Less than an hour to go till november, and since I was out at dinner and just got home, I’m not in sleeping mode yet. May be I’ll stay up till midnight and make a start on nano.

I was reading an article on fastcompany about the non-profit Charity:Water that successfully raised US$260 million since 2006 using storytelling techniques. There are 2 charitable causes close to my heart. One is clean water in developing countries, I support folia water’s low cost paper water filter that provides one week of safe water for only 50 cents. The other is the star foundation that specialises in giving people with disabilities real life opportunities, like their award-winning restaurant where people with disabilities are chefs and wait staff.

Anyway, back to Charity:Water, their emphasis on storytelling seems fitting for the day before nano. They shared their 5 key lessons for success and I think it applies to fiction storytelling too

  1. good stories have more faces than facts — a non-profit may tell the story of how they helped one specific person or family, which will resonate with potential donors; in writing, strong, believable and relevant characters are essential to the success of a story
  2. good stores spark memories — non-profits try to make connections between donors and recipients; in writing locations, events, and personalities are useful tools to draw the reader in
  3. good stories combine head and heart — Charity:Water publishes success stories, like how clean water in Nepal reduced diahorrea cases from 6433 to 182 in four years; in writing I think the technique is show vs tell and using narration vs dialogue
  4. good stories give context — here’s where good research and a rich backstory comes in
  5. good stories empower people to take action — I guess this is more important with a non-profit than writing a book, but there is a similar idea, a good story will inspire readers no matter it is to support the author or make changes in their own lives

nano prep


Finally outlined this year’s nano. Tentative title is Running Tangents or may be Run the Line which gives me one extra word. In geometry, a tangent is a straight line that touches a point on a curve or a circle, but does not cross it. In races, a tangent is the line that touches the inside of a curve and is the shortest distance around that curve; in big races it’s marked by an actual physical line on the road. But in life, it’s almost never possible to take the shortest or easiest route. This story is centred on two MCs who were forced into each other’s lives when one ran over the other in a car accident. A radical punishment by the judge pushes them into constant contact. It’s about redemption but is also about forgiveness too.

I’m not sure I’ve fleshed it out sufficiently to carry through to 50k; I need more side characters and events other than physiotherapy, training and races. Anyway, there are tried and tested nano tricks and I trolled the dares thread:

  • one of your characters is really protective about their hair and is deeply offended / outraged at anyone mocking it
    BP: They have a really weird / unusual hair style (e.g. Extremely long hair, Pompadour, has thousands of curls [Even the curls have curls!], has a gigantic bow tied in it, Is very spiky, etc)
  • have your characters visit a train station (Either travelling somewhere or for other reasons.). Describe the train station in detail and some of the random travellers that pass by.
  • your group of characters now have a team pet / mascot
  • the next chapter you write is completely filler. It cannot advance the plot in any shape or form
    BP: the Filler Chapter is never referenced again within your novel
    DBP: if a minor character was introduced in said Filler Chapter, when / if they show up later in the novel, no one knows who they are and threaten to call the police if they don’t leave them alone!
  • your characters have gotten lost. Start the next chapter you write, in a completely new and unrelated location from the end of the previous one
  • reference every previous nano story you’ve written
    BP: work the verbatim titles of every previous nano into your story in a logical, coherent way
    DBP: include a cameo appearance of at least one character from every previous story
    Super Bonus Bragging Rights: this means 12 previous stories and characters
  • have a character who is addicted to their cell phone.
    BP: if their phone addiction forwards the plot
  • your character(s) explore an abandoned building
    BP: they find something important/of value
    DBP: they hadn’t realized they needed this object until they found it
    TBP: they’d never been in the building before, and/or had no reason to be in it
  • include the following line: “The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity”
  • use “hedgehog” in an insult
  • include a chicken, duck and a penguin in your novel
  • a character’s house is haunted
    BP: f the ghost leaves random messages around the house
    DBP: if those messages are things like “You’re out of milk.”

Next step in prep, start the scrivener file and update the excel template. Funny thing, I shared on fb that I have an excel template for keeping track of wordcount during nano and it plots pretty charts too. Something like 20 people responded that they’d like a copy. Some of them are published authors too! I’m usually flabbergasted when I get more than 3-4 of reactions to my fb posts, it’s not like I’m popular or anything.

I’ve been using this report card for so long, when someone thanked me for the effort of making it, I realised I had to clarify that it isn’t mine. Someone shared it on the nano forums and I made some changes–took out some features that I didn’t use and added a sheet to keep track of number of words by chapter. I guess I’ve made it mine over the years.


At first I thought that it’s been around since 2009 and in those days nano wasn’t that well known and mostly only geeks knew about it. I searched through my mba folders and found an earlier version from 2005. I think they had it in 2004 already, but I was a) so late; and b) so new that year I may have missed it.


