happiness is anticipation of experiences

We realised this long ago, and the idea is widely shared by others, that experiences, particularly travel, is more important than money. There’s scientific studies that show that anticipation of an experience lead to a higher level of happiness than anticipation of a material good. Cornell researchers Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth and PhD candidate Amit Kumar:

You can think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation, and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your pre-ordered iPhone to arrive.

Dr Gilovich talks about the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. People who are happy about their purchase of, say, a new iPhone, find that their degree of happiness decreases over time. Their happiness with an experience, say a concert or a holiday, does not diminish at the same rate.

This is true even in the negative. If the iPhone stops working, happiness drops. However if something negative happened during an experience, like if a beach holiday was rained out, people tend to say “we went to the museum instead and still had a good time.”

The researchers found that one of the reasons experiences rate higher than material is because comparison with others is less significant. There is no constant need to buy a bigger car, or earn a higher salary.

The last point is interesting. I have friends and acquaintances who are travelling right now–one couple is on a round-the-world trip and have reached Tanzania where one half did safari and the other half climbed Kilimanjaro; one couple is on extended honeymoon to Italy; an acquaintance is in South East Asia–and while it’s fascinating to see their trip posts, it feels weird because I’m usually the one travelling to lots of places.

So to make me happier, let’s increase the anticipation. With mm’s mum still ill, it’s not feasible in the immediate future, but worth keeping in mind as an option somewhere down the line. I was watching a program where James Martin travelled to Annecy and it looked gorgeous. Research time.

Annecy is located in the Haute-Savoie region of SE France halfway between Geneva and Chambéry. It’s called the Venice of the Alps–it has a river and two canals running through the picturesque city. A blogger called it a real life fairytale town; another said it will steal your heart.

It has everything–a beautiful lake, a well-preseved old town, a river and a couple of canals, a great market. Cycling, hiking, skiing in the winter, boating in the summer. And of course wineries, a local woman-run brewery, boulangeries, restaurants, and cheese, cheese, cheese. Seems to be less well-known and crowded than Chambéry and obviously Geneva, both less than 1hrs’ drive away. I randomly plugged in one week’s stay next April on airbnb and found great looking places for around $70-80.

No wonder it’s a must visit. Just look at these pics. It being in this part of France, the architecture feels very Swiss.

Along the Thiou canal:
Buildings along Thiou canal
courtesy flickr user kosalabandara under cc

The 12th century Palais de l’Isle:
Annecy
courtesy flickr user pug_girl under cc

The lake:
Annecy & alentours
courtesy flickr user lyanna_wolf under cc

What is so attractive is the location. Halfway between Geneva and Chambéry, 45mins to Switzerland and 1.5hrs from Italy. It’s easy to fly to Geneva, pick up a car from the French side of the airport. A trip that can combine Geneva, Annecy and Chambéry, that’s the ultimate in anticipatory happiness.

english whisky

whiskyenglishmands

I saw this English Whisky at M&S and thought I’d give it a try for the novelty factor. I’ve tried small drams by the St George’s distillery before, and the label says distilled in Norfolk, where the company is. I guessed (and confirmed) it’s a Marks and Spark’s exclusive distilled by St George’s.

First clue, NAS. Plus the distillery has only been in operation for about 10 years, so not likely to be more than 7 years old. My first impression, on taking the bottle out of the box, was how pale it is. It seems that it’s barely been aged in barrels at all, or that the barrels used are different from the typical sherry or bourbon barrels for scottish whisky.

Not much of a taste too, not fiery on the palate. My initial reaction was cake, but not as rich as cake. Somewhat sweet but not fruity. It was better when a drop of water was added, more fragrant, sweeter, and a longer finish.

In the UK it’s on sale for £35. I got it for equivalent of £50. For this price, there are plenty of other options. I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t go back to it once this bottle is finished.

flat errands and happy hour

fridgebeer

Had to go back to the flat for a gas appointment. Every time the gas supply is turned on, off or transferred they send a technician to test it, free of charge. It’s a bother, but it’s safe. I turned the supply off after he left since no one will living be there for a while.

I probably need to do a little work to the flat. The main door hinge is broken and the wood pretty chipped so I may as well replace the whole thing. I’d like to redo the bathroom too but it may be costly. I’ll have a think think.

I was meeting sis for happy hour but there was a lot of time, so I stayed around to read. I only had my ex-tenant’s coffee table, but it seemed sturdy enough to sit on. Plus the beer and vitamin water he left behind were refreshment enough. The beer was mostly heineken so honestly not appealing but the vitamin water was good.

I was early getting to the hh place and they hadn’t started so I found myself at another place around the corner. They had a 2-for-1 deal which, in retrospect, wasn’t suitable because I had to finish 2 glasses of wine before going to the original place. Ah well #firstworldproblem. The hh place didn’t have any special deals, but they had canapes which made it a very popular location. They had small sandwiches, prosciutto, fried pumpkin and pasta. Enough to fill me up without needing dinner. Their wine selection was also much, much better than the around the corner place.

container ship timelapse


And another video. This one by Jeff Tsang has been making the rounds. 10 minutes of unadulterated peacefulness and mesmerising goodness. Worth watching multiple times. He works on a container ship and set up his Nikon D750 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 lens facing the bow, then proceeded to collect over 80,000 images or 1.5TB of material which he edited into a timelapse video. 30 days of sailing in 10 minutes from the Red Sea to Sri Lanka to SIngapore to Hong Kong.

The sky and the weather looked so beautiful. I thought he was lucky but I remembered that pollution usually settles in built up areas and in the vast expanse of the oceans it’s really just the elements. And vast and expansive it was. For long periods there was nothing in the horizon but sky and water.

His captions are simple and educational too. In just a few words he described the hard work done by pilots, how long it takes to unload and load a container ship, and how traffic is organised (in lanes going in one direction in the straits around Singapore and no organisation around the South China Sea as fishing vessels are everywhere and crisscross around the ship). He made a decision to leave the camera out to continue recording while there was a storm and paid the price of water in his lens.

timelapse

My favourite bits include the enormous night sky with the Milky Way at around 0:30, lightning at around 3:20, the sky lit up by the full moon at around 6:00. And blue, blue skies.

ice cream and creepy


It’s rare that ice cream and creepy go together, but this ad from an ice cream maker I’ve never heard of manages to do just that. Very well done and very memorable, actually.

To rid my mind of the creepy “eat the ice cream” chant, here are some ice cream pics.

Big Gay ice cream shop, NYC:
nyc608icecream

Ricotta and fig gelato, Siena:
siena018gelato

Frozen yogurt at taste of Chicago:
mpchi117sundae

bbmm outing

We went out for a drive to one of the far away suburbs. 45mins from where I live, which is a long way here. (Okay, we took the longer way that didn’t go through an expensive tunnel, which added around 10mins or so.)

The covered carparks in the town centre were expensive, so we found one of those unofficial carparks just outside the immediate centre. There are altogether around 30 spaces there and the poor guy who was at the entrance was in a booth but no air-con. We decided we’d always find these types of carparks going forward.

Just wandered around for an hour or so at the shops, mainly a furniture/home accessories shop. It’s a chain so the shoe rack mm saw and was interested in she could get elsewhere near where she lives. Went to the market and poked around the vegetable stalls that were having a late afternoon sale. Cheap veg but quality not so good. We both ended up buying some noodles.

Dinner was ayce hotpot. It came with a small selection of sashimi, a plate of A4 wagyu beef, and assorted seafood–mostly clams with some fish and a couple of oysters. We don’t go crazy with ayce menus anymore, carefully picking the food we like. The normal beef was good too, and we also ordered lamb slices and lots of prawns. Most hotpot restaurants also offer noodles and dumplings, cheap filling food so people will order less seafood and red meat, most like.

Non-alcoholic drinks were included, as was ice cream. We both had 2 small tubs; my sesame and red bean were okay, mm had red bean and mango which she said tasted exactly like the three-flavour ice cream we used to have when we were young. Tasted artificial to me, but there was a nostalgic factor.

An easygoing afternoon and evening, which suited us.

whk105penguinselfie

And just because I’m feeling random, here are some penguins taking a selfie. (Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ)

“I’m old, I don’t know computers”

toolbars

My anecdotal experience is the stereotype of older people not able to use technology is well and true. Far too often, we hear: “I’m old, I don’t know computers.” They don’t seem to have either the ability or desire to become familiar with tech related stuff. Random examples:

  • confusing chrome with google
  • can’t tell the difference between browser, url, and email address
  • thinking the on/off button on the monitor turns the computer on/off
  • getting flustered and in a panic when they can’t remember their username and password (how about clicking the ‘forget password’ link)
  • trying to explain their computer problem to you over the phone and expecting that you have Superman’s eyesight
  • no concept of memory, RAM, bandwidth, speed, wifi vs mobile data–no, a couple of whatsapp messages won’t eat into you 3GB monthly allowance
  • long email subject line as the content of the email
  • forwarding jokes/memes/health tips/multi-level marketing scam
  • can’t upload files, only now discovering facebook albums, not deleting duplicate or crappy pictures so their phone memory is full
  • on the one hand is paranoid about sending personal information online; on the other hand clicks on links without checking the url
  • wondering why the computer is so slow, and there are 10 installed toolbars

There are studies and articles about why people who didn’t grow up with technology find it difficult to learn. Small setbacks, like touchscreen sensitivity or small fonts, erode confidence and add fear. The elderly are definitely not unintelligent, there simply seems to be some sort of mental or psychological block, or it could be that learning agility slows with age. There’s an ELI5 explanation that uses language as analogy:

Imagine that you’ve made it through into your adult life using English. Then one day, you hear someone speaking LangX, a totally new language that they claim is going to change the world. For the next decade, only a few people speak it, and no one you know has ever really used it. Another decade later, and its catching on. You’ve heard kids using it, and its starting to gain traction, but it hasn’t really been important for you to learn it. You retire from work just as your workplace gets its first expert in LangX.

