best of: 2017 pictures

best of: 2017

I uploaded 2,575 pics to flickr during 2017, compared with around 1,500 in 2016 and 3,500 in 2015. The ANZ cruise-to-nowhere and 2 trips to japan provided all of the worthy top 10 pics. Honestly, I think it’s the scenery and nothing to do with my skill as a photographer.

Scroll through the set using the arrows on the left and right of the image. I have:

  • a mountain–Fuji
  • a lake–the champagne pool at wai-o-tapu geothermal park
  • a garden–kenrokuen in kanazawa, one of japan’s three great gardens
  • two houses–one at suganuma near shirakawa-go and the other at hobbiton
  • a lantern–at the historic higashi chaya tea house district in kanazawa
  • a couple of sculptures–one at the hakone open air museum and the other at waiheke island outside auckland
  • wine tasting at waiheke island
  • a snap of the tugboat Hastings at the bow of our stricken cruiseship, preparing to tow us back to port

No homemade food, because it’s already a struggle trying to figure out what to cook for everyday meals, I barely experimented and probably baked just a handful times.

family morning, bbmm afternoon

Although we said goodbye to my cousin’s family yesterday, we saw them again when mum convinced me to join them to visit our grandparents and great-grandmothers at the cemetery. We had an interesting time telling the kids about their great- and great-great-grandparents. My great-aunt (my grandpa’s sister) is still alive, and the kids know her, having gone to visit her in RI several times–they’re only like 4hrs’ drive away. So it was easier to have them relate to her.

They went back to their hotel for other appointments afterwards, this time it was hugging them goodbye for real, they’re flying home tomorrow, sniff. Mum and I had lunch at the foodcourt and she went shopping while I met up with mm. We slowly and aimlessly walked around, covering the flower market, the fruit market, the street that had fish (for pets) shops, and then looking for a birthday card for one of her family friends. It’s surprisingly hard to find cards nowadays and the place we ended up finding a suitable one was at the Catholic shop at one of the old buildings.

tap02

There was still time before she had to go to dinner with her folks, so we headed to a craft beer place I saw a while ago. They had a selection of around 20 on tap. I had one called torikage birukatsugan, apparently named after a ninja leader. It’s a black IPA made with lots of hops and dark malts and is roasty and bitter but not overpowering. She had a blueberry fruit beer that is very different from mine–the scent of blueberries come through and it’s very refreshing without being tart.

Nice morning and afternoon. I was home by 6pm to cook dinner.

And, the modem failed. All the lights went off except the power one, which blinked so sporadically and weakly that I could barely see it. I even changed to another wallplug with no success. Called in and luckily the technician will come tomorrow. Meanwhile, I can tether.

big family outing

Big family outing day. Early start, everyone met at the train station to go take the cable car up to the big buddha. The cable car was very crowded but since there were 10 of us, we had our own. The journey was long, around 20-25mins, with really good views. I’d dismissed the cable car as a touristy gimmick but was as pleasantly surprised as when I went on it for the first time a few weeks ago.

2017xmas060buddha

We walked along the shopping village, which my cousin A described as being like in Disney but in a good way. For some odd reason, we had a few free coupons for snacks at specified restaurants, including an ice cream place so the kids could get cones. Walked to the end of the village towards the big buddha. I still don’t know what record it holds, largest outdoor sitting buddha with a raised hand? My cousins and the kids walked up to the top while I went to explore possible lunch places.

2017xmas085cow

We saw several feral cows. They were just laying there on the grass enjoying the sun, people were going up close taking selfies and petting them and they didn’t seem bothered. My nieces were fascinated and J said it’s the best thing she’s seen all trip. I told them the story, that they are descended from farm animals that were abandoned. But looking at them, they don’t seem to be starved or suffering. If anything, helping with tourism.

2017xmas121taio

Vegetarian lunch at the temple starts at 1.30pm so we decided to go elsewhere. I ran ahead to check the bus stop and found the one to the fishing village just about to depart. The extremely nice stationmistress said she’ll hold it for me so I ran back to the group to tell them and got mum, my two aunts and my uncle (all retirees) to run for the bus, hahaha. Only 10mins to the fishing village with stilted houses. Not too crowded on a weekday, so a pleasant walk exploring the houses and shops. Lunch was at my “usual” deck café where we had the entire upper deck. Just pizza, fish cakes and soft drinks. But the view, wow, still spectacular even after so many visits.

We lucked out on the bus again, only 5mins’ wait back to the cable car. But the return trip had a 30min queue. My nieces were taking time lapse videos but for some reason mine didn’t work, sigh.

Dinner was buffet at the hotel restaurant. Really nice and everyone had a great time.

sushi train, escape room

Met sis, gis, my cousin and his kids for lunch at a sushi restaurant sis suggested. It used to be a conveyor belt restaurant, but now it’s a sushi train. We order via a tablet, the food is prepared in the kitchen and sent to us on a miniature train. We take the plate and push a button to send the empty train back. It’s very, very cool. Much better than conveyor belt because the food is fresher and we can actually pick what we want instead of sitting around hoping for something good to arrive. The kids loved it.

2017xmas042lost 2017xmas043lost

After lunch, sis had booked us all to go to an escape room game at a place called Lost. The coolness of the day continued. We played a game called Alcatraz, where we were split into 3 teams and locked in 3 cells: Red, Green & Blue. We had to work together, solve puzzles and escape from the cells. The puzzles, in retrospect, were pretty straightforward, but in the moment when everything was unknown and we were all trying to scream at each other, it felt more stressed. Plus there’s always the time limit–45mins. We all managed to escape our cells but ran out of time to solve the last puzzle to escape from the room itself. A huge amount of fun and something I’d do again in a heartbeat. The kids say it’s one of the best they’ve played.

Everyone had separate plans so I ended up sitting in a Mcdonalds for 2hrs drinking one small coke zero and reading on my ipad. This branch is pretty good, not very crowded. I was waiting for mm to finish to meet her to help her with shopping. Her family is having a gathering this weekend and doing a New Year’s version of Christmas Secret Santa. The budget is local$200, but the difficulty is the gift has to be suitable for her parents (in their 70s) as well as her nieces and nephew (teen and pre-teen). I gave her a magnetic noughts-and-crosses game I’d originally bought for my nieces and she got a box of nice biscuits and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. Under budget too.

We weren’t that hungry so dinner was just noodles. Went to HMV to have a beer and chat for a bit until time to go home.

lisa os

oslisa

Something to look forward to in 2018. The Computer History Museum will be releasing the source code of the legendary Lisa operating system next year, free of charge, for all the play with and sigh nostalgically at the black & white windows that are the precursor to Mac OS.

The story is that in 1979 Steve Jobs visited the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center to check out mouse-driven graphical interfaces. Xerox didn’t know what to do with the technology and allowed Apple engineers to play with it for three days, and the Lisa OS was created based on what they learned at Xerox. Lisa, named after Jobs’ daughter, was very expensive and wasn’t a success, selling only about 100,000 units. Jobs was removed from the Lisa team and placed in the Macintosh team and, well, the rest is history. I’m typing this post on a computer that can trace its tech origins to those three days at Xerox PARC.

Legend is that Bill Gates also visited Xerox PARC and from the visit grew Windows. Jobs accused Gates of stealing from Apple, to which Gates replied:

I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.

I think it’ll be fun to have old Lisa and Mac OS to play with. So many of the menu items and GUI are still relevant today.

lazy day and a still-funny video

It’s Boxing Day and I’m so glad I have no plans. Originally the family was going to do something like an outing but the kids are too tired and they made the decision to take a resting day to shore up energy for the rest of their trip. Very wise. I’m tired and I’m not jetlagged. I spent the day reading, playing candy crush and browsing reddit. Even cooking lunch and dinner were lazy, leftover jobs and I managed to scrounge around and find suitable fresh veg.

This is from 2013, but I was watching it again and it still gave me a big laugh. Background, in May 2013 Microsoft had a one of the worst marketing disasters ever when they launched the Xbox One, which was described by business insider as “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.” The Xbox One was supposed to be the follow up to the hugely successful Xbox 360 but they included features that instantly turned customers away:

  • the console had to be constantly connected to the internet because it needed to be verified every 24hrs and must be online to play
  • all games must be installed to the hard drive, and then the disk will become useless
  • cannot re-use or re-sell the game disks, confusing rules about sharing games with friends
  • $500 price point, $100 more expensive than its rival the PS4

Whoever at Sony came up with the “official playstation used game instructional video” that trolled Microsoft so hard is legendary. 22 seconds of pure genius. It’s almost 5 years old and still funny.

family christmas

Herding cats. I don’t recommend doing it. Still, it was a reasonably enjoyable day. And I don’t remember spending christmas day with so many family members.

Met the extended family and took them via the bus to Middle Island. At least my cousins and their kids were smart, followed directions and it was a joy to see them take in everything. The weather was brilliant, and the 15min walk from the bus stop to the boat pier was really, really nice.

Sis, Rob and Gis had gone there early to get a table, and the food was good as always. I was in charge of the barbeque and grabbed the kids to help me. There was way too much food and we took some away with us.

2017xmas017rocks

Gis took the kids to the beach to play after lunch. So much fun with just sand and rocks. When I joined them we started building rock stacks and ended up with a village. Would have been nice to see the faces on the next set of people to visit the beach.

2017xmas026peak

Braved the crowds and went up to the Peak, had to split the group up into 3 taxis, making sure there’s at least one person in each that knows what they’re doing. A friendly taxi driver in Sis’ group told them that we should get the Madam Tussaud’s combo to skip the peak tram line, which probably saved us 1-2hrs because the queue was horrendous. The waxworks were quite interesting actually, there were movie stars, sports stars, a bunch of unknown K-pop singers and the biggest queue was for President Obama.

I did a bit of playing around on HDR on photoshop, which is why the pic above looks very processed. Uncle A is a big fan of lightroom and I see him play around with it on his phone whenever he takes a group pic. I tend to edit on the mba; on the iphone I just used the camera roll editing tool but I’ll start using either lightroom or photoshop cc.

By the time we escaped from the peak, everyone was tired and still full from lunch. Dinner was wonton noodles and steamed egg custard at the old places. Lots of nostalgia.

bbmm christmas eve

It doesn’t feel like Christmas. I turn around and it’s Christmas Eve already. We have zero decorations at home and only managed to get gifts for my cousin’s family yesterday at the last minute.

Met mm in the afternoon for a simple walk at the fishing village she can reach by ferry. I took the train and walked 10mins. We walked to the end of the promenade, where the shrine is, then back. Played a little pokemon go, some new gen 3 came out.

leiyuemun11sunset

Took the ferry back to her place and it was perfect timing to catch the sunset. Found a hotpot restaurant nearby with unlimited food and they had beer too. Not a huge selection, but suited us. The small selection is probably why we were able to walk-in at 6.30pm.

I was going to take the bus home but mm said she’d drive me. Which involved getting the emergency mechanic out to jump start the car, the battery is so dead that even the doors couldn’t open. We drove to a nearby dessert place but decided against switching off the car so I went and got takeaway dessert. We ate in the car at the park near me, still with the car idling. Hopefully the drive recharges the batteries.

family visit

My aunt L, cousin E and his family from Long Island–his wife A and kids K, M, J–arrived for a visit. I haven’t seen them since I visited them in 2016, and aside from my aunt and cousin, the others had never visited. We’ve been planning and organising lots of stuff to do with them.

Dinner tonight with the whole group at the traditional restaurant where my grandparents first took us. Poor kids, they’re so jetlagged. Little J, who is only 10, spent the entire dinner sleeping in A’s arms.

