shunde day 03

We finally made it to the dim sum place. The problem today is their system is down and food orders aren’t getting through to the kitchen so customers are having to wait a long time for their food. We were in no hurry and still had to cancel a couple of dishes and get the bill.

Then it was bus adventure to Walmart. Buses are really cheap, equivalent to USD 0.25 for the majority of city trips. There are maps at each stop and I can just about decipher the stop names. Plus mm’s complex has 3 entrances and therefore access to different groups of buses.

shun136cake

Walmart was a bust. There was nothing there we wanted to look at, let alone buy. The whole store felt depressed and empty. Much, much worse than US Walmarts. We walked around the rest of the shopping centre and it was a bust too.

The silver lining was, we found a nice café that had 20+ varieties of swissrolls and another 20+ varieties of fruit teas. Perfect. We had iced fruit teas and shared a matcha roll. Quite expensive, more like western prices. The contrast between this type of modern place and streetfood at the market is quite stark.

Dinner was at the same restaurant last night, same table, same people, same food. Saw the elders and children off home and went for a massage with mm’s brother and SIL. The place was pretty cheap but mm and I found it extremely tacky and downright tasteless. All massage places have staff who wear uniform, at this place the massagers were all young women in short skirts and high heels. Completely unnecessary. I didn’t talk to the woman who did my massage, I closed my eyes and napped. I suppose she may be relieved but I’m thinking they are numb to this exploitation.

shunde day 02

Mostly local day. Brunch at a small diner serving noodles. For breakfast they have cheung fun too but we were too late. The fried noodles were nice, not too oily or too salty. These hole-in-the-wall places can be very good here.

shun123post

Rest of the day was pretty boring for me, sitting for a long time at the bank whilst mm sorted out her account. The most interesting thing was seeing this postal delivery van. No pokemon to catch, nothing to read, the tv in the waiting area continually showing either promotional videos or public service announcements. Had no idea what they were showing, couldn’t understand the subtitles. This is the downside of visiting a country where I can’t understand the spoken dialect and can only read 5-10% of the written language. I can usually get by, mostly by ignoring people and trying to understand written stuff by context. Many menus have pictures which help.

After the bank, we attempted to go to Tesco but sadly discovered that it’s closed. Sniff. We were headed towards city centre, since we had time we walked instead of taking a bus or taxi. Taking advantage of the nice weather. Browsed around various shops in the city centre. Bought biscuits, and mm bought a bedsheet & pillowcase set.

Two things we noticed. One is there are dockless bikeshare bikes everywhere. The dominant one is called hello bike but we see some ofo and others. We figured we need a local phone number and local means of payment to sign-up and I don’t have those. Speaking of payment, everybody uses WePay on their smartphone. Paying by cash makes us look old-fashioned or tourists! We were buying sugarcane juice from a street vendor and another customer paid by WePay. We got talking to the vendor and he said it’s a must. The amazing thing is, he told us even beggars have a WePay QR code. It’s actually be fairly widely reported that it may be a scam to harvest personal data. Ugh, when is begging not a scam?

Dinner was with mm’s parents, her brother’s family, and her brother’s in-laws. They seem to go to the same restaurant, they know the food and they get good service too. We rated a private room and the food was the best this trip so far.

shunde day 01

We’re going up to mm’s flat in Shunde for the Easter weekend. The aim is to do very little and try to relax. We anticipate little or no internet, since eveything is blocked or not available. Can’t even play pokemongo.

Since we live in different sides, we bought tickets for different starting coach stops. All coaches go to the SZ border where there’s a huge interchange for onward journeys. My coach was at 9.30am. I left early in case there’s traffic but sod’s law happened–the bus arrived within 30sec and there was absolutely no traffic so I got to the coach station before 9am. The ticket collector waved me onto a nearby coach and I was ready to sit there for half an hour. But no, 5mins later the coach left. May be it was an extra one on the schedule? I dunno. I still had to wait a good 45mins for mm to arrive at the interchange.

The rest of the journey was uneventful. We arrived at the destination and got a local bus back to her flat. Dropped our bags and she tried to turn on all the appliances. Thought there was no hot water but actually she forgot she’d removed the batteries for the gas meter! Hahaha. No issue at the end.

