible to Khmer, Ponchaud initiated many projects in the area of development and education. In a village in the Prey Veng province (Eastern Cambodia), Ponchaud built schools and a nursery, helping 265 orphans.

In Kampong Cham, Ponchaud revived the previous construction of canals of the Khmer Rouge with the help of the locals in the year 2000 after a drought in 1997 that left the villagers desperate for water. Together, they built canals the length of 6.5Km which enabled peasants to irrigate 100 hectares more land than before. In 2004, the peasants faced another terrible drought in the neighbouring commune; to counter this persisting problem caused by the global climate change, Ponchaud and the villagers built even longer canals and seven very large ponds, a hundred metres long, twenty metres wide, and two metres deep. Using shovels and baskets that were not unlike those used in the time of the Khmer Rouge, the image of the labourers at work made Ponchaud often wonder whether it was a good thing to bring back the memories of a painful past. “Sometimes I feel ashamed to make them work like this,” says Ponchaud, “but when I ask them, the villagers tell me that they are happy- knowing that whatever construction they did was done for them and that no one would be killed at the end of the day”. For every one metres cube of land transported, Ponchaud gives the workers 3.5kg of rice and 4.5kg for canal work. It is a system that the labourers appreciate as they are glad to work along with others and bring back food to their families at the end of the day.

In 2008 Francois Ponchaud decided to direct his attention to the hygiene problems prominent in the rural areas by building 64 latrines in a total of 17 villages. Ponchaud financed three-quarters of the cost of the latrine while the rest are paid by the locals. “I started with practically no money” recalls Ponchaud incredulously; it was through writing friends and holding conferences that Ponchaud managed to gather sufficient funding for all his local projects. Ponchaud continues to engage in rural development locally, but remains highly sceptical of the Cambodian government and future well-being of its people.
Ponchaud shows photos of his work in rural development and national education.
Friday, 22 May 2009 01:58

Account of the 17 April, 1975



My tuk-tuk driver and I were lucky to have spent an hour looking for the residence of Fr. Francois Ponchaud on a dry day- dense with dust and exhaust fumes- yet nevertheless, dry. There was nothing more ennerving than being stuck in traffic in a flooded street under pouring rain in Phnom Penh.

We arrived at Ponchaud’s workplace, where his staff greeted me warmly in Khmer, apparently the only working language in his office.The young man lead me to their bureau on the first floor where I was greeted by the legendary Francois Ponchaud himself, barefooted and smiling broadly.


Being ever so obliging, he agreed to re-tell the tale of the 17th April, 1975, the night when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge and a tale he has had to repeat many times for the press and in his publication Cambodia: Year Zero.



Our hour-long interview was conducted entirely in French; each account was more enthralling than the other, in the course of thirty minutes I was given a literal brief history of Cambodia and its people.

"In the morning, thousands of militants, farmers flooded into Phnom Penh, because they knew the Khmer were going to arrive at any moment" begins Ponchaud. On that morning, the French priest of MEP hosted around 2000 people in the cathedral, including the militants who demanded entry at gunpoint. At 7am there was a complete calm in the city of Phnom Penh, as a series of white four-by-fours pulled up in front of the French embassy and 7 or 8 men in black stepped out of the vehicles. "We thought to ourselves, everything should be going quite well if the Khmer Rouge wishes to talk to the French, perhaps we might just keep our lives" recalls Ponchaud. When they finally left, they were shot at by the tanks by the cathedral on Boulevard Monivong; a lone man in black stepped out, walked slowly toward the tank in front of the cathedral and convinced the tank to lower its arms. From then onward, around 8-10am, it was sheer joy for the civilians for they had seen how these men in black had pacifically disarmed the militants. "The refugees believed the war to be over and were overjoyed, and despite what journalists say, the people applauded when Lon Nol’s army surrendered" Ponchaud remembers a discordance between the people’s jubilation that the war was over and the sullen attitude of the victorious soldiers in green, sporting hats of Mao Ze Dong. Shortly after that, these men in green started to manage the traffic, shifting weapons onto the middle of the roads, disposing their clothing along with with their weapons. "Later that day we heard on the radio several announcements, notably by the chief of the Army declaring that the war was lost and that everybody was to surrender. Another announcement was made by the Supreme Patriarch calling for reconciliation but at the end of the speech, the microphone was taken by someone declaring: "We are not here to negotiate. We won with our weapons."

Ponchaud felt that there was a new group in power- the Khmer Rouge.