Wow, 2005. Talk about longevity. I still love the simple progress chart. This was from last year, which bucked the recent norm because I kept on adding a few words every day even after I reached 50k. The novel’s not finished. Some time around 2008 I realised it wasn’t necessary to finish a novel at 50k words. Out of 12: 4 finished, 1 finished but half lost due to flashdrive accident, 7 in progress (aka stopped at 50k mark).

happiness and people


Went over to meet mm in the afternoon. And we were joined by her mum’s friend P. Didn’t do much, just walked along the seafront near her place to the shopping centre and bought ice cream using my almost-expiring coupons. P has been super supportive of her mum and the family during her mum’s illness. She’s close enough to their family to be able to offer honest and practical advice. But there are still things mm can only tell me, not only because I understand, but I, luckily, have her trust.

P had to go home for dinner and we stayed around the shopping centre, browsing around supermarkets. Walked back and had Japanese set dinner–chirashi for me, grilled mackerel for her. Didn’t do much, but it was necessary social support.

There’s an article in the NYT called Happiness is Other People that seems quite poignant today.

There seems to be a trend that promotes self-awareness, self-discovery and self-everything, the starting point being: the search for contentment is an internal, personal quest that doesn’t involve other people. I totally embrace the concept of finding happiness internally or engaging in activities alone or in a group without interaction (eg running in a race with tens of thousands of people). A fb friend posted a question on what would make a perfect birthday and most people replied along the lines of spending time with loved ones, a nice meal, receiving presents. I remember one year, I took the day off work and told everyone not to contact me on the day. I didn’t think people would appreciate me posting that as a comment so I stayed silent.

There’s some pushback on all the internalising. Pretending to live in a virtual desert island doesn’t work all the time. It may be harmful rather than beneficial. There are studies that say lack of social interaction is as dangerous to health as smoking and obesity. NYT:

Self-reflection, introspection and some degree of solitude are important parts of a psychologically healthy life. But somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten the balance wrong. Because far from confirming our insistence that ‘happiness comes from within,’ a wide body of research tells us almost the exact opposite….if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

I think it comes down, as with many things in life, to balance. Imagine a spectrum that has complete social isolation at one end and constant social interaction on the other, each of us falls somewhere in the middle. Some peole prefer to be surrounded by people all the time, some people want more “me time.” What I think is also of extreme importance, is the quality and worthwhileness of the interactions. It takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to maintain strong social connections; as someone on mefi said:

it’s about the same level of energy (emotional, physical, logistical) required for dating…it’s a constant struggle against a lot of ingrained ideas I have about what counts as a “worthwhile” investment of my time.

Also important, is having the strength to leave toxic connections. Is it a fear of losing out, or fear of isolation, or resistance to change? Most of us are guilty of keeping toxic connections that are draining and too needy. Almost impossible to leave when it’s family, and here is when those other quality and worthwhile connections that can help negate the negativity. Sometimes the mere availability of those positive connections can carry us through tough times. The thought that I can go to certain friends is enough, I don’t necessarily have to actually reach out to them.

At the moment, mm and I are each other’s social support and we’ve either isolated ourselves or through circumstances found ourselves isolated. All the more important to have more “us time” even if it’s just walking in the park to the shopping centre to get ice cream.

meatball pasta attempt


Today’s attempt at cooking was meatball pasta. Around 60:40 pork and beef mince, and I used the guardian’s method of substituting eggs with breadcrumbs soaked in milk as the binding agent. Supposed to keep meatballs lighter. Problem was, they were so light that some fell apart when I was browning them.

The sauce was canned tomato, tomato paste, fresh cherry tomato and sun-dried tomato. Enough tomato or what. Added chicken stock and lots and lots of herbs–basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme. I think it was too tomato-y, it tasted primarily of tomato paste and I had to add sugar. Simmered for around 1hr.

I let the meatballs and bits of mince that were broken meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 20mins. Ended up with a pasta dish that was part ragu and part meatballs. I guess it’s all the same.

vending machines hokkaido

via colossal, all images ©Eiji Ohashi


I can’t stop looking at these from Japanese photographer Eiji Ohashi, who photographed vending machines in Hokkaido at night. This combines so many of my likes: Hokkaido, vending machines, photography, stillness. There are over 5 million vending machines in Japan, selling everything from the usual drinks and snacks to toys and clothing. They’re located inside buildings, outside buildings, on roads and, in rural areas, in the middle of a field. What Ohashi-san did, was notice how the light from the machine would shine on its surroundings:

vending machines downtown or in the wilderness, placed to stand in solitude, are an image of loneliness. They work tirelessly, whether it is day or night.


They’re especially beautiful when covered in snow. It’s almost like they stand there in defiance of whatever the elements throw at them.

This is part of a series called Time to Shine, more on his website.

coincidence photography

I had my eye on a small lightbox that folds to the size of an A4 piece of paper, but am slightly put off by some of the negative reviews. Price is good though.

Anyway, talking about photography, I saw these photos as part of a project called the coincidence project by Denis Cherim who arranged to take his photos as certain times and angles. Good use of

perspective, scale, and certainly a bit of luck


All images ©Denis Cherim

More on his website. Cherim is currently on a 3-month residency in Taiwan. He’s also on instagram.

iphone ice cream


Sis gave me a bunch of haagen-dazs vouchers that had been sitting in my backpack for months. They expire on 31 oct so I’ve been a little stressed out trying to figure out how to use them up. I gave them to mum last sunday but she came home empty-handed claiming the shop only served scoops. She also thought we can use them at the supermarket. Um, mum, you can’t use vouchers for shop A in shop B even though shop B sells A brands. That’s r/talesfromretail territory. Plus I know H-D shops have tubs, just need to ask.