2017xmas006lights

The eldest, K, who is in college, wasn’t jetlagged so after dinner we took her and auntie L on a whirlwind tour to see the Christmas lights. Very crowded but pretty. Within about 2hrs we took in the harbourfront, Peninsula hotel, the star ferry and lights at Central. Not too shabby for a night’s work.

winter solstice

solstice

Happy Winter Solstice! Supposed to be a traditional family day but it was just a normal day for us. I did make duck breast and a warm quinoa salad for dinner instead of eating leftovers.

It’s the shortest day of the year and the day that marks the beginning of winter. Here’s an oddly satisfying video of two people removing a huge amount of snow from a roof in Nagano prefecture. It’s more than winter in northern Japan, the Tateyama-Kurobe pass is closed and they’ve had winter weather for a while now.

thai rice whisky

We booked and paid for our running away trip to Bangkok in January so it’s time to start putting together some research. Bangkok is an easy city to visit and we know roughly what we want to do already–markets including weekend markets, floating markets, the train market; poking around up and down the river, Ayatthaya if we have time, massage, street food, rooftop bars.

laokhao

mm asked me if Thailand has whisky and I said I don’t think so. Someone did a rundown of alcohol found in Thailand and the selection seems dismal. In terms of locally produced alcohols, it’s beer, some sort of rum, and lao khao which is made from rice. A description of the taste:

initial taste is sharp and sweet though soon the punch of alcohol with a hint of diesel kicks in, burning the throat and filling the nostrils…The burn lasted far longer than should be acceptable and I must admit that I didn’t love the bitter aftertaste.

It’s traditionally made in villages and is a working class drink. An excerpt from chef Andy Ricker’s book The Drinking Food of Thailand:

if you’re making three hundred baht (about nine dollars) a day toiling for twelve hours in the rice fields, you come home not only eager for a drink but also eager for that drink to be strong and cheap. Two bottles of lao khao cost about 130 baht and will get two guys drunk. Two similar-size bottles of beer cost about the same and will get no guys drunk.

Basically, it’s Thailand’s version of moonshine. I can imagine how it tastes–bold, strong and you can feel it going all the way down your throat. It’s made from a starter yeast cake, containing aromatics such as chillis, lemongrass, galangal as well as remnants from previous batches of yeast cakes. Not unlike sourdough starters where each batch contains parents, grandparents, great-grandparents of an aged original product. The cakes are dried then mixed with steamed sticky rice and water to make the beer. Fermentation takes 5-8 days then distilled. In the distillery in Baan Mai that Ricker visited, the distillate is heated over wood fires which gives a subtle smoky flavour. The short fermentation period and lack of aging means the product doesn’t have time to mellow and its edges smoothed out.

It’s not the most refined liquor and is usually drunk with soda water, coke or juice. It’s 2/3rd of all alcohol consumed in Thailand and is apparently very easy to get drunk with it. Alcohol content around 30-40% so it needs to be treated with respect. We should be able to find this at local shops. Probably will get a small bottle and we’ll make sure to have it after lining our stomachs with food beforehand.

turkey->bacon->breakfast

Went to the supermarket to get turkey. Definitely dwindling supplies, most of the ones available are 17-18 pounds. Ovens are small here, so it’s not a surprise that the smaller ones go first. After digging around, I unearthed one that is 14 pounds. Local$360 or £35, not cheap but half the price of the cooked version. Next to it in the freezer cabinet, sausagemeat for stuffing which I passed on. Looked anaemic and expensive too. I did splash out on streaky bacon. None of the fake ham-like bacon normally available. For the purpose of roasting turkey, American bacon will be better than British back bacon but I’m glad I got Waitrose brand.

britishbfast

Talking about bacon, here’s a nice article about full breakfasts in the UK and Ireland, which talks about how different breakfasts reflect their regional origins. All delicious. In England there is fried bread in addition to the full English, nomnomnom. Haggis in Scotland. Potato farls, soda bread, black and/or white pudding in Ireland. In Wales there’ll be the laverbread (not lava bread in the image).

In addition to the laver/lava bread confusion, there’s another HUGE mistake in the image. There’s a bottle of “tomato sauce” in the centre when everyone knows it should be BROWN sauce. Did a non-British person draw this?

the last jedi

lastjedi

I saw The Last Jedi on the first day it came out. My initial reaction was wow, it’s brilliant. Hard to articulate emotions or responses because I was trying to absorb it all.

Second viewing, and I was able to pick out specific scenes, dialogue and action. I still couldn’t absorb everything.

There must be a pavlovian response, because my entire body and mind reacted to the logo, the first bar of the music, and the scroll. There were other trigger points during the next 153 minutes that evoked similar visceral responses. Someone said something; someone did something; a certain scene or shot appeared. The response was duller the second time, because I knew what was happening.

My overall impression, it’s quite Empire like, not only because it’s the middle one of a trilogy, but: a) it’s quite personal and b) the MCs spend the film separated in different places. I thought Kelly Marie Tran as Rose was the standout, not only of the new characters, but of the entire cast. Laura Dern did a good job as Holdo but I didn’t think the character was needed. Benicio del Toro was intriguing. Of the ep7 characters, all the new generation actors did a fantastic job, I followed their progress–rooting for them, being frustrated at and for them, crossed my fingers for them, went on their journeys with them. Mark Hamill acted his socks off and Carrie Fisher was so natural as Leia. Can’t help but have a lump in my throat every time she appeared on screen.

Spoilers from this point, and apologies that there’s not much logic to my thoughts.



Skellig Michael is so beautiful it takes your breath away and it’s the perfect setting for the location of Dagobah v2.0 because of how different the two planets look. Ahch-To is barren and yet as Rey sees in her first Jedi lesson, there is life and death and life again. And we learn the first lesson with her. The Force is around and inside all of us, it’s an energy not just a power that can be gained to do party tricks like lift rocks. And not due to some stupid midichlorian count ridiculousness. The prequels suggested genetics play a big part in acquiring the Force, even though we don’t get any explanation of, say, Obi-Wan’s or Yoda’s parentage. Now we learn that no, that’s not entirely true. A Nobody from Nowhere like Rey (and the broom boy at the end) can also be strong with the Force. When mm asked me about it at the end of the film, I explained it in terms of Harry Potter, which she is more familiar with. Hermione’s parents are muggles and she’s both talented and powerful whereas Ron, with his long Weasley heritage, isn’t automatically born a great wizard.

Luke, in spite of his experience and age, hasn’t changed a whole lot. He’s still whiny and full of self-pity. It’s irritating to hear him say “go away” to Rey one more time. Lucky for him, Yoda is still around to be the voice of reason. With a few sharp words and a few sharp prods he admonishes Luke. Keeping the sacred texts sacred for no good reason, riveting reading they are not. Failure is a part of learning. And when he says, “We are what they grow beyond” it ties in with one of the two biggest messages of Last Jedi: change and renewal. Kylo Ren says it in many ways too: let the past die, kill it, time for something new. GQ‘s review:

This is The Last Jedi’s most brilliant subversion of The Empire Strikes Back, and the moment when it severs ties with the Chosen One narrative that has driven Star Wars since the very beginning.

And that’s why the film is called The Last Jedi. Luke is the last of the old Jedi tradition, and Rey and others will become new Jedi or create a new Jedi-like entity. I think of it as being like Buffy‘s last episode. Instead of one girl in each generation who has the burden of being the slayer, all the Potentials are activated so there will be many, many slayers. The way things work, the universe, everything will be new and different.

But is Luke really gone? I doubt it. If he’s as powerful as we know he is, and also with the way he physically fades away with the tell-tale flutter of his robe, a reasonable explanation is he will return as a Jedi ghost like Yoda and Obi-Wan. He all but assured us of that, his last words to Leia:

No one’s ever really gone.

And to Kylo Ren, sounding just like Han:

See you around, kid.

So we have a good foundation to build on for ep9 and the various spinoff films to come. Even though the entire surviving Resistance can fit comfortably into the Falcon, they will rise again and ignite the spark that Leia talks about again and again.

What about the dark side?

I didn’t see Snoke’s end coming and it took the second viewing to fully appreciate where Kylo Ren is coming from. Forget Snoke, forget Vader, forget the Skywalker/Solo legacy. He’s going to dictate his own future his own way. Well, he wants Rey in with him, but after rejecting him multiple times and finally, symbolically, closing the Falcon‘s door on him, he should learn that it’ll never happen. His character development has been pretty outstanding and it’s time to stop the “bad guy who has good in him” trope and make him a worthy villain. There’s still the power struggle with Hux, and I’d like to see the fabled Knights of Ren make an appearance next.

The battle betwen good and evil will be epic because the other biggest mesage of the film is: balance. The more powerful Light or Dark grows, there will be an equally powerful counter growing to balance it out. That isn’t always addressed in literature or film. Good always wins, and evil is always banished forever. Isn’t Balance a better target because many books and films are about “good turning into bad because there’s no counterbalance.”

Jumping around, sad about the demise of Phasma, she had so much buzz. Not much hope that she can be revived, falling into a huge ball of fire like that. I read a review that questioned the entire exercise of hiring Gwendoline Christie and the most we get to see is one eye. She’s destined to be the Boba Fett of this trilogy.

Sad also about Holdo, but there are some commenters that say it’s a waste of a new character. While an act of heroism is needed, why not have Admiral Ackbar be the one? He’s been with us for so long. Whatever the opinion about Holdo, there is absolutely no question that the scene of the cruiser smashing into Snoke’s ship at light speed is a masterstroke of cinematography. The Atlantic:

Using big ships to crash into other ones is a trope of Star Wars space battles…So: Viewers saw this coming, perhaps shortly before General Hux did. But they didn’t see coming just how beautiful it would look and sound.

The use of slow motion, black and white, and the utter silence. The standout shot for me.

Other random thoughts:

  • love the porgs and the caretakers on Ahch-To; fathiers on Canto Bright are a good idea but the CGI too obvious and they seem fake; meh about the crystal critters on Crait
  • not sure what the point is of Luke milking those lounging creatures then drinking the milk. To show his routine, as Rey says, he’s not busy. To try to shock her? A callback to the blue milk we first saw him drink when he was still living with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine?
  • Rey getting sucked into the black hole that symbolises the dark side and confronting her darkest fears is exactly the same as Luke going into the cave at Dagobah
  • “I’m holding for General Hugs” — the subtitles say “Hugs” and even if it’s creative licence from the subtitlers it’s great
  • Leia surviving space and floating back to the cruiser defies all logic and yes, I know they are trying to say it’s the Force
  • rebel cruiser running away from first order fleet to stay out of canon range before running out of fuel sounds almost like a joke
  • Canto Bright is too contrived, our first look at the casino and the music sounds a little like the Cantina but it all falls short
  • R2D2 being crafty and playing Leia’s message from all those years ago to Luke
  • Crait is very cool, red clay underneath a salt crust
  • how did Rey get from Snoke’s ship to the Falcon in time to lure the First Order fighters away? Anyway, love love love when Finn says, “Oooh, they HATE that ship”
  • “I changed my hair” — cry
  • “lifting rocks”
  • it was more obvious on subsequent watching that it’s Luke’s projection that is fighting against Kylo Ren, I didn’t catch Luke’s shoes twisting on the ground and no red footprints first time
  • nobody said “I have a bad feeling about this”

Last words? I don’t have any myself. I’ll borrow from a redditor who described himself as a jaded fan:

I have always maintained that a movie isnt good unless you can leave from it with something changed within you. And looking back, there was more meaning in this movie than I would have ever given it credit for going into it. Was it a good story? It was alright. Was it perfect? In no way. But it did its job. It took a jaded fan, broke his heart and rebuilt it with new hope. It gave me a different perspective on my life, and the changes I’ve made since I was that 6yo kid first watching Star Wars. And it showed me that its ok to feel that way, too…but to never forget why.

