how far can the eye see

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How far can the human eye see?

Think about it.

What’s the answer?
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I saw this on an r/askreddit thread that asked: “What’s the smartest thing you’ve ever done?”

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Duh.

Probably further, because some stars are way, way past the moon. The andromeda galaxy, located 2.6 million light years away, is the furthest object visible with the naked eye under the right conditions.

Those military higher-ups were probably asking how far can the human eye see on earth and with the ability to see details. Or the more common question, how far can a human eye detect a candle flame? The quickest answer from googling is 48km. Researchers at Texas A&M university say it’s less than that, at around 2.5-2.8 km.

It’s surprisingly hard to test, because there are assumptions and external variables. Do we take into account the earth’s curvature? At around 3km it’s less significant than 48km. How about light pollution? Even in completely rural areas, are we seeing the candle flame absent light from the stars and the moon? How about under conditions of absolute darkness?

I can see why there was a discussion.

changed theme

The feed between the website and fb has been weird lately. More often than not, the image inside the post doesn’t get through and only the default website logo shows up. If I’m doing multi-day catchup posts, my timeline looks like a series of very boring links with the same maratree image.

Not that it matters. I deleted fb off default tabs and only check it once or twice a day if I remember. I’ve been slowly becoming disinterested in what I’m seeing on there; plus I’m fed up with its algorithms and how it’s so desperate for me to see what it wants me to see rather what I want to see. They’ve been in the spotlight recently, none of it good: it’s undisputedly the place where fake news fester and breed; its Protect feature is advertised as a security function but it actually installs spyware on the users’ phones; it spams users on the phone number provided to activate two-factor authentication.

So when the feed image problem started, I thought it was something to do with fb. I know that if they had their way, they won’t allow cross-posting via rss and instead force me to blog using their native Notes. If they stopped the IFTTT feed, I’m not going to spend the effort copy-pasting posts. I won’t play in their closed garden.

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But when I checked feedly, the image problem was there too. So it’s more likely my rss feed.

I’ve switched to wordpress for just over 2 years now, and I’m still not finding some of the under-the-hood stuff intuitive. I kept googling and trying to look for how to edit and modify the wp-include files. I mean, yes, I can do it all the way at website level but surely there’s somewhere in the wp dashboard that allows that?

I finally found where I could be editing but couldn’t fix the image issue. I didn’t have much luck editing any of the rss files directly in the website’s control panel. either.

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I should have gotten a clue when editing functions.php is under the themes sub-menu. So may be it’s time to try a new theme.

I suppose I have to grudgingly accept the versatility of wordpress and how easy it is to change themes. Just a few clicks and the problem seems to have been solved, at least for the last 3 posts. It’s not a bad theme either, still keeping to the clean and simple look I prefer.

cny dinner

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Family dinner tonight at the posh club where sis and Rob are members. A bit of fun beforehand, sis booked the bowling alley and the three of us (me, niece and rob) tried to bowl. My scores were abysmal, the highest round was 95, ugh.

The dinner was buffet at the garden lounge at the top floor of the club building. Unlike hotel buffets, it was very civilised and the atmosphere very pleasant. There were only around 20 tables, so that was an advantage already. Soup and a half lobster salad were served at the table. My niece doesn’t like lobsters so mum had a whole one!

Both sis and I opted to add-on free flow drinks, which included champagne, red and white wine, and sake. We mostly stuck to champagne, I tried the sake with dinner and it was really good. Not dry, and went well with food.

Food was the usual buffet fare. Cold seafood of oyster, crab leg, prawn, clams were alright. Sashimi was fresh and enjoyable. I had two huge plates of rocket and beetroot salad and a little bit of cold poached trout. Skipped most of the hot food although the others said it was good–steamed fish, beef checks, iberico pork chops, curry. There was a noodle station which had very little business. Outside on the patio was a bbq station with skewers, roast rib-eye and other bbq meat. The skewers was disappointing, either overcooked (chewy and dry) or undercooked (the scallops were almost raw and not charred outside).

Had a sorbet and some macarons for dessert. There was a cheesecake with chestnut topping, I only ate the topping. Half my plate was full of delicious blackberries.

cny day

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Most people spend CNY with family. All I did was stay home and cooked lunch and dinner. No difference from any other day.

Lots of greetings received on whatsapp groups. I looked and looked to find ones that didn’t have dogs, which was pretty difficult. These are from one of the priests mm follows on fb, he made them himself. I especially appreciate the explanation at the side, together with a pronounciation guide. With so much negativity around the use of fb (I deleted it from default tabs and check it once a day if I remember), it’s nice to see something that isn’t an ad, a stupid meme or spam.

cny eve market

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Traditionally people go to a flower market on CNY eve to buy flowers and to participate in the festive atmosphere. Last time I went was so many years ago and all I remember is the crowd.

We set off around 11.30pm on the tram, the slowest means of transport. It was nice to enjoy the view and the cool breeze and not have to hurry. Catch pokemons too, tram is slow enough.

When we got closer to the flower market park, we saw the beginnings of the hoard. The station was completely blocked and there was a queue along the pavement to cross the road. Lots of police officers there to direct traffic and keep it orderly. It was very crowded, but organised.

There was a one-way system in place at the market, so we had to go up one aisle of stalls and down the next. So crowded that progress was slow, may be a few steps every minute. The market split into roughly two sections; one for flowers and one where mostly school and college kids sold soft toys, cushions and other festive stuff. Cute at the time, but incredibly useless and tacky a few days later. This year, there were so many dog soft toys it was hard to find anything else.

We only managed half of the souvenir section, there was one part that was completely gridlocked. When we calculated that we’d moved may be 10 steps in 20mins, it was time to give up. The flower section was marginally less crowded, so we headed there. Many stalls had discounted flowers, the market had been in place for about a week and it was the last few hours. We left with a few bunches of flowers, mostly for mm’s mum. I got a pot of basil for the equivalent of £1.

By the time we left it was something like 3am. Amazingly there were still people heading into the market. These wise and persistent individuals were there for last minute bargains, good luck to them.

14-feb

brokenheart

My contribution towards Valentine’s Day? I cancelled lunch and a day out with mm. She’d booked an Indian buffet for lunch but I wasn’t feeling 100% when I woke up. Strange headache on the left side of my head behind my ear, sometimes it’d feel hot and sometimes it’d feel a bit numb. Occasionally there’d be a sharp pain. But not debilitating like a migraine. Thought it was best to stay home and rest. Headache persisted throughout the day, even with panadol. Drank a couple of large cups of green tea and took a 20-min walk to the small park to get some sun and fresh air. Slight improvement. Probably need a good night’s sleep or rather, a week of consecutive good nights’ sleep.

Anyway it wasn’t a proper v-day event, we were just talking about Indian food and how long it’s been since we had it. We usually don’t pay much attention to v-day. More importantly, it’s Ash Wednesday. Busy this week, between Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and CNY coming up on Friday. May be it’s the trying to keep track that’s giving me the headache.

single atom photograph

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via giz, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (“EPSRC”) just announced the winner of its annual photography prize, which goes to David Nadlinger of Oxford University for a photography of a single strontium atom. The atom was excited by a laser, absorbs the energy, re-emits the light, and was held stationary by electric fields. The process occured sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture.

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Zoom in and the atom may be seen clearly. Images © David Nadlinger.

There were over 100 entries to the competition, in 5 cutely named categories: Eureka & Discovery, Equipment & Facilities, People & Skills, Innovation, and Weird & Wonderful.

The ESPRC was formed in 1994 after the SERC was split into reserach councils responsible for engineering & physical sciences, particle physics & astronomy, and biotechnology & biological sciences. Every scientist in my university cohort who went beyond first degree knows the SERC very well.

benign existence

Not much happened recently, so in the spirit of r/benignexistence here’s a list of mundane things I did this week that are, in the sub’s definition perhaps relatable but do not necessarily evoke a strong reaction:

  • low level headache that refuses to go away, ran out of paracetemol blister packs, went to pharmacy to buy some
  • visited a local small restaurant that apparently has been there since before I was born, their speciality is Thai food–chicken rice, braised duck, red and green curries
  • bought a small amount of global leisure fund, top 5 sectors:
    1. software
    2. media
    3. internet & direct marketing retail
    4. hotel, restaurant & leisure
    5. household durables
  • completely vacuumed under the bed, including taking out and cleaning shoeboxes
  • in addition to morning yorkshire tea, drank two large cups of mint or green tea in the afternoon
  • caught some gen 3 pokémons and participated in legendary gyms
  • removed ghostery because it’s on the side of the advertisers, installed privacy badger, which is from the EFF instead: why privacy badger is better
  • searched my flickr to see what ‘boring’ will bring up

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What flickr gave me as ‘boring’ was based on my description of the pics of Kiel on one of our cruises. Here’s some random crates we saw at the flea market. Benign existence enough.

rock stacks, leaf circles

via colossal, a series of amazing rock stacks and other nature art.

My niece and I play with stacking rocks whenever we visit middle island, but our efforts are small fry compared with these work by James Brunt, a Yorkshire-based artist who uses materials found on a beach or in the woods–rocks, leaves, twigs and such like–and arranges them in complex geometrical patterns. Images ©James Brunt.

Rocks:
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Leaves:
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Twigs:
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More on twitter and prints are available on etsy.

He also talks about how he works, with particular care about the environment. He doesn’t take materials like stones or leaves away from their habitat and if necessary he will get permission first. His installations tend not to last more than a few hours, and in terms of damage to the environment, probably has the same impact as kids making sandcastles on a beach.

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There has been some controversy about people stacking rocks and such like. Opponents call these rock stacks, aka cairns, graffiti, vandalism. They have a point, especially when they seem to be everywhere, like this riverside littered with them at Zion National Park. If people take rocks from one place to another, or dig them up from the ground, or remove them from rivers or lakes or seas, then it’s the opposite of the mantra of leave no trace.

Perhaps the trick, like many things in life, is a little care and moderation. Do as James Brunt does, only take materials from where they are found. Knock the stacks over or scatter the leaves when finished. Return nature the way we found it.

australia is a continent not a country

I spotted this on buzzfeed and watched it make its way around social media. I posted it to r/facepalm and so far I’ve gotten more than 10k views and more than 1k points.

The gist of the facepalm-worthy story is that a student who is doing an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University was doing an assignment comparing social norms of America vs another country. She picked Australia. This seems to be a good topic, and a simple google found me several interesting articles for later reading: quora answer on cultural and lifestyle differences; businessinsider’s 20 things about Australian culture that can surprise non-Aussies; long article comparing differences.

The student’s professor gave her a F for her paper. The reason? I’ll let the professor explain herself:

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The student appealed, and sent a link to the Australian government website that describes Australia as both a continent and a country.

The professor dug her heels:

Thank you for this web-address

After I do some independent research on the continent/country issue I will review your paper.