Today mum’s out to lunch with her friends so I walked to the H-D shop in the nearby shopping centre. Lo and behold, they do have tubs, only they’re not obviously displayed. They have a special offer of two family-sized tubs for local$238. So I used up 4 of the $50 vouchers. They can put 2 flavours in each tub so I came home with 4 flavours: chocolate, macadamia brittle, blueberry, yuzu. The tubs are pretty large and the server really packed the ice cream in tight. I was showing mm the size and used my spare iphone as unit of measurement.

I had a total of $350 in vouchers so I need to use up the remaining $150. The plan is to meet up with mm at the weekend and go to the H-D shop near her. Neither of us have enough space in our freezers but we can just get scoops.

family and bbmm day

Met uncle A and auntie J to visit my grandparents and great-grandmothers at the cemetery. As usual we met at the flower market, but when mum and I got there, the usual flower shop has closed down. In its place is an empty shop currently undergoing renovation. Mum usually gets handmade small baskets but most of the other shops don’t do them. We walked around and decided to get some really beautiful potted flowers instead. For my grandparents we got a large pot of…some red flowers and for the great-grandmothers smaller pots of…other red flowers. Okay, I’m really terrible at flowers and I forgot to take pictures.


Quick lunch of wonton noodles, this place used to serve giant wontons but nowadays they are definitely deflated. Also got a dish of deep fried fish balls, so piping hot when they came to the table they scalded the tongue. There was enough time to walk around before meeting my uncle and aunt and we ended up in a small supermarket that sells a lot of Tesco products. I have my eye on olive oil, juice and wine. Will need to make a shopping trip one day.

We were efficient at the cemetery. There were quite a number of people there today, unusual for a weekday. The weather was nice, a little cooler than before so may be that’s why.

Had tea and cakes afterwards and then we said our goodbyes. Mum went shopping and I took the bus to mm’s place. I was really early so I bought some snacks and walked one stop. We were going to skive but then her mum texted inviting us to dinner. There was about an hour before we had to get going so we tried to fit in a happy hour drink. Didn’t work. We’d only started on our drink when I glanced at the clock and it was already 5.20pm. We were supposed to pick her dad up and then drive to the restaurant at 5.30pm. Yikes. So we asked the bar if they had takeaway cups and thankfully, it being a mexican place, they had those plastic cups with dome lids they probably use for margaritas. We hurried and managed to get to her dad’s place at 5.45pm.

Dinner was nice, her mum’s friend P was also there. I managed to take an orange and some dessert home with me.

there’s a new apple in town


This time of year means honeycrisp apples. Which I can’t get and is a sob-worthy moment. It’s really the only apple I like even though at a pinch I’ll have the readily available fuji. But never, ever red delicious. I’d rather have an orange.

NPR is reporting that in Washington state, apple farmers are ripping out existing fruit trees and replacing them with a new variety because of falling demand of the aforerejected red delicious. The new variety is called cosmic crisp which was developed over 20 years at Washington State University by Dr Bruce Barritt and when he retired, Dr Kate Evans (originally from Kent). 12 million cosmic crisp trees will be planted by 2020, all of them tracing their origins from ONE mother tree still standing in the university’s research orchard.

It will be grown exclusively in Washington state for ten years since farmers there partially funded the breeding program and are investing something like US$50,000 per acre, high stakes for a new product. The first harvest will be in 2019.

Considering the taste and durability of its parents–honeycrisp and enterprise, there is high hopes for cosmic crisp. Honeycrisp is successful because of its taste and crunch but the flavour doesn’t last and the variety is hard to grow. Enterprise’s best characteristic is that it can be stored for a long time and is resilient. In terms of taste, the NYT described cosmic crisp as

dramatically dark, richly flavored and explosively crisp and juicy

We’re in for interesting times with many new varieties of apples in development or hitting the market soon. SweeTango and Juici comes from Minnesota; a more complex and aromatic derivative of golden delicious called Opal from the Czech Republic; and Kanzi, a gala-braeburn cross from Belgium.

Because we get crappy apples, I don’t eat them. But with so many new varieties coming to market around the world, fingers crossed I get to try at least some.

london a-z food guide


BigBusLondon is putting a spin on their hop-off-hop-on London tours: the A-Z food guide. Tourists get a free map and can pick out where to enjoy unusual foods along the various routes. It starts like this:

  • alpaca at Archipelago near Oxford Street
  • bubblewrap waffle at Bubblewrap at Wardour Street
  • cronut at Dominique Ansel near Victoria
  • duck and waffle at, uh, Duck & Waffle at Heron Tower

There’s a medieval banquet near the Tower, roasted bone marrow at St John, and the naga viper chilli wings challenge–naga viper pepper is rated at 1.3 million on the scoville scale (scotch bonnet is 100,000-350,000). For the more difficult letters, they have jellied eel, xiao long bao and zebra, all of which I’ve tried and are good to eat.