And I hope I dont.

“It’s not about fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”

bbmm accidental whisky tasting

Went out for haircut then met mm, our plan was to go to the expo. Ha! Talk about best laid plans of mice and men.

We saw a whisky shop and the rest of the day was shot.

whisky20171218

We were just browsing and then got chatting with the gentleman who worked there. They had samples for tasting, like HP12, Glenfarclas 105, Ardbeg Corryvrekan. Then as we talked more and tasted more, he introduced us to Aberlour a’bunadh, Glengoyne and several different ages of Glenfarclas, which was what we were interested in. He also gvae us several independent bottlers samples of Mortlach, an islay blend that was so fantastic, and one from cambeltown that I can’t remember the name.

The one independent bottler he recommded for daily drinking was Mcdonald’s Ben Nevis which was a special edition to celebrate Ben Nevis’ 185th year and the whisky was made in a way that attempted to recreated the traditional taste. NAS and apparently only 5 years old but tasted richer, with notes of dried fruit and subtle peat. Ben Nevis was bought by Nikka in 1989, who had been purchasing grain and malt from the distillery for years. Normal Ben Nevis uses the distinctive NIkka bottle but Mcdonald’s follows a more traditional model.

And finally, he brought out the big guns. We asked him which were his favourites and he went to the back and brought out a few bottles, saying let’s try sherry casks. The Glengoyne 21 (£110) we tasted already, Glendronach 21 Parliament (£115), and The Macallan 10 cask strength that is no longer available and sometimes available at auctions for over £500. He has it for almost £700. For the same price, there’s a 41 year old speyside whisky (can’t remember distillery) and he only has 3 bottles left.

We were tempted by the Macallan 10 and the 41 year old, but decided to think about it first. I did end up getting a bottle of the Mcdonald’s Ben Nevis.

Oh, he has Ardbeg Alligator, Rollercoaster and Supernova too, but I didn’t see Galileo. I need to get that Alligator.

By the time we left the shop it was too late to go to the expo. We had a quick dinner and went home.

you don’t take a photograph; you ask quietly to borrow it

You don’t take a photograph. You ask quietly to borrow it — Unknown

A couple of photography related topics.

kurvdcover

First, this universal lens cap currently available on kickstarter. US$30 each, but one free if the campaign is shared on social media, making it $15 each. It’s a stretchable material that covers the entire lens and is supposed to be waterproof, dirtproof and shatterproof. It can completely cover a small lens which does give it more protection.

A generic 77m replacement lens cover is $4.99 on amazon, so does the kurvd cover justify being three times the price? I’m attracted to it being able to cover more of the lens than just the cover and the plastic material helps if the lens is dropped on a hard surface. The problem with these small accessories is they’re not too expensive and it’s easy to spend money on them.

As a distraction, here’s the most popular photo from flickr’s top 25 photos of 2017, say goodbye…” by Iwona Podlasinska. There are also various themed top photos like architecture, landscape, sports as well as top photos from countries like Canada and India.

say goodbye...

According to fastcompany, the photos were initially picked based on how often an image was viewed, shared or bookmarked but human editors had the final say. Although over 50% of photos uploaded on flickr were taken by an iPhone, all of the top 25 were taken using a conventional camera. What struck me about some of the photos that made the top 25 lists, is how artificial some of them are. Not to knock the photogrpher’s skill, but it seemed that Lightroom skills were more important than framing, lighting and composition.

thank you, @mrdavidwhitley

farageskint

This was on twitter and too good to pass up. Background: Nigel Farage says he’s skint. Yes, the Nigel Farage who lives in a £4m house in Chelsea, and draws a £90,000+expenses salary as an MEP. That the ultimate Brexiter is an MEP is an oxymoron in the extreme. Anyway, this is the tweetstorm thread from David Whitley.

Or to read on this page, thanks to spooler for storifying it:

I hope his boiler breaks down.

I hope he loses his car key, and getting it replaced is a costly bureaucratic nightmare.

I hope the delivery he was waiting for arrives when he’s at the sorting office picking up the delivery he missed two days ago.

I hope his favourite pub gets turned into a Zizzi.

I hope his bank makes him change his online banking password to something he’ll never remember, and he has to go through a needlessly complicated reset password procedure every time he tries to log on.

I hope he goes to a toilet in a shopping centre, has a shit, then realises there’s no toilet paper.

I hope he puts a washload on, forgets about it for two days, and when he finally opens the machine all his clothes have attained a permanently damp smell.

I hope he has to spend a day repeatedly going back to B&Q.

I hope he gets home hungry, puts a ready meal in the oven while he has a shower, then comes back downstairs 25 minutes later to find he didn’t turn the oven on.

I hope the chip in his passport breaks, so he has to stand in a queue every time rather than going through the e-gates.

I hope he drops his phone in the urinal, leading to it only working intermittently, but being fine when he takes it into the phone shop to see if he can replace it for free under contract.

I hope he gets a cotton bud stuck in his ear while trying to dewax it, then has to explain it to a nurse who keeps saying: “You do know it specifically says not to do that on the box, don’t you?”

I hope he spills a glass of red wine on his carpet, then when frantically trying to clean it, knocks the table, sending the rest of the bottle onto another bit of the carpet.

I hope, while wrapping presents, he slightly misjudges the amount of wrapping paper needed, and has to start over again. Then, when there’s one present left, to run out of wrapping paper.

I hope he’s horrifically hungover and gets stuck in traffic with a really chatty taxi driver who just won’t take the hint.

I hope Windows 10 does a massive update on his computer when he’s trying to print out tickets at the last minute.

I hope he’s away for bin day after Christmas, and his neighbours don’t put his bin out for him.

I hope his favourite Quality Street is discontinued.

I hope his hotel room has really inadequate curtains, and there’s a streetlamp directly outside.

I hope there’s a little icon at the top of his phone, indicating that he has new messages, but he never has any new messages and doesn’t know how to make the icon go away.

I hope he has to wait in all day for an electrician, and when the electrician finally arrives, he doesn’t have the part needed and it’s too late to go and buy one.

I hope he loses the pub quiz by one point, following an answer that is technically correct, but the quizmaster won’t allow it because it’s not what he’s got written down.

I hope he changes mobile phone service provider to save £5 a month, then realises the reception is really poor in all but the least used room in his house.

I hope he orders a lot of furniture from John Lewis that he thinks will be delivered ready-assembled, but actually requires a whole weekend of flat pack self-assembly.

I hope he cuts his lawnmower cable while mowing the lawn, spends £75 on getting an electrician to repair it, then immediately cuts it again in a different place within three minutes of restarting lawnmowing duties.

I hope he gets a document that’s slightly too big for the drawer in the filing cabinet it belongs in, meaning he has to change his entire filing system to accommodate it.

I hope his credit card company blocks his card as a precautionary measure every time he tries to use it abroad, even though he repeatedly tells them he spends a lot of time abroad for work.

I hope all the chargers for his electrical devices require slightly different connections.

I hope the alarm on his phone has failed to go off on at least two occasions, so that he’s now eternally paranoid about it not working, and can never get to sleep when he’s got an early start the next day.

I hope all supermarkets remove his favourite sandwich from their Meal Deal.

I hope every time he fills in a passport application form, he absent-mindedly puts the current year instead of his year of birth, then has to go back to the Post Office the next day to get another form.

polar city books

polarcitycover

I finished the Deverry series, will write up my thoughts later. May be after I read them all again, going through the storyline chronologically; I was keeping track as I was reading along.

Next up, Katharine Kerr’s science fiction books, starting with Polar City Blues and Polar City Nightmare. It’s definitely a change from fantasy and took a little getting used to. The setting is the future, on a very hot planet called Hagar that humankind from Old Earth had settled at some point. There are many different species of the Mapped Sector, of which humans are one. Humans and lizards are part of the Republic, a small “country” system dwarved by two larger civilisations called the Confederation and the Alliance. Both the Cons and the Lies have embassies on Polar City, which is where the action happens.

The MCs are Mulligan, a psychic who is bitter that his psychic abilities prohibited him from playing in the baseball majors, and Lacey, an independent ex-military information-gatherer / ears-on-the ground type of anti-hero. There are other side characters like the police chief, a doctor for the homeless, and Lacey’s computer Buddy. Computers in that universe are more AI with sentient capabilities than mere machines. Others include police and embassy staff, and in the second book, a lot of baseball players. Baseball seems to be a big thing there.

Both books are mysteries, Polar City Blues revolve around a new alien species and killer bacteria; Polar City Nightmare about the theft of an important artefact and a few murders. Both are enjoyable, to a point. The writing was great, the story was fast-paced and the ideas a combination of new and old. I liked Polar City Blues more because the characters are more interesting. In Polar City Nightmare I felt there were too many characters and I was beginning to lose track.

There are some interesting tropes. Causasian people are a minority and speech patterns have changed to reflect some sort of pidgin, Spanish-based English. Instead of saying “I’m not giving that woman any money” they say “I no give that donna no money.” Instead of “didn’t” it’s “dint.” The way psychics communicate is a jumble of words and emotion:

Little brother >be calm.
Can’t. Killer want>find me>>slit my throat.
Rick guard>I guard> you>>be calm. No/wait. >We do work>> distract. Garden work? [gladness]
Not garden work. Mind work. [pain, irritation, reluctance]

Time is flipped over too. They still use standard time like us, but because the planet is so hot, they go to bed during the day and wake up during the night. So their day will start around 1700 or 1800 and lunch is at 0000.

Polar City Nightmare was written with Kate Daniels, and about a carli (one of the other species) artefact stolen from the embassy somehow ending up in the possession of a player from the baseball team that won the planet’s equivalent of the world series. Many people from many different groups are after the artefact, there are bodies everywhere, and it’s up to Lacey, Mulligan, Chief Bates and a slew of other characters to solve it all. I felt it has a lot of potential but faltered in the execution. I don’t know why, may be because it was co-written or may be it needed better editing. For instance Lacey will be referred to as Lacey or as Bobbie (her first name). I can understand the narrator using Lacey and a family member referring to her as Bobbie, but in the same sentence is a bit jarring and is due to lacklustre editing.

This is what Kit said about Polar City Blues:

In some ways Polar City Blues is my tribute to the classic SF I read as a teenager. In other ways, it’s a heavily Revisionist book, where the Hero is female and the Object of Desire is male. Mostly, however, it’s a fast-paced adventure story complete with dead bodies, hookers, drugs, mysterious aliens, and several high-speed chases both on the ground and elsewhere.

There’s a short excerpt on her website too.

Next up, the Nola O’Grady series.

roast beef

roastbeef

Was at the supermarket to check out turkey for Christmas. Normally we get ready cooked but it’s too expensive and the size is no better than a large chicken. So I’m going to cook it myself this year. Not a huge selection: 10-12, 12-14 and 14-16 pounds. We have to clear space in the freezer before getting one. And I have to find a good stuffing recipe.

What I saw was a beef joint for roasting in the fresh meat section. Sell-by date today so discounted to 1/3rd its sticker price. I can’t remember the last time I made roast beef, may be 20 years ago in London. It’s only a small joint, just under 1kg, and off the bone. I had to double check the roasting time and after researching, decided to follow a mix of Leiths’ and Jamie’s methods.