Lunch was at the local shopping centre, the regular dim sum restaurant was closed for a private event so we went to a new one. Not as good. There are definitely more shops and restaurants at the shopping centre. Tried going to the bank but the branch had been replaced by a lobby of just ATMs. We looked around and discovered that the branch had moved across the road.

shun138beer

Took a taxi to where the big supermarket is and went to the massage place nearby. Shoulder, back and foot massage for 2hrs. A little sore afterwards because I hadn’t gone to massage for a long time. We wanted to browse around the supermarket quickly then go to dinner; next time we looked at the time it was almost 8pm and we’d been browsing for way longer than we thought. One of the ‘interesting’ things we saw was low alcohol pineapple beer. Scary.

shun132hotpot

Anyway, the restaurants near the flat would be closed, so we went to one opposite the supermarket. Most restaurants in Shunde are small and tend to specialise in one type of food. Our dinner was a hotpot place, and their specialty is pork parts. We didn’t have the pork offal, though we did get chicken gizzards in addition to the standard beef and lamb. All in all, not too bad but not a place we’d be in any hurry to return to.

Really nice to return to a completely quiet flat. It overlooks a park and a government building complex (office, library, museum) so there’s almost zero noise at night. We did buy a 1GB SIM card that goes through hk servers so we actually could access websites outside the great firewall. Not a lot of motivation to do that, I stuck to reading and mm played her game. Pretty relaxing.

tiny sushi

tinysushi

There’s a restaurant in the touristy area of Asakusa in Tokyo called Sushiya no Nohachi すし屋の野八 that looks really great. It has a gimmick, they serve tiny sushi.

The tiny sushi is made from one grain of rice by the owner’s son and chef in response to a customer’s challenge in 2002, the plate has two types of tuna plus surf clam, sea bream, uni, octopus, egg. It takes around 7.5mins to make, longer than normal-sized sushi, obviously because of how fiddly it is. It comes free (presumably on demand) with a regular-sized sushi course ranging from ¥7500 to ¥12600 (USD70-120).

sushiyaebi

The real treat at the restaurant is the edomaezushi 江戸前寿司, which traditionally comes from an earlier era before refridgeration. This means the perishable ingredients has to be marinated, boiled, or preserved between sheets of kelp. There’s a technique called sakurajime, or tightening the fish’s texture by using cherry blossom leaves. The restaurant’s fish primarily comes from Tsukiji, local farms, and its uni comes from Hokkaido. The omakase 12-course look fantastic. There’s the usual, extremely fresh, suspects. The prawn, a must-have of Edo-style, is ginormous.

Honestly, everything looks so wonderful. The gimmick is tiny sushi but the real star is the fresh, seasonal sushi made with plenty of skill and passion.

you have reached the winter of our discontent

realitybites

Writer Rebecca Schuman over at longreads wrote about Reality Bites which came out…wait for it…twenty-five years ago. Together with Singles and Slacker the film embodies GenX cynicism and disinterest. It was one of my favourite films at the time. I can’t say anymore because I haven’t watched it for a long time. Millennials who were born the year the film came out weren’t impressed. One comment:

I do not appreciate the attitude of acting like you are above it all and you know something the rest of us don’t

But that’s how it was. That’s how we were.

Our generation is probably the last one without the trappings of 24/7 newscycle and being always ‘on’ in terms of connectivity and technology. Coming after the drug-infested yuppies and self-centredness of the Boomers, this is a typical GenXer:

If you were lucky enough to like something before it got big, then you found yourself flush with the only currency Gen X accepted.

Apple when everyone was on Windows. Music before they got mainstream. The generation that was, and still is, hard to define and target ads at. Because at the core of things, we don’t care that much. In the intervening 25 years, we got on the career ladder, acquired mortgages, and some now have kids or even grandkids. But at our heart, we’re still slackers. I got the career and mortgage, but I just realised I did the ultimate GenX slacker thing, I did my PhD because I didn’t want to become a worker. I hate work, from the first day I started at ANRU to my last day at NE.

I dunno, may be I should find the film somewhere and watch it again. May be I’ll cringe because I no longer find the Ethan Hawke character cool. May be I’ll sing along to My Sharona.

Whatever.

sony world photography award

sonyphoto

Winners of the Sony World Photography Award have been announced. Professional, open, youth, students, then split by topic and by country. Amazing and many, many photos to look at. There’s an exhibition in London starting 20-April, I wish I can go.