From 11am onwards he witnessed an ’unbelievable spectacle’. Thousands of sick and wounded people were abandoning the city, some carried by friends, others lying on beds pushed by their families with intravenous drips still attached. At three in the afternoon many of his own friends came by to bid him farewell as they head towards the North, West, East and South. By night, the city was practically emptied of all residents. "I cannot say that I had ever seen any forms of physical violence. I have neither seen any dead bodies nor a Khmer rouge soldier firing into the crowds. It was a ’cold violence’...they made us scared simply by looking at us in the eye."Despite having down national service at the age of 20 for two years in Algeria, followed by living through the Cambodian Civil war between 1970-1975, the presence of the Khmer Rouge had Father Ponchaud turning cold.

When it came to the Westerners, the Khmer Rouge were not so adamant on making them leave like the rest of the population. Some asked Ponchaud for his Bic (pens), others for his motocycle; objects had lost their value at this point in time and Father Ponchaud was more than willing to give them away.


At 6pm the city had been emptied of its people and noise, some Khmer Rouge came to the diocese, and looked at the foreigners with much suspicion. Later when they heard Ponchaud and others speaking Khmer, they instantly warmed up to them and spent the night joking and chatting. They were people from the region of Angkor and were in fact, ’very nice people’. "One should not think that all the Khmer Rouge were vicious beings" continues Ponchaud. To his surprise, he saw many different groups of people amongst the Khmer Rouge: some were stern, others looked disoriented, some demanded the foreigners to leave, and others asked them to stay. It was completely disorganised, says Ponchaud. It was only later that they learned that Phnom Penh had been taken by six Khmer Rouge Armies.

The morning of the 18 April, the Khmer Rouge asked to be taken to the train station which was only 100metres from the diocese. Ponchaud and a friend took two cars but instead of driving them directly, they took them for a tour of the city, where they did some sightseeing and got fired at around the Independence Monument by soldiers of Lon Nol.


Finally they arrived very late at the station and the soldiers were scolded badly by their superiors. Ponchaud went to the French Embassy from where he was the last foreigner to leave Cambodian soil on 7 May, 1975.


Friday, 22 May 2009 00:00

From Steung Meachey to Centre for Children's Happiness

Outside of the South of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, lies a mountain of waste that has provided the livelihood of many people- mostly children, who scavenge for anything of possible value that is otherwise classified as rubbish for us. The infamous Steung Meanchey landfill may not be poverty at its third-world worst, but it is a site of extreme human misery, of methane fires, drudgery, starvation and even death.

People scavenge at each waste disposal, working till late for a good day’s pay of 1.50 USD, just enough to get by and not enough to alter one’s own circumstances. It is at this site that Mech Sokha, a Cambodian man who was himself orphaned after the Khmer Rouge regime, has rescued over a hundred children whom were either orphaned or whose parents were financially unable to care for them. The children whom were lucky enough to have been rescued by Sokha, now find themselves in the safe haven of CCH- the Centre for Children’s Happiness.

I set out on a relatively sunny day to CCH and returned drenched in rain. I was blissfully unaware of it as I had after all, the pleasure of spending an afternoon with marvellous Cambodian children and made the acquaintance of a man whose heart was big enough to subdue the odours of the garbage dumps. It was not difficult to recognise Mech Sokha on our first meeting for he had an ageless quality about him, and looked as he did about five years ago on their official website. He smiles quietly as I introduced myself, surrounded by three or four smiling adolescents. There was a very warm and fatherly quality about Sokha and I could not imagine him in any other setting than here in this orphanage.

The orphanage itself consists of one large building with a courtyard and a dining area in the middle on the ground floor, flanked by boys’ and girls’ rooms. On the second floor, there is one large room, which is both classroom and library. In front and along one side, there is a garden. In the back, there is a kitchen, a water tower and a place to wash clothes. The standard of living is not what I’d be accustomed to, but then again my misfortunes pales in comparison. There is a sense of warmth in the centre and it radiates from the children, Mr. Sokha and the working staff, enough to make one wonder- just how does one do this? From garbage-picking at the Steung Meanchey landfill to the comfort of the orphanage, it is hard to imagine a present and future so full of promise for the children.
Take a tour of the Centre for Children’s Happiness (CCH) with two exceptional members of CCH, Pho Phaneth and Huot Ravuth, young men striving to provide a better place for their family and friends and clearly on the way to a promising future. At grade 11 Ravuth drives the CCH van with ease and is in charge of the twenty-over boys in the building CCH II. Phaneth is now working as an administrator at CCH, whilst studying at a local university. The "no-use" building that the boys refer to in the video operates on donations and will be completed by December 2009.