The timing is from Prue: 20mins at 220ºC then 30mins at 170ºC for this 1kg joint. The vegetable trivet idea is from Jamie: place the seasoned joint on a bed of mirepoix to catch the drippings. I had space in the roasting tray so I cubed some potatoes to make roast spuds. During resting, I made the gravy directly in the pan from the mirepoix, drippings, added chicken stock and a glass of red wine. I didn’t strain off the veg, kept it in the gravy.

There’s a bit of chewy sinew that made carving slightly difficult but I was well pleased that I got it rare-medium rare. Good beef taste; it’ll last us 3 meals.

bbmm lunch, travel agent

daikiya01sashimi

Met mm for lunch at the AYCE Jap place that opened a new branch in cwb. It’s very spacious, and offers set lunches too. Not many people for the buffet which suited us. Instead of ordering via the thick menu books, we order via an app. Of course, there’s an app. Items not on the app menu are at the central counter so we can take ourselves. Large drinks selection too, in addition to a huge fridge of soft drinks, juices, beer and cider plus another area for hot drinks, there were dispensers of cocktails, umeshu and hot and cold sake. Their other shop only allows one special ice cream per person but here it was as much as we like.

Quality was good, especially the sashimi and sushi selection. We found the grilled food selection extremely salty so kept to vegetables which were less salty. Despite the free-for-all ice cream, we only managed one. Oh, lots of hot sake too.

Walked around afterwards, at the dollar store and then at the park. Stopped off at the travel agent to get information about our long awaited running away trip. Not too far away or too ambitious, just to bangkok. Last time we went was coming back from safari in kenya, and that was almost 10 years ago.

Too full from lunch, didn’t need dinner at all.

india club on the strand

indiaclub

This was one of Marina O’Loughlin’s last reviews for the guardian and found its way to londonist too. I’m talking about The India Club restaurant at the Hotel Strand Continental.

The Hotel Strand Continental, despite its location on the Strand, is nothing to write home about. It’s looks rundown from the outside, and the entrance is next to what used to be a newsagent/Indian shop and is now apparently Gregg’s. I must have walked past it a couple of thousand times because of its proximity to King’s. But I never ever gave it a second thought. I asked mm and other KCL friends and no one remembers it.

Oh what a missed opportunity. The restaurant has been there since 1946, when it was founded by Krishna Menon, the first Indian ambassador to the UK. Its poximity to India House, both King’s and LSE, Fleet Street, and so many chambers means it’s a favourite for academics, judges, lawyers, journalists and embassy staff. The prices seem to be from 1946 too. The menu is a plastic sheet and full of familiar south Indian fare: masala puri chaat, lamb bhuna, butter chicken, masala dosa. Nothing to write home about, not instagram worthy, and they may or may not make their own naan. But BYOB and £15 per head average. Ms O’Loughlin said she’d go back again and again, not because of the food, but:

out of deep affection. I love it in the same way I’m drawn to the novels of Anita Brookner or EM Forster; to small films set in run-down Roman apartment blocks and gloomy Indian call centres; to side streets in unknown cities where old milliners and haberdashers miraculously survive, their windows shielded by sepia-coloured film.

It’s no Dishoom, but seems more the vibe and atmosphere that Dishoom wants to emulate and “modernise.” And the fact that it’s not modern seems to be the charm. £15 in central London? Right next to our beloved college? Definitely a must-visit when we finally make it back to London. I hope that it’ll still be there because it’s in danger of being swallowed by greedy property developers. There’s a petition and a project to get English Heritage listed status for the building. Good luck to them.

#fourfoods of the apocalypse

There was a game a few years ago that asked, what food will you choose to eat after the apocalypse. The rules:

the world has ended…somehow you have a magic refrigerator. This brilliant genius of an appliance holds a constant supply of salt, pepper, oil, flour and sugar — and four other foods.

PICK FOUR FOODS.

Assume there are cooking and storage facilities; and no need to worry about pesky things like nutrition and vitamins. The food has to be core ingredients, so no meatlover’s pizza or chicken curry with rice or beef wellington. And these are all the food you will eat for the rest of your existence.

The authors of the article asked their colleagues and on twitter and came up with a good selection, some are quite specific like sharp white cheddar:

  • whole chicken, spinach, bacon, vanilla ice cream
  • dark chocolate, avocados, eggs, tomatoes
  • eggs, apples, butternut squash, hot sauce
  • heirloom tomatoes, sharp white cheddar, pork belly, eggs
  • steak, black beans, avocado, bourbon
  • coconut, papaya, eggs, rum

They even asked professional chefs:

  • Curtis Stone: asparagus, avocado, eggs, goat cheese
  • Jessica Koslow of Sqirl: feta, brown rice, meyer lemons, kale
  • Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Café: tomatoes, garlic, eggs, pecorino cheese
  • Thomas Kelly of Mexicue Kitchen + Bar: chilies, eggs, rice, lemons
  • Zak Walters of Salt’s Cure: whole chicken, avocados, collard greens, Beaujolais wine

fourfoodsapocalypse

Sis says: rice, eggs, tomato, chocolate; my niece says: rice, eggs, cheese, chocolate; can’t quite remember what mm says but it’s something like: fish, eggs, beetroot, and one other, probably chocolate.

I’ve been thinking about this on and off. My choices:

  • eggs — it seems to be very popular with many people, because it’s so versatile and can be used for baking, cooking, frying. I’m going to cheat and say live chicken or duck, so I get meat, bones and eggs. Even at the cost of having to learn how to kill them. I mean, it’s the apocalypse, so I’ll have plenty of time. Personally I’ll go for duck because it’s tastier and I can get lots of duck fat, good with…
  • potatoes including sweet potatoes — this is supposed to be a good choice because if we had to survive on one single food forever, potato is one of the best. The leaves from the sweet potatoes will be my green veg element and takes the place of kale or savoy cabbage, which would have been my first choices for veg. I can use potatoes to make yeast and use it for bread and for fermentation. Imagine potato vodka, beer, and even wine because I’ll have…
  • grapes — not only wine, but I can make vinegar from it, that provides the essential acidic element for cooking. Many people choose lemons, but I think grapes have more potential. In addition to eating whole and making vinegar, they can be dried to get raisins, and frozen grapes are a delicious treat. Even though for some reason grape ice cream isn’t a thing, it is possibe in small batches, provided there is…
  • coconut — to make coconut milk which is supposed to be a great base for non-dairy ice cream. Originally I thought of picking milk for this spot, but most of what milk can do, coconut milk can do. With whole coconuts, there’s delicious coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil, and the flesh can be used as food or dried for seasoning and crunch. With vinegar made from the grapes, I should be able to make some sort of cheese-like curd or yogurt with the coconut milk

So all in all, I’m fairly happy with my choices. If duck+eggs isn’t allowed, I’ll go for just the duck and sacrifice eggs. If duck+eggs is allowed and I get additional spots, I’ll add prawn, avocado or cheese: proper cheese and not the iffy stuff I’ll get from coconut milk, grape vinegar and whatever else I conjure up.

Some games allow for one luxury item and people may pick steak, chocolate, or some other indulgence. It’s a no-brainer for me: whisky.

#firstworldproblem: sausage rolls vs bake-off #gbbo

A truly British #firstworldproblem cropped up today. I had a craving for sausage rolls for a couple of days, and forgot to get them yesterday when I went to the market. It’s dead easy to get, if I’m not picky. The chain bakery has branches everywhere, including at most stations.

The problem is, Bake-off season 8 is on just when I wanted to go get the sausage rolls. They’re showing 2 eps back-to-back; today is eps 3 and 4.

Well, okay, moot point. I’m recording the entire season so I can watch it anytime. So I went to the station, got my sausage rolls, stopped off at the small supermarket to get staples like spaghetti and ketchup, and was back home in time to watch the second ep of the day. I can go back and watch the other ep later.

flowatermeloncake

I was all prepared to dislike this season because of the follow the dough thing but I’ve enjoyed watching it so far. Same format, same tent, same music. Prue is a good Mary substitute, and I can get my Mary fix on her own program anyway. Sandi sounds almost like Mel and Sue, and although not as cheeky, she is warm and funny, as we know she is. Noel started off unsteady but ignoring the comparisons with Mel & Sue, he’s quirky and likeable. He seems genuinely pleased to be there and mingling with all the bakers. And it’s the bakers that are, as always, the stars of the show. This group is the same, with casting as diverse as a mainstream program can get. My favourites so far are Liam with his flavours and Yan with her scientific, and sometimes not so scientific (making caramel by sight without a thermometer?), approach. And how about Flo’s watermelon cake? Wow.

I know the elimination order, which is the one disadvantage of watching such a popular program after the fact. But it doesn’t matter. I’m just grateful I can watch it and let’s forget the irony of season 8 on a BBC channel.

r/mildlyinteresting

Lazy weekend with zero plans, aside from going to the market to stock up on veg. Which I did, and came home huffing because I bought almost exclusively roundish, heavy veg–potato, sweet potato, jicama, kohlrabi, celery (okay, not round), pepper (okay, not heavy). The small supermarket is 33% off, so I bought wine and a pack of 6 fizzy water. Everything in my backpack and one shopping bag; my other hand had to carry the water.

So, what better to spend the rest of the day looking through r/mildlyinteresting stuff.

Top post this week: This library has a directory for topics people might be embarrassed to ask for

librarytoughtopics

Once and again, librarians prove they are wonderful people. A librarian chimed in:

The profession has something called the Code of Ethics which we are all supposed to follow. Part of those ethics are: I. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources. II. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted. III. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.

And of course, some “concerned parents” in Albany, NY saw a version of this poster and complained, saying that the library shouldn’t be encouraging kids to look up this type of information. Luckily, according to the library’s assistant director, they had mostly positive feedback. Hope they don’t buck to the pressure and change or take down the poster. Never cater to the lowest common denominator.

Top post this month: This Toothpaste describes what each of its ingredient is and its purpose

toothpastepurpose

Not as interesting as the library poster, which is why the sub is for mildly interesting things. The interesting thing for me is how water is described as aqua and its purpose is as a moistener. And here I’m reminded that moist is the most hated word in english.

The toothpaste in question is kingfisher, and the mildly interesting factor is I’ve never heard of it before.

Top post this year: Without barriers the British still know how to queue!

britishqueue

Someone recognised it as the O2 arena, so people are getting inside for a concert or something like that. In any event, it’s a long queue and it makes me proud to see the organised snake formation even without barriers. On reddit, people make a big deal (and show a lot of admiration) for the British way of queuing. I think the orderliness appeals to many redditors who are basically introverts and like organisation.

Sometimes I see queues that go beyond the barriers and they deteriorate into an utter mess even though people are trying to queue. In some other places or countries the queue will be a single line that extends to past the main doors and to the outside, very ineffective usage of space. One of the most irritating things to see is a queue for an ATM where people stand right on the pavement and block foot traffic, instead of queuing up parallel to the wall.

That said, the intricate snail-like line at the pokemongo fest in Chicago last summer was a work of art, even though there were volunteers there directing traffic. And I can imagine a similar scenario in Japan, the queue will be even more organised.

gifts for writers

treepod

My friend S linked to this wonderful page of best gifts for writers.

On fb she tagged me, saying that the treepod would suit me. OMG, how did she know!?!11!?!! The treepod is a portable treehouse made from either canvas (for indoors) or canvas+mesh (for outdoors) that is secured to any ceiling or tree to give a private sanctuary for writing and other activities like reading or relaxing. It’s one of the gifts on the list that appeal most to me, even though there is zero space in my room right now. If I were back in the flat, I can consider it, it’ll probably fit the bay window space pretty well. Other drool-worthy gifts include a global wifi hotspot, not for writing per se but for travelling; and a bunch of notebooks, some of which are wifi enabled. I’m not big on notebooks, I can do with evernote, instapaper and scrivener plus a plain text editor. Talking about apps, scrivener is on there too. Hmm, I have a nano code again this year that I don’t need.