Not a bad idea, even though it’s highly likely that the food places are sponsors. No different from all the free city maps we get at tourist information offices and hotels that have recommended restaurants that are thinly disguised ads. Ever notice why hard rock café appears so often on these free maps?

someone invented a tea-making machine


First there was the Keurig, which spawned countless imitators. The $400 Juicero thankfully shut down. And now another victim of its own frivolity is also shutting down–the Teforia tea infuser. According to the manufacturer it is a “groundbreaking”

machine-learning tea infusion device

and its features include:

  • proprietary tea pods called Sips that cost betwen $1-6, around 2 servings per pod
  • each pod has a RFID chip that enables the device to read the type of tea and therefore length, temperature, amount of water etc needed for brewing
  • connects via bluetooth to an app which gives information such as the last time the user brewed a type of tea and most importantly, allows the user to buy more tea pods
  • connects via wifi so it can be updated with new brewing recipes
  • $1000 for the classic model — now apparently discounted to a bargain at $200

It was doomed from the start. An actual British writer at gizmodo reviewed the infuser and the article is a must-read because the device sounded comically useless. It failed the taste test of earl grey vs tazo brand; not that tazo is any good, mind. And as for english breakfast, otherwise known as “tea” in the UK, I’ll let the reviewer describe it:

The best cup of tea on Earth is the one Mum makes when I arrive in our kitchen from the long flight home, or, if that’s not in reach, one that reminds me of that. The Daybreak reminded me more of the utterly depressing tea I’d buy at the cafe in Heathrow bus station

It’s yet again another Silicon Valley invented solution for a non-existent problem. A tea-making machine that costs the same as an iphone X? Each serving costing a few dollars? Plus tea that tastes like, well, an American made it? Are they having a laugh.

Americans need to stop trying to make tea, they don’t even know how to use use the term cuppa correctly. It’s not a “cuppa of tea” mate.

Automated tea-making machines are not new. There have been teasmades since the 1930s. Swan still makes clock radio teasmads which can be bought at Argos for less than £60. Okay, no fancy app or RFID pods and you have to supply your own teabag. But with a big box of PG or Yorkshire tea costing a few quid (or dollars), if someone really wants a machine to make their tea for them, get a teasmade instead of these not!smart smart devices.

ribs, tomato, pepper, potato


One baking tin dinner tonight, an old favourite and a new preparation.

Went to the market and got boneless ribs. Marinaded with olive oil, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, paprika, garlic, liquid smoke, s&p for 1hr then slow roasted at 160ºC covered with foil for 1.5hrs.

Peppers stuffed with tomato is an old recipe from Delia’s Summer Collection. Halve and roast peppers around the one-hour to go mark, then add tomatoes when peppers are soft. I didn’t have anchovies so I used sun-dried tomatoes instead to compliment the fresh tomatoes and add saltiness. Soaked in hot water to soften then chopped and added with fresh tomatoes.

The potatoes were hasselback potatoes which were made by cutting the potato into thin slices, but not all the way through to the bottom. Seasoned with butter, rosemary and s&p. Added to the baking tin at around the one-hour to go mark.

Everything was ready at around the same time. I don’t think the picture did it justice, tasted much better than it looked.

family visiting | chow mein sandwich


Met my aunt and cousin for lunch. They’re the Rhode Island relatives; I hadn’t seen my aunt in absolutely ages and I don’t remember her daughter at all. I think when I last saw them last my cousin was still a kid. She’s now all grown up and very tall.

Went to the peking duck and shark’s fin place, which we all agreed is a family favourite. Everyone has memories of going there with my grandparents as hosts. Whenever someone comes for a visit from the US and Canada, that’s where we all go.

My aunt and uncle have a restaurant (or restaurants, I’m not sure) in RI, their parents had a fabulous fried chicken place that I have vague and fond memories of. My cousin showed us a video of their signature dish, the chow mein sandwich. I asked her to send me the video but she hadn’t gotten round to it yet, so here’s a stock pic. My aunt says the dish was responsible for paying for their house and college education for my cousins. It’s been around for decades, so can be considered a precurser of the ramen burger that was the craze a while ago. But where the ramen burger is all hipster pretentiousness, the chow mein sandwich is more down-to-earth. The ramen burger has noodles as the bun, whereas the chow mein sandwich is

crunchy noodles soaked in a super salty, meaty, brown gravy until they’re no longer all that crunchy, then combined with ground pork, onion, celery, and a gelatinous brown gravy that tastes better than it sounds, and slapped sloppily between either half of a cheap hamburger bun

A little investigation, together with a very interesting article at the New England Historical Society reveals that the chow mein sandwich originated at the town of Fall River, Massachusetts which is less than 30mins’ drive from where my RI relatives live, in the Providence area. The sandwich is also unique to that part of southeastern MA and RI.

What’s intriguing is that the chow mein sandwich is attributed to Frederick Wong who started the Oriental Chow Mein Company in 1938. Their Hoo-Mee chow mein mix is what goes into the dish. Frederick’s son Albert and daughter-in-law Barbara took over the family business and the chow mein sandwich mantle. I wonder if they are related to my uncle, who is also a Wong.