Since its foundation in November 2002, Sokha started with only 16 children and houses up to 109 today. They now possess a total of three building, one for the girls, the other for the boys and one that is under construction funded by the donations. It is said that the construction should be finished by December. I have never seen such enormous progress in terms of architecture and education for the children, and over the span of seven years. Through the funds raised by their prominent donors known as Friends of CCH from countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium and England, there are now more materials and staff available, not to mention education. Computing and Sewing is taught at CCH, and a few of the older girls are sent to a local NGO to get additional lessons in tailoring. It is not realistic for all the children to complete a formal academic education and Sokha believes they should also invest in skills with which they can eventually earn a living.

The children at CCH call Mech Sokha ’Papa Sokha’ for a reason, he has been the children’s main source of parental attention for the last seven years. When he is not in Phnom Penh and working with the children, he is overseas raising money with Friends of CCH. Ravuth, currently the head of the boys dormitory tells me with love and concern in his eyes that " Papa Sokha is tired, he works too much..." We studied Sokha from afar and I had to agree.

It had not occurred to me that Sokha was only human, and needed more than a couple of helping hands to run an orphanage of so many children. He is however, not alone in taking in Cambodian children in precarious situations, orphanages such as the Lighthouse Orphanage and the French ’Pour un sourire d’enfant’ are all dedicated to caring for the many children in need.
Peacemaking is a gift that is bestowed on many, but only a few has had the strength to take it upon their shoulders. Mech Sokha is one of them.

The Centre for Children's Happiness website: 
In the following video, Alice tells us about her experience at CCH, Phnom Pehn, in December 2009.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009 21:14

Taipei County and Governance

Taipei County controls ten county-controlled cities (縣轄市), four urban townships (鎮), and fifteen rural townships (鄉). The sub-county entities consists of 1,017 villages (里), which in turn are divided into 21,683 neighborhoods (鄰).

Defining Taipei County
A county-controlled city is one of the 32 cities in Taiwan. Like the county-controlled cities, townships are the administrative subdivisions of Taiwan. Taiwanese townships can be further classified into urban townships (鎮) and rural townships (鄉). Local laws do not enforce strict standards for classifying urban and rural townships; the decision was mainly made by the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation and followed by the Kuomintang government after 1945. Generally an urban township has a larger population and more business and industry than a rural township, but not to the extent of a County-controlled city.
Taipei County is approved to be administered directly under the Executive Yuan (literally the Executive Court) of Taiwan, R.O.C.


Taipei County itself is governed by the Taipei County Government of which the current magistrate is Chou Hshi-Wei. Second to the magistrate is the deputy magistrate, followed by the chief secretary and the equally-ranked Secretary and Senior Executive Officer.

The Secretary maintains the Internal Unit which comprises of: the Transportation Bureau, Civil Affairs Bureau, Indigenous Peoples Bureau, Finance Bureau, Water Resources and Sewage Bureau, Economic Affairs Bureau, Secretariat, Educational Bureau, Information Office, Public Works Bureau, Legal Affairs Office, Agriculture Bureau, Research, Development and Evaluation Office, Housing, Urban and Rural Development Bureau, Personnel Office, Social Affairs Bureau, Budget, Accounting and Statistics Office, Land Administration Bureau, Civil Service ethics Office, and the Labor Affairs Bureau.
Under the Senior Executive Officer: the Police Bureau, Public Health Bureau, Environmental Protection Bureau, Revenue Service Office, Cultural Affairs Bureau, and the Fire bureau.
The Taipei County Government engages in all social aspects of Taipei County. It provides the infrastructure for housing, employment, education, transportation, wealth, health, and taxes within the region.
The Budget expenditures of all districts in the Taipei county was calculated in January 2007 to be 22 883 249 (NT1000).

