Zara’s Space on the Web – Musings

March 9, 2011

Could’ve, should’ve…

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 7:08 pm

Yesterday I got pick-pocketed. The worse thing was I wasn’t completely oblivious, and after, when I had confirmed that something had actually happened, I didn’t do anything while the perpetrator stood perhaps 5 metres away from me, on the bus I just got off, for about 30 seconds.  Eventually the doors closed and the bus drove off, taking the thief and my mp3 player with it.  I felt, and still feel, distinctly unempowered.

I’m not sure I could tell you what I was thinking while I stood there gawping, feeling up my pockets, checking to see I hadn’t just misplaced it, and knowing I hadn’t.  I know, while it was within 5 metres of me, that I had already started rationalising to myself.  At least it wasn’t my wallet, my phone.  My music is backed up on my computer, I can just put it on my phone. I made a couple of movements towards the bus, but never got back on, never said anything, just continued to stand there, gawping.  I guess I was partly in denial, partly in shock.

Later I got home and tweeted about it and got a couple of responses back from friends who had had something similar happened to them.  It was somehow comforting to know that I wasn’t the only person whose mind short-circuited during a time when it should have started kicking into gear.  It was also disturbing that it’s happened to my friends, but in another way almost nice to know that it’s happened so few times that we don’t have any experiences to refer to to tell us how to act.

Since the incident happened about 18 hours ago my mind has belatedly started going back to the incident and thinking about what I should’ve done.  I should’ve gone up to him and just asked him for my mp3 player back.  I should’ve told the bus driver.  I should’ve moved my bag out of the way when I thought something was happening.

Edit (11/03/11) : After filing my police report I asked the policewoman what I could’ve done.  She said that I could’ve called 999, if there were police around and available they could’ve sent a car after the bus and arrested the perpetrator then and there.  This wasn’t something I seriously considered because I thought perhaps the crime was “too trivial” for 999.  It wasn’t, and it could’ve helped the police as they are trying to crack down on pickpockets. If a crime is happening or has just happened and you know the police can catch the criminal(s), call 999.

The thoughts are tormenting, yes.  These are all things I could’ve, should’ve done, and I didn’t.  People say it’s useless to think of what you should’ve done during an incident after it’s over, but actually,  I think my mind is taking this incident that has so obviously upset me and its going over it and picking out all the possible spots where I could’ve acted to change the situation, so that I will be prepared and know what to do for next time.  Or to prevent a next time.  In other words, lacking real circumstances, my mind is rehearsing.

Back at university I trained in karate and one of the main things you learn in karate is kata – that’s the series of movements you see karate students do.  It may look like we’re just showing off, but the fundamental thing about practising kata was that you were practising these series of movements over and over again so that they were ingrained in your muscle memory.  That block punch-turn combination may look useless if you’re fighting one person, but in a real life situation when you’ve got that drilled in you it could save your life. Without thinking you’ll block your attacker’s initial advance, punch to momentarily stun them, and throw them while you’re turning.

Of course, you should always take the opportunity to run the hell out of there when you can, but sometimes when you’re trapped that isn’t possible.

So I guess, in a way, my mind is performing its mental kata right now – taking in the situation and practising over and over what I should do in another situation.

But we don’t have to wait for these things to happen and to affect us so profoundly before our mind starts practising actions for these situations.  I once tried to set up a women’s self-defence class at my university – unfortunately it never happened because the university didn’t have the budget for it – but speaking to Ger O’Dea, who I hoped would lead the class, I learnt a few things that I think would be really useful.  Unfortunately I never practised it for being pickpocketed – I was focused on more violent attacks – but hopefully having done this exercise for violent attacks, during a violent attack (which of course I hope will never happen) my mind won’t desert me like it did last night.

If you have half an hour and a pen and paper right now, do this right now. If not, think about it and do it when you have time. It may save your life.