So you cruise into retirement, content knowing that you’ve worked your ass off, and now get to enjoy the simpler things in life. All of a sudden, everyone uses LangX, and no one speaks English any more. You go the the grocery store, or to the bank, and the employees get mad at you for using English. Your grandkids refuse to translate things for you anymore. Your kids keep buying you books written in LangX, thinking that that will help you learn the language.

I know a lot of people who are in the middle-age and senior age range who are very good at technology. They may or may not have a scientific or technical background; seems to me that they made the effort to learn and ask the right question. Computers are not new. Consoles like atari, commodore and sinclair were available by the early 1980s, the IBM PC with the 8088 processor was introduced in 1981, the original Mac appeared in 1984. By the 1990s, home computers were fairly common and relatively affordable–the first iMac, Dell, Compaq, all these names were familiar late 20th century brands.

All that happened 20 years ago.

Isn’t “I’m old, I don’t know computers” getting, well, old? Isn’t it one of the many excuses for mediocrity? Just like it’s not okay to use age as an excuse to be rude or entitled or misogynistic/racist/homophobic; it’s not okay to use it as an excuse to be lazy or complacent or negative. I’m not saying become a php expert or start writing apps, I’m saying learn how to google, learn what is a browser, learn how to swipe on a smartphone. Computers and devices are very user-friendly nowadays. A few weeks ago my aunt called mum via whatsapp, mum got in a panic and shoved the phone at me. The screen said swipe up to answer, so I swiped up to answer. What was so difficult about it?

Another day, she asked me to write an email reply, a simple thank you to someone. In the past I would have written it for her, just like I swiped her phone to answer the call for her. This time I said to do it herself but do it in front of me. She hit reply on her ipad, typed it all out and hit send. She missed a full stop but I didn’t correct her. She can do it herself, she just needs to stop automatically expecting that I’d do it just because she doesn’t want to.

We need to stop feeding the beast by giving in and doing it for them because it’ll be 100 times quicker and involve less hair-pulling attempts at explanation. It’s better in the long run.

museum wars

Thanks to my friend N (who works at the Smithsonian, how cool!) for linking to this.

The Natural HIstory Museum and the Science Museum had a twitter museum-off the other day. It started when someone asked who would win in a battle between the two. The social media managers at both places had a field day.

museumwars1

First shot fired by NHM, and a quick return by SM. It got worse from there, when random ammo like vampire fish, polaris missile, cockroaches, wellies, dragons, submarines, fleas, balloons were brought out. When NHM fired a tweet with locust, SM fired back with pesticide. All were museum exhibits.

museumwars2

Meanwhile, the V&A were sitting pretty.

Of course, civility returned. We’re British after all. Compliments all around and each took the opportunity to mention more of their interesting exhibits. The entire silliness episode here.

a day of errands, and a great beer to end

A day full of errands and running around.

My tenant moved out. We exchanged emails around 2 weeks ago so I know he’s accepted a job offer in another country but I didn’t know that he’d be flying out so soon. He left the keys in the mailbox.

To his credit, he had professional cleaners come in and clean the flat. He also left his large coffee table, a dirt devil vacuum cleaner, a doorframe pull up bar and a modem which he should have returned to the internet provider. He also left lots of beer and vitamin water in the fridge–there must be 20 bottles of beer and 10 bottles of vitamin water. Now I have to figure out what to do with the flat next.

I didn’t have too much time to spend at the flat, I was rushing to a doctor’s appointment to clear my blocked ears. Yeah, I finally decided to get them sorted. It was nice to live at reduced volume but it’s not ideal. I’ve been to this ENT doc since I was young and he knows my ear health history. He poked and vacuumed the gunk out of my ears, pretty uncomfortable but effective. Expensive though, around USD80 and that was without medicine.

Took a bus back across the harbour to Sam’s. He out-did himself this time. Gave me an even better than normal haircut and within 40mins too. This time he cut it shorter than before and it feels so good to have so much of the thickness gone.

Went to the supermarket and bought a couple of bulbs of fennel. Seeing so many contestants use fennel on masterchef gave me a hankering after it. Organic and imported so very expensive. Almost USD10 for two small/medium bulbs. Ah well. Sis gave me a voucher for this supermarket and I still have quite a lot of balance left.

stbernadusabt12

By then it was around 5.30pm and I’d been running around since 1pm. Have over an hour till meeting mm for dinner. Decided on beer over wine so walked over to frites with their huge belgian beer selection. I wanted to see if they have St Bernadus abt 12, which I came across very often when I was googling Westvleteren 12. The story is shortly after WW2 the owners of St Bernadus brewery and the trappist monks from nearby St Sixtus monastery had an arrangement where they would share equipment and location. More importantly, the brewmaster from Westvleteren brought over the recipes, the know-how and the St. Sixtus yeast strain. The arrangement stopped in 1992 when the trappist monks decided that authentic trappist beer could only be brewed and sold within monastery walls. Nevertheless, St Bernadus continued with the recipe.

The long and short of it is, St Bernadus is the nearest alternative to the extremely rare Westvleteren 12.

I didn’t know enough when I was tasting the Westvleteren 12 to get a bottle of St Bernadus too. So I’m comparing a beer today with one I tasted a month ago. There are similarities and differences. Both are dark, creamy and complex. The Westvleteren was richer, smoother and had more dried fruit notes. The St Bernadus seemed more aerated and towards the end, I felt it tasted like any other dark ale whereas the Westvleteren was fruity and rich even at the end.

I still think the St Bernadus is a top-notch beer. Frites has happy hour monday to friday between 3-8pm and it was half price. With Westvleteren extremely difficult to get, I’ll be back again to taste the St Bernadus and I won’t feel like it’s a second choice.

t-shirt i want

I’m on book 4 of the Deverry series, so almost finished with the first cycle. It’s been wonderful even though I was tempted to skip the bit that was my least favourite of the serie–Perryn’s abduction of Jill. I really, really, really dislike Perryn, more so than the obvious villains–the Old One, the Hawks, all the scheming lords.

ireadtshirt

One of our chats, mm sent me this and said: “This is you.” Awwww. I have too many t-shirts but this one I’m interested enough to try to track down. She said she saw it on fb, so not much help. Reverse google image search brings me to amazon with various designs and the same wording on sale for between USD12 and 20. Some have books or owls or even one with unicorn. But not snoopy. There are similar t-shirts on a fb page called snoopy lovers but the links to purchase seem too dodgy.

Probably my wyrd that I’m not supposed to own this.

new sneakers i want

vansultrarange

I think I’ve found my next pair of sneakers, these vans ultrarange rapidweld. They look light and sturdy without having the traditional running shoe look that I don’t like in my everyday sneakers. Like the adidas ones I’m currently wearing. The tips are too narrow and it simply looks too much like trainers. The vans are different, they have the classic skater shoe look that simply looks cool. Outside magazine called them the best shoes for travelling.

The issue, as always, is that they only come in men’s sizes. The smallest on the vans website is US 6.5 which converts to US 8 or UK 6. I buy timberland siders at US 7.5 so may be I can use a thick insole. I’ll need to find a shop and try them out.

whitesplaining food and cooking

Learned two new terms recently.

Whitesplaining — a Causasian person explains, in a condescending manner, something that many people, usually non-Causasian, already know about.

Columbus syndrome — people in a dominant culture claim they have discovered something that has existed elsewhere for a long time.

First, it was the NYT’s article on bubble tea. I won’t link to it, because it’s condescending af. They claim, in an article written in 2017, that this drink that originated in Taiwan in the 1980s is so newfangled, “alien” and “exotic.” The “blobs” were painted as something to be afraid of, Fu Manchu-like. The backlash was immediate and they had to issue an apology. Confused about why? One reader’s comment on the article:

It highlights otherness rather than uniqueness, defines familiarity through a nondiverse lens, and for me evokes the unpleasant feelings of being the kid in a nondiverse neighborhood bringing ‘weird’ lunches to school.

sap152fishstand

And as if the lesson hadn’t been learned. Lifehacker came up with an article (again, not linking) that lists the various new ways people can use chopsticks to cook. You know, like using it to beat eggs, or flip meat while frying, or take small pieces of food out from a jar. It’s apparently an “under-rated” kitchen tool that is usually relegated to the junk drawer. So while the NYT may be forgiven for thinking a drink invented 30 years ago is new, how abot Lifehacker doing some research and realising that chopsticks have been used for cooking for THOUSANDS of years. I’m not even going to dignify it by googling archeological or literary evidence. To write about this everyday tool used by millions of people around the world as if it were some new discovery is colour-blind, tone-deaf and downright daft.

So I learned about Columbus effect from Edward Anderson at the Centre of South Asian Studies in Cambridge.

And don’t get me started on yellowface.

solskinsoen

via Outside magazine, Solskinsoen is a film about running a brewery on an island in Denmark.

Penyllan brewery is located on Bornholm, which is mainly a holiday destination that fills up with holiday crowds in the summer and is very quiet in winter.

penyllan

What a beautiful place and committed brewers. They’ve only just started, their website is a landing page only. Their fb page says they will launch their first beers on 4 October.

camping food test

When I created my emergency go bag, I bought a pack of MRE to put in the bag. It’s vacuum sealed and can be stored for years. The mains is chicken pesto pasta, and there are other pouches in the pack with crackers and stuff. I hadn’t given much thought about the flavour, I think I was more focused on a value-for-money single pack that could keep for a while.