Mysteriously the paper’s grade was adjusted to B+ but there was no apology or further communication. Subsequently, the college issued a sort-of apology via twitter:

Still, looking at both the reddit and twitter threads, there were people who defended the professor. A sociology professor doesn’t need to know geography. It’s just a mixup and the professor shouldn’t have lost her job for it. The correct name of the continent is Oceania (wrong, see below).

SMH.

oceania

I can’t remember how old I was when I learned about continents and first heard of Australia. I’m very sure I was very young, primary school age. This is basic knowledge. Australia is a large enough country, with so many wonderful exports that I have a hard time reconciling the fact that a professor who teaches at a college has never heard of it.

There seems to be confusion between Australia the continent and Oceania the region. First of all, Australia is a country located on the continent of Australia. It’s the only country on earth to occupy an entire continent. A continent is a large land mass and again this is basic knowledge that there are 7 continents. Not all countries are located on continents, for example many of the Pacific islands are too small to be considered as being on a continent. Pacific islands, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia for the geographic region of Oceania. Clear?

random finance

We met a friend of ours, P, for lunch at a Japanese restaurant he recommended. Good choice, the food was fresh and the location convenient for all. P said he bought a small apartment in the Ōta region of Tokyo, which is southwest of Tokyo towards Yokohama. So jealous!! I wonder if we can rent it from him for short visits.

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We talked about current affairs, Brexit, property, where we like travelling to in Japan, and since he is a branch manager of a local bank, what investment products are good right now. He stayed on the conservative side, telling us about guarantee funds, life insurance based products, and mortgage funds. Have to do some reading on mortgage funds, not as familiar as I would like. I do know that they are supposed to be relatively low risk and generate returns a bit better than money market funds. They’re supposed to be more resistant to interest rate fluctuations–when interest rates are low, income from mortgages are low but underlying equities do well; when interest rates are high, equity markets tend to correct but mortgage funds have higher payments supporting it.

Red flags to watch out for in mortgage funds: where it invests, the type of underlying loans, entrance fee, exit fee, management fee, whether it pays all dividends or partial dividends.

My risk appetite is higher than this although I try to take a balanced approach. Anyway I should take a look at my investments, seeing how volatile the market has been this week. I’m not going to panic sell, because I’m not in need of any of those funds. But it may be a good opportunity to find some bargains.

making the hasselblad x1d

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One lucky reporter at The Verge visited Hasselblad’s factory in Gothenburg and got a tour of how the X1D is made. Amazing series of pictures. Top image from Hasselblad, all other images © The Verge.

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The building is nothing fancy, and the company is small enough to feel personal. The parts may not be all manufactured in Sweden (eg the sensors are made by Sony), but everything is assembled, calibrated and tested in Sweden. Almost all the process is done either by hand, or closely monitored by a human being if done by a machine. Dust is the enemy of all cameras, and the factory is spotlessly clean. All workers and visitors wear lab coats, hairnets and gloves if necessary.

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As expected, quality control is of the highest standard. Parts are tested continuously and each body comes with a signed release by the person who inspected it. Testing is treated as part of the manufacturing process rather than something that needed to be done afterwards. Here the camera is being tested on how well it reproduces the blue of the test sphere.

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Even though the cameras are state of the art, the manual manufacturing process means not all the tools used are hi-tech. They’re still using Windows XP and old Dell and Sony computers. Cleaning is done by hand using tiny brushes. Each one comes with certificates of quality and exhaustive paperwork.

Just for reference, the price of this camera is over US$10,000 for the body alone, and is Hasselblad’s cheapest camera. It’s the first mirrorless medium format camers available. Medium format photography is so far above my skill level that I still think of the old Mamiyas with 120mm films rather than modern digital cameras.

The X1D looks nothing like those old Mamiyas, or indeed like the first image of Hasselblad that comes to mind. It’s simply…breathtaking. It’s been described as the Ferrari of cameras. Is it for everyone? The professional photographer at petapixel correctly says no. It’s way too expensive for amateurs, and not even professionals who work with high resolution images. For professionals whose work are likely to be printed in ginormous sizes, like artists, fashion or portrait photographers, this is ideal. He’s definitely keeping his:

While I can’t say with any finality whether this camera is worth it for anyone else, I can say that you’ll do better trying to wrench a soup bone out of a pit bull’s mouth than to wrest the X1D from my firmly clenched grip.

there’s a car in orbit around the earth

I’d read about SpaceX but hadn’t paid a lot of attention to what is happening, so I was pretty excited to read that they just lauched their latest rocket, Falcon Heavy. The rocket launched from Cape Canaveral and is hugely significant: the rocket is intended to be reusable and it’s the heaviest rocket ever launched. The two outer boosters landed safely back on earth but the centre core didn’t land safely althought it was supposed to. The 27 engines produced 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, meaning it’s able to take a payload of 140,000 pounds and put it into the earth’s lower orbit. The launch video is 35mins, but all of it worthwhile viewing.

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To test the rocket’s capacity meant trying to put a heavy object into orbit. While SpaceX could have just put a pile of scrap metal, a useless satellite, or something unimaginative, they put the silliest thing Elon Musk could imagine: his red Tesla Roadster. Definitely a great sense of humour, in the passenger seat is a spacesuit wearing a seatbelt just like it’s driving the car that is called Starman.

Other cool trivia associated with this launch, aside from the obvious supercool thing that THERE’S A CAR IN ORBIT AROUND EARTH:

  • the launchpad was the same one used for Apollo 11
  • the rocket launched to David Bowie’s Life on Mars
  • there’s a sign that says ‘Don’t Panic’ on the dashboard of the Tesla
  • apparently inside the glovebox: Asimov’s Foundation series, a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a a towel

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Originally the Tesla was headed to Mars, but then it overshot and they said it would go into the asteroid belt. NASA calculated the Tesla’s orbital trajectory and they predict that it will stay closer to the sun and end up in an orbit somewhere between earth’s and mars’. It’s still visible from telescopes but will soon travel too far away. Astronomers say it won’t be visible again until late 21st century. TIL NASA has a articifial object database of things in space.

Trivla and coolness aside, the reusability and power of the rockets have the most value. They are still testing, but already on the schedule is a communications satellite from Saudi Arabia and a test payload for the US military.

bbmm afternoon outing

Cold but sunny day. We decided we needed some fresh air so we headed out to the wetlands countryside area. Late lunch at an AYCE Japanese bbq place, then followed the signs to an “eco farm.” It was a big letdown. They charged an admission fee and it looked from the map outside that the so-called farm consisted of walking paths, small gardens, a playground and a kids’ petting area. There was one other car in the carpark which didn’t bode well either. We decided to save our money and give this placa a miss.

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Ended up at the small village at Nam Sang Wai. First thing we saw when we parked the car was a row of dockless bikes that have invaded the city. No fewer than 3 different companies with yellow, green and blue bikes. To the credit of the users, the bikes were parked in a neat row. We saw others in poorer shape elsewhere–covered in mud or just thrown into an unsightly pile. How these schemes make money we don’t know.

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The famous “wedding bridge” had been slightly repaired, and handrails added. This is the place where a lot of people come to take wedding pictures, because of the beautiful scenery. The bridge is more a small wooden pier but its location at the side of a canal and the background of trees and a small hill is ideal for photography. This was taken on the iphone and with no adjustments whatsoever. I know, golden hour and all that. Still, pretty.

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Walked further into the small village. There are around a dozen houses, mostly metal-cladded and quite run down. People do live there though; we saw a young woman watering her vegetable garden, heard the sound of a tv or radio through the gap of another house, and there’s laundry out to dry in front of several houses. The concrete path turned into one that was basically rotten wooden planks, which is part of the charm.

The wooden planks lead to another small pier, this one at the side of a river/canal. There’s a boatman who rows people across to the other side, probably the shortest river crossing ever. Equivalent to 50p per crossing, add 10p per bike. Very sedate. A sign says it’s around 15mins’ walk to the nearest train station from the other side of the river. During the 10mins that we were there, we saw a good 5-6 people crossing, one came back to this side with his bike and 2 bottles of either detergent or comfort in the basket. Looks like it’s widely used by locals.

We caught the sunset as we were walking back to the car. It was quick! We were both full from lunch, so decided to call it a day. I was home by 7.30pm.

sleep or read, a dilemma

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Almost every night when it starts getting late, after 11pm or so, I look at the clock constantly. The dilemma is, sleep or read on, because I’ll inevitably be reading a book.

It’s very cold the last few days, at night it’s below 10ºC. I can hear some people scoffing already, pffft only 10ºC, stop complaining. Consider this: our buildings have no insulation and no heating. Most of us get by with a small fan heater which is okay for heating a small area but nothing more than 10 steps away. Heat leaks out through the walls and the windows. Next time it gets to below 10ºC, turn your heating off and open your windows (to simulate the lack of insulation) for three days and just use a fan heater. See how you get on.

I’ve been wearing socks all day, so my feet are warm. Ease of falling asleep is directly proportional to feet temperature, more specifically temperature at bottom of feet. There’s an old study in Nature:

As we approach the threshold of sleep the body’s temperature regulation system redistributes heat from its core to our extremities. The phenomenon is closely related to the release of hormones such as melatonin, which regulate sleepiness and wakefulness.

Anyway, because of the cold weather, I find that I’m waking up later because it’s nice and warm underneath my duvet. This is a great duvet, even better than the 13.5 tog white goose down one I’ve had forever, this one mm ordered for me at a duvet making place, it’s supposedly handmade and very, very warm. Regardless of when I finally climb into bed, I tend to wake up around the same time. Late.

I’ve always been more of a night owl than a morning person. Luckily I only remember one all-nighter when I was studying, that one time I tried to do what people said to do and drank some coffee which resulted in me getting more sleepy and not liking coffee ever. I don’t exactly find myself getting more energetic as it gets later, it’s just that I find it quieter with few distractions. So I’m up past midnight and I’m reading, or writing a post, or doing something else. Again, there’s a study on this phenomenon which they call delayed sleep-wake phase disorder:

a typical sleep pattern that is “delayed” by two or more hours…Once sleep occurs, the sleep is generally normal. But the delay leads to a pattern of sleep that is later than what is desired or what is considered socially acceptable.

It’s not a disorder, really, is it. Following a different sleeping-hours pattern is not wrong, and people should stop discriminating against others who are simply different. As long as I get my work done, when does it matter what time I did it? Of course it’s easier when I had the freedom of living on my own, and not have to go to work at regular hours. Even people who work at home find it challenging.

Back to my original dilemma. Sleep or read? Let me go read for a little while longer, then I’ll decide.

dark coin puzzle

Very cool quick puzzle that has a “surprisingly easy solution.” I had to think about the solution to fully realise, yes it is surprisingly easy.