To start with, think about your most frequent route.  For me, it’d be travelling to and from work.  Now think about all the places where you are vulnerable on this route.  Walking through quiet neighbourhoods.   Waiting at quiet bus stops.  Walking past dark parks.  I hope, by the way, that you NEVER take short cuts through quiet ways by yourself when there is a lovely main road you can use.

Now think of the things that could happen to you when you are in these places.  Perhaps while waiting at your quiet bus stop a bunch of rowdy drunk men could spot you and think you’re an easy target to harrass.  Perhaps while you’re walking past a dark alleyway someone could jump out, grab you, and drag you in, and try to rape you at knifepoint.  Perhaps, while you’re walking through a quiet neighbourhood, some guy in a van will pull over, get out, and ask you how much for a night.  No, these are not pleasant things to think about.

Now the first thing to do, for all these incidents, is to think whether there is some way you can avoid them, or the places where they could happen.  You could walk to the next bus stop which is on a main road. You could cross the road to avoid walking past the dark alleyway.

Some of these things can’t be avoided though.  What do you do when that guy in a van pulls over and gets out and asks you for a good time tonight?  Can you scream “FIRE!” and run to the door of the nearest house? (Always scream “Fire” – it gets people’s attention)  Could you carry a rape alarm around with you and have it in your hand while you’re walking through this neighbourhood?  Could you catch this guy off guard, kick him in the stomach, punch him in the nose, then run like hell to a main road?  Write down several things you could do in each of the situations you have listed, and be realistic about your capabilities.  Make sure you factor in other possible situations – what if that guy has a friend?  Maybe you can say “Sure, come to my place, I like it this way and I have these toys…” and lead them to the house of the biggest strongest man you know.  Always make sure you have an escape plan.

Now, while you’re on a roll, or later when you have time, work on your other frequent routes.

Is it too much?  Maybe.  But wouldn’t you prefer to rehearse before incidents happen rather than after?

One of the things you should hopefully find after you do this exercise is that in a funny way it frees you from anxiety.  My best friend lives in LA and is always on red alert.  When I visited her a few years back we got lost late at night and I asked a stranger for directions and she freaked out.  He turned out to be a very nice guy, but she is always living with the “What if”.  I don’t know how it is to live your life questioning the motives of every stranger – to fear everybody who looks at you the wrong way or passes too close to you.  I’m not saying that after you do this exercise you should no longer be cautious – far from it – but that having these plans available you should hopefully be released from that anxiety of “anything can happen” and actually start listening to your instinctual feelings – so that your real fear signals – the ones you should really listen to – are not buried and confused with your anxiety.

If you’re interested in reading more about instinct and fear and how they could help you out in situations rather than that constant buzz of anxiety, a good book to read is the very aptly named “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.  I just bought two copies – one to replace the last one which I lent out and never got back, and one for my best friend.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is always feeling that anxiety that my friend has and it’s pretty cheap – about a fiver including delivery on Amazon.

I will readily admit that I wrote this post partly to help clear my mind of last night’s incident, to write down my thoughts on the “mental kata” I’ve been doing, but  I also thought it important that the people – particularly the women – I know do the exercise I have just mentioned.  I do think and have always thought that self-defence is unfortunately very important in the times we live in, and I think it is 99% mental and should only be physical when everything else has failed.

Special thanks to Ger O’Dea who originally spoke to me about this exercise and who responded with great enthusiasm when I asked him to proofread the first draft of this post, despite us having been out of touch for years! Ger now runs the Dynamis gym in Edinburgh where he teaches self-defence.

November 4, 2010

Thankful Thursday

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 10:36 pm

3 things I’m thankful for:
1) my friends – all over the world and diverse in age, race, career, thinking, but all kind  wonderful people
2) my health – I have all my limbs and everything functions.
3) my job –  I’m lucky  not just to be working but to be in a job where I do something I feel is worthwhile, where I get opportunity to learn all the time and am surrounded by awesome inspiring people

January 5, 2010

Risky transport

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 10:09 am

Here’s some food for thought.  I came across this while searching for the value of statistical life.