Looking at the Wirecutter post about best camping food, I’m thinking when the MRE expires I should consider supplementing with other food. The camping food in the test are one-pouch meals that are prepared by adding boiling water. First they did a taste test of specialised camping food vs standbys from the supermarket like spaghetti and mac & cheese in their office. Interesting discovery:

a surprising number of our backpacking standbys are, in fact, revolting when served indoors on real dishes

Then they asked their testers to take the camping food with them on one- or two-week hiking trips in locations as varied as Corsica, the Colorado 14k peaks, and the 1,000 mile Centennial Trail in Idaho. The food they tested weren’t boring chicken pasta. They had curries, chili, noodles, fajita as well as the usual pasta and meat flavours.

campingfoodthaicurry

Their best in terms of taste was a Thai curry. It’s likely that after a long and exhaustive day hiking, the testers’ palate appreciate the intensity of flavour of the curry. Seems like there’s a lot of vegetables and the addition of powdered coconut milk (in a separate packet) is a winner. The disadvantages are price, small portion size and it took a long time to rehydrate.

return to deverry

I spent the summer reading Amber Benson’s Death’s Daughter series. It started off fun, the idea of Death Inc and it being a corporation like Apple or BT is a cute idea and Calliope as the reluctant heir to the business interesting too. The side characters were realistic and I love younger sister Clio and junior hellhound Runt in particular. The later books tended to drag on a bit and the trope that behind every successful woman is a man was uncharacteristic of CRJ. I didn’t like Daniel, I thought he was a wimp. I skimmed through the last book.

I haven’t been reading much after that. I picked up a few books when favourite bookseller had a sale, but these have been left unread on my ipad. I know there are many new books by my staple group of must-read authors out this year, but I think I’m working too closely with the awards program and I need to take a break from our community for a while.

deverrybooks

So I’m going back to my roots. Well, not all the way back to Enid Blyton or Encyclopedia Brown or The Three Investigators. A little more recent, to the days when I was a regular at the local library. Those were the days of mostly fantasy and occasionally science fiction books. My David Eddings and Katharine Kerr’s early Deverry books have travelled with me all over the world. I’m sad that I donated the rest–Anne McCaffrey, Julian May, Asimov, Hitchhiker’s Guide. Anyway, I started reading Daggerspell again and decided I couldn’t read the physical book. Luckily it’s available on itunes and looks like DRM-free too .

I haven’t read the Deverry books in decades. Oh, how I’ve missed them. I’m about 2/3rds through Daggerspell and the familiar terms and people are coming back to me. Dweomer, wyrd, gwerbret, the wildfolk. Beloved characters too. I know why I loved these books so much when I first read them–a rich and wonderfully imagined world based on medieval Wales, strong female lead in Jill, magic that is magical, and an epic story that spans lifetimes that has tragedy, romance and adventure. For those unfamiliar, here’s the back cover from the 1986 original book:

In a void outside reality, the flickering spirit of a young girl hovers between incarnations, knowing neither ner past nor her future. But in the temporal world there is one who knows and waits: Nevyn, the wandering and mysterious sorcerer. On a bloody day long ago he relinquished the maiden’s hand in marriage–and so forced a terrible bond of destiny between three souls that would last through three generations. Now Nevyn is doomed to follow them across the planes of time, never resting until he atones for the tragic wrong of his youth.

And interestingly, the amazon synopsis for the revised edition changed focus from Nevyn to Nevyn and Jill, as it should have been:

Even as a young girl, Jill was a favorite of the magical, mysterious Wildfolk, who appeared to her from their invisible realm. Little did she know her extraordinary friends represented but a glimpse of a forgotten past and a fateful future. Four hundred years–and many lifetimes–ago, one selfish young lord caused the death of two innocent lovers. Then and there he vowed never to rest until he’d rightened that wrong–and laid the foundation for the lives of Jill and all those whom she would hold dear: her father, the mercenary soldier Cullyn; the exiled berserker Rhodry Maelwaedd; and the ancient and powerful herbman Nevyn, all bound in a struggle against darkness…and a quest to fulfill the destinies determined centuries ago.

The book takes a non-linear approach to telling the story. We start off in the present, in 1052. Backstory brings us to 643 to the beginning of the saga. Jump ahead to 1058 and then back to 698. The rest of the book takes place in 1062. There is a wikipedia table that can be used to keep track of who reincarnated as whom during which years. These characters are so interwoven and make different decisions in their different lifetimes that affect themselves and others. Debts are repaid; redemption is sought; new mistakes are made.

It was originally published in 1986 and many of the concepts in newer fantasy books–Harry Potter, cough cough–are common themes in the Deverry books. It’s a shame that Katharine Kerr isn’t mentioned as often when people talk about best fantasy authors. One of the common comments I see is that people read her when they were young and stopped reading somewhere in the middle of the series. That’s exactly what happened to me; I have up to book 7, left the UK, got busy and lost track. Now may be a good time to make my way through the entire 15 book series.

I was lucky enough to meet Ms Kerr in 1992 in London for a book signing. I also follow her on fb. She’s had a tough time IRL, her husband’s illness means she needs to care for him and it’s eaten into their savings. A couple of years ago loyal readers helped with a gofundme type campaign. She now has a patreon account and I’ll probably join. I think that’s the least I can do with an old favourite author.

ramen

ramenyokohama

Had a meeting in the morning, don’t want to jinx it by giving too much away.

I finished around noon, so I was on the lookout for a quick lunch. Wandered around and the candidates were the usual diners, one that has pasta and a glass of wine, or this ramen shot that usually has a big crowd outside waiting. When I went to the ramen shop, it was just 12.05pm and there were counter seats. So ramen it was. The name of the shop is Yokohama ramen, but I don’t think there is anything special about Yokohama.

Watched the chefs make the ramen and they were authentic enough. The ramen were from Japan and the broth made from pork bones. I had one with the charsiu in cubes as opposed to the usual sliced. Overall, enjoyed the meal. When I left, there were already more than 10 people queuing outside.

star wars stamps

starwarsstamps

The Royal Mail has started taking pre-orders for its October set of commemorative Star Wars stamps. Commemorative stamps are released around once a month and I have two boxes of stamps and first day covers from my philately days.

These stamps are designed by UK digital artist Malcolm Tween; some of the stamps feature secret details revealed only under UV light. There are already previous Star Wars stamps featuring Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan and many others. Out of the newest 8, my favourites are BB-8 and Maz Kanata. Of all stamps in the collection, it has to be Boba Fett. That guy’s just cool.

There are also framed stamps, medal covers and display units for sale. Some are limited edition. I’m considering the £19.99 medal cover that R2 on one side and Princess Leia on the other side of the medal. I dunno, I’m trying to figure out how to sell my stamp and FDC collection, not add to it.

@watty_io came first in a competition

wattyio

Last October I got a bunch of congratulatory tweets meant for a Swedish internet of things startup. I noticed that they have gotten some good reviews and attention for their product.

Seems like they won something again. My twitter notifications blew up that they came first in something at the annual Sthlm Tech Fest that was held in Stockholm over the past few days. It’s described as the biggest tech startup event in Sweden where

[e]very startup founder, investor, designer, developer, and journalist comes together to share, be inspired and meet the whole startup ecosystem, and welcome visitors from 20+ countries.

I congratulated them and they tweeted me back that they love my handle, hahaha. So I DMed them to ask what actually they won and their response was that it was “a flic button competition or something like that.” Interesting. So it seems that flic is a smart bluetooth button that can be used to control all sorts of devices and apps. Wow, the more I delve into these startups the more impressed I am. I’m glad that through a shared name error, I’m learning so much and can watch so many cool products develop peripherically.

At least I’m not the regular person behind famous twitter handles like @coke or @bmw.

photofriday: blur

mel286night

This week’s photofriday challenge is blur.

This bokeh-like pic was taken in Melbourne in February 2017, the first night we got safely back after being stranded in the middle of the ocean with no engines. Full moon so we took a walk on deck 7 after dinner. The camera was trying its hardest to autofocus so I clicked the shutter while it was still focusing. Then i tried to blur the image using manual focus. And played with the iphone too, it focused quicker so I had to click faster.

the yellow wallpaper

Met mm for drinks and dinner. We spent more time at our newest discovery, the bar at the Novotel near her appointment, sharing 3 glasses of wine between us. For dinner we just had something quick. An added bonus was she bought new shoes. Discounted, and additional 30% off over the discounted price. She wore her new shoes straightaway and the shop assistants kindly threw away her old pair.

Ever since she started studying psychology, new words have entered our vocabulary. Social support, coping mechanism, pavlovian response. We talk about people or incidents being our stressors. I’m now clearer on the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Even within psychology there are different streams, like within the legal profession there are litigators, conveyancers, mediators.

gutenbergyellowwallpaper

On a separate (and yet strangely sort of related since it’s about Psychology) topic, I was on Project Gutenberg downloading a couple of classic books for the awards program and saw that the #2 most downloaded book there is The Yellow Wallpaper. I’d never heard of the book before. It was also mentioned on r/books recently so I did a little googling to find out that it’s a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892 and widely taught in schools in the US. A guardian review classified it under children’s books.

It didn’t take me long to read it. I’m not a teacher so I sometimes wonder at the choice of books we had to study at school. Some of them are downright depressing and creepy–Lord of the Flies, 1984, even one of my favourite books when I was young, I am David. The Yellow Wallpaper falls into this category. Told in first person, it’s about a woman who seems to be confined to her room because of a

temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency

and is widely interpreted as post-partum depression. It’s also widely accepted that it is autobiographical. In those Victorian times, women were still regarded as frail objects prone to hysteria and in those days depression was caused by excessive mental activity. Her doctor’s prescription was ‘rest-cure’ which meant she was forbidden to do anything, including exercise, feeding herself, seeing any other person other than her carers, and activites like drawing and writing. Basically they took away all stimuli and expected her to be like a vegetative patient. Robbed of all external stimuli, she turned inwards and started examining the awful yellow wallpaper in her prison room. Her anger and frustration were clear. Slowly she slipped further and further into psychosis.