Brief Overview of Education

The educational responsibilities of Taipei County exist from pre-school to tertiary education, including those with a need for special education.
They manage and counsel registered public and private kindergartens; inspect unregistered kindergartens and carry out kindergarten counseling projects and host related early childhood educational workshops and activities. Subsidies are implemented for preschool education and promote early intervention and inclusion education.
In elementary school education, Taipei County attempts to advance language education, technology education, creativity education and science education; promoting local education to develop local, sustainable and cultivated learning surroundings. Education subsidies are available for low-income families, and a “No Child Left Behind” policy was established to provide the equity of educational opportunity.
The recruitment and selection of teachers, directors and principals are dealt with affairs related to educational personnel.
In addition, Taipei County manages construction projects in senior, vocational and junior high schools.
Service is also offered in exam centers for the Basic Competence Test in Taipei County and Joint College Entrance Exam. There is also a plan for setting up new schools.
The Taipei County provides all children equal access to pre-school facilities; it has begun instituting a system, from 1998 to 2001, of using spare schoolrooms elementary and junior high schools to provide 300 new pre-schools.
The Taipei County government is also establishing community colleges for women, retired persons, and industrial/economic colleges.
Renovations are implemented on small-scaled schools, including projects of revitalizing idled buildings and construction of new buildings.
The annual budget of Taipei County on education in 2005 was 29 503 millions.
Economical development
In a message from the governor Chou, he introduces Taipei County as one the largest industrial and commercial regions in Taiwan. An area of much investment and economic potential, the county government intends to encourage even more investments by providing tax-free lease, tax breaks, low-interest loans and research guidance and assistance. Other incentives include the availability of 6688 residence, a scheme for industrial Advancement, small-business loan plan, research supports, and lease benefits. Moreover, an ‘Economical Development Consultant Commission’ was set up to push for economic development and to create a development environment for industry and commerce in Taipei County. Five teams are established with its own functions: Industry Development Team, City Development Team, Traffic Development Team, Tourism and Culture team, and Construction and Planning Team.
Since year 2003, annual investment grew from a rate of 2.84 to 3.29 (2007), but there has been a clear drop in investments since 2004 where load and investment was growing at a rate of 8.64.
Wednesday, 08 April 2009 00:00

Failure or success – that is the question

My take on the DPRK missile that took place on Sunday April 5, 2009

The recent rocket launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has put the global community in a state of inflated panic. For a launch that was anticipated and given notice by North Korea, our community leaders sure know how to act surprised at a widely-expected rocket launch. The launch in fact took place a day-late of the anticipated 4th April and N. Korea’s neighbours experienced short-lived moments of excitement on Saturday, when the government of Japan mistakenly announced the launch of a rocket that had not yet taken place.

Sunday the 5th and the Aftermath of the Launch

Now that the rocket launch has indeed taken place and declared as a failed launch by the U.S (note: North Korea and the Korean Central News Agency beg to differ), the UN Security Council has brought together nation states to debate on whether or not to punish N. Korea for its apparent breach of UN regulations. In typical fashion, the veto trio of U.S, U.K and France condemn the launch suggesting it contributed to North Korea’s program to develop ballistic missiles. A joint statement from the U.S and the European Union refers to the launch as the development of a ballistic missile capability, which, regardless of the stated purpose, is ‘aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction’. Russia and China have been largely cautious: Russia has asked others to refrain from ‘hasty conclusions’ and China wants to look further into whether DPRK had breached any UN regulations at all in the launch of a pacific nature. The UN Security Council’s meeting on Sunday night dissolved with no apparent agreement, and the existing gaps between the six-nations are wider than ever, with China and Russia on a similar wavelength.

War is on our minds

War is on our nations mind, as it has always been. Diplomatic and intelligence sources in Seoul and Tokyo contend that Pyongyang’s biggest aim was to increase the range of its Taepodong II rocket. In 1998 it launched a predecessor that travelled about 1,060 miles. As much as we have reason to believe that North Korea may be developing their missile ability, analysts say the possibility that North Korea would start an all-out war with the South is low because N. Korea knows its underfunded military is no match for the U.S.-backed modern military of its Southern neighbours. Talks of the U.S being the ultimate targets of N. Korea’s missile tests are also of little statistical proof. In my opinion, the U.S is far from within range considering North Korea’s long-range missile technology

Japan had also earlier hinted that it might shoot down the rocket which prompted me to do some research on the legality of shooting down a North Korean satellite – if it is a satellite at all – and found that the prevention of the launch itself could very well be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty itself, which provides that “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.” In my opinion, any shoot-down at all would not suffice in the name of self-defence, and am therefore glad that there had been no attempts apart from verbal threats. Any action to deter such a launch could fuel a bigger fight than we bargained for.

Instead of uniting in full wrath in condemning N. Korea, with threats of financial sanctions and a travel-ban, our nation states might want to focus on dialoguing with the ‘rogue state’ if ‘peace’ was on our list of objectives.
Until then, we await U.N’s statement because that’s what really counts these days, or is it?

What comes next?

As for the result of the ‘satellite’ launch, North Korea finds itself once more contradicting the rest of the world over their proclaimed ‘successful orbit’ that everyone else has firmly believed to have splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

Let’s entertain the notion that neither launch — 1998 or 2009 — carried a real satellite, that it was but blatant camouflage, instilling confusion in the outside world and its own. The missile tests went ahead, successfully, and the UN comes to an agreement that it indeed was a breach of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 as Obama says. What next? I think we’ve seen enough in the past of rules broken with little consequence where UN resolutions are concerned (both the USSR and the USA have already done it with immunity) to know that there is little done after that.