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You’re in a completely dark dungeon room with hundreds of coins; each coin has a silver side and a gold side. There are 20 coins with silver side facing up, the rest has its gold side facing up. You are to separate the coins into two piles, and each pile must contain the same number of silver-side up coins. The size of the piles may be different. The coins feel the same and flipping is allowed.

Hint: algebra is involved in the solution.

yorkshire pudding pizza

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To coincide with yorkshire pudding day, Morrisons has launched a yorkshire pudding pizza. The base is a 6.5-inch yorkie, and it’s filled with tomato sauce, mozzarela plus one of two fillings: pepperoni or meat feast which is meatballs, pepperoni, spicy beef and jalapeño. Seems to be quite small, and will be sold at 491 morrisons for £3.

This is also not new, a diner in yorkshire did it first.

The trend of food mashups continue but this one should work. A base that is crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, filled with traditional pizza ingredients. It’s not unlike Chicago deep dish pizza really, if you think about it.

we are not original

via petapixel

We go through flickr, or google photos, or instagram, or facebook, looking at our friends’ travel pics. Even notice they’re essentially all the same shot. Different weather, time of day, and if they are normal people who stand in front of the landmark or scenery, the difference is in the people and where they stand.

Instagrammer Oliver KMIA made a video slideshow of almost identical images of planes, people, and instantly recognisable landmarks photographed in the exact same way, calling it:

a photogenic mass tourism experience

What he’s missing is what I see a lot on my friends’ fb posts: pic of the airport gate showing where they are going, and an image of their boarding pass. (And here’s why we must NEVER EVER post pictures of boarding passes anywhere.)

To my horror, I find that I’m also guilty of some of these clichéd pics, even though I will never do the let’s-pretend-we’re-pushing-the-leaning-tower-of-pisa atrocity. Like this arashiyama bamboo forest pic, I know I took it, I can show the EXIF and prove that I was, well, in Kyoto that day. But will anyone be any wiser if I had downloaded it off google images or flickr or instagram and added it amongst all the others I took on the same trip? I doubt it. I’m conscientious about linking and acknowledging, but not everyone is. Both my friend A and I have had people link and copy our images without crediting us, but that’s not the point of this post.

As for the photogenic mass tourism experience, dpreview said

We can’t decide if the video is funny or depressing

I think it’s both and neither. It’s a sign of the times.

when iphone breaks

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First thing we did when we got to Bangkok airport on our trip, after getting our luggage and clearing customs, was to switch to a local sim card. When I took my iphone out of the case, I discovered that the screen had separated from the casing and was slightly warped. I hadn’t noticed it before, the sturdy case held it together, so I didn’t know whether it was recent or how long it’d been like that. The phone was working perfectly fine, so I kept on using it. Car said it’s probably a swollen battery and I should be careful.

Genius Bar is booked a week in advance so yesterday was the first chance I was able to get an appointment after coming back. Even with a reservation, there was a 30min wait.

Yep, the battery is swollen. But the remedy isn’t part of the $29 iphone battery replacement program. It’ll have to come under regular repairs. And I never bought applecare.

I thought they’d replace the swollen battery with a new one. Nope.

I thought they’d replace the motherboard. Nope.

They told me I’m getting a new iphone. Yep, brand new. Same model, same specs, but not iphone X (I wish).

Originally she said it’d be $79, but when I came to pay the system kept coming up with $29. She went and asked her manager who said okay to $29. I wonder if their POS system is too geared towards the battery replacement program that it forced my case into it too. Does it mean I can’t replace the battery this year? I guess I did get a new battery, only it came with a new phone attached to it.

Restore from icloud took overnight since it had to upgrade to the latest ios and download all the apps again; fortunately I didn’t have to redo any settings. I had to log into everything again, of course. Now I’m thinking about whether to get a password manager.

Two things didn’t completely restore: whatsapp and camera roll. I think I turned off automatic backup for whatsapp and forgot to do a backup before I went to the apple store. The most recent backup it could find was 2015 so I lost a lot of texts and a number of groups. With some fiddling around I added myself back in groups I own, and my friends added me back to our various groups. Restoring camera roll was just tedious, I have it backed up in dropbox but I had to save the pics one at a time, there didn’t seem to be a bulk download option. It was a good opportunity to sort and delete pics I no longer want in the camera roll so time well spent.

Next time I’m out and about, I need to get a new screen protector and may be a spare sturdy case. Hopefully this phone will last a few more years, and this episode takes care of the low-level hanking after iphone X that’s been floating around in the background.

coastal foraging

This is a great video I discovered via bb. Craig Evans from forages along the beaches in Pembrokeshire and he has a whole youtube channel of him finding the freshest seafood then cooking it there and then.

He looks under large rocks and in pools, moving from spot to spot so as not to take from just one spot. He puts back anything that is too small and only grabs what he needs, which is really ethical and sustainable.

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What he got that day: edible crabs, velvet swimming crabs, bearded rocklings, winkles and whelks. Cooked simply in water, may be seawater? The water was then flavoured with seaweed he called dulse plus garlic and powdered lobster shells he probably made himself then used to make couscous. A great idea and so easy for outdoor cooking.

In this day and age, living purely on foraging isn’t possible unless in rural or almost uninhabited areas. It seems to be a nice hobby providing not too many people do it, and they all respect the need not to deplete the ecosystem.

monthly whisky subscription

whiskyme

I’m not in alcohol-drinking mode right now, the last alcoholic drink I had was the local lager at the treehouse in Bangkok two weeks ago. If I were in a whisky-drinking mode and if I were back in the UK, I’d totally sign up for the whisky of the month subscription offered by black rock whisky bar. Google maps tells me that it’s up the road from where I: a) went to school and b) worked when I was last in London, haha.

For £7 (when paid annually, or £7.99 paid monthly), subcribers get a 50ml sample of whisky every month. Launched in November, they’ve had Macallan Fine Oak 12, Royal Lochnagar 2000, and Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 18 so far. It’s around the cost of a dram in a whisky bar, so not too bad. I don’t know what will happen if people like the whisky and want to buy more, probably go to TWE.

The whisky is shipped in what vinepair called capri sun pouches. I guess it’s a good way of shipping, much safer and cheaper than small sample bottles. I’ve seen single serve wine pouches before, so it’s not a big leap to think about whisky transported this way.

picky eater quiz

pickyeater

Spotted this on social media recently. One point for each food I don’t eat.

Certain 2 points for me: eggplant (aka aubergine) and grapefruit. I dislike the taste, smell and for aubergine the texture too.

Another one point made up of half a point for onion and half a point for coffee. I’ll cook with onion, provided it ends up in a form that is incorporated into the dish. So as mirepoix whenever it’s needed. I’m okay with onion soup too, because it’s cooked down. If it’s raw, or barely cooked that I can see it, I’ll pick it out. And for this purpose, I include spring onion and leek. As for coffee, I rarely drink it and if I do it’s with mm and either iced or it’ll have to be a bean that is quite mild. I don’t hate coffee, I simply have no affinity with it.

So, total 3 points.

Everything else on the list, I’m perfectly fine with. Even controversial food like snail, oyster, liver. There are some foods on there that I absolutely love, like avocado, strawberry, tea. Such a large proportion of the list is fruit and veg, i hope most people don’t pick up points for those.

p.s. I’m giggling at how this was probably typed on Word, with the autocorrect formatting on nutella and the wrong spelling of brussels sprouts.

nyt star wars book

nytstarwars

The NYT has a coffee table book out called In a Galaxy Far, Far Away which collects all NYT articles about Star Wars. It starts with a 1973 feature on George Lucas who was

working on another science fiction screenplay, ‘The Star Wars,’ which he describes as a ‘real gee whiz movie’ in the Flash Gordon-Buck Rogers tradition.

Obviously there are reviews when ep4 opened in 1977, and has a total of 85 articles. Articles in the Style section about Leia; a timeline when ep1 was released to remind people about where we were; and analysis just before December’s release of ep8.

It’s in the in-between zone, at US$70 ($80 if personalised). As a coffee table book, it’s a tad on the expensive side. As a collector’s item, it’s certainly something die-hard fans will want to get. I can’t help feeling it’s jumped the gun, why not wait till ep9 is out to be more complete?

wilson wolfe game

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The correspondent at engadget talked about how hard it was to resist this kickstarter exclusive board game. Kickstarter exclusives are like small batch whiskies, they are available for a short period of time on kickstarter only, then will likely not be available forever. Most times, the reasons are that the products can’t be scaled up in the manufacturing process, they’re aimed at too niche an audience, or that the companies that make the products are too small to handle mass production. An example is a product that have a lot of hand-made, small components.

This board game the Wilson Wolfe Affair looks tremendous. It’s more than a board game, it’s a detective story-treasure hunt-puzzle game. The contents of the game is a big box of documents, newspaper clippings, other stuff, and a diary:

Each diary entry roughly corresponds to one main object in the package – and through reading the entry and examining the relevant objects you’ll see that there is a puzzle that needs to be solved. Upon finding the solution (perhaps a name, a date, an address, a lead), a little bit more of the story will be revealed to you. In this way, the game can be broken down into small stand-alone puzzles which can be tackled alone or by a group. And each puzzle solved will help you unravel the story, and solve the large overarching meta-puzzle; finding out exactly what happened.

The puzzles may be the object in the package, something to hunt for online, or…they’re not giving everything away. Sounds like a game to be played either alone or in a group, both ways sound like a lot of fun.

I think, yes, there’s a sense of FOMO with kickstarter exclusives, but the premise of the game is so refreshing, so intriguing that it’s worth getting without the exclusivity status.

The game starts at £59 for a 20-puzzle package and goes to £219 for a 50-puzzle package. And thanks to the engadget correspondent, I’m going to be £59 (+£20p&p) poorer. Ships in the summer. I think/hope it’s worth it.

water refill and water filters

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Part of the reason we think I got so sick that day in bangkok is because of heatstroke and dehydration. We were cycling for hours in direct sunlight, and even though I had watermelon slushie at lunch it wasn’t enough. We didn’t utlise the roadside water stations either.

I’m still feeling the aftereffects of that bout of sickness. Waking up with a splitting headache that lasts the whole day, sometimes the room will be spinning around. Thankfully, no throwing up or urge to.

So, lesson learned. Keep hydrated.

refilluk

Something new that’s gaining momentum in the UK is the Refill initiative. It started in Bristol and is now in Bath, Bicester, Durham, Dumfries, Norwich, Henley-on-Thames, Brighton, Bicester and all over Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Here’s how it works:

Participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses simply put a sticker in their window – alerting passers-by to the fact they’re welcome to come on in and fill up their bottle – for free!

