This Way Up for Saturday 29 October 2016

Indoor navigation for the blind, global granny grub, Japan's workplace issues, how do you rest and relax, and who should control all those algorithms?

Finding your way: indoor navigation for the blind


BlindSquare Photo: (Supplied)

A short trip to the shops or a cafe can be a major challenge if you are blind or visually impaired. 

BlindSquare is a navigation app that uses a combination of GPS and Bluetooth to help people navigate both outside and inside buildings and shopping centres where GPS doesn't work. 

Wellington has become the first place in the world to introduce BlindSquare on a large scale to a city, with more than 200 beacons beaming spoken directions to user's smartphones.

"BlindSquare provides the shopper who is blind the ability to navigate, with confidence, from their home, to the bus, to the CBD, to explore the shops, and to return safely with information that exists beyond the tip of their cane." Rob Nevin of BlindSquare


Global granny grub

"Growing up I realized that my grandmother had been the repository of our family culture and identity. And I found out that, like her, millions of grandmothers all over the world pass down their heritage to their grandchildren." Jody Scaravella of Enoteca Maria

A New York restaurant has started showcasing the best in global granny grub, and it's getting rave reviews. 

Nonnas of the World at Enoteca Maria, Staten Island, New York

Nonnas of the World at Enoteca Maria, Staten Island, New York Photo: Glen DiCrocco

Jody Scaravella's the owner of Enoteca Maria, a New York restaurant that's started showcasing the best in global granny grub. 

He started off with a crack team of Italian grandmothers celebrating food from his own past, but he quickly found there was a hunger for good home-cooked food from other places.

So now he's recruited a team of international grannies from Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Poland and lots of other countries to display the best their national cuisine has to offer. 

"There were a lot of different people from a lot of different ethnic backgrounds that were coming in and celebrating these Italian grandmothers so I thought how nice would it be to celebrate everybody’s culture? So we started featuring grandmothers from all over the world.”

One kitchen is always staffed by an Italian grandmother but the other kitchen changes every day.

Last Friday it was Sri Lanka, Saturday was Siberia, Sunday was Peru. It’s a daunting task to change this kitchen every day from one culture to the other but it’s very fulfilling," he says.

Most of the nonas come to him through word of mouth

"They get paid a little money and they come in and they strut their stuff."

"We really need to represent every culture" Mr Scarevlla says. "I think it's really important to get people to understand that we are just one as a people. Music takes you across those borders comfortably, and art takes you across those borders, and food does as well."

Work hard, smell bad, die young

 A government survey in Japan has just found that 1 in 5 workers are at risk of dying from overwork.

Working yourself to death has a word in Japan: karōshi. And the problem is exacerbated by a working culture that promotes long working hours, and almost obligatory corporate bonding sessions after work. 

Now Tokyo's governor has vowed to change things by getting city workers out of the office by 8pm, an obligatory scheme that will be enforced by special 'overtime police'.


Karoshi Photo: (Pinterest)

She hopes this example will be picked up by the private sector.

Japanese workers have a culture of putting in very long hours, but with little evidence it benefits the nation.

While Japan's salary men are sitting at their desks long after the boss has gone, they're not shopping, going to restaurants or spending time with their wives - and Japan needs more children as it has a falling demographic.

And further research shows apart from working long hours, only half of Japanese workers took their annual leave.

Meanwhile it's been a long, hot summer in Japan and things have got decidedly whiffy in some Japanese workplaces. 

Personal hygiene is becoming an industrial issue, with Japanese employers being encouraged to take the problem of offensive odours at work more seriously.

The problem is mainly with older male workers and consultants are coming in to the workplace and giving seminars to men on how they can turn up at work after a long, stuffy commute smelling a little fresher. 

How do you rest and relax?

Rest Test

Rest Test Photo: (Pixabay Public Domain) was a global crowdsourced experiment that aimed to explored people's attitudes and opinions about rest, and how they like to relax. 

18,000 people from 134 countries participated in the study, including lots of us here in New Zealand. 

Claudia Hammond is the host of BBC's 'All In The Mind' programme and was part of the team that ran the survey and she's been looking at the results.

"The place getting the least amount of average rest is Ireland followed by the US, and at the top end for getting more rest is France very closely followed by New Zealand."

"New Zealand had an average of 3 hours and 37 minutes rest the previous day compared with only 3 hours and 8 minutes in the UK. So that's nearly an extra half hour you are getting!", Ms Hammond said.

Who controls the algorithms?

Pedro Domingos

Pedro Domingos Photo: (Supplied)

The algorithm has become a central part of our digital lives. It's basically a set of rules that calculates information and then provides us with instructions or recommendations automatically.

So when you put cat into Google, it's an algorithm that trawls through millions of web pages to search out information about this small, typically furry, carnivorous mammal.

Every time you interact with a computer today you're teaching a system a little bit more about yourself, and over time this digital model of you becomes valuable property in the hands of commercial enterprises who are trying to provide you with services, or sell you stuff. 

Pedro Domingos is a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. His book 'The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World' (Basic Books) is a warning about who is controlling the algorithms that are so central to so many parts of modern life. 

The Master Algorithm cover

The Master Algorithm cover Photo: (Supplied)