There’s so much of my family’s history in that part of the world–my grandmother was born in Newport in 1916 so there’s history going back 100 years–I really want to know more about them. Need to plan and scheme.

excel art


The excel team did an ama that turned into a bug reporting forum but there were some good ideas suggestions. One of the takeaways is I need to transition from vlookup to index/match. It’s funny, once we get comfortable with certain methods, we stick to them. I’ve never been that proficient with i/m, because I don’t use it. And therein lies the circular loop issue.

The most fun question was when someone asked for examples of people using excel for unusual things. There’s a tool that turns a picture into a spreadsheet using conditional formatting; there are excel games; animations using VBA and macros. The most awesome is Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi who makes paintings in excel. Not simple paintings but extremely complex and beautiful drawings.

smoked water


I see contestants on masterchef smoking food to add flavour. Smoked parsnip purée, smoked vanilla ice cream, smoked fish. For better or worse, sis gave me a small bottle of liquid smoke that I’ve used in ribs and it smells great.

And now there is smoked water. Originally developed for Heston by a salt company in North Wales, 100ml of Halen Môn smoked water costs £4.10. In contrast, whisky costs less per 100ml.

The process of making this smoked water is similar to making whisky where

filtered tap water is circulated through loops that contain oak chips and oak dust and what comes out is an amber liquid with “the cleanest of aromas of burning wood.”

I guess it has its uses, but seems to me to be an overpriced product looking for a market.

little jade


King’s dinner tonight with a group of 10 people who were in my year or thereabouts. There were a couple of people I hadn’t seen since we graduated, like E who had the nickname of “King of Electronics” because he got straight As and graduated at the top of his class in the Dept of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. The talk is about children going off to university and I’m sure soon it’ll be about grandchildren and retirement. Because everyone is older now, we have connections and were able to get this private room at a restaurant with a great menu for a good price.

Joining dinner was Mrs Lue, the widow of Dr Abraham Lue, who was a Fellow teaching Maths when we were undergraduates. He was a respected father figure and mentor to many of us. Dr Lue passed away a couple of years ago and I’m so glad that the group kept in touch with Mrs Lue (actually she’s Dr too). She gave us a copy of a book that Dr Lue wrote called Little Jade and the Celestial Guards. It seems to be a YA novel in the Mulan mode. Back of the book:

The Celestial Guards are the four guardians of the compass. Blue Dragon, Red Bird, White Tiger and Black Warrior control the wind and rain and plant growth. They are each associated with a season, and the elements of wood, fire, metal and water. As agents of the Jade Emperor of Heaven they keep order in the universe.

Little Jade and her young brother Little Hero live in the remote hillsides of Shanxi. They are on a missio to rescue their father who has been abducted into the army of conscripts to rebuild the Great Wall.

The Ming emperor Yong Le also has plans to move his capital to the old Mongol capital of Dadu and he intends to subjugate the remnants of the Mongol tribes that endanger his northern border.

Little Jade and her brother face all kind of dangers in their quest. Fortunately for them, in moments of dire need they are assisted by the Celestial Guards who manifest themselves in human form to help their young friends.

The book is sold privatedly to benefit an elderly care charity and isn’t listed anywhere like on amazon. It has an ISBN number though. I was grateful to receive a copy to remember Dr Lue but I was reminded of why I don’t touch books like The Joy Luck Club or Wild Swans with a ten-foot pole. It’s so…clichéd. From the names of the MCs (Little Jade) to the ubiquitous [Colour][Mystical Beast] combo and how about those mystical Celestial Guards appearing deus ex machina to save the day at the end. Boiler plate.

Sorry, Dr and Mrs Lue. It’s not fair to criticise when I hadn’t even read past the first sentence.

nano blank


I’m enjoying reading the Deverry novels so much I haven’t done much of anything. And there’s only 2 weeks to go till nano. I haven’t outlined anything. I haven’t even decided in which country the novel will take place, let alone city. No idea about the names of the MCs, their backstories, even which race they will be entering.

This is a dire situation. I must not let things fester and go neglected.

poor libraries


This was on r/books. tl;dr: OP thought getting a book out from the library costs money.

My initial reaction: the OP surely is kidding. He must be completely daft, it’s like thinking the earth is flat. Oh wait–

More detailed reading of the comments showed that OP grew up in a small town that didn’t have much of a library and somehow he didn’t receive any education on what libraries can offer. Librarians chimed in and explained it is a common occurrence. A tweet by someone at mashable:

Bleak indeed. It’s indicative of what is happening in the world. Libraries are being closed or their budgets cut. In the UK, US, Canada. And that’s just a two-minute google search. Libraries, museums, national parks all seem to be easy targets for budget cuts by councils and politicians only concerned with the short term. The problem is, in times of recession, library usage tends to increase. Makes sense, it’s where people can get entertainment for free, where someone who doesn’t have a computer gets access to computers, and community support too.


I don’t go to the library very often but I used to. Papa used to go every week to read magazines; one of the last things I did for him was to return the book he was in the middle of reading when he went to hospital. I also remember the wonderful Barbican Centre library, so conveniently located next to school, with tons of CDs. I just took out my Library of Congress card which I got last year when the conference was in Washington DC and I’m so happy with it. I was happy to read about Overdrive but their claim that they allow access to ebooks and audiobooks worldwide is a lie. It’s not worldwide. I looked at our public library website and there are a total of 13,000 english e-books in the entire system. While encouraging, most are reference and academic books. But still, the books are available to me. Free of charge.