That’s it. Anyone with a refillable bottle can go into participating locations and fill it up with tap water. There’s an app (of course there’s an app) that shows where these refill points are, and individuals and businesses can even suggest additional refill points. One of the first companies to sign up is Whitbread so there will be 3,000 participating Costas and Premier Inns by March. There are currently 1,600 refill points across the country.

The traditional alternative to buying bottled water is water fountains. But they are the responsibility of local councils, are expensive to install and maintain, and prone to vandalism. This scheme seems much more likely to succeed. Honestly, I’d support it even if there’s a small charge like 5p. But I guess trading standards come into it.

I remember filling water bottles from fountains in Europe and of course now a lot of airports have water stations beyond security. This type of scheme may not work in all countries; I’m thinking countries where citizens are, well, less disciplined than the British. I can just see a post at r/britishproblems where the OP goes into Costa to ask for water refill and end up buying a muffin because they feel bad that they went inside and bought nothing.


Talking about water, here’s the latest from probably the charity I support most, Folia Water: they’ve been selected as a finalist in the Women Who Tech startup challenge. The 10 finalists will present their pitches on 8-March at google’s NYC office. Amongst the other finalists are IoT and AR systems; products to help infants and Alzheimer’s patients; sustainable processes that use bio and organic materials; and two water treatment products including Folia’s pAge paper. Go Dr Teri!!

random tech news

A few tech related stuff spotted recently.

olddisks

This post about old floppy disks from sixcolors wasn’t as interesting as I thought initially. Jason Snell talks about all the various floppy disks he’d had over the years, from the 5.25″ floppies he used in his Apple IIe (talk about an early adoptor!) and how he managed to image these disks and somehow get the data off them, albeit as txt files. There’s a lot of words that seem to simply go over my head, for instance when he started talking about DOS3.3, I was confused, wasn’t he using an Apple II? Anyway, the good news is he recovered files as well as records of old BBS entries. The upshot:

It turns out the journey, through old computers and transfer cables and disk images, was the true reward. Nobody needs to see the term papers they wrote in high school 30 years after the fact.

The reason this post caught my eye was the pic of all those old floppy disks. I threw out all my disks last time I moved, and now only have some cd-roms, which will go in the bin next time I have a clearout. I saw an old zip drive plus some zip disks on mm’s bookshelf one time, mainly because she hasn’t had multiple moves and she said she doesn’t even remember what they are. Strange to see them still on sale, even though they’ve evolved to being connected via usb nowadays. Hmm, I still have firewire cables.


A handy listing of keyboard shortcuts, ranked by importance. Although I don’t necessarily agree with the ranking. I don’t use cmd-z or emd-y that much, but cmd-x, -c, and -v are definitely essential. I can’t remember the last time I used the Edit menu for copy paste. I’ve been using cmd-tab a lot more, although when I first starting using it lots I would accidentally hit cmd-q, which is NOT GOOD.

Others like cmd-o for open, cmd-n for new, cmd-s for save and cmd-t for new tab are good ones to remember. One that isn’t on the list that I use all day is cmd-w to close current tab. I’m not the type of user who has dozens of tabs open, probably 4-5 at most. A new one I learned is cmd-h to hide the current window which is so much cleaner than minimising.

The two keyboard shortcuts for screenshot is great too: cmd-shift-3 for whole screen and cmd-shift-4 to select the area to screenshot.

Another one they don’t list that is extremely important to excel users is cmd-shift-arrow to select the whole column or row. Imagine having a spreadsheet of 500 rows of data and wanting to select it all, dragging the cursor all the way is not effective.


And finally, at long last apple is revamping the ibooks app, and it’ll simply be called books. There’s been no update for ages and ages, new features apparently:

include a simpler interface that better highlights books currently being read and a redesigned digital book store

plus a tab for audiobooks.

ebooksales

Good news, and provides some competition for kindle. eBook sales through amazon has gone from 74% market share in 2015 to 83% in 2017. Apple will really need to up their game though, because there’s a lot to catch up both in terms of competing against kindle readers and the selection in the app store. I sometimes check out books in the itunes store and the selection is pretty dismal. It shouldn’t be hard for them to get more ebooks, since their focus is selling iphones and ipads rather than content so they can well afford to have ebooks selling at lower prices than at amazon.

I think I’m the rare reader who’s resisted buying kindle books and stubbornly keeping to epub all these years. I hope the updated app is better and they don’t over-engineer it. My wishlist is pretty simple, I’d like to have folders to organise my ebooks rather than just one flat library. And the ability to sort books in a series in the right order will be awesome.

bird’s nest soup

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A lifetime ago when I was doing the 101 tasks in 1001 days challenge, one of the tasks was make a list and photoset of 101 bucket list food items I’ve already tried. Food and drink like absinthe, century egg, deep dish pizza, insect. I had 101 items which I’ve tried but there were a handful of pics pending because I ate them so long ago, before the age of taking pics of food. Imagine having food in front of us and not taking out a camera or phone, quelle horreur!

One was bird’s nest soup.

And finally I’m able to add to the photoset; we tried it at the streetfood market at Bangkok Chinatown.

Bird’s nest soup is made from the solidified saliva nests of swiftlets, and expensive due to the rarity and difficulty in harvesting the nests. With all these weird foods, it’s supposed to be good for health. Usually eaten as a soup flavoured with a little rock sugar, the nests pretty much have no flavour. Texture like soft gelatin, or as the marketing folks say, caviar-like. The overwhelming taste is the sugar syrup. The last time I had it was probably 10+ years ago and I think the frequency of once every 10 or so years is enough for me.

bangkok trip day 06: sukhumvit area, flight

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We’re a little tired of hotel breakfasts by now. Noodles or congee seem to be the best choice. We had a few different noodles over the past few days, sometimes they have more condiments, our favourite is when salted eggs made an appearance.

Walked over to emporium and em quartier after breakfast, mainly to check out the gourmet supermarket. I bought mangos and mm bought a large bag of passionfruit. We had late check-out at 2pm so there was time to take a shower.

Enough time in the afternoon to go for a quick massage, this one at the place directly opposite the hotel. Small and other customers were quite noisy, but cheap and the therapists were okay. Definitely liking the location.

Our driver came at 4pm to pick us up, 1hr to the airport in the rush hour traffic. We’ll keep his contact details for next time, he has a fleet of cars and taxis and is knowledgeable and experienced. Check-in, wander around the duty free and early dinner in the airport–thai styled raw prawns, green curry beef, pineapple rice.

Flight was full again, but we got upgraded, yay! The plane arrived late, there was a delay boarding but it caught up so not substantially late. By the time we got our luggage and on the airport express it was past midnight. Got home around 1.30am.

bangkok trip day 05: river, chinatown

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A day on the river. Took a taxi to the shangri-la hotel, after the taxi driver didn’t understand we wanted the mandarin oriental–he took us to a smaller, local hotel called the mandarin. The shangri-la is located on the river, but the area didn’t seem as versatile as sukhumvit. Anyway, the itinerary today included going on the river.

There were different types of boats available. First to approach us were longboat tour guides. They advertised tours lasting from 1.5hrs to 3hrs in a private longboat. I’m guessing the sky’s the limit for price, they’ll hit you for as much as they can. Next to the private pier is the public pier. Two types of boats available. The tourist blue boat offers a day pass for ฿180 (£4), operates like a hop on hop off bus in other cities. Seems like a bargain? Nope. The public river taxis are ฿15 (35p) for a single trip, and it’s not likely anyone will need to take 12 trips to make the tourist boat break even. So advice is, stick with the public express boats.

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The orange flagged boat goes to the piers at all the tourist areas. We were able to get seats on our first ride from sathorn pier all the way to thonburi railway pier. Some of the piers are numbered, like sathorn is #1 and thonburi #11. The boats are quick and the river quite busy, especially at the central locations. There are schedules and route maps at all piers.

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Great views of Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Royal Grand Palace. We also saw a number of other wats, the church of Santa Cruz, the 24hr flower market and lots of other sights along the river. It was so nice we didn’t want to get off.

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When we did get off, we headed towards wang lang market, around 10mins from the pier walking through a teaching hospital. Late lunch at a café at the market with river view. Tom yum soup, stuffed squid, sea bass & pineapple yellow curry. Not too bad, streetfood would have been tastier but this place had more comfortable seating.

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The market was part indoors and part outdoors. Mostly clothes, accessories, decorations that were on the cheap and cheerful side. There was a section that was distinctively camden like and we weren’t sure if the clothes and shoes on sale were second hand or new but grubby from being on display for a long time.

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The pavement outside the market was lined with streetfood stalls. Again, either fried food or salad. Not that the food we’ve tried hadn’t been tasty, I may lose weight if I lived in thailand for a long time because the style of food isn’t altogether suited to my palate. Or may be it’s because I’m sick this trip, dunno.

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Here’s a pic for my friends J&T, they’ve reached Australia in their trip. They posted pictures of entire families on motorbikes when they were in SE Asia, and here’s one with 4 members of the family on one motorbike. By and large, motorbikes in Bangkok have been well behaved and it seems motorbike taxis are very prevalent. Not sure if I dare go on one: no helmet, pretty precarious, can’t speak language so have to haggle for price. Seems to be used a lot by locals. Still have never been on a tuktuk.

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We headed to a nearby pier and caught another orange express boat downriver. This one was more crowded, still a nice experience to see the sights on the other side. Destination was Chinatown, and we stopped by sampeng market along the way. Nothing much to see, cheap goods and many stalls closing.

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The main stretch of chinatown is yaowarat road, which looks like nathan road in he 1950s. Houses are still in mid-20th century style, and it seems every shop is either an eatery or a gold shop. The neon lights are pretty though, the area really came to life after dark.

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We stopped at one of the side streets and took obligatory pics of the streetfood cook with his woks, and the vendor selling edible insects. If I were feeling better, I would have tried the insects: I’m especially interested in grasshopper and the worms though not quite there with the scorpion and large bugs. Actual dinner was satay at a stall where the auntie grilling the sticks wore plastic bag covered sneakers. My friend T told me to look for an auntie with camo shorts and wellington boots, may be this is the right one, or may be it’s another stall at the other side of yaowarat. Ah well.

Followed up the satay with a bowl of bird’s nest soup. Long time since we tried and it was pretty good.

Taxi back to the hotel. Had to walk outside the chinatown area to find one, and had to agree to fixed (no meter) price. No massage tonight, we had one every night on this trip. Resting and packing.

bangkok trip day 04: chatuchak market

Spent the whole day at chatuchak market, the largest market in Thailand and probably the largest in the world. Around 5mins walk from mo chit bts and no need for a map, just follow the crowd. It has over 15,000 stalls divided into sections and hosts something like 300,000 visitors.

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So much to buy and see! Accessories, decorations, clothes, shoes, socks, hats, bags, kitchenware, furniture, lights, herbs & spices. Plus much, much more. The best thing is, the products were rarely repeated. Which also meant, buy there and then because we’d forget and can’t find the stall again. Some stalls allowed bargaining but many didn’t. The only places we tried were when we were buying a few more items.