Bored Panda has 7 pages of national winners. Like many photography competitions nowadays, some of the pictures look overprocessed. A lot of HDR look and feel. I can’t say I like all of them, but I can see why they won. If I had to choose one, my choice is this one by Ales Krivec, Slovenia national winner. The word is floating.

random flickr

I’m bored. There’s a lot that needs to be done, like packing or researching for home renovation.

Let’s play random flickr. Page 68 was end of Assisi to start of Rome. Here’s a pretty tree on the streets of Rome:
rom021street

Page 233 had pics from 3 london races: the banana race at Hyde Park, corporate challenge at Battersea Park, and the British 10k that started at Hyde Park corner, went around the city, past Parliament and ended on Whitehall. Here’s running up Westminster Bridge, nice vew of Big Ben:
uk10k022bigben

Page 274 was when I first moved to Chicago. I was still living at PT and just signed the lease for the apartment. Also did Flat Neena (like Flat Henry) for my niece. Here she was at the Bean:
neena08bean

the other oxbridge race

What am I missing out on this weekend? The Race.

Not the Boat Race.

The other race between Oxford and Cambridge.

goatrace

It’s none other than the Goat Race. The Standard explains:

The light-hearted event, sees two pygmy goats, one for Oxford and one for Cambridge, lock horns and race around the farm. They’re not kid-ding around.

 

This take place at Spitalfields city farm and the festival also features live music, a fair, street food, and arts & craft stalls. They also have an Apple Day in October. Pretty cool.

living in concrete pipes

opodinside

Recently read about OPods, tiny flats built inside concrete pipes. Each unit is 100 sqft and features a living area (sofa converts to bed), a small kitchen, and a bathroom. Not a lot of storage space and no windows, unless they’re above the door. And not a great deal of privacy. They are touted as being experimental, low cost solution to housing problems.

opodoutside

The tubes can be stacked and fit into any small available space in the inner city–between buildings, underneath flyovers, in a car park etc. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of storage space apart from some shelves in the living area and an open clothes rail opposite the kitchen. There’s room for a mini-fridge and a microwave, not sure if there’s a hob. But there are lots of charging ports! No surprise as the target audience are young people starting out and wanting an affordable space to live in away from home. Personally I’ll find it difficult to live there unless it’s temporary like a hotel room. I also think cubes are more practical and stack better; but there are plenty of stacked cube ideas out there so this one is new and a little bonkers.

The OPods are a successor to the larger Alpods the same architect designed a few years back.

And who is the architect? Hahaha, it’s James. He’s becoming the most famous person I’ve known since they were younger than 10 years old.

cpu minutes

CPU usage spiked heavily lately. ISP support says it’s okay but I’m worried. I had this problem before and thought it was fixed. I have no idea why it’s using this much CPU time, and I really wanted to get to the bottom of it.

The culprit must be wordpress, but what exactly is causing it? I don’t open the dashboard until I’m ready to post, I barely even use the system. Most articles and forum posts say plugins, some say themes too. I don’t have that many plugins, having stripped to the most essential. Then I found a really detailed and helpful guide.

Step 1: check system

I followed the guide and checked awstats, server response time, GTmetrix. The website is slow, but not alarmingly so. From awstats I saw I was being pinged a lot by crawler bots, with bingbot taking almost 5GB bandwidth. I googled around and added to my robots.txt file, I’ll check back in a week or so. I don’t really care about SEO ranking and being visible on search engines so I’ll test by banning all the big searchbots, especially bing.

The guide has a link to a huge list of bad bots I can add to .htaccess, I’ll see if the robots.txt fix works first.

Step 2: configure wordfence

Wordfence also has some controls that limit crawlers and physical views. The lower the time I allow crawlers and the fewer chances I give them, the better. The guide also gives me settings to reduce the CPU time Wordfence itself uses, it’s quite a demanding plugin. An example is its live traffic report, which I don’t use.

Step 3: install WP-Disable and WP-Optimize

Seems counter-intuitive, to install more plugins. WP-Disable lets me turn off a lot of CPU intensive tasks, so I’m happy to install it. I disabled or reduced emojis, google maps, fonts, pingbacks, and the like. These features aren’t in use, so why not turn them off.