While I initially scoffed at OP on that reddit thread, I’m now grateful to him because of the sheer number of comments it has gathered so far and the overwhelming support for libraries and librarians expressed by commenters. Unfortunately hoping that it’ll be read by one or more of those cold-hearted politicians who want to cut library budgets is in vain.

Bleak indeed.

home maintenance and evil property developers


Our building is a low-rise with a total of only 16 flats. It started life as a co-op for civil servants. As time passed, it became privatised and non-civil servants were allowed to purchase units. There is one company that managed to buy a few units as they came on the market. They seem to be a property developer represented by an estate agent and they rent the flats out to private renters. It’s a popular rental even though the building is very old and there are no lifts. One of the most important aspect for these renters is we are in the catchment area of a large number of good schools. The developer has a total of 6 out of 16 units.

Last year, there was a government inspection of the building and as a result, there is some remedial work that has to be done. Patch the cracks on the outside wall, replace some pipes, fix part of sewage system that has collapsed. For a building this age, it’s held up surprisingly well. At an earlier homeowners’ meeting, it was suggested to take the opportunity and add a few maintenance items like re-pave the carpark (which is full of potholes), renew the waterproofing on the roof (the top floor flats report leakage), repaint interior common areas like the staircases. The last time they did maintenance on the building was over 10 years ago so it’s good timing.

The building hired a consultant to manage this project, an RFP went out, responses were received and a shortlist of potential contractors came for an interview a few weeks ago.

The representative of the 6 units told us that their client (the anonymous property developer) wants only to do the absolute necessary mandated by the government inspection. They don’t even want to paint the exterior after it’s been patched. So the homeowners association is now split into two fractions. The “original” owners like us and an outsider property developer whose ultimate motive we suspect is to buy everyone out so they can tear the building down. If they don’t even repaint the outside walls the building looks terrible and people who may want to sell can’t get a good price from other buyers so this property developer can swoop in and get the flat cheap. That unfortunately is the MO of property developers and estate agents, I’ve never come across a more unscrupulous and downright distasteful industry.

Today’s meeting is to vote on what tasks to be done and to decide on the contractor. The original owners made the effort to contact every single owner to get them to come to the meeting or assign a proxy. It was important that we get more than 6 in order for us to have a say.

The consultant conducted the vote and as expected, the property developer voted against every item that was optional. Yes, even repainting the outside walls after patching. Luckily we still have a majority so most of the optional items passed.

Our group agreed that we need to come up with a viable strategy to protect ourselves. As time passes, more families may want to sell and as soon as the developer gets more than half the units, they will have complete control over what happens to the building. Any families still remaining will be in a disadvantageous position. Hard to believe owning a flat can get this political.

reading list


For the reading queue, a bunch of standalone science fiction and fantasy novels offered by mefi readers. Focus on fantasy with some scifi.

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison — quasi-steampunk fantasy setting with elves and goblins, and is a story about an unwanted youngest child who unexpectedly becomes emperor and has to deal with court politics all while trying to figure out who killed his father and brothers
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik — basically a fairy tale, but with some real depth and great characters, including a strong female lead. Nebula winner
  • Ammonite by Nicola Griffith — about a planet of women. It’s great and fascinating and neither a utopia nor a dystopia. More scifi than fantasy but I’ve always had the author at the back of my mind to try
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson — queer and full of colour and texture and lots of genre-mixing. The writing style is sensuous and moving and very original
  • Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells — a strong, powerful black woman protagonist with a white male sidekick/bodyguard. Epic fantasy, but the worldbuilding is a far cry from the usual Eurocentric middle ages stuff
  • Lock In by John Scalzi — no more introduction needed
  • The Book of Kells by R A MacAvoy — a tale of warriors, love, danger, and Irish history

At this rate I’ll have enough books to read for a long, long while and I can stay in the fantasy genre and not return to our lesfic community. My plan after finishing the deverry books is to either tackle all the David Eddings (I stopped somewhere around the Elenium and the Tamuli), or just take a single book like False Hearts, or the list above. Like I said, scads and scads of books to read.

where to live in the uk


Airfares to London are reasonable right now. Virgin return in november around £600. There are additional expenses too, like accommodation and transport. But it’s tempting.

I want to travel to a few locations around the country to suss out cost of housing and what it would be like to live there. London zone 2 is too expensive, even though it’s my first choice of where to live. Where sis and Rob have bought a house, in Chichester, a 2-bedroom new build flat is half the price of an equivalent 2-bed flat in W9. I want to check out Chichester, Brighton, and the coastal towns all the way up to Kent.

Then there’s further afield, which fills me with trepidation because that’s unfamiliar territory. The West Country and Wales. Up the A11 towards Cambridge. Even further away up the A1/M1 to Yorkshire. All the way to Edinburgh. Where can I live that will make me feel like home. Where indeed.