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There’s a whole section of art too.

Let’s see if I remember what we bought: t-shirt for mm, sneakers for both, notebooks, passport holders (with personalised decoration), tuk tuk souvenir, elephant souvenir, fridge magnet, bookmarks, lemongrass wardrobe scent packet, aromatic oil for room, handkerchief, slippers, belts.

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Lunch was quick noodles and we stopped at a craft coffee place to rest. The people at the coffee place really knew their stuff and seemed passionate about coffee. The beans come from thailand and they recommended me a blend that was quite light, fruity and not bitter at all for my iced coffee. It tasted more like tea than coffee, a big plus in my book. After more walking, we stopped for mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream.

By the time we headed out, I was exhausted and could barely put one foot in front of the other. We went to emporium supermarket and got rice paper rolls. My lack of appetite continued and I could only eat a few rolls.

Massage at a small place virtually next to the hotel. My back and legs were hurting from previous massages and walking all day, so I was a bit worried. Lots of time spent on feet and legs, and that was really great. The therapist said I felt hot and may be running a fever. Showered back at the hotel and put a cold towel on my head, and yes it felt like I had a temperature. Hopefully I can sleep it off.

bangkok trip day 03: city

The original plan was to visit ayutthaya, the old capital city around 80km from bangkok. We’d even arranged the car for the day. But with me being sick, we cancelled the day trip. I slept till 10am. Didn’t feel dizzy but not much of an appetite. Good thing for noodles for breakfast.

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Since we suddenly had more time in the city, we headed to the central shopping areas. Found a pop-up street market next to siam square station. Half the market had stalls selling mainly clothing and accessories. I didn’t have much interest in clothes but the accessories were cute. There were shoes, bags, watches, toys, keychains, and one stall selling nothing but pens.

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The other half of the market was all streetfood. We noticed that much of the streetfood was fried with some grilled. Pork is the main meat product with some seafood too. Vegetable selection mainly fresh and spicy looking salads. Pomegranate juice and sometimes mango. We were tempted by grilled prawns and they also had huge slabs of pork belly with crunchy looking crackling. The prawns were okay, some fresher than others. The pork was room temperature, the crackling was good and the meat was quite tender. Also ordered a vegetarian pad thai too. Today’s pad thai was made with the normal noodles, not spaghetti at the treehouse. All in all, a decent enough streetfood lunch.

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Took the bts one stop to chit lom. This was our first trip on the bts this time and i must be still sick because we got on the wrong train. This should be hard to do because there are only 2 lines, but that’s what we did, got on the wrong line. Ah well.

There’s an elevated walkway from chit lom station to the shopping centres around. Very much needed, because of the sheer amount of traffic. The elevated walkway went past Erawan shrine, so we stopped there for a minute. I vaguely remember the shrine being in the middle of the road, but I guess its location at a busy junction is similar. The small enclosure was heavy with smoke and incense from worshippers. We hadn’t planned on visiting any of the landmark shrines and wats during the trip, though it was nice to view it from the walkway.

Stopped at Central World and had two fresh coconuts. I’m not allowed cold drinks for the time being (no alcohol either, naturally) and fresh coconut water was perfect. Not a lot to see inside central world so we made our way to the Big C hypermarket. Two stories of food and household items. And extremely crowded with tourists. Compared with the frenzied mob, we were very restrained. I bought two boxes of cereal bars for mum and some snacks; mm bought coconut oil to make body lotion. We also saw bottles of 100-count paracetemol for some ridiculously low price and got that too.

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For dinner we headed back to central world where we saw a pop-up streetfood market. They had grilled salt-crusted whole fish, and we got grilled squid too. Took it back to the hotel to eat while resting. The fish we picked was tilapia, suited me because I still didn’t have much of an appetite. Came with an awesome dipping sauce that had a great balance between sweet, sour, and spicy.

The day wasn’t over! We’d booked a massage at another place nearby, this time it was four hands thai massage. It’s the first time either of us tried four hands and it was great. Normally I tend to focus on where the therapist was massaging, and sometimes would sub-consciously tense up in that area. With four hands, it was too distracting because too much was going on. My team worked well together and were quite synchronised; I could tell one was more experienced than the other but both were good. The two hour session was equivalent to a 4-hour session, so we came out feeling very relaxed.

bangkok trip day 02: bang krachao

More noodles for breakfast.

Destination today was the articifial island of bang krachao, located south of the city on the chao praya river. Technically it’s in another province, phra pradaeng, so when we asked the front desk manager, she was a little confused. Luckily, there is plenty of online information by other travellers. The island is mostly car-free and no commercial or high-rise buildings are allowed, to preserve its nature and culture.

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We took a taxi to Wat Klong Toey Nai and walked through a small street market with the wat to one side. We weren’t sure the instructions were to walk through the temple grounds or continue on the street and a kind elderly gentleman pointed us down the street. We weren’t even asking and he knew where we wanted to go! At the end of the street is a small pier for boats going to the island, just across the river, ฿10 per person. We let a bike tour group go through first, they all fit, together with their bikes, on a flat long boat.

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Our boat was much smaller and narrower. The trip across the river took just a couple of minutes. We walked outside the pier and found that there weren’t much in the vicinity that was walkable, so we rented a bike. ฿70 for the whole day; if ฿10 is 20p, then ฿70 is £1.40. That said, the bikes were pretty basic gearless models aimed at simply getting from one place to another. Good enough for us. We had to leave one ID with them for security deposit though. We hadn’t cycled for a while so both of us were rusty in the beginning. The island isn’t completely car-free and there are also lots of motorbikes so initially we were very careful on the narrow roads.

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We were given a hand-drawn (and later discovered to be not-to-scale) map, and I’d also printed one before we left so we had a good idea of our first stop. Sri Nakhon Khuan Khan park, otherwise known as bike park, is around 1km from the pier. Lots of trees, vegetation, a lake and a few bridges.

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Really picturesque, especially around the lake. Difficult to take good pics because of the intense midday sun and everything was green. We were in the park for around 30mins, then headed back to the main roads. Stopped at a roadside stall to get fruit, and skipped a few coffee places. There’s a weekend floating market on the island, which would have been interesting to visit. May be next time.

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From research and according to the map, a good place to head for is the bangkok treehouse, which has a restaurant and is also a hotel. We used a combination of the paper map and google maps, which took us along alleyways and eventually a narrow, unmarked path.

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It was worth it. The treehouse rise above surrounding trees yet blends in harmoniously. There’s an honesty bar selling snacks and drinks, and the restaurant has two upstairs decks with good views across the river to the mainland.

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There was a long wait for food, they told us there were a lot of back orders. It was okay, we found a table in the shade and enjoyed our drinks: watermelon smoothie and lime-mint smoothie; the smoothies are more like slush puppies made from fresh fruit. Eventually when the papaya salad and spaghetti pad thai arrived, they were tasty and just what we wanted. I ordered a local leo beer to try it out, tasted pretty bland. Anyway tt was nice to sit and relax after cycling for a couple of hours.

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It took us much less time to get back to the pier, because we weren’t looking at the map every few minutes and by then were more confident on the road. The boat had one stop on the island before making its way across the river and it gave us another view of part of the island, of the stilted houses overlooking the river. So much greenery and nature so near the city, it’s a must see and we’ll keep it on our itinerary for future visits.

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We’d booked a massage in the sala daeng area so we took a taxi there. Early enough to wander around the shopping centres around the station and dinner was chicken rice and mango sticky rice at streetfood stalls. The massage was at a place called chiwe chiwa, a small family-owned place. We had thai massage this time and the therapists were absolutely phenomenal. Took care of the stiff muscles from a day of cycling and hit the acupressure points on our feet perfectly.

The only issue was, I got unwell near the end of the massage. One minute I was dozing while having my head massaged, the next minute there was a loud buzz in my head, the room spun around and I was literally sick. The aunties took really good care of me, giving me sweet tea and their local tiger balm ointment. Got us a taxi and I sat on the chair in our room to try to get better. Hot shower helped for a minute but I was dizzy and sick again when I tried to lay down in the bed. We think it’s dehydration and heatstroke from the island. It was a hot sunny day, I guess I didn’t drink enough water. Sigh.

bangkok trip day 01: sukhumvit

Bangkok airport at 2.30am was surprisingly busy, lots of flights arriving. We detoured to the duty free, found nothing special, and proceeded to passport control. Our luggage got to the belt just as we arrived. We read that the best exchange rates are at the airport but weren’t impressed with the rates on offer. We had enough cash to last us a day, so we decided to check out the forex places in the city.

When I was changing my sim card, I discovered to my horror that the casing on my iphone had cracked open on the long side, the screen was warped and the inside circuit boards were showing. The phone still worked fine so there’s nothing I can do until I get home. Fingers crossed it keeps working.

We’d booked a private car transfer with a driver recommended by someone mm knows, and he’d texted us his picture, a pic of his car and the licence plate. We texted him when we arrived and went out to the pick up area to wait for him. It probably was a little more expensive than a regular taxi but there was no danger of him taking the long way (agreed fixed price) and he was polite and nice. Got us to the hotel around 4am. The street outside looked dark with not many streetlights, so we may have to be a bit careful.

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The hotel is hyatt place sukhumvit. It’d recently reopened after renovation, which was why the price was so good. There’s a small sitting area on the ground floor and the lobby is on 3/F. Nice modern and spacious area with sofa seating, a small bar, and a vending machine area. We never saw anyone buy anything from the vending machines the entire time we were there. Even the front desk staff told us that we’re better off going to the 7-eleven opposite. The room is large, with a bench at the end of the bed which meant we could both put our suitcases up. Long table with lots of space for me to put my mba and us to put food and other stuff. The best feature of the room is that there are SO.MANY.SOCKETS. For the first time in my memory, I didn’t need to use my extension cord, we were able to plug in all our electronics. There were 2 sockets at each side of the bed, and 2 sets of two at the table. What’s more, the sockets are multi-whatever the name is for being able to take different types of plugs. Our three-pronged UK plugs, my flat US charger for idevices, and if needed, circular European plugs too. I think only Aussie slanted plugs or less common plugs need an adaptor.

After some basic unpacking and shower, time to take a nap. Yes, booking the room the night before sounds like a waste of money, but believe me, it’s worth it simply because we didn’t have to worry about asking if there’s a room available (almost 12hrs before offcial checking in time) and we could get a few hours’ rest.

And since we were booked in the night before, we could have breakfast. The usual selection: bacon, sausage, eggs, salad, fruit, breads, cereal. There was an omelette station and a noodle bar. The noodle was really nice, and I wisely asked for the spicy looking chili sauce on the side. The other food was pretty unremarkable. I didn’t have to break into my own tea bags, they had english breakfast.