For some reason, the list has A LOT of coffee products. If I received any of those they will go straight to mm, hahaha. There’s snack box and wine subscription, and of course the obligatory Writers Tears, which I can get at the local m&s. There are some intangible gifts too that will benefit some people. Apps, membership of relevant societies, spotify subscription.

Get to the bottom of the list, and S has one of the best gifts:

helping your beloved author’s career

by buying their book, gifting their book, and helping promote it by reviewing it. Good one.

bbmm happy hour at jamie’s

hhjamies201712

Met mm in the evening. Initially we were meeting at 7pm at the apple store so I can show her the mbp I have my eye on. I was early because I wanted to get some errands done first, but I was done by 6.30pm. Walked past Jamie’s and saw they had a tiered happy hour, between 6-7pm selected drinks only local$10, or around £1. Double the price between 7-8pm and triple between 8-9pm. Even then, $30 is good value. Only a slight catch, must only order from hh menu (ie house wines only) and standing room at the bar, not even high stools. The house red is malbec, and the house white veneto. There was also prosecco, beers, 3 cocktails and 3 mocktails. Decent selection.

Good thing I stopped there instead of heading to the apple store because mm was, what a surprise, late. She didn’t get there till 7.30pm. We ordered some bar snacks and I had another glass of wine.

By the time we were ready to leave it was 8.30pm. We thought of going to a AYCE hotpot place, but I had my reservations because it’d be late when we finish. We ended up having sashimi rice at a place a couple of doors down from Jamie’s. It was better than hotpot, the fish was fresh and the rice was well cooked.

pan-fried quail

quail201712

I see a lot of masterchef contestants make quail, because it’s quick to cook yet needs confidence because it’s not as commonly available or as easy to cook as chicken or duck. Plus, it’s chef-y.

I bought frozen quail from the japanese supermarket. Quite expensive, but definitely less expensive than eating out, as usual. I remember mm used to use it to make soup back when we were living in london.

The first batch a few weeks ago I roasted in the oven with a knob of butter inside. Took around 15mins, and it was really delicious. This time, I wanted to treat it in a more classic way. What’s more classic than to follow Jacques Pépin’s method for deboning? He made it look so easy. I was able to do it more or less the same way he did, although the end result didn’t look as neat. I used the bones to make sauce, supplementing it with a few more duck bones. Such a huge advantage to have bones in the freezer. Browned the bones for a good 20mins, then deglazed the pan with chicken stock. Ordinarily they teach us to deglaze with wine, but unless there’s a bottle already open, or I was about to start drinking a bottle, it’s not practical.

Pan fried the quail for around 10mins, until just cooked. I think I may have overcooked the breast, because it didn’t have the pinkness of medium rare meat and were a tad mushy. Overall, I found quail to be more forgiving than I expected because everything tasted great. When I was browning the duck and quail bones, there was a bit of fat rendered off so I used it to sauté leftover baked potato that I cubed.

I spent more time deboning and making the sauce than the actual cooking of the quail. Flavour-wise I prefer the last batch because: a) roasted on the bone and b) butter, butter, butter. Next time I’ll spatchcock then roast in butter, I think this will give the best tasting and best looking results.

eat more chocolate, win a Nobel prize

chocnobel

This came from a reddit thread about a paper presented in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012 entitled Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function, and Nobel Laureates. The paper needs to be accessed from authorised (aka paid) sources but it was extensively discussed by Stanford professor Sanjay Basu in his public health blog. The NEJM paper claimed that:

chocolate consumption enhances cognitive function

based on the correlation between chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel Laureates in a selected sample of countries (r = 0.791 P < 0.0001). According to the authors, this is due to the beneficial effect of the flavanols contained in cocoa.

Prof Basu rightly called the paper:

the worst example of medical statistical misadventure we’ve seen in years.

Researchers from Belgium wrote in the Journal of Nutrition and sided with Prof Basu in dismissing the paper. They pointed out that this is a classic case of ecological inference fallacy, where conclusions about group data is drawn from individual data with no relationship between group and individuals presented. In other words:

the observed correlation is in fact based on country-averaged chocolate consumption and not on the actual consumption of Nobel Laureates themselves.

The two sets of data points have no commonality whatsoever. Chocolate consumption was over a 2 year period for the entire country, whereas the count of Nobel Laureates was over time. Some of the said laureates weren’t even alive during the 2 year chocolate consumption period. The Belgian researchers found an even higher correlation (r = 0.82 P < 0.0001) between the number of Ikea stores and Nobel Laureates in a country, a correlation they used to illustration the fact that it’s so meaningless that it’s laughable. All correlations do is to give a numerical relationship between data points, it’s up to the researcher to give meaning to the correlation. In some cases, there is no meaning.

The interesting observation is how the original paper even got through peer review into a journal. Was it meant to be ironic or humorous? Who knows. The research design comes into question. I’ve always thought of research as following the process of: do experiments -> make observations -> arrive at conclusion -> propose theory. This is the most traditional research method, especially in the natural sciences. In talking with mm, her professor seems to take the opposite approach: predict desired outcomes for theory -> design experiment/study -> get results that confirm theory. Seems to be a common method in social sciences.

researchmethods

There are different names for these research designs. Bottom up research is called exploratory or inductive research. The opposite, the top down approach, is called confirmatory or deductive research. Which is better, which more effective, that’s a difficult question to answer. It depends on the overall goals and the specific topic, I guess. Doing a lot of experiments lead to more new knowledge. Knowing what results you want may lead to more effective experiments but may not advance the overall knowledgebase. I don’t know the answer. All I know is, eating more chocolate does not, unfortunately, lead to winning Nobel Prizes.

ublock origin

I finally made the switch from adblock plus to ublock origin. I haven’t been 100% happy with ABP for a while, the process for adding filters wasn’t straightforward and they kept letting facebook ads through. Perhaps more of a fb issue rather than eeyo’s, but for the end user, it’s all the same.

uBlock origin overtook ABP around 1-2 years ago in terms of functionality and success in blocking ads. There’s still a lot of discussion about which is better. ABP is a more recognised brand, and most newbies stick to it. uBO appeals to the more technical minded.

The long and short of it is, both are good. And whichever one the user picks, is better than no adblocker at all. The more compelling arguments for uBO:

  • lighter strain on CPU and RAM
  • more available filter lists
  • ABP has better UI but uBO has more functionalities for techies to customise
  • opensource and a developer who isn’t out to make money by offering advertisers a place on the whitelist in exchange for payment

ublockorigin

I used it out of the box and it’s more or less the same as ABP for most websites. Where there was a difference, was on fb. I use fb much less than before and when I’m on I’ve been battling ads, sponsored posts and the “people you may know” stupidity, but wasn’t able to get the filters right in ABP. uBO gave me 2 straightforward ways of handling them, the easiest is to enable Adguard filters. For the odd annoyance that slipped through, adding the fiter is so intuitive. Click on the element picker eyedropper, highlight the whole element and create the filter. uBO also handled blocking the right column better, as in I was able to block the entire right column vs in ABP that caused the css to go funny.

Seriously, if you don’t have an adblocker, get one. All those arguments that adblocking is evil and all that is rubbish and selfish. Those people do not have the users’ best interests in mind at all.

p.s. yes I know about fb purity, I want an add-on that can handle ads and annoyances outside fb too.

the last jedi supercut

It’s December, which means ep 8 soon.

Someone put together a 4min supercut of all trailers and commercials we’ve seen so far. There are naturally A LOT of theories and analysis of the trailers, and I’m trying to stay away from them all. I’m focusing on reading about the events that happened between ep6 and ep7, all gathered from canon and EU places like novels, games, comics.

But anyway, mm has promised to watch it with me. She has a few days off after the 15th so we can even try going on a weekday.

food broken down to ingredients

via colossal, Danish photographer Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj arranged raw ingredients that make up a recipe in a photoshoot for a cookware producer. Have to think about some of them, it’s not immediately obvious.

foodingredients01

This is breaded fish filet, I’m guessing. The fish is filetted then coated in breadcrumbs and pan-fried.

foodingredients02

Carrot, onion, celeriac, oil, bones, tomato. I’m thinking soup or stock. More likely soup, because of the celeriac.

foodingredients03

This I have no clue. Milk is the only ingredient I can safely identify, unless it’s cream. What are the dry ingredients? Sugar, salt, flour? And the dark powder is chocolate? The pyramid at the lower right looks like either butter or cheese. The circular blob top right, I give up. Honey? Argh.

nano validated

nano

Finished november at 52,028 words. I validated as soon as it was available, on the 20th or 21st, I can’t remember.

Since I got to 50k, I’ve been adding 50-100 words a day, just to keep the 30-day streak going. I was skyping with Car the other day and she asked me how nano was going. “Or did you finish 2 weeks ago?” she joked, although she probably guessed I was done. Well, yes. I finished 2 weeks ago. The chart becomes meaningless once I hit 50k.

make your own slime

slime

I remember playing with slime when it oozed into the world. It came in one colour, green, and was icky and fun at the same time.

TIL not only has it endured the years, it’s now possible to buy kits to make your own, and somene reviewed the best slime-making kits. Just in time for Christmas. According to the testers at Wirecutter, slime can be made from everyday ingredients including glue, contact-lens solution or borax, baking soda, and optional mix-ins, such as food coloring or glitter. The kits come in convenient packages that saves parents the trouble of hunting down the ingredients. And look better as a present.

I would have loved to be one of the testers. It took only around 10mins to make each batch, so it was quick fun. The best kit according to the testers is Cra-Z-Art Nickelodeon Slime Super Slimy, the name alone is worth one extra mark. It came first because

it included all the required ingredients packaged as safely as possible, and it offered the biggest variety of mix-ins for making all different kinds of slime

including all the bowls, cups and spoons needed.

The runner-up Mr. E=mc² DIY Slime Kit gave the most and best quality slime but fell down in the areas of packaging and didn’t include bowls and such. It’s also more expensive. Looking further though, it’s from a husband and wife company in Minnesota who develops, tests and assembles the kits with the help of their kids. Compared with the brand name Nickelodeon product, it’s worth the additional price, I think.

Um, not that I’m going to buy a make your own slime kit. Well, may be not.

duck, cable car, fishing village

Another full day of adventure with my friends J&T. Met them for lunch at Spring Deer. They told me that they like sake so I asked about it when I called to make a reservation. The lady said just ask the wait staff and they’ll take care of it. The problem is, I can’t be sure what sake they get and I don’t want to drink 7-eleven sake, which is more than likely the outcome. So I went out earlier to citysuper and got a bottle. I didn’t know if my friends like hot or cold so I asked for a recommendation. The one I got was really good, medium dryness, Junmai Daiginjō-shu from Niigata. The wait staff at the restaurant were wonderful, they put it in a traditional wine jug and warmed it up for us. Corkage only local$50 so well worth it. Basically, we only had hot & sour soup and peking duck. The soup was well balanced but the star of the meal was the duck. We managed to finish it all and I took the carcass with me. I thought the sake went extremely well with the duck, the smoothness and flavour cutting back the fattiness of the duck.

I gave my friends the option of going to the beaches or the fishing village and they opted for the fishing village. To get to the fishing village, we took the famous cable car to the big buddha first. It’s a first for me, and i actually enjoyed the trip. I thought it was all going to be a tourist trap, but it was okay. I get a discount by showing my ID card and most people had opted for the ride with the transparent floor. Honestly there is no advantage to the transparent cable car as most of the view is out of the windows. They crowd so many people in the transparent cars, we’re seeing 10 people inside each one whereas we only needed to share with 2 Thai ladies.