WP-Optimize cleans the database, I can schedule it to automatically clean once a month. It’s like defragging a hard disk I suppose.

Step 4: uninstall high CPU plugins

There is a list of slow loading or high usage plugins. Jetpack and WP-Statistics are the only two I use and I went into their settings to disable unused functionalities.

cpu201803

There are other things to do, that I didn’t think applied to me. I’m not sure I can justify more additional cost by using a CDN. And the last part of the post is basically an ad for an ISP, so I ignored that.

The results are striking. Such a big relief, looking at this week’s CPU resource usage. I wish I had the patience to only make one change at a time, so I can see what was the culprit. I still don’t know what exactly was causing the heavy CPU time, but it’s okay, it’s the end result that matters. The obvious ‘if-only’ is if only MT didn’t stop working. Even after 2 years, I’m not at all happy or confident of WP.

bbmm relaxing afternoon tea

chickenwingstea

We had dinner plans with friends and decided to meet up in the afternoon to go walking around. The builders have started drilling the external walls and this week they’re replacing the sewage system so we can’t use the loo–all the more reason to find an excuse to go out. Didn’t really go that far, explored some small shops in a converted warehouse. Amazing variety of shops, from clothing to food to toiletries to electrical appliances. There was a shop selling one specialist food product and opposite it was another shop selling treadmills and yoga stuff. Pretty cool.

We were feeling snackish but didn’t want to spoil our appetite so we found a small Japanese-styled café. Its at the top floor of another warehouse building, together with cargo lift and back stairs that go up to the top floor. Quite charming and relaxing inside. We could relax at the deep sofas there and they had Japanese magazines for browsing too. Food was average, we both had chorizo-stuffed chicken wings and lemon tea. They make the tea using oolong tea, which is more unusual. Couldn’t taste any difference to regular lemon tea though.

teatins

They had a charming selection of teas in colourful tins for sale too. I like the one on top left, with a London-themed tin and the tea is lemon pie tea. That could be interesting.

Dinner was good. Our ex-colleagues/friends are doing well. We got talking about opening our own consultancy again.

catching up on tv watching

Catching up with some tv watching and saw ep 1 of Nadiya’s British Food Adventures. She’s really charming in a down to earth way and I love how she visits a farm or a fishing boat or someone’s back garden and she’ll be cooking for the people featured. She has 4 recipes in that one episode and I’m tempted to try them all:

  • cheesy scones: really lovely, simple to make
  • indian five spice stir-fry veg: with fresh asparagus, carrot, pepper, courgette; another simple looking dish
  • smoked haddock rarebit: I’m not a great fan of smoked fish but this version has a rich white sauce and is full of cheese–who doesn’t like cheese on toast
  • eton mess cheesecake: great use of freeze-dried strawberries and perfectly showcases her cake decorating talents

coldsmoker

What also caught my eye was one of the people she visited, an ex-firefighter who now smokes fish. The haddock filets they used look lovely and he make a cold smoker from a large cardboard box, some tape, a couple of thick dowel rods and the rack the fish will rest on. The smoke comes from gently smoking wood chips inside what is known as a maze smoker so there’s not a real flame. Takes around 4hrs at room temperature.

I saw a ‘professional’ version for sale. £28 vs a couple of quid for the cardboard box, pffft. There’s obviously a youtube video about making your own cardboard box smoker.

The oher program I’ve been watching is Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. I’ve seen the eps on Bordeaux and Lisbon and I want to go to both places. The food, wine, and locations look stunning.

Interestingly, two of the restaurants featured in Bordeaux are from an old Guardian article. Either the places really are that good, or there’s some ‘referencing’ going on there. He did go to a vineyard where they served the most amazing looking côte de boeuf grilled over wine-soaked oak branches and with bone marrow jelly seared onto the crust. Served very blue, which can only mean the quality of the beef was top notch.

significant numbers

randomnumbers

FiveThirtyEight has an interesting daily post of significant numbers in the news for the day, albeit mostly US-centric. These are some of the numbers from the past few days:

  • 1 in 5: a very sad statistic, of the approximate number of senior Japanese women who are in prison, according to Bloomberg. They deliberately commit minor crimes like shop-lifting so that they can go to a place where they have human contact and receive some care. Like the 89-year old who stole strawberries and rice; or the 80-year old serving her 4th term for stealing, amongst other trivial items, a frying pan
  • 19%: the amount by which a crytpcurrency on the Ethereum network fell in just 24hrs last weekend. Cryptocurrencies and blockchains have been touted as the future; but they’re no better than high stakes gambling
  • US$605 million: current US and Canadian box office earnings for Black Panther
  • US$1.183 billion: worldwide box office earnings for Black Panther
  • 168: largest ever one week place drop for a Billboard album, for Bon Jovi’s This House is Not for Sale, which was #1 the week before due to concert ticket tie-in with CD sales
  • 364: Angela Merkel was re-elected to a 4th term as chancellor by members of the Bundestag, 364 for vs 315 against
  • US$20 billion: global sales of plasma in 2015; plasma can’t be manufactured so it must come only from donors

sheku kanneh-mason

Sheku Kanneh-Mason was the winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year. His 6 siblings are all accomplished musicians and they appeared on Britain’s Got Talent as a group. Sheku went through the BBC competiton and won playing Shostakovich’s cello concerto. His musical heroes include Jacqueline du Pré, which gives him high marks in my book.

He released an album Inspiration. This is his rendition of Hallelujah, on cello. Don’t look at the video, there are some editing errors. Just LISTEN.

bbmm leisurely day 2

Lazy morning, watched tv mostly. We finally finished watching all the HP films.

201803bbq

We had the remainder of the dumplings for lunch, then drove out to another beach for a walk. So surprised that it was so empty at the weekend. We remember last time we were there we had to wait for people to leave to get a parking space, today there were fewer than 10 cars altogether. There were people fishing at the pier and the students at the watersports school were finishing up their sailing and windsurfing lessons.

There’s a derelict bar at the top of the beach, with abandoned tables and chairs outside so we could sit and watch the sea. A family playing on the sand. A trio of young people lounging around.

And in the bbq area, a group of people enjoying a bbq party. They brought bottles of wine and had set up a couple of hammocks using the railings. Because it was so quiet, they had the use of 2 or 3 grills, one of which they set up a teepee system with two ginormous beef pieces that look like either tomahawk steak or bone-in rib. We got talking to one of the guys, he says he’s a food distributor and got the beef from a butcher friend. It’ll have to be something like that because it looks delicious and expensive.

We didn’t have beef ribs or anything like that ourselves. Went to the market to get clams and prawns. Made a soup with sweetcorn and apple too.

bbmm leisurely day

201803jojo01

We went out for buffet lunch at a small indian restaurant. They’ve recently renovated, and increased their prices. Still fairly decent value. The buffet is simple and tasty: papadum, salad, vegetable samosa, onion pakora, butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, vegetable curry, beans, daal, fruit, gulab jamun, and unlimited drinks–soft drinks, tea, coffee, beer and best of all, mango lassi. I ended up having 3 or 4 glasses of lassi, and we finished the meal with marsala tea.

The place was full, lots of office workers. We weren’t in any hurry so we sat around after almost everyone had left.

201803sheko

Ran a couple of errands after lunch, then took the slow tram so we can spin pokéstops along the way. I dropped my bag at mm’s place and we took a drive to one of the beaches for a walk. Nice to get some fresh air, and it’s always great to go to the seaside. The beach was moderately busy, by the time we got there it was almost sunset and people were packing up to leave.

Popped by the market after the beach and bought clams and dumplings for dinner.

Leisurely day. Worked hard to destress.

cold in amsterdam

Our friend L from Holland sent us a pic of icicles at her deck. Her house is in an Amsterdam suburb and it’s been an extremely cold winter in Europe this year. The canal hasn’t frozen over because it’s windy but the lake nearby has frozen.

lily004house

I took this of her house when we visited a few years ago in April. It was cold then but not icy. I love the house and the deck.