The plan today was to take it easy. We explored our street, sukhumvit soi 24, from one end to the other. There’s a 7-eleven across the street from the hotel and several more walking down the street. A couple of other hotels, a smattering of restaurants, quite a number of posh looking apartment blocks, and lots of massage places. One of the places that we noticed when we were researching was a large restaurant called seafood market, with a logo that said “if it swims we have it” where customers pick their seafood and bring it to the chefs to be cooked. We looked inside and were definitely not impressed. The counter was very, very long with lots of choices, from alaskan king crab to lobster to clams to fish. Didn’t look very fresh and pretty expensive too. All the way to the end of the soi was a petrol station and a tesco’s. Not very large supermarket, typical of service stations, we wandered around and headed back.

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Had our first street food! Skewers of chicken heart and liver from a street cart halfway down the street. Very tasty and fresh, no horrible stale offal taste. ฿10 each, that’s like 20p (30c for Americans). Looks like we’ll be streetfooding a lot.

The top end of the soi is phrom phong bts station, and the big emporium shopping centre complex. We found the forex place we were looking for at the basement of the emporium, giving a much better rate than at the airport. Explored around the kitchenware department and the gourmet supermarket.

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Walking around, trying to find more streetfood. Came across a noodle shop hidden behind cars and a huge sign. The owner waved at us when we stopped and the shop was definitely a land of curiosity. Obviously family owned, half the shop had tables for customers and half looked like their home, with tables, chairs, shelves and stuff everywhere. There were magazines were for sale, displayed on shelves at both sides of the shop. English, French, Italian versions of Hello, Vogue and such like. Wrapped in clear plastic, and looking pretty recent. There was a Hello with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle prominently displayed.

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The menu looks like it has 3 items plus a few add-ons but it’s in Thai so we couldn’t read it. So mm went up to the front and picked out what we wanted. I think she pointed at what someone else was eating and said we’ll have that. The proprietors spoke a little english so we weren’t completely lost. We got bowls of noodles with wonton and charsiu, plus coke in a bottle for nostalgia. The noodles were simple yet delicious. Love the place. It’s at one of the sois north of sukhumvit (33, 35 or 37). Total cost of the meal ฿100, or £2.

Rested back at the hotel for a bit, then headed to the asia herb association 5mins down the road for the massage we’d booked in the morning. This is one of the more expensive places we found when researching, but even the longest package that we picked was only around ฿3000. For that we get 4.5hrs: body scrub, aromatic oil massage, herbal ball, foot massage, head & shoulder massage. In most countries, that price (around £60) gets a 60min standard massage. Overall, the massages were good, but not spectacular. Mostly aimed at relaxation, so light pressure instead of the deep intense massages we usually like. Suited the occasion though.

Past 10pm when we finished. Had late dinner at nearby ramen shop.

bangkok trip day 00: waiting to go to the airport

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Mostly waiting. Flight is tomorrow at 0040 so have to leave for airport today. Google maps says it’ll take 1.5hrs on the bus so I left at 8.15pm to get to the check-in area to meet mm at 10pm. Turned out, google maps was being overly cautious and I got there around 9pm. Meanwhile, mm was waiting for her bus for so long that we decided she should get the train instead. I got a mint tea at the agnès b café but didn’t have to wait long.

Check-in and everything else was quick, we had plenty of time to browse around the duty free. I’d thought of getting a bottle of sake so we can enjoy it in our hotel but couldn’t find any. Whisky selection was okay, nothing special. I got a bottle of octomore that I’d been eyeing for a while.

Flight boarding was at 0000, very full. 2-4-2 and I got the last two seats at the window side when I checked in on sunday. Not a huge selection of films or tv, but the flight’s only around 2.5hrs. I watched ep7. They fed us a hot dog and it was perfect because we were getting peckish.

Napped for a bit, and then we arrived already.

microwavable notebook

rocketbook

My dear friend A sent me a moleskine notebook, which I love love love. She sent me a Washington DC one the year the conference was there too, so thoughtful.

I alternate between being neat and using notebooks and using a stack of scrap paper folded to A5 size. I’ve always been tempted by the moleskine evernote notebook but my attention has turned to rocketbook notebooks. The Wave was originally on indiegogo a couple of years ago, the idea is: write in the notebook, fill the pages, scan using their app and send to services like dropbox, microwave the notebook and start again.

Yes, microwave the notebook.

The trick is the pilot frixion pens. I’ve seen and used erasable pens before, so it’s nothing new. They usually come with a plastic knob at the end that is used like a rubber on mechanical pencils. I haven’t quite noticed that the ink disappears when microwaved. The Wave is $27 and $42 as a bundle with the pens.

There’s a newer notebook, the Everlast. Same principle but the pages can be wiped clean using a damp cloth. Still need to use those pilot frixion pens though. For the fun factor, I may get this for my niece. Sis doesn’t microwave so the Wave won’t be useful.

musical interlude

I’ve spent the last couple of days cleaning up my iphone playlist. I haven’t touched it in 2-3 years so it’s pretty out of date. I haven’t added a tremendous amount of new music, may be an average of 5-6 albums per year? Yes, I’m old and still think about music in terms of albums.

With cleaning up, the iphone playlist now has around 530 songs, so good for 1.5 days. I have other playlists, one for running (faster songs), one for mindfulness, and a bunch of classical and musicals. Anyway I discovered I have very weird taste in music, and some are downright unfashionable. The oldest song on the playlist is Someone to Watch Over Me by Ella Fitzgerald. From the 1970s there’s Clapton, Bowie, Nick Drake, and a lot of Fleetwood Mac. I can’t pick just one FM song I like, there are so many. My favourite in terms of best lyrics is Storms. Here’s Stevie performing it in Stockholm, 30 years later in 2009:

From the 1980s there’s Depeche Mode, Corey Hart’s Sunglasses at Night, Suzanne Vega, and a little known singer-songwriter called Rosie Vela. She only released one album, Zazu, and is one of the last cassette tapes I kept even though I threw away my cassette player a very long time ago. I thought I still have it in my drawer but I can’t find it. Someone wrote a where is she now last year:

Everything that should have worked for Rosie Vela, worked against her. She was stunningly beautiful, a model who graced the cover of Vogue fourteen times. Billed as the next Kate Bush, she opened for The Fixx and former The Police guitarist, Andy Sumner, on his 1976 US tour. Her debut album, Zazu, featured two of her musical heroes, Steely Dan’s Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

And then she got forgotten. She dated Jeff Lynne for a while and sang backup for ELO (duh). Not a lot of her material available online, this is Magical Smile. Ignore the naff 80s look and just listen:

Lots more songs from the 1990s, that was my peak music listening. REM, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith and a guest appearance from kd lang from one side of the Atlantic; Radiohead, Blur, Take That on the other side (I have Oasis, just don’t haven’t added them in this playlist). Oh, and Savage Garden, remember them?

In terms of female singers or bands, there’s Catie Curtis, Kasey Chambers, and Mel C dropped Northern Star in 1999. The 2000s were mostly indies: early Maroon 5, Franz Ferdinand, Starsailor, DCfC, and the Killers. Here’s Starsailor’s Poor Misguided Fool, another one of those don’t-watch-just-listen videos:

Some pop too, Adele, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, T-Swift. 2010s has more of the same. I tried listening to Ed Sheeran and found him excrutiatingly boring. The A team and Perfect are the only ones I can stand.

The most recent album on itunes is T-Swift’s latest. I really like these lyric videos.

bangkok eating out

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More Bangkok prep. We booked sunday lunch buffet at the colonnade restaurant at the sukhothai hotel. It’s supposed to have one of the best buffets in the city. Just look at the pics from gourmetbangkok. There’s all manners of seafood, roasts, sushi & sashimi, Thai food, cheese and dessert.

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Apparently they have weekly specials and some diners have enjoyed kangaroo buritto and foie gras. Price is ฿3000 (around US$95), which is on the pricey side for a buffet but we thought we’d splurge out. They have an option of adding ฿1900 for unlimited champagne, which translates to $60. So we’d each have to drink at least one bottle equivalent, and we’d still be out of pocket. It’s a no brainer to decide against it. We can spend the ฿1900 on massages, or go to one of Bangkok’s many rooftop bars. Our hotel is supposed to have one, but not sure if it’s open because the hotel is still in the soft opening stage.

Other than the buffet, we haven’t booked anywhere else. The plan is eat wherever and whenever. Hopefully there will be lots of local and street food. Even food courts are supposed to have good food, so we’re not worried, and we don’t need to spend our effort finding fine dining or Michelin starred restaurants.

Talking about Michelin stars, the first Michelin guide to Bangkok was published in December. 3 two-star restaurants, one of those is Gaggan, which serves modern Indian food. The other 2 are French or European cuisine. Of the one-stars, there’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and a number of French or European restaurants. Pretty disappointed in the Michelin inspectors actually. I mean, I like L’Atelier and all, but I’m not going to go all the way to Bangkok to eat there. There are 6 one-stars serving Thai food, including David Thompson’s Nahm.

jayfai

The one surprise (in that there was only one) is the star for Jay Fai, a streetfood vendor famous for crab omelette and crab curry. The place isn’t exactly street food, in that the restaurant is located in a shop house and not a cart on the pavement. It’s run by 72 year old Supinya Junsuta, who is better known as the eponymous Jay Fai. She cooks her dishes wearing full make up, a beanie and ski goggles to protect against the fiery heat of her woks. Before it received its Michelin star, it was already famous as a go-to eatery. After Michelin, queues of 2-3 hours formed around the block. Now Jay Fai wants to give up her Michelin star because of the attention.

Many people come just to see and take pictures and not necessarily to eat

And she’s had to buy more, and higher quality, ingredients to keep up with the demand, not necessarily increasing her revenue. The constant interruption from journalists and people wanting selfies is taking a toll on her too. Even though it may be fun to visit, and I bet the food is good, we decided to skip it because of the long wait. There’ll be other good food, equally tasty too.

japan winter light festival

We’re prepping for our trip to bangkok next week. Looking back at my records, last January we went to Japan. Tokyo and Hakone for a week. Sake tasting, Fuji, onsen in the snow, Tsujiki, drugstore shopping. All fabulous.

May be one day we can make it to the winter lights festival at Nabana No Sato, a botanical theme park in Kuwana City. Looked at google maps and Kuwana is just 30mins’ drive from Nagoya. Absolutely stunning pics.

Blue mountains:
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Cherry blossoms:
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Sunset:
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There are other winter light festivals around Japan: Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nagasaki, Sendai, Kanagawa, Tochigi, and Nagoya itself. Didn’t fully realise there are so many! Definitely trip planning time.

don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm

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There was a mild incident earlier when someone yelled at us for something that wasn’t our fault; and this person wanted to let us know how much better, more knowledgeable, and more worthy they are compared with mere minions like us. It originated, ironically, from us wanting to be accommodating.