Viewed from the 21st century, the actions of the doctor was so, so wrong that it borders on criminal. It was the same era that had terrifying medical treatments such as drinking radium water, starvation diets for aneurysms, or drilling a hole in the skull to cure headaches. Gilman sent a copy of the book to her doctor and it is said that he changed his treatment as a result.

Nowadays we do suffer from overstimulation. Our attention span has shortened and concepts like sensory deprivation tanks are popular. But no one believes that shutting out all stimulation can possibly be a cure for depression. Even a layperson like me know that take away someone’s freedom of movement and expression, not allowing any activity, and treating them like a comatose patient is going to push them further down the path of mental breakdown.

Going back to the book. I must admit I was a bit bored. The writing was good, and the description of the narrator’s view of the wallpaper and her own actions very vivid. I think it’s because it’s from an era that I have no affinity for, that my reaction was mostly, okay #thathappened. I’d still recommend everyone read this book, it’s short and a good representation of mental illness from a sufferer’s point of view.

millions dream of the lives we are living

millions

I saw this on an askreddit thread but forgot to save the page so I can’t even remember the question. I do remember being momentarily floored by this simple comment.

We must be more grateful for our lives.

The 2016 World Bank report on Poverty and Shared Prosperity is almost 200 pages long, so I didn’t read it. But looking at the World Bank page on poverty just hammers home how lucky I am, and everyone around me, and everyone who is reading this.

globalpoverty

There has been progress:

  • in 2013, 10.7% of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4% in 2012 and 35% in 1990
  • nearly 1.1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty since 1990

But the fact is that there are still 767 MILLION people who live in poverty, defined as living below US$1.90 a day. I cannot for the life of me imagine living on that tiny sum a day.

Which is the bigger problem, inequality. The Gini index measures wealth gap. A perfect distribution of wealth within a group means a Gini index of zero. A Gini index of one is where one person in the group has all the wealth and the others have none. So, the lower the better. Here’s another World Bank chart:

gini

The global index (blue line) has decreased since 1988, in part due to globalisation and rapid growth by developing countries–countries are more equal as shown by the light orange between-country index. But look at the dark red in-country index that has gone up a whopping 75%. In real terms, this means the rich in one country has gotten richer, and richer, and richer. It’s a challenge to explain this. Politics, economics, taxation, market movement, greed, these are all factors.

Going back to the reddit comment. I don’t know how to solve inequality aside from being aware of the issue. Just let’s be more grateful, okay?

bbmm at travel agent

okinawa

Met mm at the travel agent’s to get some information about cruises and resorts. Her mum’s doc says she can go on short breaks and it will likely be beneficial. But she can’t go too far away and preferably as little travel hassle as possible. It was the doc who suggested cruises. There are definitely advantages, mostly it’s the minimum amount of travelling and yet she can enjoy going away.

We’re limited by the total number of days, preferably under a week. There are only a few itineraries that fit the criteria. Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan. And the Japan one is only as far as Okinawa. I knew Okinawa is south of mainland Japan but I didn’t realise it’s that far south. It’s nearer to Taiwan. From brief research, it’s mainly a beach resort type of destination.

The Okinawa cruise is on the huge Ovation of the Seas. Over 4000 passengers, 167000 tons. One day at sea, then arriving at Okinawa at 1pm. Stay overnight then leave at 2pm the next day. Another day at sea. Truth be told, it’s an odd itinerary and doesn’t give a lot of time on the island.

We’ll see.

day out with sis

Sis and I went to the computer area to hunt for various gadget-related stuff for her. First, lunch at the vietnamese stall in the cooked food market above the market. Street food inside with air-con. The pho was good, and it came with a drink. We also ordered chicken wings, prawn cakes and vietnamese 333 beer. On the way out we saw several large tables with what looked like freshly cooked delicious food.

I bought a few small wicking towels and some superglue. She bought belts, straps, replacement sponges for headphones, hand-cranked survival radios, and all sorts of other fun gadgets. It’s okay to go on a weekday, still crowded but manageable compared with the weekend.

kan015calpis

There was still time and we wanted some drinks. Nothing in that area so we went back to PP and found a japanese restaurant. I had a sawa or calpis cocktail. It was surprisingly refreshing although there wasn’t much alcohol flavour. Calpis is actually one of my favourite drinks, slightly carbonated yogurt flavour a bit like yakult. Hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

meat index

ire055butchercote

Interesting article about meat prices around the world, based on a a study by a UK b2b catering company. The study itself is a huge table that looks a lot like airinc goods & sevices tables.

meatprices

The Eater graph shows the top and bottom 10 countries in the study in terms of meat prices compared with the average global price. Switzerland is way out front with meat prices almost 1.5 times that of the global average. The US comes in at only 17.94% and the UK actually below average at -3.06%. Meat in Switzerland and Norway is expensive because they are expensive countries. Meat in HK is expensive because everything is imported. Which is why I don’t buy minced beef–there is not that much difference per kg between minced beef and braising beef like cheeks and oxtail. I already know meat in the US and UK are not that expensive, especially if cooking at home.

It’s not very useful to simply compare prices. A more indicative index is affordability. The study also indicated how many minimum wage hours will be needed to buy 1kg of meat. In Switzerland, that comes to 3hrs. The US comes in at 2.67hrs, UK 1.42hrs and HK around 5hrs. The most expensive, in terms of number of hours needed, is India at 27.38hrs.

There are also other areas of consideration like regulations, trade tariffs and cultural differences. All in all, an interesting area.

uncle H (2)

port132rose

The actual funeral for Uncle H. Only Mum and I went, it’s a school day for G so Sis couldn’t come.

After a short service led by the same priest as yesterday, we went in a coach to the crematorium. The priest talked a little about green burial (yay us) and how our bodies and physical objects will remain, only in different states. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The lunch afterwards was at one of Uncle H’s favourite restaurants. Auntie F says there are fixed dishes that had to be eaten, and fixed number of dishes too. She had been heartbroken the past 2 days and I’m glad to see her smiling, joking and talking to everyone. All her siblings were there (except those in other countries). I sat next to her sister and they were telling stories of when they were kids.

A family kind of day.

uncle H (1)

psalm23

We said goodbye to our family friend Uncle H today. He’s not actually related but we call each other uncles and aunties out of respect. Both our families moved to the UK at around the same time; they are just a few years younger than us, not so much younger that we couldn’t play together as kids.

We went with Uncle H and Auntie F on our first ever cruise to the Mediterranean, so they are the “guilty” ones who introduced us to cruising. I won’t say I was impressed with that particuar cruise, but there were some new experiences. The last time I saw Uncle H was about a year ago when mum and I met them for lunch.

Their son J used to be this nerdy kid we made fun of. He is now owner of his own architecture firm and he has won numerous prizes. He looks exactly the same as Uncle H. It occured to me that we are now older than my parents and J’s parents when they moved to the UK with their young families.

There were many people paying their respects for Uncle H. A priest and a group of kind volunteers from their church came to conduct a service. It started off with a reading of Psalm 23, always appropriate. The choir sang Amazing Grace and a few other hymns.

Sad all around. Sis and I agreed we did the right thing not having this for Papa. It probably gives people closure and comfort, but we would have hated it.

bbmm saturday

Went with mm to buy a new fridge. She’s needed to replace her existing one for a while, but the available dimensions in her kitchen really limited her options. In the end there were only 1 or 2 models that fit the space. Seems like fridges have become deeper and less wide than before.

hhbizou20170826

After getting the fridge we went to PP where we were supposed to have dinner with her family. It was only 4.30pm so there was time to walk around or find somewhere to sit. Surprised to see bizou had happy hour. On a saturday, that was unexpected. 2-for-1 plus a small snack selection. Salad, cheese, prosciutto, watermelon, pineapple. We were both careful not to eat too much because of dinner. I had a few plates of just salad after my first plate with cheese and prosciutto. She had a tempranillo from australia and I had a petit syrah from new zealand. Two unexpected origins for these two grapes. No complaints.

Dinner was in the usual restaurant. Excellent ordering by her mum, there was a perfect amount of food and very little leftovers. I left with an orange.

Typhoon coming again–we had T10 on wednesday already. By the time I was at the bus-stop it was T3 and the wind was definitely picking up when I got home.

you must be offline to read this

offline

A thoughtful bit of cleverness from Chris Bolin, you must go offline to view this page (or click on the image).

So I did as asked, went to offline mode. Short article; I agree with everything he said. We suffer through so much external distractions that we have begun to internally distract ourselves too. Try this experiment, imagine having to be still for a few hours, a few minutes, and simply focus on doing ONE analogue thing–read a book, bake a cake, file paperwork. How long will it be before we reach out to our phones and check for a non-existent new text, glance at an inbox with no new emails, or refresh fb only to see the same political article shared by half a dozen people.

There has been plenty of articles about the benefits of unplugging and examples of people saying how great their life is when they go offline for extended periods of time. Many people announce that they deleted twitter, or facebook, or snapchat. I shrug at those announcements, because they will usually come running back in a few weeks.

What I’ve found works for me is, instead of deleting those apps (and of course dramatically announcing the act), simply engage less. There is no need to read every single post of every single person I follow. I read my close friends and family and people whose posts I found valuable in the past. My approach to social media is that it’s a place for me to curate the things and experiences I find interesting. Not to mindlessly, constantly, share. Curating implies putting more thought into each post. I know that I am still learning and I have a long way to go. My weakness is way too many poorly photographed food pics on instagram and after almost 15 years I’m probably still not doing this blogging thing right. But at least I’m aware.