So while our nation states quarrel over the ordeal, I find myself worrying more about the pacific plankton that may have perished in the event of a splashdown…

Friday, 20 March 2009 21:50

Literature, sci-fi, imagination

From literature to science

I developed a passion for science very early on in my teens and saw them as a realm of infinite possibilities.

My brother was the one who helped me realise it. I have to acknowledge it, because I was so unkind to him most of the times. It so happened that he loves to read Sci-Fi novels, and I being the ever-so competitive one, would read them after him… My favourite ones are the oldest, the novels by Jules Verne. Jules Verne’s novels are works of imagination but they are also startlingly accurate anticipations of modern times. I loved reading Paris in the 20th Century : it described air conditioning, auto mobiles, the Internet, television, and other modern conveniences very similar to our real world counterparts. How was he able to imagine all that? Another favourite of mine is From the Earth to the Moon, which is strikingly similar to the real Apollo Program, as three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula and recovered through a splash landing. In the book, the spacecraft is launched from "Tampa Town"; approximately 130 miles from NASA’s actual launching site at Cape Canaveral, or so have I read. And in other works, Verne predicted the inventions of helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and other devices. He also predicted the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not discovered until years after.
Jules Verne is indeed. my hero. When I am told I am too dreamy or imaginative I simply shrug my shoulders. If you want to have new ideas where are you going to find them, except in your dreams and imaginations? I am now convinced that humankind owes much more to dreamers than to hopeless realists… I had tried to convince my maths, physics and biology teacher - not an easy lot, I tell you, as they were so hopelessly realistic…

From helicopters to guitars

OK, I might owe a little more to my elder brother than I am willing to admit. In fact, when we were growing up and were both seen as rebellious, sulky teenagers, we felt much closer to each other than ever. He had developed a passion for music, and played in a band, having convinced Dad and Mum to buy him an Ovation guitar. Thanks to him I now know how the guitar was invented and it makes me even more convinced that imagination is the world’ s driving force – only teachers and parents refused to recognise it.
The first Ovation guitar was developed in 1966 by Charles Kaman. Kaman, an amateur guitarist from an early age, then worked on helicopter design as an aerodynamacist and founded his own helicopter design company, Kaman Aircraft, in 1945. His corporation soon diversified, branching off into nuclear weapons testing, commercial helicopter flights, the development and testing of chemicals, and helicopter bearings production. But in the early 1960s, financial problems due to the failure of their commercial flight division forced them to consider expanding into new markets, such as entertainment and leisure. Coincidentally, Charles Kaman, still an avid guitar player, became interested in the making of guitars. Using his background in aviation engineering, Kaman designed a rounded-bowl back, hoping to improve the flow of sound through the guitar, and developed a new top bracing system. Finally, although he kept the idea of using a wood soundboard, the body and sides of the guitar were manufactured of composite. Since that time the company’s main focus has been acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars.
Applying helicopter’s technology to guitar-making... not bad at all.

Imagining discoveries

The history of science is fascinating, and I dreamt of the life of scientists and inventors the way I did of witches and wizards as a little girl.
When you look at the way science has evolved throughout the ages, you realise that when comparing theories to observations, scientists encounter more and more anomalies, which cannot be explained by the theory alone. When enough anomalies have accrued against a theory, science is thrown into a state of crisis – scientists become restless and sleepless, their wives can no longer bear their sudden shifts of moods, coffee no longer tastes the same as before, they rely on chocolate to struggle against anxiety, and so on... During this crisis, new ideas are tried. Eventually a new theory is spelled out, after epic battles. And it is always the ones who see nothing new to be imagined or discovered whom ultimately look like the fools. Take poor Lord Kelvin who, in 1900, stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged Newtonian mechanics...

And more…

The more I progress in my studies, the more I am convinced that imagination is the Empress who reigns over all Sciences.
Did Copernic not need imagination in finding out that the earth turned around the sun rather than the reverse?
Did Pasteur and others not need imagination in deciding that “all life comes from life” rather than relying on the widely accepted theory of spontaneous generation?
Was Einstein not the best artist of the 20th century when he came up with the theory of relativity?
One of my favourites is Lavoisier. He showed that respiration was essentially a slow combustion of organic material using inhaled oxygen. He also showed that, although matter can change its state in a chemical reaction, the quantity of matter is the same at the end as at the beginning of every chemical change. These experiments supported the law of conservation of mass, which Lavoisier was the first to state. It is not for these discoveries that French revolutionaries beheaded him however.
I have yet to speak of Lamarck, Darwin or Mendel… To me, these people are the most imaginative artists that humankind has ever known- the real dreamers.

Image by C.P.


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