Ah well, can’t win them all. It bothered me for a minute, then I decided it wasn’t worth losing brain cells and raising my blood pressure for.

May be it’s my personality, or may be training over the years, I’m helpful but ultimately I don’t really care about things that have nothing to do with me. I’ll give up my seat for someone, but I don’t really care which stop they’re going. I’ll help you tidy up but I don’t care whether you keep that shirt or not. I’ll provide information but it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other what you do with it.

May be I’m being uncaring, or selfish, or unresponsive.

I’ve been trying to get mm to push back more too. She puts too much effort and invests too much of herself into situations and people who, while superficially appreciative, are basically using her. The charity she volunteers at, her lab professor, her family. From where I stand, I see them taking and taking and taking and giving nothing in return. I sent her this image to illustrate my point.

You’re not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

There’s so much self-help literature about this. You do not owe the world your nicemess. 5 signs you’re trying too hard to please everyone. 40 things about life I wish I could travel back in time and tell myself. On the last one, I don’t necessarily agree with all 40, some make sense:

  • #4 never be dismissive of things you don’t understand
  • #6 you only have so many fucks to give, ration them carefully
  • #17 you can’t argue with haters, because they’re not arguing with you
  • #34 not everything is someone’s fault

annual emergency go-bag check

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Time again for the annual emergency go-bag check. Replaced chocolate but left cereal bar. Last year I got miniature Mars bars, this year I saw some Bueno bars so I thought it’d be a change. I have to somehow eat those small Mars bars, hmm. MRE is still okay.

I found two sets of spare glasses so I took one out. The large swiss knife is enough, I don’t need the small foldable knife so took it out. Added a credit card knife though.

Instead of handwriting IDs and passwords into the notebook, I just printed the latest sheet out. Moved the passport photocopies from the wallet to a ziploc bag to keep them waterproof.

Still thinking of shoes, even though there isn’t a lot of space. There are foldable shoes but none of them are immediately appealing.

#fonduegate

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Ben McPartland, from the local in Paris recently tried to buy cheese for a fondue. Being in France, he went to his local fromagerie (so lucky!) and asked for a combination of Comté, Beaufort and Appenzel. Here’s what happened when he tried to get Beaufort:

Monsieur: “No it’s too good for a fondue. It’s so tasty. It would pain me (faire mal au coeur) to see it melted.”

Me: “Ha ha, OK that sounds amazing. I’ll have 400 grams please.”

Monsieur: “No, no. It would be a waste. This is a 2015 Beaufort. And at €39 a kilo. It’s too expensive for a fondue.”

Me: “Ah that’s OK I don’t mind paying.”

Monsieur: “No, No. I’ll give you some Abondance. It’s a similar cheese and cheaper.”

Me: Errrr. OK, but can I have some Beaufort too.”

Monsieur: “Are you going to put it in the fondue?

Me: “Errrrrr (I can’t lie), oui.”

Monsieur eventually relented but not before making his customer promise that the Beaufort won’t be grated or melted. The fun part is this saga got twitter’s attention and most of the responses were on the side of Monsieur Fromage.

Even France’s Ambassador to Sweden got involved:

The commenters on mefi, where I spotted this initially, had more diverse opinions. The ones supporting the fromager:

I agree with the cheese monger, if you go to speciality shops part of the experience is getting to lean on their expertise.

I’m on team cheesemonger here, in that truly good cheese is a magical thing and doesn’t deserve to be wasted in fondues.

The cheesemonger indicated that he would rather sell that particular cheese to someone with less money but more appreciation.

and the ones who are more on the “the customer is always right” train:

If I know how I like something because I like it that way, then anyone who tells me I am wrong is not, in fact, correct. They are wrong and stupid.

I don’t have a lot of patience for gatekeeping. I do like that he took the time to explain why though. But honestly if I want to scrub my floors with champagne or feed foie gras to a spoiled cat then I’m going to do so, and there will always be someone else willing to take my money.

The customer is always right, even when they are dead wrong. Be sure to smile and nod when you take their money. You are there to relieve them of their excess cash, not to educate them.

And more quotes, one from an American living in France that sums up the cultural difference:

Being a customer in France means you are asking someone to help you, and so you have to deal with them as a person, not a service robot…This cheesemaker is a perfectly normal Frenchman who thinks that being respected in his work is more important to him than making more money or always having to be “nice”.

French food has been seen in recent years as snobbish and over-complicated. But for every unfashionable roast saddle of rabbit wedged between crisp layers of rösti potatoes and a thin disc of Parmesan there is the delightfully simple fougasse that you buy at a street market and tear off a scrumptious piece as you walk around.

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One of the differences between food shopping in a place like France and countries like the US, is that there are specialist shops that sell cheese, meat, bread, wine where most people usually buy their food. Supermarkets exist in France, but are for mass produced goods like tissues and bottled water. Provenance and quality matter a lot. Even McPartland, the Beaufort criminal, admits that he respects the fromager and reiterates that the French are generally more knowledgeable and passionate about their craft. I can understand his frustration though, and may be irritated if I were in his shoes, although I’d like to think I have better sense than to put a €39/kg Beaufort into a fondue. I did some reading and Beaufort is probably the most difficult of the Gruyère-style cheeses to produce, and the 24-month and 36-month ages are especially rare. I’d grudgingly do as the fromager says, make a solemn promise and then go home to try that 2015 Beaufort to see what the fuss is all about.

Of course people can do whatever they want with their food and other purchases, but some common sense should prevail, n’est-ce pas? Other examples that cropped up in various discussions of this #fonduegate: well-done steak, cheese with seafood pasta, mixing a 21-year old whisky with coke, using $100 notes to light a cigar, entering a rare antique car into a demolition derby, buying a Stradivarus to smash it to pieces. Yikes. Shiver. I’ll stop here before my head explodes.

winter’s watch

via mefi

Star Island is located 7 miles off the coast of New Hampshire, USA. It’s 38 acres in area and owned by the Star Island Corporation, a non-profit which operates hotels on the island. The island runs on solar power and has its own water supply and septic treatment facility. During the summer, staff at the hotels live on the island. During winter, there is one single inhabitant, the winter caretaker Alexandra de Steiguer. She’s been returning to the island every winter for the past 19 years.

Winter's Watch from Brian Bolster on Vimeo.

Here’s a moody, almost mysterious short film about Ms. de Steiguer’s time as the caretaker. Although it’s a video, all the shots were taken with the camera stationary, to give a sense of space and quietness. Well worth watching.

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© alex de steiguer

Alexandra de Steiguer is a photographer and the film captures her taking her camera around, and processing the photographs. This is “Shoals – Rock Pool No. 1” of the Isles of Shoals series. She also has a book, called Small Island, Big Picture.

On long periods of solitude:

Most of us aren’t often by ourselves for long periods with only the wild elements for company. In a way, solitude is like being restricted to one small island – yourself. You’ve walked that personal island all your life; you take it for granted that you know every part of it. But solitude forces you to stay there, to walk it again with new eyes… to come to the very edge and gaze into the unknown.

The hotels on the island are more geared towards conferences and retreats. There is no bar (although visitors and staff may bring their own alcohol), and no real resaturant aside from the hotel dining room. From a mefi commenter:

It’s super tiny, it’s rustic, it’s homey and homely, it’s very very plain, it’s not luxurious. Yet it’s an incredible, gorgeous, elemental place to visit. You can hike the tiny island in under an hour, or ramble out on the rocks to watch the gulls and surf, and be the only person you see for hours any afternoon…It’s not for everyone, but it’s pretty wonderful if it’s the kind of thing you like.

I wonder what it looks like this week, under all the snow. All the pics I found on flickr and google images are during the summer. I guess since Ms. de Steiguer is the only person there, any winter or snow pictures will have to come from her.

shackleton whisky

It started with one of those trying-to-be-smart-but-comes-across-as-naff lifehacker posts, this one telling us how to graduate to better whiskey. It pains me to type that ‘e’ especially since some of their suggestions are not American or Irish. Basically they’re saying if you like a certain whisky, then you may want to try another, hopefully better, one:

  • like bulleit, try michter’s
  • like bulleit rye, try whistlepig farmstock
  • like jameson, try green spot
  • like laphroaig 10, try octomore
  • like macallan 12, try yamazaki 12
  • already like yamazaki 12, try amrut cask strength

I can’t comment much on bourbon or rye, because I don’t have enough exposure to them and basically my suggestion centres around blanton’s. At the risk of offending my friends who like jameson, I won’t drink it because it’s pretty terrible. I agree with green spot, and I’d go as far as saying move even further up and try redbreast. I love laphroaig the distillery but for peat monsters I prefer ardbeg any day, and yes octomore certainly.

I think the trend to like/buy/order japanese whisky by certain people is a fad. These are the people who queue for hours for the cronut, go gluten-free because goop says so, and are currently coughing up $37 for 2.5 gallons of raw water. Cough is the right word, because said raw water may come with a bunch of unfriendly friends. An anecdote is one of mm’s relatives, who went hunting for japanese whisky during their latest trip to hokkaido, when we’ve never seen him drink whisky or express any interest in whisky before. He says he’s looking for it because “everyone else is” and may be he can find a rare bottle to sell. Argh!! These people jumping on the bandwagon is the reason why there is zero supply of non-NAS japanese whisky.

/rant

The reason the lifehacker article caught my eye is the suggestion that if you like Johnnie Walker, try Shackleton. First of all, show me someone who likes JW, especially red and black. Last time I was served JW black I almost spit it out. So the suggestion to try Shackleton is interesting, because it’s an interesting whisky. I remember a little about its history.

In addition to the promotional video, there’s a good account in the NYT, even though there are passages that made my teeth grate. Read this about Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay’s master blender:

the sight of someone dropping ice cubes into a whiskey glass or knocking back a shot without taking sufficient time to savor it makes him furious. The whisky he threatened to kill me over was not any old tipple, either.

Aaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh.

WHISKY.

W.H.I.S.K.Y.

THERE IS NO ‘E’ IN WHISKY. WHY CAN’T BLOODY AMERICANS EVER GET IT RIGHT?!!

/rant

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Anyway, in 1907, Shackleton and team tried to go to the south pole. Amongst the supplies they brought with them were 25 cases of whisky, 12 of brandy and 6 of port. Between four people. The expedition was ultimately a failure, although the team got to 112 miles from the pole, the furthest south at that time. When they turned back and sailed home in 1909, they left behind supplies that included cases of whisky and:

dried spinach, mint, stewed kidneys, oxtail soup, India relish, mutton cutlets in tomato sauce, Irish brawn, marrow fat, stewed rump steaks, tripe, concentrated egg powder, kippered mackerel, minced collops, and redcurrants.