I’m not techy enough to know how the page was coded, a script I think. When I went to see page source firefox tells me it can’t because I’m in offline mode. Snerk.

I’m still offline, so I went back to read the post again. How often does a second reading point us to something we missed upon first reading? Or we see more depth in the words? Here’s parting thoughts on the inevitable complaints that going offline doesn’t work:

I don’t care. Make time. I bet the thing that makes you valuable is not your ability to Google something but your ability to synthesize information. Do your research online; create offline.

≺/offline≻

slow cooked duck legs

duckleg01

Recipe from Mark Bittman at the NYT. He was writing this week on grubstreet about grilling duck legs too, although the only grill I have is the one at the top of my oven and isn’t the bbq grill he was talking about.

Anyway, the method we see people on cookery programs most of the time is confit duck legs. I don’t really want to waste a bottle of oil so this slow cooked method is better.

In a cold pan over medium heat start browning the duck legs, skin side down. In the meantime, prep carrots, celery and potatoes. The recipe has onions but I ran out so I used extra celery and 4 cloves of garlic. Added potatoes for a true one pot meal. I chopped the veg into larger chunks than the recipe to give more bite.

Once the duck skin has crisped up, turn over and brown the meat for a couple of minutes. Transfer to baking dish.

Pour out almost all the duck fat (I have an old peanut butter jar I use to keep my duck and bacon fat). Sauté the veg for about 10mins, transfer to baking dish with duck. Season with s&p, rosemary, thyme.

Heat chicken stock in pan to deglaze and bring to the boil. Pour into baking dish until most of duck legs are covered, making sure the skin isn’t covered. I didn’t have enough stock, it was perfectly fine to top up with boiling water.

Cook at 200ºC for 30mins, then turn oven down to 180ºC and continue cooking for around 1hr until duck is tender and most of the liquid has reduced.

duckleg02

Very, very good. There was just about enough sauce to cover the baking dish, and it had a nice intense flavour. The recipe says use homemade chicken stock and I agree, it makes all the difference. The duck was fork-tender and had lots of flavour.

We are lucky that we can get duck breast and leg fairly inexpensively, perhaps because the locals don’t know how to cook them. It’s frozen and definitely not gressingham duck we get in the UK, but with the right cooking method, is one of our staples. Easy to make too. Total cooking time around 2hrs, but mostly unattended.

what Ken Cheng thinks about the new pound coin

Dave’s funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe was awarded to Ken Cheng. The prize, now in its 10th year, is awarded to the best one-liner. Ken’s winning joke:

I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change


Ken studied at Cambridge and was a finalist in the 2015 BBC Radio New Comedy award. Found an excerpt of his Fringe act. I thought it was…okay. I preferred his set at the NCA finals. Perhaps it’s the subject matter. Talking about ‘Chinese Comedian’ is not as funny as dissecting the phrase ‘Two Birds One Stone.’ The bit about laundry and the South African cricket team was funny, although it sounds funnier when delivered by a professional comedian.

poundcoin

Anyway, what’s up with the new pound coin. The specs, according to the Royal Mint:

  • 12-sided so easily recognisable
  • made from nickel-brass and nickel-plated alloy
  • has an image-like a hologram that changes from £ to 1 when viewed from different angles
  • very small lettering at the rims
  • grooves on alternate sides
  • a hidden security feature

The design combines the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle, and the Northern Irish shamrock which is pretty representative.

Reaction to the new coin seems to be mixed with most people, as Ken said, hating change. I think it’s quite cool, and if it stops conterfeiting, I’m all for it. I remember when the pound coin first came out and how people didn’t like how heavy it was. We’ve all gotten used to it. I checked my wallet and I have £6 in pound coins. Beyond October 2017 I’ll have to change them at a bank. Since it’s such a small amount, i may keep them as souvenir. I have some old 10p and 50p coins somewhere.

pub party

ashleyrdpub01

Sis, Rob and I went to the first anniversary party of one of R’s friend Andy’s pub. R is an investor there also, like a few others that Andy has opened. It’s a nice little pub in a central area but on a street that is less crowded. I’m glad to have found it, sometimes I have a little time to spare and nowhere to go to, like a pub. Of course I can find a fast food place and sit for a bit, but honestly who wants to sit at Mcdonalds, having to share a filthy plastic table with others.

ashleyrdpub02

The party was between 4-9pm, so they could still take in customers. They had beer, rosé and red wine, all served in a plastic beer cup. Snacks too like chicken wings, salad, pasta. R’s friend Patrick showed up and he somehow snagged a bottle of prosecco for our table. Yay for young Patrick. We left at around 8pm, I got home with enough time to shower and watch MKR.

100 trips everyone should take

places086matterhorn

Usual travel bucket lists, the ones that are called something like 101 places to see before you die, incude items like go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or visit Angkor Wat. It’s almost a cliché now.

Here’s a slightly different list of 100 trips everyone should take in their lifetime. Compiled by Business Insider who asked 20 travel writers for their top 5. And it’s all about experiences in the less touristy destinations. I do okay in the more “normal” travel lists, but some of these locations I haven’t even heard of. Not in any particular order, I think they grouped the top 5 of each writer, which is why some places and activities repeat. The Indy warns:

[f]rom off-the-beaten-track hidden gems to well-recognised yet stunning locations, prepare to get hit with some serious travel envy

  1. See mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
  2. Visit the chocolate box fishing villages of the Lofoten Islands, Norway
  3. Pretend you’re on a desert island at Motu Tiapaa in Maupiti — TIL that’s one of the remote island in the south Pacific
  4. Explore the sci-fi landscapes of Cappadocia, Turkey
  5. Camp in the Caucasus Mountains in Kazbegi, Georgia
  6. Chill out in Levi, Finland
  7. Have a star-gazing sleepover in Tuvalu
  8. Try the nightlife scene in Accra, Ghana
  9. Watch a world-renowned sunrise in Kiribati
  10. Travel back to Babylon in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  11. Look down into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA — this is the first realistic destination for me on this list, and even then I have to plan a winter trip to the US
  12. Surf at Point Roadknight, Melbourne, Australia — Melbourne I’ve been but I’ll never go surfing
  13. Explore London’s edgy urban scene — I’ve possibly done this. This was on the list for Daniel Houghton, CEO of Lonely Planet, who said:

    Hampstead Heath is a beautiful spot to take in the sheer size of the city

  14. Get to know Hawaii’s islands — I don’t think the one trip to Hawaii when I was 16 with my family counts, I barely remember it
  15. Be inspired by the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia — another realistic location
  16. Take a road trip around Louisiana, USA — been to New Orleans, haven’t done the road trip
  17. Build an igloo at Kamakura Festival in Yokote, Japan — this sounds great, need to do research
  18. Be rendered speechless by Tsingy Rouge, Madagascar — I posted about this recently
  19. Light a candle at Birgufest, Malta
  20. Cycle through the air in the cloud forests of Ecuador
  21. Take on Britain’s toughest trek at Cape Wrath, Scotland
  22. Reach Norway’s peaks, stopping off at Gjendesheim cabin
  23. Venture up the Alps, stopping off in Arolla, Switzerland — that’s in the Matterhorn area and I’ve been there
  24. Backpack through Lairig Ghru’s sub-arctic plateau in Scotland
  25. Stay in the Loch Ossian Hostel, Scotland– the third Scotland hiking destination from Alex Roddie, Sub-Editor of Sidetracked Magazine, this eco-hostel is 85 years old and located in the Highlands
  26. Scuba dive in the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
  27. Be one with the animal kingdom in the Galápagos Islands
  28. Discover the lesser-known isles of French Polynesia
  29. Road trip through Namibia
  30. Take in some magic—and food and wine—in South Africa
  31. Immerse yourself in the culture of Moscow, Russia
  32. Get to know the different sides of Hi Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  33. Grab a coffee in Sydney, Australia — I haven’t grabbed coffee, but I’ve grabbed breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m glad Sydney is on the list, albeit as one of the more touristy destinations, it has a lot going on and is lovely to experience
  34. Stay in a homestay at Lake Toba, Indonesia
  35. Party with the best at Rio Carnival, Brazil
  36. Scuba dive off of Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
  37. Visit post-earthquake Kumamoto, Japan — another Japan, adding to research list
  38. Tour the rosy mountains of Petra, Jordan
  39. Take in some history—and sample smoked chocolate—in Lviv, Ukraine
  40. Scuba dive in quiet northern Bali
  41. See the “Big Five”—black rhinoceros, cape buffalo, and African elephants, lions, and leopards—on a South African safari — I’ve seen all these, in Kenya not South Africa, does that count? I’m guessing 0.5 points
  42. Get lost in the tangled streets of Barceloneta, Spain
  43. Attend a whisky tasting in Mechelen, Belgium — so Belgium has beer and whisky, wow
  44. Fly over England’s Wiltshire countryside like you’re in ‘Top Gun’​
  45. Explore local sites in Bamiyan, Afghanistan
  46. Witness the piled-up houses of Palangan, Iran
  47. Trek to India’s best kept secret — Mechuka
  48. Stuff yourself with street food in Lahore, Pakistan
  49. Traverse Goris’ mountain trails and stay in a cave home in Armenia — I have to admit that none of these last 5 from travel blogger Sebaastian Rijntjes hold any interest for me
  50. Hike up Rainbow Mountain, Peru
  51. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Faroe Islands
  52. Observe the wildlife in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
  53. Delve into the hidden side of Madeira Island, Portugal — have to go to Lisbon first
  54. Explore the Arctic Circle, Norway
  55. Unwind in Bozcaada, Turkey
  56. Wade through the Amazon Rainforest
  57. Ride rickety buses through Tunisia
  58. Experience the warm hospitality of Muscat’s locals in Oman
  59. Take part in the masked celebrations of Carnevale in Venice, Italy — been to Venice but Carnevale is way too crowded
  60. Visit the steaming mountain geysers of Kamchatka, Russia
  61. Celebrate New Year’s Eve at Shwegugi Pagoda temple in Bagan, Myanmar
  62. See Tokyo’s cherry blossom season in the flesh — photographer Murad Osmann says:

    Japan isn’t just a country, it’s a whole new universe!