28 February was the coldest 28 February in history in Holland, breaking the record set in 1904. Below freezing temperatures worsened by heavy winds. Photographer Albert Dros took the opportunity to take pictures of canals so frozen people can ice-skate on them, crazy ice formations along the coast, and winter wonderland forests. Here’s before and after pics of a frozen canal. ©Albert Dros

canalbefore

canalafter

I remember this location, I think I have a pic myself with bikes on a bridge in the foreground, looking towards the Westerkerk.

outside gear

A few outdoors gear spotted at outside recently.

backpack

I’m still looking for a backpack. While I’ll happily get another one of my current samsonite, I’ve been saving reviews when I come across them. Top of the list is wirecutter‘s recommended LL Bean quad. But this group of daypacks is also worth noting, especially since many of them are cheaper. The outlander is only US$20, can’t really beat the price.

sneakers

boatshoes

The post is about boat shoes, but they all look really nice. The adidas is yet another adidas I’d wear, but the one that caught my eye was the nrs vibe. Never heard of the company before, they seem to be quite a specialist company that make watersports shoes for kayakers. This one is made from technical material, is tough and has good grip. It also drains and dries quickly, which is more important to kayakers but will be useful in rainy weather. I like it because, in the words of outside magazine, of:

the skate-shoe aesthetic

whisky tumblers

tumblerklean

I’m not usually the one for single use items, so read this post with sceptism. Sometimes when mm and I go out, we’d take some whisky for picnic. We’d carefully pack two glencairn glasses in tissue paper–i have the small ones I picked up in Scotland, they use them in distilleries for tasting. The small tumblers have lids and are insulated to keep the liquid cold. Useful for cocktails. The testers say that none of the tumblers tested changed the flavour of the whiskey (spelled with an ‘e’ because they were using bulleit, I’m not as fanatical as some people think I am).

The one they liked is by klean kanteen. I’m a bit turned off by names like that, too cartoonish. And at around US$16 each I wonder if it’s worth it. May be I’ll stick with the carefully packed glencairns.

a quiet perfect restaurant

bitehouse

The Perennial Plate episode 175 is The Bite House, a private kitchen-restaurant in Cape Breton owned by chef Bryan Picard. What caught my eye was the intro post:

Many restaurant cooks have had the thought: I just want to cook for a dozen people, four nights a week, making the food I love and then take off during the winter. That is the dream.

Because that is a dream. Ever since the first time someone at work took me to a private kitchen, something like 20 years ago, that’s a dream. I’m glad Chef Bryan is able to achieve his dream. His dad makes the bread, his girlfriend and other friends serve. On his days off he forages and enjoys the outdoor life.

Arguably it’s easier at Cape Breton. He can forage in the forest and at the beach. His house is big enough to be converted to hospitality space. Living standards are probably reasonable there. Still, there’s something captivating about the chef, the food, the place. Two minute short video.

Looks like the type of place one has to immerse oneself in, not just a few hours’ visit for dinner. As Chef Bryan describes it:

if you listen…[birdsong]…there’s not much.

future foods from ikea

SPACE 10 is Ikea’s not-so-secret secret food innovation lab, established to research and test modern sustainable food. Recently they posted about the type of food they envision the world will be eating in the future.

space10bhotdog

First up, a dogless hotdog. The filling is a whole glazed carrot, and it’s served with a beetroot & berry ketchup, mustard & tumeric cream, and herb salad. The bun is made from spirulina, a truly future food, a:

micro-algae that contains more beta carotene than carrots, more chlorophyll than wheatgrass, and 50 times more iron than spinach

space10burger

Once there are hotdogs, there must be burgers. Theirs is called the bug burger. The burger is made from beetroot, parsnip, potato and mealworm and is served with beetroot & blackcurrent ketchup, relish, and a hydroponic salad mix. Two words stood out for me–mealworm and hydroponic–both in a positive way. I’ve known for a long time that in 100, 200, 500 years we will not be eating chicken or beef as we know it now, and the future of humankind depends on a combination of: a) manufactured aka lab-grown meat; and b) insects. I don’t have a problem with this, and will happily try them. In fact, I’ve been waiting for edible insect to be more readily available. I don’t think I’m at the stage of putting an entire large bug in my mouth, but mealworms or in a minced form, that’s fine.

I also love the hydroponic developments in the past few years. When I’m back in London, I’m going to research grow up urban farm that has a huge hydroponic facility in Beckton, and cleverly also raises tilapia using the plant water.

space10neatball

Moving on from hotdogs and burgers, it’s time for the iconic Ikea meatballs. In recent years, they’ve gone vegetarian and vegan. The lab has come up with their latest version, the neatball. There are two kinds, one made with mealworms and the other with root vegetables. I wish they are available for sale and not just test kitchen products.

space10salad

They suggest serving neatballs with mash, gravy and lingonberry sauce, of course. But for a balanced diet, replace the potatoes with salad made from microgreens grown hydroponically. Some of the greens they have been growing include red veined sorrel, tarragon, pea sprouts, pink stem radish, borage, red frill mustard and lemon balm. Intriguing.

space10icecream

The microgreens are also used to make ice cream. They use a small amount of sugar and add sweetness via apple juice and apples.