Some of the stuff were pilfered but since 1990 the area around the hut where they stayed is controlled by the NZ-based Antarctic Heritage Trust. In 2007, three cases of whisky were discovered in the permafrost outside the hut; in 2010 these were chiselled from the ice and one case taken to Canterbury Museum.

The whisky that the Shackleton expedition brought with them was “Rare old Highland malt whisky, blended and bottled by Chas. Mackinlay & Co.” Mackinlay was eventually bought by Whyte & Mackay, which was then sold to an Indian billionaire, Vijay Mallya. Mallya’s private plane brought three bottles “home” to Scotland in 2011, where master blender Paterson and James Pryde, Whyte & Mackay’s chief chemist, extracted sample liquid from the original bottles for analysis. After one hundred years, there was a possibility that the whisky had turned bad. But luckily no. They found that the whisky was a blended malt, most likely from the defunct Glen Mhor distillery, which was owned by Mackinlay. The team was also able to ascertain that the water was from Loch Ness, the peat from the Orkneys, and the whisky was aged in american white oak sherry casks. 47.3% abv.

To everyone’s surprise, the whisky was light and fruity, and not smoky at all. There was peat, but it was subtle. Even Paterson, writing beforehand, expected a a heavy, peaty whisky that was the style back then. Plus there’s the image of Shackleton the macho explorer.

Sir Ernest Shackleton occupies a similar place to another with the same name, Ernest Hemingway. Larger than life, big, brash. A womaniser. The intrepid explorer. The guardian described Shackleton as having the essence of:

death-defying, pipe-smoking, god-among-men masculinity.

There’s a certain romanticism associated with explorers of that era, and soon modern marketing came into play. It was decided to replicate the whisky, and use the story to sell it. Paterson found stock from Glen Mohr and blended it with Dalmore and more than 20 other whiskies and so the Discovery edition was born. £150 and it’s no longer available. The second edition, Journey, inspired by the 2013 expedition that retraced another of Shackleton’s expeditions, is available for £110.

shackletonwhisky

The one that I think lifehacker meant as a replacement for JW is neither of these, but the mainstream, more accessible, version. It still retains the notes of vanilla, honey and orchard fruits of the earlier editions, but possibly using younger whiskies. Introduced in 2017 initially as duty free only and now more widely available, it seems to be positioned neatly in the premium blend category and at £34.95 is something I’d try, if only once. I’d like to try it against Naked Grouse, as the JW black step-up. At £27.95, it’s at a sweet price point. Then again, HP12 is around £30, and wins everything.

food in appalachia

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Another great article from longreads.com’s Best of 2017, this one in the food writing category. From The Nation, Can Local Food Help Appalachia Build a Post-Coal Future? by Sarah Jones.

The longreads lists are chosen by writers and editors and this one was chosen by Vice writer Mayukh Sen who says:

[Ms. Jones’] voice is clear, engaging, and tempered with compassion…It’s a marvelous piece and a reminder that some of the most exciting, relevant food writing will live outside food publications unless they step up their game.

The subject of the article itself, Appalachia, isn’t familiar to me. In fact, I had to turn to wikipedia to find out what, or rather, where, it is. I have vague recollections of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern going there and killing, butchering, then eating an entire pig. The most memorable bit was how they poured boiling water on the skin to get rid of hairs. No holds barred there. There were headcheese and tail and the obligatory offal. The whole idea is they hunt their own food and nothing goes to waste. A certain amount is due to necessity, and the region’s stereotype of being inhabited by white trash.

Ask the average outsider what Appalachians eat, and they may deliver a similar answer: trash. McNuggets, maybe, or lots of bacon and gravy. Heart-attack food. People choose the stories that they want to believe, and the myth of the dumb, fat hillbilly is an old and popular one.

But that’s only half the picture.

The region is huge, with diverse weather and landscapes, so the variety of food produced is also huge. Where the land is flat, more typical mass-produced food is found. In the less arable mountain areas, reliance on beans, grains, foraged greens increase. Pigs are easy to raise so pork is the primary meat. Key factors are adaptability and ingenuity. Of course poverty comes into the equation too, with coal being the major industry. As coal-mining declines, jobs that become available are mostly in the fast food and retail service sector; in some places, fast food is all you can eat. These jobs have long hours and are low paying, the effect is that people have less time to grow or cook their own food. And so they start to rely on fast food.

And the circle continues. Until people decide enough is enough.

There are modern efforts to improve the health of Appalachians, with many fresh initiatives such as the farmacy project that gives participants vouchers to use at farmers’ markets; converting abandoned mines into farms or vineyards; establishing a thriving food scene to attract visitors.

Food is the story of the people who invented it, and for Appalachia, it’s a definitive rebuttal to tired stereotypes.

And that to me is a good thing. I really liked reading the article because of how well it was written. For some reason I decided to read the first part out loud, and it was surprisingly easy. Sometimes when reading out loud, the words trip over each other and they don’t flow. These words did.

frozen niagara

Many pictures on social media and in the news about the Niagara Falls freezing over. Amazingly, some parts of the national park is still open, like the journey behind the falls attraction. Instead of the roaring noise of tons of water rushing down, and a thick veil of water, it’s now just a sheet of ice. The Indy reporter braved the conditions:

My fingers turn red and stiffen as I snap a few photos, rubbing shoulders with others wincing from the bitter wind chill. As we chat, our breath crystallises, as if forming cartoon conversation bubbles

It’s not unusual for the Falls to freeze over, as the area has harsh winters due to lake-effect snow of the Great Lakes. Such a long period of sub-freezing temperatures so early in the winter is not as frequent. The last time was during the polar vortex of 2014. Quite a lot of pics being circulated this round was actually from 2014, according to snopes. Other years that the Falls were frozen include 2007, 2011, and 2012.

tor193falls

Yep. I was there during one of those years when the Falls were frozen. This was from March 2007. Here’s the rest of the Toronto & Niagara set.

bbmm aimless day

Met mm in the afternoon to visit a friend of ours from KCL. He’s now a professor and manager at a new college that only started about 3 years ago. We wanted to visit the campus, learn more about what they are doing and plan on doing. He treated us to tea and scones at a nearby café and we had a long chat.

Dinner at a streetside place, we had lamb hotpot. It’s one of those places where the tables are literally on the street. Plastic tables, plastic chairs, plastic tablecloth held in place by large binder clips. A bottle of cheap, flavourless lager with the meal. Because that’s what you have.

bikesofttoy

Walked to the computer district, more of our habitual aimless walking. By the time we got there, around 8pm, most of the stalls had closed or were closing. We found an open stall that sells sim cards and bought a couple of them for our bangkok trip. As regular stalls were closing, other people started spreading their wares on blankets on the pavement. Guess the night market is starting. Most of the good for sale are junk second hand stuff, but it was interesting to look at.

We saw a woman riding a bike that was covered in soft toys earlier and we saw it again, next to one of the closed stalls. The owner must like soft toys. It’s an interesting urban sight, my first pic of 2018.

home is a cup of tea

hometea01

I’ve been looking at longreads.com’s best of 2017 selection, and this one is from the 25 most popular exclusives: a beautifully written and illustrated personal essay about tea and the search for home by sketch artist and writer Candace Rose Rardon. Longreads gives us useful information about the article and this one is 2,882 words and they estimate will take 10mins to read.

Take longer. Savour every chapter. Appreciate every drawing. Recall the taste of each tea that she describes.

This is how it starts:

hometea02

And already I’m sucked into the mood the writer created. And then:

hometea03

Which triggers so hard. Because as I look around me, is it the home I envisioned? The answer is no. A ‘no’ laced with so much despair. Regret. Disappointment. Anger. Never did I forsee the circumstances I find myself in. Never was I prepared for my current living conditions. Both sis and mm (I met them today for drinks) said I need to do something about not being shut inside my room that is so full of stuff because I had to cram two rooms’ worth of stuff into one that I can’t breathe.

Back to the story, which tells of the writer’s journey through her life and always, there is tea. Her early life is associated with the English Breakfast that of her mother, and then she moved around the world to new adventures. And there’s always tea. Tea in the UK, tea culture in New Zealand that is even stronger, chai in India, a young friend in Canada bonding over tea, herbal teas, camomile. And finding her home in the form of her now husband, because home can be a person. A place. A passage of time.

hometea04

I used to say home is where my furniture is; now I’m more likely to say home is where my electronics are. But really, it doesn’t matter. I’ve lost my sense of home, because everything seems to be fading. People, places, memories, experiences, are all behind a mist that is harder and harder to retrieve. Oh, I know where some of them are stored–32,000 images on flickr, 4,800 posts here on the website–I’ve meticulously organised them so searching is easy. But if I’ve forgotten there is something to search, then it’ll never be remembered, right?

Anyway, don’t wallow with me. Make a cup of tea and spend 10, 15, 20 minutes reading Ms Rardon’s article instead.

new year’s day turkey

One of the most boring new year’s day I can remember. Didn’t even feel like a ‘special’ day. After lunch the buyers of the furniture finally came to pick them up, after over a year. Turned out, the lady was busy at work and she’s also heavily pregnant! So they’ve had other things on their minds. The movers they used were very efficient, wrapping the dining table, chairs and sofa set in plastic wrap quickly. The flat now looks less like a dump site with only sofa set and a wonderful empty space in the dining room.

turkey2017

Because of family visiting, there wasn’t time to properly plan the cooking of the turkey until now. It had been defrosting in the fridge for 4 days and even so only just defrosted. It just fit my baking dish, any bigger and I would have had to cut it in half. I cut up one whole lemon and one whole clementine and stuffed them inside. Seasoned with a mix of olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, mixed herbs, garlic. Wrapped the top with streaky bacon and had it sit on a couple of slices of lemon plus enough mirepoix to cover the entire pan. Two halved whole garlic heads joined the baking dish. There’s this pop-up timer on the breast, apparently it will pop out when the turkey cooked. I didn’t think I’d need it, but I arranged the bacon slices around it anyway.

The label said for 14 pounds it’ll take between 3 3/4 and 4 1/2 hours. I put it on 180ºC and kept an eye on it every half an hour or so and it was done at 3 1/4 hour. Only when I took it out of the oven did the thermometer pop out, so I don’t think it’s reliable.

I had been making the gravy from the giblets and my freezer chicken stock for an hour. Deglazed the pan and added to the stock, by then the mirepoix had more or less melted. Strained off the liquid and ended up with about 2l of gravy.

Took me a good half an hour to process the cooked turkey, ie separate meat from bones. I ended up with 5 small ziploc bags of meat, 2 large bags of bones and a small container of bits. One bag is enough for 2 meals for us. Not bad.

Not perfect, and not quite as tender as the cooked one we used to buy at the supermarket but personally I think tastes so much better.