The guardian has ten autumn weekend breaks to lesser known towns and cities and some look quite interesting. Salisbury, Aberdeen, even…Richmond which made me scratch my head. I like the look of Bakewell, hard to get to Tregaron in Ceredigion (I had to google map it to see it’s halfway between Llanelli and Aberystwyth) and Hexham in Northumberland which they described as:

a criminally under-visited county

Back to London. Buzzfeed has a list of things to do this autumn in London including the Harry Potter 20th anniversay exhibition at the British Library, £31 two-course lunch at Galvin at Windows, £38 bottomless ramen on sunday including drinks and dessert Shoryu (or £5 ramen on sundays and mondays). And I’m missing hawksmoor a great deal again.

bbmm mental health day

A rare bbmm day out on a weekday. Met mm for dinner because we hadn’t seen each other for a while, and we both needed cheering up.

I went there early to walk around and to scout for possible restaurants. There’s a sous-vide steak place I found online and the prices look okay. Reviews are not good though, a lot of service related issues. Even if the food is good, if the service is rude it’s a big no-no for a restaurant.

There was even time to explore the so-called bar street where a number of drinking holes have sprung up. Mostly the same prices and mostly beer focused–a bucket of beer for xxx or discount on tap and bottled beer. I found one near the station and had a pint of murphy’s. I don’t think I will go to those bars again, they charge for “nuts” which made the price of that pint way too high. I hadn’t expected it and didn’t read the fine print carefully enough so it’s a lesson learned.

In the end, we had an easy dinner of congee at a local place. Many other customers were there for full scale dinner but we were fine with something simple. Just give us a decent place to sit and chat without feeling rushed. Lots to update on her work, family and a mutual friend who is just admitted to hospital for a minor surgery. We debated whether to get in touch or visit the friend, who hadn’t told us. In the end, our conclusion is to pretend we didn’t know because that’s probably what our friend wanted.


It’s also world mental health day, so we talked a little about the importance of making sure we take care of our mental health. Sometimes it means other people will need to take a back seat because we have to take care of ourselves first. It’s not being selfish or inconsiderate. If we’re not in good health, there is no way we can take on the worries of other people.

This was a much needed few hours together. Nothing special in terms of location or cuisine but so essential to both our well-being.

the story of how baileys was invented


TIL Baileys was invented in 1973 by David Gluckman and Hugh Reade Seymour-Davies. Mr Gluckman told the story in the Irish Times recently.

They’d just gotten their business started in London and were asked by the Irish company of their client International Distillers & Vintners (now Diageo) to create a new drinks brand for export.

Hugh: “What would happen if we mixed Irish whiskey and cream?”
David: “Let’s try it.”

We bought a small bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey and a tub of single cream and hurried back. It was a lovely May morning. 1973. Underdogs Sunderland had just won the FA Cup. We mixed the two ingredients in our kitchen, tasted the result and it was certainly intriguing, but in reality bloody awful. Undaunted, we threw in some sugar and it got better, but it still missed something.

We went back to the store, searching the shelves for something else, found our salvation in Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate and added it to our formula. Hugh and I were taken by surprise. It tasted really good. Not only this, but the cream seemed to have the effect of making the drink taste stronger, like full-strength spirit. It was extraordinary.

The name Baileys, in totally British fashion, was named after a bistro next to a pub near their office. Those days, Soho Square was where the ad agencies were. The husband of their secretary designed a label that included grazing cows and lush green pastures. They had a couple of focus groups taste the product and one thought it tasted like a medicine for diarrhea. They placed two bottles at a pub at Marylebone Road and there it sat for days until a couple of policemen came and drank the whole bottle.

They went to Dublin to pitch their product and were told by the sales director of the company: “It’s not for the Irish market. It’ll never sell here.” Despite this negativity, the product was launched in the UK and Ireland in 1975. But it took a while before it started gaining popularity.

And the rest is history. David Gluckman went on to write a book about his 40-year career creating brands for the drinks industry. Baileys is now the worlds best selling liqueur brand with 82 million bottles sold every year.

why we miss things in front of us

Here’s an interesting NYT article about how we miss objects in front of us.


The challenge: find the toothbrush in this messy bathroom. I saw the black one straightaway, which apparently made me an atypical person. Most people notice the smaller one first, and actually I had trouble finding it even after reading that there is a smaller one. The reason behind most people’s reaction is due to size and expectation. People expect toothbrushes to be a certain size and will look for an object that size, so our brains process the information accordingly. This is also why we may miss something that is right in front of us in a phenomenon known as inattentive blindness. We expect things to be in certain places and ignore if they are not. Remember the invisible gorilla? Christopher Chabris was a co-author:

[w]hat we pay attention to is largely determined by our expectations of what should be present.

So why did it take me less than one second to see the large toothbrush? One of the commenters on the mefi thread mentioned hidden object games. Bingo! Glad that all the time spent playing ravenhearst ddin’t go to waste.

the most important part of learning is forgetting


Mum has expressed her frustration at me numerous times when my answer to her questions is constantly “I don’t know.” Some questions are IMO unreasonable expectation that I am a cross between Superman and How did the tradesman get in through the main gate? How much should she pay the part time helper? Does abc shop sell xyz brand of whatever? Sometimes I’m expected to have a 10TB hard disk in my brain. What was that $50 transaction on her bank account 6 months ago; how much did the tv originally cost; when did so-and-so visit us.