  63. Tour the “true face” of Xingping, China — no
  64. Be transported back in time by Cuba’s capital—Havana
  65. Explore the Cuban countryside in Vinales
  66. Dance around the evening bonfires in Lijiang, China — no thank you
  67. Take a beach trip to Quepos, Costa Rica
  68. Watch eagles hunt amongst the Altai Mountains, Mongolia
  69. Watch the flames of “The Gates of Hell,” Turkmenistan
  70. Sail to Pulau Lapang, Indonesia
  71. Take a dip in the clear waters in Sumba, Indonesia
  72. Sample the street food in Hanoi, Vietnam
  73. Ride the Tha Khaek Loops in Laos
  74. Navigate the sunken pathways of Shwe Ba Taung’s sandstone labyrinth in Burma
  75. Take part a hot air balloon safari over a nature reserve in Tanzania — we had the opportunity in Kenya, but we passed
  76. Take a Robinson Crusoe-esque excursion to Tapuaetai in the Cook Islands
  77. Stay in a designer cabin in Comporta, Portugal
  78. Visit a Thai architect’s edgy cluster of designer warehouses in Bangkok, Thailand
  79. Shop in Het Industriegebouw in Rotterdam, Netherlands — two shopping activies from blogger Pauline Egge, meh
  80. Spend the night in a glamorous bed and breakfast in Knokke, Belgium
  81. Dine in the glass houses of Cape Town’s wine estates
  82. Island hop on an expedition in Palawan, Philippines
  83. Indulge in pintxos plates on a bar-hopping evening in San Sebastian, Spain — two key words here: pintxos and bar, yay
  84. Wander until you’re lost in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Turkey — I’ve seen Grand Bazaar on tv, and visited souks in Tunisia and Dubai, a bit of a tourist trap
  85. Take an Ayurveda retreat in the central jungles of Sri Lanka
  86. Immerse yourself in Oia’s artistic community in Santorini, Greece
  87. Hunt for pirate treasure in Providencia, Colombia — pirate treasure, how fun
  88. Trek through Brazil’s bed sheets in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
  89. Explore Ireland’s ancient history in the Aran Islands in Galway Bay
  90. Sail through the valley of Tam Coc, Ninh Binh, Vietnam
  91. Go for a cocktail in Yukon, Canada’s ghost town — Dawson City
  92. Watch out for wombats in Cradle Mountain, Tazmania
  93. Stand under the bone chandeliers of Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
  94. Ski through four countries on one trip in Zermatt, Switzerland — the Matterhorn again
  95. Walk through the wild-meets-landscaped gardens of Sintra, Portugal
  96. Explore Carmelo’s quaint horse country, Uruguay
  97. Sit on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s beaches in the South of France
  98. Witness the sunset at Goðafoss, Iceland
  99. Heli-ski through Haines’ breathtaking landscapes in Alaska, USA
  100. Fly over Russia and witness the Earth’s curvature

I’ve been to 3.5 (not counting Hawaii) — London, Sydney, Matterhorn and the 0.5 is safari. TBH I don’t have a pressing desire to visit or experience all of these. Some countries are too dangerous; others like the Pacific island of Maupiti is simply too far away; some activites like scuba diving has no appeal. I still have my own travel list to work through. Actually, looking through that 2014 list, I can check off 8, which is…neither here nor there.

mm family dinner

Dinner again at mm’s parents’ place. Her mum had a return visit to the doctor’s in the morning and it’s continuing good news, so we are all very glad. I met mm near the market to go shopping for some small stuff. I gave her a jar of her favourite peanut butter that I found in our cupboards so we went to get her favourite marmalade too. Got some medicines and toiletries from a small drugstore and two fish for dinner.

chengdinner20170819

Simple, healthy food again. Lots of veg, steamed fish, bbq pork from metropol. Even the lotus root that was used to make soup was tasty. Auntie was teaching us how to select the best food from the market, she really knows good quality.

Auntie’s doctor suggested that if they wanted to go on holiday for a few days that a resort or cruise will be most suitable because of the low stress. I was telling mm a little about cruises, cruise ships and how they work. Let’s see how it goes.

Dinner was early so that the elders could start getting ready for bed early. Instead of taking the train (meaning a long walk home) i took 2 buses. Probably around the same time but air-conditioning. I was home by 9.45pm.

gary the gurnard cake


I have a busy tv watching schedule, almost all cookery programs. Masterchef Australia, My Kitchen Rules, Bake-off UK and Australia, Bake-off Crème de la Crème (the professionals), Big Family Cooking Showdown. And now to add to that, Extreme Cake Makers. I don’t usually like programs that focus on cake decoration (can’t stand either Buddy the Cake Boss or Duff Goldman) but this one from Channel 4: a) is short at only 30mins and b) showcases really awesome cake decorating skills.

It’s not just cake making, it’s real artistic flair. Seeing the sketches made by some of the cake makers is wondrous. They are able to sculpt realistic models of animals, flowers, feathers and someone even made a chandelier cake that was upside down and hanging from just a hook.

gary
© Peboryon

The one that had mum and I watching with our jaws open was an almost 5 foot long cake called Gary the Gurnard by Phil & Christine Jenson of Penzance-based Peboryon. They made the cake under commission from the Great Cornish Food store. Gary is supported by a curved metal frame made by Phil himself and actually looks like he’s swimming in front of an ocean wave. The colours really pop and it seemed like he had a personality.

I’m looking at other samples of their work and they are so amazing. A Wallace & Grommit cake factory that makes cakes, a wedding cake that seems to float in thin air, a desk-sized desk cake and, oh, Mel and Sue! They have half day beginners classes for £60 and a two day advanced class for £650. Something like Gary would probably cost in the region of £1000-2000, but the amount of expertise involved, it’s no wonder they are expensive.

big family cooking showdown

bigfamilyshowdown

I have to watch it again, but it looks…okay and very BBC-like. I’m talking about the Big Family Cooking Showdown that may or may not be a Bake-off replacement. It has a similar format–two presenters, two judges, amateur family cooks, a cosy environment. It even has Nadiya Hussein, Bake-off’s season 6 winner.


The trailer has a Saturday Kitchen meets Ellen vibe, with people looking happily cooking and dancing. Who dances while cooking? Weird. And the shoutouts don’t end there. The competition is between 2 families of 3, and takes place over 3 rounds. The first is to cook a meal for 4 people for a tenner, like Ready, Steady, Cook with inflation. [Aaaand, here’s our second James Martin shoutout.]

The next two rounds take place at the contestants’ own kitchen, with the final round called “Impress Your Neighbours” with shades of Come Dine with Me. Honestly, all these shoutouts and programs are favourites, there’s no denying it. So why not emulate them?

It all makes for a program that is safe and underwhelming. The chemistry between the presenters haven’t developed, although the Indy gives them credit:

that took a while before the public noticed [Bake-off chemistey] and it started clocking up more than 10 million viewers an episode

The second BBC prong of attack will be Britain’s Best Cook with Mary Berry and Claudia Winkleman. It may take two to beat Channel 4’s version of Bake-off. Oh, let’s not mention Mel and Sue taking over the Generation Game. Waste of their talents.

My niece once suggested that when I’m back living in the UK I should enter Bake-off. I said I won’t get very far because I’m not good with bread and pastries. The families on the Big Family Cooking Showdown do look like they know what they are doing. Both families competiting in ep 1 have their family recipes and can draw on dishes from their heritage. I can never imagine cooking with my family. We have very different styles and TBH skill levels. I cooked Christmas dinner last year with sis and she’s the only one I can imagine cooking with. Even with mm, we have different ideas and styles.

Jay Rayner recently talked about cooking with friends during a large group holiday. He’s right,

you can learn more about a friend by cooking alongside them, than through almost any other common pursuit

He talks about trustworthiness, reliability, lack of drama, attention to detail. For me, it’s simply about being on the same wavelength.

giant mango drink

giantmangodrink

Mum and I went to the warehouse outlets for a looksee. I was able to find a pair of crocs to replace the ones I’m wearing at home. It’s the last one on the shelf and I think they call it aquamarine. Considering the current one is bright green, and I’m only wearing it inside, I’m not that bothered about the colour. Pink, no. Any bright blue or green colour, okay.

On the way back to the station, I noticed a young woman with a giant cup of mango. A few steps later I saw the entrance to a small arcade, the sort that is in old buildings and a tiny bit crappy. This stall sells mango drinks, located amongst several other fast food stalls selling noodles, fishballs and the like. I ordered this one that comes in a big gulp size cup with mango juice, whipped cream, mango shaved ice and fresh mangos. The girl there says there is one full litre of mango juice inside. Mum opted for the small size but that one still had mango juice, whipped cream and fresh mango.

The mango juice tastes diluted even though the stall claims it’s not. May be it’s the type of mango they use. I wish they’d leave out the whipped cream, may be if I order it again I’ll tell them to leave it out. The fresh mango is from large mangos and was the best part of the drink.

We stayed and finished it, although we could have asked for a lid. We were going on the train so we didn’t want to (no eating and drinking on the mtr).