“Taking figures from the publication Transport Statistics Great Britain (DfT, 2004) based on the 1993-2002 average figures, the chances of death in Great Britain per billion passenger kilometres are as follows:

Air 0.0
Water 0.3
Bus or coach 0.4
Rail 0.4
Van 1.0
Car 3.0
Pedal cycle 41
Pedestrian 54
Two wheeled motor vehicle 113″

December 28, 2009

The Climate Change (Nash) Game

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 5:27 pm

In modern game theory study, one of the first games to be introduced to students is the Nash Bargaining Game (named after the famous mathematician John Nash, the subject of the Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind).

Economists and in particular environmental economists love this game because the premise of it depends on a finite good (e.g. a limited amount of money) which is valuable to all players.  There are many variations to this game, but the usual goal of the game is for each player to maximise the amount of the good they have by the end of the game (e.g. the person with the most amount of money wins), but there is also a maximum threshold level to which the all of the players’ goods must sum to (e.g. the sum of the accumulated money by all players has to be less than £100).  In different variations of the game, bypassing this sum may mean a lose for all players involved, or missing out on a special bonus amount of money.

The actual play of the game is very simple: Every player starts with the same amount of good that, summed together, is above the threshold level.  There are a defined number of rounds, and during each round each player (generally secretly) forfeits however much of the good they feel like (this can be 0), and at the end of each round the arbitrator announces how much money has been given up.

If that last two paragraphs were gobbledygook to you, I apologise!  But perhaps a description of a new variation by zoologist Manfred Milinski will make sense to you; I encourage you to play it with your friends the next time they suggest a round of poker.

The rules of this game are:

  1. Each player starts out with a set amount of money.  For the purposes of explaining, I will say £20 (raise or lower this according to the level of income of the poorest member of your group!).
  2. The group needs to collectively donate half of the total sum of the starting amount (so if you have six players who each had £20 to start off with, the group needs to donate £60, that is 6×20/2) to a ‘fund’.  If this ‘fund’ is not met by the end of the game, there is a 90% chance that everybody will lose all their money.  If it is met, everybody gets to keep the money they have left over after donating.
  3. You have ten rounds to do this.  Each round consists of each player secretly donating their money to the fund, and at the end of the round an arbitrator announces how much money there is in the fund.
  4. Players are allowed to discuss strategy with each other.

It may not immediately become apparent to you, but this game is an attempt to emulate, at a very basic level, international climate change negotiations.  Each player can be seen as a negotiator from a country, each trying to play the game to achieve what’s best for themselves.  If the sum of their (expensive) pledged actions are not large enough, a climate catastrophe is upon us and all the money they did not spend (and more!) on helping to mitigate climate change will be spent attempting to adapt to it.

Unfortunately, only 50% of Milinski’s experimental groups managed to ‘save the world’. Can you and your friends do better?

I see a couple of ways you could play this game:

  1. The arbitrator (you could call them Gaia!) comes up with the money and hands it to everyone.  All money that goes in the ‘fund’ goes back to the arbitrator.  Similary, if everyone loses, all the money returns to the arbitrator.  This is a slightly boring game though, and friends may feel more generous with their money, as it will be going back to the person who originally provided it.  However, if this is the only way you can get your friends to play this game, this may be the way to do it.  If not, however, to make things more interesting:
  2. Each player comes up with their own money.  A ‘bad’ charity, that is a charity that no one would ever consider giving money to, is agreed on by everyone.  An especially good ‘bad’ charity would be one that is against everyone’s beliefs.  So if you’re with a bunch of environmentalists, maybe a coal lobby.  Or if you’re with technologists, a luddite group.  You get the picture.  If the game is lost, all the money goes to this charity.  If the game is won, the money in the fund can either go to funding your next party or to a good charity.  I suggest funding your next party, because a good charity may also make everyone feel a bit more generous with their money.

