Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why We Should All Speak English

I recently learned that a proposition made by the director of a renowned French Business School (ESSEC) to teach in English was met by the usual French narrow-mindedness and unwillingness to accept change. It seems that my fellow French citizens fail to realize the scope of the global changes that we are witnessing.

Jet flights as well as advances in communication (read: Internet)  have dramatically changed our perception of distances and the world has, indeed, become a smaller place. We realized, fifty years go, that almost any place on earth could be reached in less than 48 hours. Nowadays, almost everyone is connected to everyone else thanks to the mobile Internet. I tweet, you tweet, everybody tweets and in doing so we all are inter-connected. The main issue now is not to make global communication technically feasible but to be able to understand each other. If we want the world to become an even smaller place, we need to share a common language.

People afraid of change (the French are probably the best at that... Well at least they can still claim to be the best at something) will argue that using a common language will deny people of their cultures and peculiarities. I can only disagree with that. There are many countries where dialects are still spoken although there is an official language that everyone speaks in addition to the aforementioned tongues. Using a common language simplifies communication among all citizens and yet they can all still claim their local identities and traditions through their dialects. In this day and age, we have to realize that national languages are today's dialects and that a common language is needed. Beyond simplifying communication amongst us, it will allow everyone to feel closer to one another and by doing so may reduce the need to go to war: just because our history is full of examples of countries going to war against one another simply because they're different or don't understand their differences.

If we assume that I'm right (how could I not be? I'm French!), then we need to decide what language should be used as a common tongue for all earthlings. My fellow citizens will probably argue that French is the best choice but once again, I will have to disagree and go for the obvious choice: English. As a matter of fact, who could argue that English isn't already on its way to become tomorrow's global language? Indians speaks English, Chinese people learn it, Brazilians go to language schools everyday to become proficient at it and Russians need to master it for global commerce.

So please join me in thinking that sharing a common language wouldn't be a bad thing and do your share by learning it if you don't already speak it. One of my first posts detailing the concept of Culture Shifting shows that even a French like me can learn it by only watching TV and using the Internet. So it can't be that hard, can it?

Of course, in my own tradition to maintain a certain level of absurdity in this blog, this post will only be read and understood by people who already speak English and it will, therefore, defeat the purpose of making non-English speakers realize what they are missing. Well, at least I can find comfort in the fact that they won't be hurt by my words.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The American Express Centurion Card In France

Finding accurate information about the American Express Centurion card (aka The Black Card) is not easy. Localized information is even harder to find, so as a follow-up to my Luxury Travel 101 post, here's some detailed information about the American Express Centurion card in France.

- By invitation only: unknown spending  threshold but likely less than the American threshold (US$ 250,000 charged on one Amex account in 12 months).
- Annual fee: € 3000 (with an initiation fee of €3000) as of March, 31st, 2012. No fee for additional cardholder (as opposed to the US).
- What you get: 1 main Titanium Centurion card, 1 supplemental Titanium Centurion card (for Business expenses which will however be debited from the same bank account than the main card), 1 additional Titanium Centurion card (for spouse for instance), 4 additional Platinum cards (for family members who will benefit from the same service and insurance than the main cardholder).
- Priority Pass: 2 top-tier Priority Pass memberships for both the main and supplemental cardholders. The Priority Pass program comes in handy when flying economy or domestic in the US as both cardholders will have unlimited free access to Priority Pass lounges worldwide. Both Priority Pass cardholders can invite a guest at no additional cost every time they use a lounge.
- American Airlines Admirals Club, Delta & US Airways Lounges: Access the lounge by showing the Centurion Card even when booked on a flight with the corresponding airline.
- Complimentary dedicated service to accompany you in Charles-De-Gaulle or Orly Paris airport when flying to or from these aforementioned airports if flight is non-domestic and was booked through American Express Travel Services
- Mandarin Oriental Hotels: Stay one night, get one night free once per property per year per Centurion cardholder (it usually works to use this benefit for both the main and supplemental cardholders).
- Airline status: Cathay Pacific (CX) Diamond status. This translates into One World alliance top-tier Emerald status
- Hotel status (only for main cardholder): Hilton Diamond, Starwood Gold, Priority Club Platinum, A Club Gold. Centurion cardholders will keep their hotel status for as long as they spend at least one night per year in one of the properties associated with each program.
- Eurostar lounge: access to the lounge regardless of class of travel
- Relais & Chateaux: Top-tier Club 5C membership. Although most Relais & Chateaux properties don't qualify as luxury properties in my book, there are some nice exceptions to the rule and service as well as recognition for Club 5C members is top notch.
- Car rental status (only for main cardholder): Avis President's Club (great deal!), Hertz #1 Club Gold President's Circle
- Great travel insurance: you will, for instance, get € 500 per person for emergency purchases if your bags get to your destination later than four hours after you when flying a commercial airline.
- Access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) American Express program (same than for Platinum cardholders): this program is great as Amex has special agreements for almost all the best hotels in the world. They sometimes have preferred rates but not always. Most of the time, they will match the best available rate with special FHR perks: Late checkout, upgrade at check-in upon availability, free breakfast and a special amenity (depending on the property it can for instance be US$ 100 food & beverage credit, or US$ 100 Spa credit or free afternoon tea...).
- The Amex Companion Airline program: Buy 1 business class ticket, get the second one free. This is basically useless as most the time the initial ticket is at least twice as expensive as what you can find anywhere else.
- Centurion Travel Service: you will have to book through them if you want to take advantage of the FHR program. They aren't top notch in France and their English is less than average. Every reservation they make should be double checked as they are error-prone (which is a shame when you think that they advertise themselves as the best of the best).
- Centurion Concierge Service: once again, they're supposed to make the impossible possible but they can't be compared to top of the line private concierge services such as Mint or Preferred. Basically they're good if you want a last minute table reservation at a restaurant with which they have an agreement or if you want last-minute tickets to a show. Bear in mind, that most of the restaurants in France that are part of their fine dining program are located in Paris. Other requests are hit and miss.
- Special gifs and promotion: in 2011, they, for instance sent cardholders a €1000 gift certificate to be used at the Arije jewelry stores in Paris as well as a US$ 500 gift certificate to be used at a an Orient Express Hotel & a US$1000 gift certificate to be used for an Orient Express cruise or train ticket.
- Cruise perks: with some cruiselines, you'll get onboard credit and an upgrade.