Good value, Large came to equivalent US$5 and small just under $4. We have a few frozen giant mangos in our fridge, we can probably make this ourselves. I’d replace the cream with ice cream, that’ll make it a proper dessert.

happy birthday, papa

westvleteren12

Today would have been Papa’s 80th birthday. We met at the foodcourt for lunch–korean food at 1/10th the price of jinjuu and the bibimbap actually had crust. The cemetery was very quiet, we were the only people visiting while we were there. Must have been papa looking out for us, our taxi driver was actually waiting at the taxi stand when we were about to leave. He claimed he was taking a break but he did let slip that he figured we would have problems getting a taxi. Smart of him.

One of my regrets is I saved up a bottle of westveleteren 12, the best beer in the world, for a special occasion and never got to share it with papa. Westvleteren has the smallest production of the Belgian Trappist monasteries and sale of this beer is limited to one crate per buyer who had to call ahead to reserve their purchase (if they get through on the phone). It’s been described as the holy grail of beer. This one treasured bottle I managed to find in Brussels five years ago during my chip- and chocwalk with my friend A.

Papa would have loved the beer. It’s dark and strong, at 10% alcohol. Rich, smoky, creamy. Tons of fruity, caramel notes–like it’s been soaked in dried fruit. It’s definitely one for sipping slowly. It’s a small 330ml bottle; but the complexity and higher alcohol content makes it more staisfying. It would have been great shared between the two of us.

Happy Birthday, Papa.

low volume hearing

nosound

Allergies have been bad. More than the usual itchiness and sneezing, it’s graduated to my eyes hurting and for the past few days, one of my ears is blocked. I’ve tried the usual methods, irrigating it and adding oil.

It’s my left ear so it’s the less dominant one. I guess I’m just an average person in peferring to listen with my right ear.

I suppose I should go to the doctor’s to have it looked at, since I’m experiencing small headaches like if I clench my jaw too tightly. I’m sort of enjoying the lower volume though, less ambient traffic sounds, and I can use it as an excuse not to talk.

lunch at jinjuu

jj22meal

Met with sis and gis for lunch at jinjuu. Korean place with ayce starters and we can choose one main dish. They gave us one of each of the starters and then we can order extra. Sort of fusion korean food: beetroot cured salmon, dumping soup, chicken skewer, grilled corn with sweet spicy sauce, kimchi arancini, grilled prawn. The salmon was too tart, too much vinegar in the cure. The dumpling was good, with a little bit of theatre as the broth was poured in from a teapot. i thought the chicken was tastless but gis liked it. I liked the corn but since they didn’t like it I ended up eating their portions so I didn’t have to order extra. The arancini and prawn were the two better starters.

For mains I chose barley bibimbap and I had may be 3 spoonfuls. The taste was okay, but nothing spectacular, underseasoned. The greatest thing about every bibimbap is the crust, and this one had zero crust. I didn’t mind that it was all vegetarian but the execution was disappointing. Sis had ramen and she said it was boring. Gis had a rice doughnut filled with bulgogi beef that she said was okay. Mum had the best main dish, of fried chicken.

Dessert was one plate of a mixture of ice cream, sorbet, and two cones. The ice cream was meh, the sorbet was okay, it was all a melting puddle when it reached our table.

For an additional charge sis and I had the 2hr freeflow drinks package. I started with a spicy kimchi mary which was a bloody mary with kimchi flavours and pepper flakes stuck to the outside of the glass. The flakes were useless and I could barely taste the kimchi. Not bad as a bloody mary. I moved to prosecco and ended up drinking quite a few glasses. They ran out of prosecco and for my last glass they gave me champagne, moët too. I liked the prosecco better.

Jinjuu is in london too and Jay Rayner described it as

glossy

and the brainchild of celebrity korean-american chef Judy Joo. It seems that neither Mr Rayner nor Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard were that impressed with the london branch.

Expensive too. Brunch for 4 people came to local$2200, or US$280. Okay, two of us added drinks but actually the drinks was the best value because we took full advantage. I don’t shy away from expensive meals, if they are good. I just don’t feel like this was value for money at all.

The silver lining I could muster is I was too full to have dinner so I can argue the cost covered meals for one whole day. Not very convincing, right?

mm family dinner

Went over to mm’s parents’ place for dinner. Her mum is looking better, more energy and alert and she’s up and walking around. They have 2 helpers now, one to take care of household chores and the other is a carer for auntie. The household helper apparently isn’t a very good cook so mm and auntie were supervising the cooking today.

Simple home cooked meal, limited by what auntie can eat. Steamed eggs, steamed pork, steamed fish, vegetables. Yes, mostly steamed but there was plenty for everyone, tasted good and everyone had a nice dinner. We opened a bottle of wine and shared with auntie’s friend. After dinner we played a game of checkers then it was time for them to get some rest.

Staying with mm tonight. Initially we thought we might chat but after showering we were too tired and went to bed.

yay, science

The spring issue of the Imperial magazine arrived in my postbox. So rare to receive an actual paper magazine nowadays. Lots of interesting reading.

you are your brain — the feature of this issue talks about how it is our brain that makes us who we are, it is

icmag42brain

the storehouse of personhood – of emotion, thought, memory – of all the things that make us the individuals we are

Several departments at IC look at how the brain works. Neuropathology looks at the structure of the brain; the Intelligent Systems and Networks group in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering studies how electric current from neuron to neuron which is how our brains process information; and the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology considers the changes in our brains when under the influence of psychedelic drugs. The research carried out by all these scientists go towards improving our knowledge of how the brain works, and more importantly, how we can better diagnose and treat brain disorders. For instance, a team at St Mary’s has developed an infra-red scanner that checks for blood clots and has a 90% accuracy in a hospital setting.

standard matter 3.0 — this article about theoretical physics and the large hadron collider at CERN is a little above my head. I’m fascinated by it, yet I always find theoretical physics (and chemistry) difficult to fully grasp.

icmag42matter

My takeaway is that there are 12 fundamental particles (including quarks and leptons) that are subject to 4 fundamental forces of the universe (eg electromagnetic). This is the Standard Model which has been accepted since the 1960s and confirmed by what the large hadron collider has found: nothing new. The concept of particle physics is so vast and so much of it is still unknown. Professor Henrique Araujo:

We know a lot about five per cent of our universe, and almost nothing about the other 95 per cent

blockchain — the price of bitcoins reached US$3500, so $100 invested in bitcoins in 2010 will be worth millions. Who was to know? Bitcoin has been lauded as the future, but the image is poor as it is the currency of choice for hackers and blackmailers. The technology behind bitcoin, blockchain, is sound and researchers point out, secure since all transactions are distributed amongst the entire network without a central server. Every computer in the network stores and authenticates the transaction in real time,

but once it is added, a transaction record is permanent and cannot be changed – it’s ‘immutable’ in blockchain-speak – because altering it would require access to millions of separate computers

Outside of the financial services industry, uses include any item or commodity that is distributed globally. There was an article in the NYT about how bananas are shipped to new york and this will be a good use of blockchain technology. At every step of the way, from the farmer who grew the banana to the ship that carried the banana to the supermarket that has the banana on its shelves, every party registers information about the banana and it makes it easy to collect and retrieve records of the banana’s production. Important if something goes wrong along the way, or someone is trying to commit fraud.


The magazine isn’t all about academics. Articles about student activities and alumni news too. Apparently alumni can purchase a lifetime membership for £40 and use all the union activities including the bar and join clubs and societies. If I’m back living in London and near South Ken I may do that. I should check out King’s alumni membership too.

hyde park relays — the biggest student race, a 5k team relay with representation from IC as well as other universities. Costumes optional. Past racers include Dave Moorcroft and Seb Coe, who helped Loughborough to victory.

the gliding club — formed in 1930, it’s the oldest gliding club in UK universities. Club secretary Amy describes the sensation when launching:

you go from 0 to 60 mph in a few seconds. And from the canopy it looks like you are going straight up into the air

I don’t even want to go parachuting but there’s something peaceful about gliding that is appealing.

tsingy de bemaraha national park

We had very tentative plans to travel later in the year, but nothing fixed. May be Japan again if we only have a week; Europe if we have longer. With mm’s mum’s health situation, those plans are probably out. I may still get to travel before the end of the year, but I’m not sure.

tsingy
© Dave Stamboulis, BBC Travel

I’ve been looking at the bbc photoessay about Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar, one of the most difficult UNESCO site to reach. First, it’s in Madagascar, already one of the world’s most remote location. Secondly, the national park is in the northwestern part of the island and accessible by a dirt road that is a muddy swamp 6 months of the year. When it is relatively dry to travel, there are still 2 rivers to cross, both crocodile-infested.

Tsingy is the local language for “the place where one cannot walk” describes the sharp limestone formations in the national park. A series of suspension bridges, steel cables, pegs and ladders together with train guides allows visitors to see the spiky formations up close. UNESCO describes this world heritage site as:

impressive ‘tsingy’ peaks and a ‘forest’ of limestone needles.

I usually do quite well in those global places I’ve visited quizzes. I don’t see this often on those list challenges and it should be. I doubt I’ll ever get a chance to go but looking at the pics is enough. Spectacular.

new look store room

edestoreroom

Mum’s friends introduced her to a part-time helper who can come once a week to help with household chores. We started with tidying the store room, aka the maid’s room that we have been using as store room. There is no ‘before’ pic because: a) I didn’t think of it and b) it was extremely horrible with stuff thrown all over the floor.

We threw away so much stuff! I’m so happy we can see the floor, albeit it’s 1960s style tiled floor. Most stuff we threw away are old or hasn’t been used for years. Organised other stuff that mum bought, put in a bag or box, and promptly forgot about it. That’s why we have so much toiletries, they were hidden in boxes and bags.