Food of the future isn’t scary at all.

iphone setup and apps

homescreen01old

I’ve had the same wallpaper since my first iphone. The homescreen setup is by and large similar, with more organisation when folders were first introduced. Like most people, I download and keep too many apps on the phone in case I want to use them. So what does my iphone homescreen really say about me? It’s organised clutter and full of folders. Notifications are only enabled on phone and text, and I zero out all notifications. I don’t use colour in any meaningful way.

Time for a change. What I want to achieve, is having a homescreen that is comfortable, set up for easy access, and uncluttered.

wallpaper

The fiery apple wallpaper looked cool 10 years ago, and although it still looks good it’s way past time to switch to a new one. Eventually I want to have a plain white one perhaps with subtle patterns. For now I changed to one with sunset because I love the colours. The caption says watsons bay, so I must have taken it in Australia although I can’t remember it and the date doesn’t coincide with me being in sydney. May be I scanned it from an older pic? That’s the problem with having 33,000 pics, it’s impossible to remember them all.

23nightsky.jpg

I’m also saving all my various wallpapers in one place for easy access.

setup

After seeing all the cool homescreens both on the twitter thread and at r/iOSsetups, I really wanted to emulate the way users implemented minimalistic homescreens. I also took to heart this article about simplifying our smartphones.

I set aside some time for this mini-project. First, I deleted tons of apps: a) obsolete ones that aren’t compatible with the current ios, but I hadn’t realised because the apps had been on the phone for years; b) apps i had never used; c) apps I haven’t used in months. This enabled me to consolidate several folders too: I combined all text, messengering and email apps; I shuffled between utilities, info and productivity; I reduced all games to one folder.

The next tip is to identify the apps I use most. I had a long list of 24 core apps, which I whittled down to 15, including 4 of the most commonly used that I keep on the dock. I love the setups where the apps are at the bottom of the screen so I googled for instructions. The method of achieving this effect is to create transparent (or as they describe, invisible) icons. Of course there’s an app for that, makeovr. They need a screenshot of the blank page with wallpaper, then it’s a matter of patiently creating individual icons to match the spot it needs to go to. It takes advantage of safari’s copy to homescreen functionality. In this example, I selected icon row 1 column 1:
homescreen02makeovr

I planned out where I wanted the core apps, then created the appropriate transparent icon and moved it in place. Needs a little patience because each icon has to be created and moved. I like the result, although I’d like to get rid of more homescreen apps:
homescreen03iphone01

I’m thinking eventually I may move snapseed to the second page and may be even evernote (or its potential replacement, bear–see below). If and when I get a password manager, I’ll have to find a place for it too. The second page looks more like a conventional iphone page:
homescreen04iphone02

I did the same for the second phone:
homescreen05iphone5c

And for the ipad, I used iempty, similar to makeovr but with a clunkier interface:
homescreen06ipad

Since the second phone and ipad are used for a narrower band of tasks, the number of core apps is very few.

apps

The exercise of looking at other people’s apps was both fruitful and not. Fruitful because there are some great apps and not because a lot of these great apps are paid.

Low hanging fruit first, free apps. Added spark, discord, mega, snapseed straightaway. I have snapseed already and it does have better UI and functionality than lightroom. I tested outlook vs spark and spark’s UI won hands down. I also downloaded bear on both iphone and mac and still researching it. A lot of people have moved from evernote and apple notes to bear and report good experiences. I’m not a power EN user, and mainly use it for text notes so its simplicity and speed will benefit me. As ” title=”verge”>the verge says:

Bear plays the sleek TextEdit to Evernote’s monstrous Microsoft Word

There’s a simple migration process and the app has a lot of positives like markdown support and tags. The problem for me is, I prefer folders over tags and bear doesn’t organise via folders. This is potential deal-breaker for me. The second one is that I’ll need a $15 annual subscription to enable syncing across devices, compared with EN which allows syncing across 2 devices for the free version. Two is what I need: mac and iphone. I may give it a try for travel research next trip.