There's a lot of controversy as to the value of this card. The FHR program & travel insurance can pay for the fee depending on your travel pattern. If you're looking for more information, visit the Flyertalk American Express forum.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Time Machine And Disk Utility Conflict

I recently stumbled across a bug in the Time Machine utility in Mac OS X. It seems that whenever you run, through the Disk Utility application,  a "verify disk" command, Mac OS X is subsequently unable to backup changes in Time Machine. The worst part is that Time Machine will continue to work just as usual but it will simply not backup changes made on your source HD to the destination HD. The only solution I found to this problem is to make a whole new Time Machine backup. As it unfortunately defeats the purpose of using Time Machine, I'm basically back to cloning my hard drive using Super Duper.

Apple is aware of the problem but no fix has been made available yet.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Burger Apocalypse

I think it was Plato that once said (or could it be Ronald McDonald?): "In case of a burger apocalypse, we would thank God for club sandwiches". Well, here's proof he was right!

I, personally, hold these recipes to be self evident that all club sandwiches & burgers are not created equal.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ray Kurzweil's Singularity Theory & Quantum Consciousness

I wanted to comment on Time Magazine's recent article titled "2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal" but it seems they are not accepting new comments anymore. I, hence, am using my blog to state my reactions.

First of all, let me say that I'm, in no way, opposed to Kurzweil's theory. As a matter of fact, as a technology enthusiast, his idea that machines will, one day, evolve to become conscious, does not seem far-fetched to me. My generation has witnessed so many advances and achievements in the various fields of science and particularly IT in the last 20 years that it would seem rather preposterous to say that this unstoppable march might just stop when it almost reaches human intelligence. Such a narrow view would, indeed, not be smarter than when our ancestors thought the Earth was at the center of the universe.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can agree on the numbers that Ray Kurzweil takes into account. It seems to me that his whole theory is based on the premise that consciousness or human intelligence or whatever you wanna call it is simply the result of an astonishing amount of neuronal connections. Based on the amount of connections in a regular human brain, Ray Kurzweil estimated that machines will have enough connections to become conscious by 2045.

An easy way to criticize his theory would be to point out the petition of principle in his reasoning. He is assuming he knows what consciousness is all about when he demonstrates how machines will achieve it. The only problem is that we are yet to find out how consciousness arises, what it is and how it works.

Another critical approach would be to ask the following question: what if human intelligence weren't the simple result of an astonishing amount of neuronal connections? I'm not necessarily talking philosophy or religion here. I might just, once again, mention Stuart Hameroff and his quantum consciousness theory. To him, consciousness isn't the result of a huge amount of neuronal connections but would be based on the principle of quantum computation in microtubules within neurons and this dramatically changes the order of magnitude to reach consciousness through network connections. Here are the numbers:

- The neuronal connection approach breaks down like this: we have 10^11 brain neurons with 1000 synapses per neuron switching in the millisecond range of 10^3 operations per second. This amounts to 10^17 bit states per second for a human brain.

- Stuart Hameroff's approach takes into account that each cell contains approximately 10^7 tubulins, then nanosecond switching in microtubules automata predicts 10^16 operations per second PER NEURON (you have to take into account we're talking subunits of microtubules being able to change states). Since the human brain contains 10^11 neurons, nanosecond microtubule automata amounts to 10^27 brain operations per second!

So, in my book, it's gonna take a lot more time to reach the so-called Singularity than in Ray Kurzweil's calculations!

Burgerless food for thought!