Next week, we’ll tackle the bridge and part of the kitchen.

less facebook; more reddit

As I become more and more disenfranchised about facebook (constant switch to top stories, ‘helpful’ posts I may like / friends I may want to add, same old posts I’m only marginally interested in), I only open it once a day. I think I’ve spent a total of 20mins during the past week, and most of that time was refreshing to get most recent, get rid of annoying stuff on the right column, hiding posts. Actual reading and commenting, hardly any time spent.

And as they announce that they will be adding stories to the desktop, I don’t forsee me adding it back to my browser home.

I’m back spending more time on reddit. Inc. quoted Obi-Wan when talking about how reddit isn’t as bad as everyone thinks:

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

But like the patrons inside the cantina in ep 4 or Maz Kanata’s tavern in ep 7, there is much good hidden underneath the scum and villainy. Isn’t that one of the takeaways of Star Wars? Recently, I read about good stealth trolls, who

hijack or preemptively create pernicious subreddits and turn them benign

Here’s where the term trolling means something wider on reddit. On a site like twitter, trolls are toxic. They abuse and doxx anyone they don’t like, if they think they are SJWs or simply by being a professor of classics at Cambridge. On reddit, the act of trolling is still undermining or derailing. But on alt-right, white supremist subs, trolling means taking over as a moderator and turning a hate-filled sub into one that, well, isn’t. An example is r/whites which used to be full of white supremist mumblings. After a white hat (pun intended) moderator took over, it now has posts entitled WHITE POWER showing a power generator that is white and a link to how white light can treat winter depression.

sf057paint

Here’s my contribution, a guy on the street of san francisco in a white shirt painting the outside of a house white.

climate change and the food of the future

It’s very, very hot. Climate change deniers may insist otherwise, but we are slowly and surely destroying our planet. I confess I’m also guilty of not doing as much as I can–I don’t sort my rubbish (we have no recycling collection separate from regular rubbish collection), I’ve been turning the air-con on a lot, I still eat meat.

That said, I take public transportation, I cook my own food from fresh ingredients, I try not to waste food and resources. I walk in the afternoon heat to the market before taking the shuttlebus home. It’s my reducing carbon footprint, getting exercise, and daily pokémongo activity. I’ve also been reading about how climate change affects food production and availability. Already, several food crops have been identified as being at risk:

  • coffee, chocolate, avocado — in 2016, Brazilian coffee farmers lost 90% of their crop due to drought and heat, many farmers in South American are turning to cacao. This drives cacao prices down and affects the livelihood of traditional cacao farmers in west Africa. Another knock-on effect is Californian farmers are now turning to coffee, which replaces their previous avocado crop. It’s simple economics. There’s a trend towards carob production, replacing cacao. The dessert of the future may be carob based
  • wine — as the world becomes warmer, vineyards will move closer to the poles. UK, Canada, China may be the wine producing countries of the future
  • honey and maple syrup — both very fickle products and at risk with changing climates
  • seafood — overfishing and pollution are two important factors in seafood production; as sea levels rise the type and location of seafood will change
  • sea vegetables — seaweed, kelp and sea vegetables may be the food of the future, they are hardly in difficult water conditions, absorbing nitrogen from waste
  • red meat — will become increasing rare and expensive, alternate protein meat sources will need to be found

Artist Allie West initiated a project to bring to life a possible dinner party of the future:

visualizes the possible future effects of climate change on our food system

All images below © Allie West, Heami Lee, C.C. Buckley, and Rebecca Bartoshesky.

seafood

The starter will be from the sea. Mussels and seaweed are both easy to grow and can survive in different conditions.

main

There will be no meat for main, because of rarity and price. Instead, it will be foraged vegetables such as burdock and mushrooms.

dessert

As mentioned above, carob will replace chocolate.

I don’t mind all these food. I love shellfish and can’t get enough of sea vegetables like samphire. I’ve had carob before, and although I’m not so keen, I’m okay with it taking a larger part of our diet in place of chocolate. But it’s not about me changing my palette to carob, or eating more oysters and mussels. Those are #firstworldproblems compared with actual suffering in regions that have been ravished by drought, or the refugees fleeing to Europe because They.Have.No.Food.

President Obama, writing about food and climate change says he will devote time to create a global network of activists to tackle climate change. But he also says he wants everyone to be involved–young people, families, people in developed nations and in developing nations. Make what we do on a daily basis matter:

It’s millions of decisions that are being made individually that end up having as much impact as anything

two contests

A couple of contest winners, can’t be more different.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

I can’t get into the natgo website, but the Atlantic has a great gallery. I’m also including the photographers’ captions.

natgopowernature
© Sergio Tapiro Velasco, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017

The Power of Nature – Grand Prize and 1st Prize Nature Category. Powerful eruption of Colima Volcano in Mexico on December 13th, 2015. That night, the weather was dry and cold, friction of ash particles generated a big lightning rod of about 600 meters that connected ash and volcano, illuminating the dark scene. In last part of 2015, this volcano showed a lot of eruptive activity with ash explosions that raised 2-3 km above the crater. Most of the night explosions produced incandescent rock falls and lightning not bigger than 100 meters in average.

Or as kottke called it, Mount Doom.

A couple of others caught my eye.

natgoforest
© Yutaka Takafuji, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017

Forest of the Fairy – Honorable mention, Nature. This photograph was taken in the evening hours of a humid early summer day in the forest of a small remote village in the Tamba area of Japan. It beautifully captures the magical atmosphere of princess fireflies carpeting a stairway leading to a small shrine revered by the local people.

I love this, dream-like and surreal.

natgotrain
© Moin Ahmed, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017

The Man’s Stare – Honorable mention, People. The photo was taken on July 23rd 2016 at Tongi Railway Station in Gazipur, Bangladesh. I was there taking photos and waiting for a moment. A train from Dhaka toward another district stopped at the platform for 5 minutes for lifting passengers. It was raining a lot. Suddenly I found a pair of curious eyes looking at me through the window and on his left an umbrella has been put to protect from the rain. I got the moment.

This is almost like a painting.


The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

This is for the WORST opening sentence. Not in a real novel, but participants try to write the worst opening line. Kat Russo was the winner for:

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.

Pam Tallmann, in the Crime/Detective category:

As hard-boiled detective Max Baxter ate his soft-boiled egg, he thought about the gorgeous dame he’d found last night lying in a pool of her own blood—it being inconvenient to lie in a pool of someone else’s blood—and wondered how she liked her eggs.

They even have a Purple Prose category. Tyson Canale won with:

A sweaty Hector threw off his shirt, passion burning, skin glistening, his deodorant congealed to little chunks ensnared among the matted jungle of his armpits like so many crumbles of pungent blue cheese over a bed of sprouts, moistened with a dressing of perspiration, and lustily asked, “Are you as hungry as I am?” to the confused busboy.

ravenhearst

ravenhearst1

I’ve spent the past few days playing the old Ravenhearst game. I got the original ten years ago, when for a short while I subscribed to monthly games. I still have 4 credits leftover at big fish games so I redeemed a credit for the sequel. And then they had a sale so I got #3 and #4.

I like playing these hidden object games on the mba, not so much on the ipad. Not merely because the screen is bigger so the great graphics can be seen better. There are too many ads and restrictions for the ipad versions–they make you wait for hours or even a day to replenish lives, or give hints, or other in-game features. There are no distractions or in-game cash grab for the mac games. The only problem is the mba heats up like crazy with these flash games. I can ignore it, but I make myself stop and logout after a while.

The first Ravenhearst game is pretty simple: mostly hidden objects with a few puzzles and solving the crime by completing jigsaw puzzles. Straight-forward gameplay and the puzzles are interesting. I didn’t pay that much attention to the diary entries that are supposed to be central to solving the crime; just finding the objects and finishing the crime computer jigsaw puzzles moved the game forward. The only notes I had to make was to remember the location of various keys in the different rooms.

ravenhearst2

Ravenhearst #2, or Return to Ravenhearst, is more sophisticated. Still hidden objects, but the crime and puzzle-solving elements taking more centre stage. Lots of rooms and areas to explore, I almost had to draw a map to remember all the locations; I’d go down to a basement and there is an entire street with shops and, hey, a dark cave. It’s fun to explore, and the puzzles were varied and challenging. One of my favourite games.

I’ve just started #3, Escape from Ravenhearst. It’s very different and I’m not 100% liking it. The hidden object element is now morphing objects: there’s no list of objects to find, we have to identify random objects that change form. After a couple of scenes, I have the hang of it and find that they are on par with traditional hidden objects. What I have trouble with, is the story and gameplay. As in #2, there are lots of different locations, some hidden, and it’s part of the puzzle to open up a new area. The problem with #3 is, I’ve found myself finishing a puzzle and then I don’t know where to go or do next. No new areas, no new clues.

The second complaint is the puzzles, they are not obvious. With the previous games, I could sense what I need to do to solve the puzzle. With #3, I’d open up a scene and have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. Give an example, in #2 there was a puzzle where I had to switch numbers on a dial so they were in the right order; there was also a whack-a-mole game and I figured out hitting red moles took away points. In #3, I zoomed into a dial that had 3 push levers and there’s nothing to tell me what I should be aiming to do. I’m also having to constantly write down notes of random numbers and letters I’m seeing, they aren’t stored in the casebook and there are no clues about where they may be used. Way, way too obscure. I don’t want to read through the walkthrough constantly, but that’s what I have been doing.

I’m only around halfway done with #3 and reading the reviews make me go ‘hmm’ because the storyline is dark. The locations include a creepy hospital, a horrible house and a mental institution. Not sunshine and flowers this one. There’s always been a supernatural element to the series but in addition to the macabre twist the ghosts who appear in #3 are not helpful, all they say are “don’t come here, you’re in danger!” Duh, yes. That’s why I’m playing the game, do they want me to hit the quit button? I’ll work on finishing it slowly.