The cable car ride was very long and the scenery pretty good. Lots of greenery around and underneath us, and we could see a hiking path too. The airport in distant view. Eventually we went over yet another hill and saw the big buddha. It’s probably the #1 tourist attraction and is supposed to be the biggest buddha of some sort. Between the cable car station and the buddha is what can only be described as an artificial village that is full of shops and restaurants. Nothing authentic about it. We stopped at a couple of shops though, and T bought a fridge magnet. It was a nice walk anyway.

threelanternstaio

We were just in time to catch the bus to Tai O, the bus arrived just as we walked up to the bus stop. And there were feral cows at the bus stop too. It was only 10mins, when I’d read somewhere that it’d take 20mins. We walked around the stilted houses of the villages, declined the offer of boat trips to see dolphins, and ended up at the Three Lanterns café. This time there was no thunderstorm and we got to sit on the terrace with a direct view of the river. Nice to relax and have a couple of beers. The nice owner lady remembered me and gave us a pot of lavender tea too.

Lucked out again with buses, only 5mins wait. The ride was long, back to the train station but comfortable. I was quite tired and we were all still full so I said goodbye to my friends on the train, got off at an earlier station to catch the bus home.

We covered a lot during the few days my friends are here. I hope it wasn’t too hectic for them. We did lots of walking, ate lots of food, chatted away and I for one had a really wonderful few days out and about.

walk, tram, ferry, minibus…and feral cows

Early start, was over at the flat to meet my friends J&T at around 9.45am. I did some research for hiking yesterday but decided against going on the ones that are too strenuous. J actually walked up to the peak yesterday and said it was really nice, but crowded.

Instead. I took them on a gentle stroll on Bowen Road, just a little past the park in the middle and turned around at the shrine. Walked down the steep path back to town. They commented on how quiet and peaceful it was, and yet we were right bang in the city with buildings and roads within view. Ended up at the Stone Nullah Tavern for a quick refresher and I took them to Crystal Jade for dumplings. I think I definitely over ordered! And I feel bad because T grabbed the bill and paid it while I was in the loo.

Took the tram then ferry then train then minibus to sai kung. Quite a long trek, but I thought they might want to see the countryside. We walked all the way to the beach and they took off their boots to dip their feet into the water. They told me it’s a tradition, to put their feet in different seas so this is a new one for them. How wonderful. I love how they are racking up experiences, rather than materialistic souvenirs.

It’s a weekday so the place was more civilised and less crowded. There were the usual fishing boats at the pier where customers pick out their seafood and the fishing people used a net to send it up and collect money on return. I had planned to take them for seafood but the harassing salesladies and remembering the last time I went with Mum how disappointing it was–cold food, small portions, mediocre quality put me off. We had happy hour at Classified and went to a Thai restaurant instead. This is the place mm and I went to and is Michelin mentioned. The food was really great but the portions way, way too large. I was quite stuffed so I had green curry veg. We even got a free yellow curry chicken that none of us could touch so I took it home.

saikungcows

Oh, cows. On the way back from the beach next to the car park we saw 4 cows grazing on the grass where people normally fly kites or walk their dogs at the weekend. We saw collars on the cows so figured they must belong to someone although we couldn’t see any farmers or someone who looked like they were herding cattle nearby. I googled when I got home and found out that they are feral cattle descended from animals that were abandoned in the 1970s when industry transitioned from agriculture to manufacturing. There are over 1,000 cattle and water buffaloes scattered around, mostly inside country parks but some venture out to built-up areas. The government has been putting GPS collars to track them. They are not protected wildlife but the government recognises that they are more tourist attraction now. From the AFCD website:

cattle and buffalo are part of the heritage of rural Hong Kong and that it brings pleasure to visitors and locals alike to see these animals in a natural environment.

creamy scallop spinach pasta

scallopspinachpasta

Mum was out all day, she went out to lunch after mass, came back with shopping and met with her friends for dinner. I spent the day reading, didn’t even go out when mm texted and wondered if we should go out to enjoy the sunny weather. It was almost 3pm and we decided we should both just chill at home and get rested.

Leftovers for lunch but actually made dinner. For some odd reason I had a small carton of cream in the fridge. I made mushroom cream sauce the other day and there’s still around 2/3 carton that needs to be used. Made a rich sauce with lots of garlic, a little butter and about 150ml cream. Should be able to keep in a tight container for a few days. I spooned a little over the scallop and spinach pasta I was making for dinner which made the dish much more decadent. This is the type of dish that takes absolutely no time to make.

hosting friends

My friends J&T from London are travelling around the world and I’ve been following their adventures through Europe, Africa and SE Asia. I PMed them a few weeks ago to see if they were planning on coming this way and if they were, the flat’s empty. They originally weren’t coming this far north, but they took a special detour from Vietnam to come to visit me. How wonderful!

Between Sis and I, we managed to set up the flat so there is basic accommodation. I borrowed my niece’s camping stuff, a couple of sis’ fleece blankets and her garden chairs. From home I took a couple more blankets, pillows, towels, hairdryer, kettle and small kitchen stuff. I got them crisps, beer and wine in the hope that I can get them drunk enough to ignore the very, very basic setup. I met them at the airport express station and we took the train for 2 stops–the queue for the taxi was so long that it was quicker by public transport. I did the brief tour and told them where the important stuff were. Since they’ve been travelling so much, the least I can do is to offer the use of my washing machine. Except I forgot to bring the drying rack, so they will have to improvise with hangers and the pullup bar the tenant left behind, hahaha.

linh01tables

Walked down the escalator to show them shops and the like. My plan was to go to the Globe in case they were homesick, but it turned out they were much more adventurous and they had turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving the other day. So whilst we chilled with beers, I called ahead to Lin Heung to see if they had availability. 7pm on a Saturday night, hmm. We lucked out, we only had to wait around 5-10mins for a table. We were looking at what other people were eating and decided on roast pork and a healthy looking mix veg pot. I added stuffed crab claws (one each) and what looked like their signature fried rice. The rice was brilliant, it’s Hokkien fried rice which came with a thick sauce that was just right–not salty, not overly oily, not stodgy. It’s been many, many years since I was at this restaurant last (2009, that’s the pic above) and I’m glad the quality is still there. The restaurant originated in 1889 when it opened in Guangzhou and came to HK in 1926, so almost 100 years. It remains one of the few places that has trolley dim sum and still a favourite with locals and visitors. The type of traditional place that families go generation after generation.

I think my friends liked the food. Afterwards, we went to M&S and they walked back up the escalator. Hope they have a good visit.

old golf

keysE114FLB

When it was my niece’s 16th birthday a couple of weeks ago, Sis wanted to find fake car keys for her as a birthday present, because she can theoretically start driving lessons. Couldn’t find them, alas. As per sod’s law, this week I was tidying my drawer and what do I find? Car keys. Actual keys, not fake ones. These are for the golf. Those were the days when you need keys to open doors and start the car.

scan26golf

I loved that car, even though it was an automatic, a rarity in the UK. Those mark II golfs sure look fantastic. I mean, I like the mark III and subsequent models, but this one has a special place in my heart. I took very good care of it, even though poor thing it had to be parked on the street. I was T-cutting it one day and someone stopped and asked if I were selling it.

It’s more than likely scrap metal now, so I don’t need to hide the licence plate. The only available online information about the licence plate is that it was first registered in 1987-1988 (anyone can tell this, it’s an E reg after all) and in NW London. Nothing confidential about that, we bought it at Karmann in Barnet, which doesn’t exist anymore.

random photography art

One boredpanda user told a story of how his boss took advantage of him by getting him to take promotional pictures for free. The business was a liquor store and the photographer naïvely agreed because the boss said the magic word: exposure.

terryis02
©Terryis Xmun

He took it seriously at first but soon regretted his decision to work for free so he started not caring as much.

Callous disregard for form and aesthetic took on a form and aesthetic unto itself. Items were tossed roughly into bushes, placed literally on streets…The nastier I could get, the better.

terryis01
©Terryis Xmun

The images ended up on the company’s fb page and no one questioned the insanity. His boss seemed to accept them. The beer company for this pic even liked the image. The user is puzzled as to why people seemed to like the pics. Personally, I like some of them. There’s an urban jungle randomness that a lot of commercial marketing photography tries to achieve but it’s obvious they try too hard. By not trying hard at all, he found a certain style.

Just goes to show, one person’s rubbish is another person’s art.

a day of bad decisions

skyballoons

My head wasn’t right today. Distracted. One bad decision after another.

I needed to replace the spotlight in the bathroom. I should have gone to the computer centre district because there are plenty of electronics shops. But I walked instinctively towards the regular bus stop with buses that go to the opposite direction.

And then once I was committed to going to the flat and trying to find a shop over there, I should have taken the train, but again, I walked towards the bus stop and stood there waiting for 10, 15mins.

I saw the faster bus coming, it stopped at the traffic lights. Then the slower bus turned the corner and was in front of the faster bus. I should have waited one minute for the fast bus. What did I do? Got on the slow bus that took the longest time and the longest route.

To add insult to injury, I couldn’t find any shop that sells spotlights nearby. So all I did was remove the old light and now there’s a hole in the bathroom ceiling.

Try again tomorrow, when I’m feeling more human.

kcl group drinks

kclgroupdrinks201711

KCL drinks tonight, at B’s office, ie the office I worked at for a little while. We ended up being 6 people and simply sat around the conference table and chatted. Drank 2 bottles of wine, and ate up snacks people brought: baguette, cheese, prosciutto, salami, melon, grapes, tomatoes. B made fresh bread rolls too, she has a bread maker and small oven in the office.

Our aim is to continue the meetup streak so we tentatively agreed the next meetup will be in January.

r/oldpeoplefacebook

oldpeoplefb

Saw this post on fb and in a fit of meanness, posted it on r/oldpeoplefacebook. Most of my reddit posts and comments get buried, but this one, oh boy, made it to the front page of r/all. It now has over 32,000 upvotes and my karma has shot up from 800-ish to almost 8,000.

I can see stats for the post’s journey to the front page. It took 3hrs 24mins from when it was first posted to reach r/all, and stayed there for 5hrs 10mins. The highest rank was 4 and there are over 600 comments. Most of it took place when I was asleep because I posted it before bed. I didn’t read all the comments, but most were decent by reddit standards. There are threads discussing memorialising the account of people who have passed away, and others gave examples of how friends and family maintain the account of deceased users. Some said it was sad, not funny, and I agree to an extent. See earlier post on why I think “I’m old, I don’t know computers” is an excuse for not making an effort.

Anyway, I now get to post on select subreddits for users who’ve made it to the front page. It’s supposed to be a big deal. Reddit is, after all, the front page of the internet.

random things I’ve been up to

Last of the catch-up posts, I think. What I’ve been up to during the past 3 weeks.

pumpkinsoup201711

I had a big bag of chestnuts that mm gave me. I wanted to roast them, peel then put in a braised chicken. But disaster happened! The chestnuts wouldn’t peel properly and stubbornly stuck to the shell. All I got was a big container of chestnut breadcrumbs.

Had to change plan, so made pumpkin and chestnut soup instead. The chestnut acted as perfect thickening agent, so the soup ended up quite thick. For liquid I made fresh turkey stock. Really, really nice. Served it with roti prata, which alas was store bought. Sprinkled on grated cheese.


sunset201711

We went for a drive one weekend, no real plans. Ended up at this oyster farm near the shenzhen border that has nice view of sunsets. Sunsets come early now, it starts getting dark at 5pm and full dark at 6pm. We brought picnic–mm brought an old bottle of macallan and some glasses which we sipped as we enjoyed the view. Only a small sip, since she’s driving.