Okay, go out there and see what your friends are made of!  If you do play this game, please let me know how it goes. :)


The idea of a ‘bad charity’ is influenced by Ian Ayres’s This site allows you to name a charity you dislike and set yourself commitments.  If these commitments are broken, you donate a set amount of money to a pre-named charity you dislike.

The Climate Change Game: article: Nature Reports Climate Change

Podcast: Fixing Climate is Going to Cost You – Planet Money –

April 18, 2009

Some posts you can look forward to

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 10:24 pm

Well the last week has been quite hectic and busy for me, and my spare time has been spent watching Firefly (hey I’m a geek!) but I have been thinking of things to write about, so here are a few things you can look forward to reading in the next week (although I hope to write a couple tomorrow).

*The government’s funding of electric cars
*Personal Carbon allowance and why you’re unlikely to see it anytime soon
*A critique of the Soil Association’s “GM Crops – The Health Effects” (I was at UKAware today and when I explained to the representative that I couldn’t possibly donate to the running of the Soil Association because I didn’t believe that GM Crops were necessarily wrong, coming from a third world country and all, she jumped down my throat. I’m not exactly sure what the Soil Association’s solution to a possible Malthusian catstrophe is if we’re to grow organic and not use GM Crops. It seems to me like a very developed country/small population point of view).
* Thoughts on UKAware

April 12, 2009

Has Innocent killed its brand?

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 3:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

Last week, Innocent Smoothies sold 20% of its share to Coca Cola.

Until I heard the news, my views of the two brands were:
Innocent: Love them. Great smoothies, a bit on the pricey side, but well worth it. A company that wins big on ethics, donating 10% of profits to environmental and educational projects in the places where their fruits are grown. The first to come up with bottles made from fully recycled plastic.
Coke: Boycotted. Huge workers rights and environmental issues leading to worker deaths and parched farms.

So when I heard the news, I, like many of Innocent’s fans, was understandably disappointed. I’ve kept myself updated for Innocent’s side of the story, but was disappointed that although a message from the Innocent founders was posted on 6th April letting customers know about Coke’s investment and the reasoning behind Innocent’s decision, there was no effort made to address the ethical issues I covered above.

A further blog post expanded slightly on the Founders’ message, but still did not touch the issues covered above. Replies came thick and fast, many by once-loyal customers expressing disappointment. As yet, there has been no answer from Innocent, despite a post afterwards about easter eggs.

It seems to me Innocent has made a very bad decision that has damaged their brand image. They have always touted their ethical values in business, and many people sincerely believed in their friendly chat on their bottles, cartons, and weekly e-mails. It seemed to me that Innocent worked very hard on cultivating their brand image and targeting their products at customers interested in ethics, and in paying a premium for those ethics. However, these very same customers will also be the ones participating in Coke boycotts.

For me, the jury is still out, but Innocent need to act fast in order to keep and win back loyal customers. They need to address the Coke ethics issues, and any reasoning behind why they chose to take Coke’s money despite knowing about them. I want to believe that Innocent brought these up with Coke before accepting their money, and that Coke has said or promised something for Innocent to agree to the investment, and I want to know what that is. If not, I’m afraid Innocent joins the boycott list.

April 10, 2009

Hello world! (The inevitable manifesto)

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 6:19 pm

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a while, having finished (for now, at least, I have some unformed plan for the future that includes some distance learning) formal  education and having not much to do on my nights apart from watching TV, playing my guitar, and reading library books and random chapters from my sisters’ Economics textbook.

I think this blog by and large won’t have much about my personal life, but more about my thoughts on general geekery, hippiery, and social issues.

I’m going to start by populating this blog with a few things I’ve written in the recent past on various media, and then we’ll go from there and see whether this blog sinks and dies or floats and thrives.

Eventually this is going to be linked up to my (at the moment non-existant) website.  I’m still working out the mechanics of this content-wise, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Blog at