What she has difficulty understanding or unwilling to make the effort–because it’s sooooo easy to ask a question and push the responsibility to someone else–is I archive a lot of information I process. Once the receipt is filed away, I no longer need to remember how much the tv cost. I may remember where it was purchased, simply because there are only a limited number of electronics shops. What I do retain, is where the receipt is so I know where to find it if necessary.

Although I’m not an AI entity (or are we all living in a computer simulation?) this approach to storing information is behind a new idea of how deep neural networks learn. Like how alphago learned how to play go and won against the European champion but slightly different.

There is a long article at quanta magazine that I’ve been trying to read for a few days that is sort of related to this. I still only have a tenuous grasp of the theories, it’s quite technical.

Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, proposed that deep neural networks learn via something he called information bottleneck where the AI iteratively discards irrelevant information and retains the important ones. This theory is not only relevant to machine learning, it may also shed light on how human brains learn and retain information. It’s all about filtering and archiving. Or as Professor Tishby said:

the most important part of learning is actually forgetting.

deverry take 2

I finished the last book of the Deverry series, took one month from when I started so average 2 days per book. With books that I love and ones that make me think, I go back and re-read immediately after finishing. I may do that, and the only reason I’m hesitating is that it will overlap with nano. Ah well, I won’t write all the time and the reward will be reading when I hit my wordcount target for the day. There are so many threads and foreshadowing that cries out for a second reading.

What I’m going to do is to bookmark the stories that take place in different time periods so at my third re-read I may read everything in chronological order. This means reading chapter 1 of book 15 first, then chapter 2 of book 1. It should give yet another perspective to the saga.

solar egg

In Sweden’s northermost town, Kiruna, a team of architects built the solar egg, a 5m tall egg-shaped structure with 69 gold-plated solar panel exterior and an interior that is an 8-seater sauna.


The idea behind the egg is developer Riksbyggen, and it will move around Kiruna to attract visitors before the entire town is moved to another location. People can book 1.5hr sessions free of charge, although there are extra charges for bathrobes and transportation.

Beautiful location and I was going to make a positive comment about using renewable energy. Then I read that the town is being moved so some mining company can mine iron and–oh the irony.

microwave media festival

I was reading about this arts and media festival called microwave. Or are the organisers called microwave? I have no idea. The website is reminiscent of loud flash ad banners and unpleasant to look at. From what I can gather, it’s a bunch of performances and exhibitions that are connected via the loose theme of live art conducted through technology.

As media and technology progress at lightening speed, Microwave explores the idea of “live.” Everything can be live – it is not exclusive to describing performances. Technology has granted us the “right” to broadcast in real-time, i.e. “live”, on social media, and on live streaming platforms. But given the circumstances, how do we define “live”?

This description is either intended to be obscure or badly written.

Forget about words, the performances are interesting. This one is called Unconference. The main exhibition will take place 13-20 October. If I’m in the city hall area and have time, may be worth a short visit.

one sky


A cool collaborative project from women who draw: 90 artists looked up into the sky at precisely 12:00 US Eastern Time on 13 August 2017 and drew the sky. The artists come from all over the world so what they saw was as different as night and day; winter and summer; clear and overcast. The resultant artworks combine to form a work called one sky.

Reminds me somehow of the early days of the mirror project. Seemingly random and spontaneous collaboration. Individual elements making a whole tapestry.

(via kottke)

nano prep


It’s October, which means time to plan for nano. The website and forum are open and this year’s images available for download.

First up, the easy part, updating the spreadsheet. Change dates and clear data, took 5mins. Everything else calculates automatically, including the charts.

Next, the hard part, deciding on what to write. Nothing special stands out so far, there are 3 contenders:

  1. Running accident
  2. There was an article about a marathon runner who was hit by a car while riding his bike and then one year later, running a half marathon with the driver who hit him and the doctor who treated him. There was also an AMA from cyclist who forgave the driver who paralysed him in a bike accident.

    I’ve had a similar idea mulling for a few years, about a similar circumstance and the driver being forced by a judge to train and run a race with the victim. It’ll be about redemption on the part of the driver and forgiveness on the part of the victim, which is tougher.

  3. Impact of social media on small business
  4. Imagine a small restaurant or shop that suddenly gets famous whether it was positive after inventing an instagram sensation bakery product or negative after going off on a famous celebrity chef. The additional publicity, needing to re-train staff, possibly even a tv crew camped on your doorstep. The conflicts and challenges faced both professionally and on a personal/relationship level is worth at least 50k words.

    This can be part of the Party Planner series. #1 (nano2014) was about the OPs meeting, #2 (nano2005) was about planning the restaurant so this one can be #3.

  5. Spotter
  6. I probably need to read a few more dystopian books before tackling this one. I know what I want, and I practice spotting while out and about myself so one of these days it will get written.

I can’t decide between 1 or 2. May be I’ll go for 1 because it seems to be more fleshed out. I’ll give myself a few days, then start mindmapping.