We got chatting with a guy who had 2 tripods set up taking time lapse pictures. One was a Sony alpha 7 and the other was an iphone. He told us he just came back from Japan and he’s also been to a few other places to take timelapses of sunrises and sunsets. He collects the end results on his youtube channel. The timelapse here was at a place near where we were on that sunday.


frites01 frites02

A weekday evening out, met up for happy hour at frites. I started with trusty st bernadus abt 12, and then asked the assistant manager for a recommendation. He said to try the het kapittel watou prior, which is another trappist beer. Lighter that st bernadus, with chocolate tones. Nice alternative.

We weren’t that hungry, so we shared some miniburgers and a portion of frites.


musebar02

Met mm after her saturday appointment. Originally we were supposed to meet at the novotel but when I got there I discovered that happy hour had been pushed back to 6-8pm, and it was quite busy. I walked around the area wanting to find an alternative and came across this place called muse wine bar and art gallery. It was located in the basement of a boutique hotel and pretty quiet. They had a big wine list of bottles and a smaller list of by-the-glass wines. Not only the usual, but 3-4 pages of both red and white wines. The price was higher, but the tradeoff was quality and tranquility.

musebar04

On the walls were some ink art, I didn’t pay too much attention to the artist, but the artwork tied in with the quiet nature of the bar.

Next time we go there, I’ll order a bottle. Three glasses of wine came to around the same price as their cheapest bottle.


drago1

I stopped playing pokemon go. No incentive anymore, even with the last migration of legendary raids. I saw some people gathered around a gym while getting ready to get off the bus and didn’t bother running back like I would have before. The unfairness of raids, the stupid EX-raid invitations, the lack of pokemons other than commons, and I’m still bitter about no tauros, all contribute to my lethargy towards the game.

Some people have made the move to draconius go, which has all the features of pogo with fewer problems. Select a character and walk around to capture monsters. With names like Potty, these mythical creatures are cute as button, there are a total of 125 of them and they show up on a tracker at the bottom right of the screen. There are pillars of abundance (ie stops) where spinning grants random items that are useful in the game. Occasionally the adventuer gets attacked while walking, and has to battle the beast. Fighting can also be done in arenas (ie gyms). There are also many other features, refer to this useful beginner’s guide is on r/draconiusgo.

drago2

For some players, the playing experience is so much better, with more stops and creatures. For me, though, I stopped playing after a few tries. The two screenshots were taken from the same spot just down the road from where I live. The triangular area is the small local park. On the left, pogo with a gym and a bunch of stops. On the right, drago with…nothing. It’s the same picture everywhere else. The other disadvantage is my mobile provider isn’t counting data usage for pogo, they made a big deal when the game first came out and never took it away. So few people play now that it’s not worth them bothering with it. But with drago, I can’t imagine going out for hours and hours and eating into my mobile data allowance.

So, not playing either game. Not playing much else, just reading.

what did i miss part 3

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 3. Sports and drinks, not sports drinks, two separate topics.

1a. marathons #1 — elites

The headlines all shouted “Galen Rupp is first American winner of the Chicago Marathon since 2002.” And although some of them clarifies that it’s the first American male since 2002 (last American female was Deena Kastor in 2005) it still feels like a huge, huge disservice to Tatyana McFadden, who has won the women’s wheelchair race fo the past seven years. I swear, paralympic athletes get an even worse deal than women athletes, the sort of media attention they get, ie zero. Not to take away Rupp’s victory, but the blatant inequality really needs to be addressed.

In the NYC marathon, Meb, in his last NYC, finished in 2:15:29, putting the 42 year old in 11th place. The women’s race was won by Shalane Flanagan. So the two big autumn US marathons both had American able-bodied winners. That’s good for the US. Much needed good news for them.

In unrelated news, Mo Farah is moving up to the marathon. And he got knighted. Yay Sir Mo!!


1b. marathons #2 — blind solo runner

Simon Wheatcroft finished the NYC marathon in 5:17:40. An unremarkable time, but what’s truly remarkable is that he is a blind runner who ran the race solo.

I ran a night race a couple of years ago and there were a number of visually impaired runners. They were just as fast and just as good as able-bodied runners. The route was through part of the country park so the terrain was rough with narrow and winding paths; the runners and their guides negotiated those with ease and I could hear the guides telling the runners to make a right turn or there is a hump coming up. I’m full of admiration for them, as I am with all paralympic athletes.

Wheatcroft suffers from a rare genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, and his sight has gradually deteriorated since he was a teenager. Nowadays, he can distinguish changes in light and darkness, like seeing the world through a fog. He knows when someone stands in front of him, because he sees a blurry shadow, but that’s it. He is also an experienced runner, marathoner and ultramarathoner, previously running with guides and trains by running up and down a straight abandoned road near his home in Doncaster. He memorises routes, obstacles, and navigate along the slightly raised edges of painted double yellow lines along the road.

In recent years, there have been massive inroads made in providing assisted technologies to help visually impaired people “see” by using AI and VR technologies. However, these type of technologies are limited–it requires outside help, or only work in static situations. For instance, a google glass subscription called aira connects the blind person and a sighted person so the sighted assistant can give verbal clues to tell the blind person what they are seeing through the glasses. The subscription costs US$349 per month, which is really expensive. Most assisted technology solutions are built around some sort of visual input and an audio output, but audio output is cumbersome. The Verge:

Imagine a Siri or Alexa-like interface describing every single object in your field of vision. Consider the cognitive overload that it would create on an already loud street crowded with obstacles.

wearworks

Wheatcroft set out to look for alternatives and came across Wayband, a product from a company called WearWorks that uses haptic technology, which provides output through the sense of touch rather than audio. The company was cofounded by 3 graduates of New York’s Pratt Institute and just finished a 3 year residency at Brooklyn’s Urban-X incubator. Wayband was featured at SXSW and uses two technologies. First, it uses known GPS technology (google maps, OpenStreetMap) to map a route for the runner, the signal is transmitted via bluetooth using an armband which buzzes in a sort of Morse code (eg 2 long taps to turn right). This pairs with an ultrasonic device called the Tortoise that broadcasts and receives ultrasonic pulses. If there is an object or person in range, the ultrasonic waves that reflect back are changed and the device lets the user know using a series of vibrations. This is not new, devices that help people park their cars use similar ultrasonic technology.

During the NYC marathon, Wheatcroft started by using this system, the first time it had been tested in a race. And what a way to test. Not a small local race, but one of the largest marathons in the world, with more than 50,000 runners. During the race he was also accompanied by Kevin Yoo, one of the founders of WearWorks as well as Neil Bacon and Andrea Corak, his longtime friends and guides. They ran behind him and were there as a last resort, to prevent him from running into another runner and ruining their marathon.

It wasn’t perfect: tall buildings affected the GPS which incorrectly told him he was off course, the rain caused the Tortoise to stop working at mile 15, and at one of the water stops another runner stopped abruptly in front of him. Even a sighted runner would have found it difficult to stop in time and there was a small collision. Neither runner was hurt. The team ended the race with guides running next to Wheatcroft as per usual, but the experiment was by and large successful. There is still a way to go before the product can be marketed but the team now knows what those improvements are.

The implications are huge. Not only for running or sports, this system can help a blind person navigate through normal life. Wheatcroft on NYT:

It’s not the end, it’s just a start.”


1c. marathons #3 — grass root runner

The running bubble has popped, says the NYT on the day of the NYC marathon. A strange thing to say, considering 50,000 participated and the success rate for applications was 17%. I got my annual VLM rejection in October, so from my perspective the running bubble hasn’t quite popped.

Thing is, although interest in the big races have held steady, less well known races and shorter distance races have seen a decline in participation. Some reasons:

  • cost — gone are the days of US$10 or $25 races, now the cost is astronomical, Las Vegas RNR 5k is $79.99!
  • too much focus on charity running — while an honourable effort, it has become blackmail with too few places available for non-charity runners and huge amounts that needs to be raised
  • too many races, and competition from speciality races like mud runs
  • competition from other fitness activities like cross fit

The industry has become a victim of its own success and commercialisation. Once a race gets taken over by corporate interests, something goes missing. Not only will I not pay $80 for a 5k, I won’t ever run a RNR race again whatever the price because they have become pure greed. I remember a long time ago an ex-colleague asked me if I was running the NYC marathon and I said it’s too expensive ($295 now). She was so surprised, she thought it was free and you just showed up. I wish.

I’ve written about charity running before. TL;DR: I hate it with the venom of a million exploding suns.

What we need, is a return to grassroots. Running clubs are still popular and just look at the success of parkruns in the UK. Another reason I want to go back to the UK.


2a. drinks #1 — alcohol and cancer

The American Society of Clinical Oncological published a report that says even light drinking can cause cancer. Yet another study that tells us not to eat or drink something, so much so that there was a study on the study of what foods are bad for us–in 2013 researchers took 40 ingredients from an ordinary cookbook and found 264 studies on whether at least one of those ingredients causes cancer. We’re talking about ingredients that are in almost everybody’s cupboards: salt, pepper, flour, egg, bread, butter, lemon, onion, carrot, milk, cheese.

We know that heavy or even moderate drinking has detrimental effects. The report says in the US, 3.5% of cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol. But as the NYT says in a more-or-less rebuttal:

this means that 96.5 percent of cancer deaths are not attributable to alcohol. If we eliminate heavy drinking, which no one endorses as healthy…that number climbs. If we also eliminate those who smoke…the number of cancer deaths not attributable to alcohol approaches 100 percent.

These reports mean well, but they tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies and then the media reports them using scaremongering headlines. The traditional image of a researcher is someone who observes or achieves some results and then postulates a theory that explains those results. There are researchers that are basically reverse-researchers, they know what result they want and then they do so-called research till they get those results. I call them hacks.


2b. drinks #2 — bartending in antarctica

antarcticabar

Interesting article about bars in Antarctica. There are 45 research stations in Antarctica, with thousands of researchers there in the summer but only a few hundred during the winter. Each station has its own bar with names like Gallagher’s Pub, Southern Exposure, Tatty Flag. The bars had no owners, no official hours, and no price. People shared their stash of personal alcohol and were in luck when one of the researchers also have bartending skills. Bartending in Antarctica is voluntary and requires creativity and innovation, as not all ingredients are available. The good thing is, no fridge is needed, just put the stuff outside.

Drinking can be a problem in Antarctica, because of the monotony of life, especially in the winter months. The bars became social focus points, and bartenders did the job all other bartenders do all over the world. One bartending researcher said he:

swapped out soda for booze when people drank too much…and kept them inside the bar rather than watching them stumble out the door where, completely inebriated, they could hurt themselves or pass out in the snow.


2c. drinks #3 — escape from IPA

escapefromipa

I do quick research during nano and I came across this beer called Escape from IPA from Pipeworks brewery in Chicago. What I found hilarious is the label, which is in line with all their other labels. Look at that Han Solo pirate escaping helicopters and red F1 racing cars, kinda comic book cliché.

With a name like Escape from IPA, it suggests that it’s the anti-IPA (scourge of craft beers). But it’s actually a 10% West Coast styled triple IPA made from 3 hops with the fancy names of Equinox, Galaxy, and Centennial.

Some people bet on racehorses based on their names or the colour of their jockey’s shirt. This is definitely one instance where people may pick a beer based on name or garish label. That’s exactly what my character did.


2d. drinks #4 — free beer while shopping

So a Morrisons in Leeds started offering free beer to shoppers while they go about their weekly shop. Not just beer, they have cider and wine too. The beer they serve is Saltaire Blonde ale from a local brewery.

morrisonsbeer

It’s a whole pint, according to the daily mail (not linking to that drek). Sounds like a good idea, except I’d prefer half or 1/3 pints because of drinking and driving. They should put the featured beer on its own display stand and study how sales increase. I’m very sure more people will buy it because they are given a sample.

what did i miss part 2

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 2. All London related.

1. how to pronounce some place names

londonnames

This is from a few years ago, Londonist’s guide to how to pronounce names of London place names, which cropped up on r/london recently.

No, it’s not Lie-sester Square it’s Lester Square; and Marylebone always stumps non-Londoners. Apparently Rotherhithe too.

Personally, I don’t agree with Ommer-tun for Homerton, I’d pronounce the h. And I always say Aldwych as All-witch.

We shouldn’t make fun of non-locals. I don’t expect to know place names in countries where I don’t know the language, but there are some names in the US and Australia that I can see the word and it’s made up of letters but I cannot put the letters together to form coherent sounds.


2. map of walking times between tube stations

walkingtubemap1

TFL published a map that shows the walking distance between tube stations. There’s also a map that shows the number of steps between stations, so they can put a spin on the “steps = exercise” trend.

Practially, this is a useful map for visitors and newcomers. Every Londoner knows it’s pointless to take the Piccadilly Line between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Between waiting for the train, the actual journey, and the horrendous wait for the lift at Covent Garden, it may take 10-15mins. Walking is 4mins.

walkingtubemap2

There’s another leaflet, journeys that could be quicker to walk [pdf] that is also very useful. For instance, the map would suggest it takes 18mins to walk between Queensway and Bayswater (via Notting Hill Gate) but the journey leaflet tells us it’s only 5mins. Google maps actually say 2mins, but that probably needs running at nighttime with no other pedestrians.


3. john snow’s cholera map

I saw this on a tv program about sewage and how the world’s cities made the jump from being disease infested to, well, less so. It’s all about clean water.

choleramap

The story of how John Snow discovered that cholera spreads through water rather than through the air by plotting a map of outbreaks that showed occurrences near to a water pump in Soho is well known. His use of data mapping is as revolutionary as the discovery itself. The blob of black dots around the pump at Broad (now Broadwick) Street as pretty horrible. But the interesting thing is workers at the nearby brewery were not affected because: a) they drank mainly beer and b) the brewery had its own water supply. That would not have been the case if the disease spread in th air.

So many diseases from 100, 200 years ago are under control. Cholera, TB, measles. Have we reached peak discovery? There doesn’t seem to be huge discoveries like this anymore, more like small incremental ones. Then again, it could be that they were low key. HIV has been contained, and many cancers are less life-threatening now. We have so much to learn.


4. property prices

londonhouseprices

According to bloomberg, london house prices are coming down, with more sellers reducing their prices from originally marketed. A report published by Rightmove says on average the reduction is 6.7% due to:

initial over-optimism and a tougher market

That said, the average in november is still an eye-popping £628,219. I mean, that’s staggering compared with a national average of £311,043.

The article immediate below the one about housing talks about more bad news for the pound, with further drops possible. An uncertain brexit, Theresa May’s uncertain future, all lead to the market being bearish on the pound. This actually is good news for us, since it means we can buy more.

Around the table on tuesday’s lunch we were all talking about property, as a group of middle-aged professionals are wont to do. If only we’d all bought a place in London when we graduated, we’d be all sitting pretty now. Ah well, can’t turn back time. The consensus is, £ and house prices haven’t seen bottom, so it’s worth waiting a little while longer.


5. decadent hot chocolate

Have to end on a more cheerful note. How about the most decadent hot chocolate in the capital. Fortnum’s chocolate bar, Flotsam And Jetsam’s rainbow-coloured white unicorn chocolate, Fattie’s Bakery’s with a toasted marshmallow rim, and the best chocolate café name of all, Choccywoccydoodah. Some of them look like they have far too much whipped cream. My 2 favourites on this list:

darksugars

The one from Dark Sugars that has a mountain of chocolate shards shaved on top. The way the shards melt into the chocolate…

hotelchocclassic

And finally, the classic from Hotel Chocolat. Who needs fancy when you have classical elegance and top quality ingredients.

what did i miss part 1

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 1.

1. paradise papers

chi233fed

The Paradise Papers came out. Just like the earlier Panama Papers, this series of leaks showed yet again how the rich got richer and the rest of us got left behind. BBC summary:

The Paradise Papers are a huge leak of financial documents that throw light on the top end of the world of offshore finance…how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals use complex structures to protect their cash from higher taxes.

The issue is, off-shore accounts aren’t strictly illegal. There’s some sort of competitve sport behind the idea of trying to avoid as much tax as possible. Show me one person who actively wants to pay taxes. But the flipside is, how are governments supposed to operate without taxes? If there are no taxes, there’d be no police, no sewage system, no healthcare. Oh wait, that’s exactly the thinking of the pro-busines conservative right. Privatise it all. Instead of paying the government, we pay corporations to provide security, sewage, healthcare. Sounds idyllic, except once profits come into it, imagine how much these corporations will charge, imagine the lack of oversight, imagine the lack of budget for non-essential functions. I’m no economist, but a completely free market depends on compassion and not just profit. Trickle-down economics is all smoke and mirror, unfortunately.

On the one hand I look at all the people and corporations being named–the Queen, Apple, Bono–and I feel zero sorries for them, because the world has gotten so unequal that any attention to the issue is good. On the other hand, I can’t help but think the real people to blame are the lawyers and accountants and financial advisers who thought of the schemes and the politicians who didn’t close the loopholes.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough attention paid to this. Most people don’t have exposure to the shady world of off-shore accounts, and funnelling money to the likes of Bermuda and the Channel Islands isn’t illegal. But as quartz said, this touches on the question of:

the difference between the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.”

We’ve reached the point when the world’s richest 1% own 50% of all wealth, and yet one US political party wants to further reduce the tax burden on the richest individuals and corporations. NYT:

The Republican tax plan would shift more of the tax burden onto those who can least afford to shoulder it and relieve those who are already starving the government of tax revenue. The Paradise Papers shine yet another spotlight on how the rich and powerful game the system to avoid paying what they would otherwise owe. The rest of us suffer for it. Why hand them even more favors?


2a. trivial tech stuff #1 — twitter now @280 characters

Twitter doubled its character limit to 280 per post. Can’t say I like or dislike it. All it means is a tweetstorm is now 10 posts instead of 20. Talking about tweetstorm, they are testing a new tweetstorm feature that will allow users to draft a series of tweets before posting them together all at once. Instant tweetstorm!

2b. trivial tech stuff #2 — most downvoted comment in reddit history

In reddit, users upvote or downvote posts and comments to improve the visibility of said posts and comments, to show support (upvote) or to indicate their displeasure (downvote). Technically, downvoting should only be for comments that don’t contribute to the thread. The most obvious example is spam comments, with dodgy links and gobbledegook text underneath a perfectly normal post or comment.

redditdownvotes

What happened over a very short 24 hour period was one comment made by Electronic Arts (EA) in response to a post about the microtransaction system of the game Star Wars Battlefront II got so many downvotes it smashed downvote records. The OP had a point, the game already cost US$60 or whatever it is to buy, then to unlock main characters it cost something like $80 on top, per character. I’m no gamer, but that sounds super greedy.

EA didn’t help matters by responding to the OP with a condescending comment full of rubbish corporate speak. As a result that comment received over 677k downvotes before it was locked. That’s far and beyond the most downvoted comment in recollection. Interesting that EA was responsible for a lot of downvoted comments too. They may or may not have listened to the feedback, shortly afterwards they reduced the cost to unlock the characters.

2c. trivial tech stuff #3 — new corporate font from IBM

Unlike Apple or Microsoft, IBM has traditionally used Helvetica. But since it’s not their own font, they’ve had to licence it from Monotype. Now they don’t have to anymore, with the creation of its own bespoke font, called unimaginatively IBM Plex.

ibmplex

I like it. Clean, modern, sans serif. Quartz called it a:

graceful hybrid of blocky, engineered shapes with natural gestures from handwriting.

What’s more, it’s not like frutiger or other pricey fonts, IBM has made it free to download.


3. john lewis christmas ad

Finally, some cheering up. John Lewis’ 2017 Chrismas ad debuted on the 10th of november. I’m furiously trying not to dwell on the fact that it cost £7 million, and how that could have been used better. Not my favourite John Lewis Christmas ad, but still very charming.

nano day 15 | 50213 words total

nano

1640 words | 50213 total

I was out all day, lunch with King’s friends, setting up stuff at the flat for visitors, and meeting mm for drinks and walking around a department store that was having a sale. Home, showered and it was 10.30pm. So the dilemma was, write a few words so I won’t miss a day, or push on to finish.

Obviously, I ended up getting enough words to hit 50k. Yay!!! Finish on day 15 means my average goes from day 16 to day 15. It’s a meaningless statistic and is neither here nor there.

There are some discrepancies with wordcount, depending on tool. Scrivener is the most generous, which is the most dangerous because it made me think I’d reach 50k when I hadn’t. On the nanosite it showed 49k so I had to add a few hundred words to make sure I hit 50k. That’s always been the risk, it was never a good idea to stop at 50000. So, out of the various programs:

  • word: 50211
  • nanosite: 50213
  • google docs: 50236
  • scrivener: 50312

Like whether I average day 15 or day 16 finish, these are meaningless stats and neither here nor there.

There’s this badge for updating wordcount for 30 days, so I’ll add a few sentences a day to keep it ticking till day 30. The story itself is around half done. I was looking at the outline and there were good ideas that I skipped in earlier chapters. If I ever edit it, that’s an opportunity to add more interesting parts.

But to all intents and purposes, it’s another successful nano year.

nano day 13 | 44440 words total

nano

4053 words | 44440 total

I was home all day, and I didn’t have to do a lot of cooking so there was time for nano and reading.

Steady progress throughout the day, with only one jarring incident. I caught myself writing your when I meant you’re. This is serious, because I never used to make this type of mistake. It’s only seeing way, way too many people misuse these two words that now my brain is fried and I’m getting confused myself.

[Yes, I edit somewhat during nano, mostly for typos. And my sentences are properly capitalised. I write I’ll instead of I will. I’ll type people’s full names out sometimes, and add I said instead of leaving it out to bolster wordcount.]

Someone posted on one of the nano forum threads (which I thought I saved but can’t find) that they love their story but not their writing. I’m not sure if they mean they’re not writing well or they think they’re not writing well. A lot of writers suffer from imposter syndrome. Anyway, that was how I was feeling a few chapters ago, that the story had potential, but I wasn’t doing it justice. Too much backstory, nothing much was happening, the characters weren’t interacting. The feeling disappeared soon, because guess what, it’s nano. In november, only wordcount matters.

nano day 12 | 40387 words total

ldn044poppy

4186 words | 40387 total

I’m at 40k. That’s always a good feeling. It’s like I’m driving home on the motorway and the first time the signs say “London” it’s a feeling that I’m closer to home, even though it can be over 100 miles away. Get to 40k and 50k is only a few days away.

The second sunday of november is also remembrance sunday. Regardless of how anyone feel about wearing the poppy or not wearing it, we must all take a moment to remember the war dead and thank our armed forces. And it’s now time to listen to I Vow to Thee My Country.

The second sunday of nano is traditionally when I do a massive backup of the novel. Every day I backup the scrivener file to dropbox and a flashdrive. I also copy to word and google docs; the word file also gets backed up to dropbox and the flashdrive. On massive backup day, all the files get backed up as usual plus to the time machine and 2 external hard disks.