Back to apps. There are a few paid apps I really want. I ended up buying one only, but I’m keeping tabs on the others. The paid app I got is carrot, and yes I paid $4.99 for a weather app, when there are tons available for free. I’ve known for a long time that dark sky is the best weather app and kind of holding out waiting. Carrot uses dark sky and has so much more, the funniest being its snarky comments and quests for secret locations. While I may get tired of snark and quests, there’s no question that its core functionality, showing me upcoming weather, is fantastic. It’s simply a pleasure to look at the page with hourly predictions.

I’m also toying with either IA writer or byword as a text editor for iphone and ipad, leaning more towards byword. I write all website posts in textedit then copy paste to wordpress, which is fine because it’s distraction free and has only the basic features. Byword is equally clean-looking and goes a little beyond by supporting markdown and publishes directly to wordpress. For writing writing, of course I’ll stick with scrivener. I’m not sure as yet I want to shell out $5.99 just because I want a direct publishing option.

One thing I’ve noticed, that I’m very disappointed in, is apps in the mac app store are not only more expensive than for iphone/ipad, the app can’t be shared. This means if I want byword for example, I have to pay $11.99 for the mac version and $5.99 for iphone/ipad. The argument is mac apps are inherently different because iOS is not the same as macOS. That said, there are rumours that apple is planning to combine both stores. In the meantime, I probably will stay with mostly free or included apps.

fantasy islands

Most nights I can’t sleep and I start thinking of mundane things that involves going through a list, not unlike the traditional counting sleep method. Guided imagery, or focusing on an image or story to slow down a busy mind, is one of the methods suggested for combating sleeplessness. It’s not just taking a generic screensaver, it’s highly individual and may consist of:

a favorite vacation or calming outdoor spot, a relaxing activity like curling up with a book in your favorite chair, or something repetitive like remembering the steps of an exercise or dance routine. The key is to find something that allows you to focus your attention and let go of other thoughts. Begin to create this scenario in your mind. Visualize all the details of the image or story, as slowly and carefully as you can.

What has worked for me is to imagine I’m on a desert island. There’s a river within walking distance and the camp is by a rock formation that gives a sort of cave to provide shelter. The river runs to the ocean and there’s a small beach. Since I’m not a survival expert, the island isn’t exactly desolate, people used to live there so there are remains of houses but most importantly firestarter, vtools, pots, vegetables and, lately, goats. I would sustain myself via the plentiful coconuts as well as the produce from an abandoned fruit & garden. There’d be fishing gear available, like crab pots that I can use at the rocks that are at one side of the beach. I’ve even watched youtube videos on how to make salt from seawater and ropes from coconut husks.

Atlas Obscura, as part of islands week, asked readers to draw their fantasy island, and there are lots of fun submissions.

There’s St Bean’s island by Wroe Clark. Everything is idyllic, from the morning beach to the occasional volcano to the hammock to the orchard. And what fantasy island can’t be without a mountain meadow with perhaps a llama:
island01bean

Ericka Kendall’s island also has lots of features, like a beach with perfect sand that doesn’t get inside your underwear, a lush green forest with no bears or cougars, but best of all, guests who visit the island will have no memory unless the owner wants them to remember:
island02ericka

This one from 11-year old Ben P. has a castle, a skull mountain and a hut for the witch who guards the treasure:
island03ben

I can’t draw, but I may take a stab at sketching out my fantasy island.

my lego

mylego

Yet another thing to add to my list of things I can buy for my niece. And as usual, something I want to get for myself.

For £19.99, I can order my own lego keychain with a lego figure that looks like me. They need a picture of me as well as some personal details like hobbies, favourite colour, usual clothing and such like. They say they have millions of combinations of head and body parts. An example of personalisation:

Molly normally wears blue jeans and a pink t-shirt. She has red hair and thick rimmed glasses.

There’s also a framed figure for £29.99 but I think the keychain is more practical. UK company so UK delivery but they also deliver to a few other countries. Firebox sells all sorts of weird and wonderful gadgets, although I think I should be able to get them much, much cheaper on taobao.

beer, doughnut, book, wine

Lately it feels like food & drink has become like one of those What’s your street name meme where you take the name of the street you grew up in and pair it with the colour of your socks. In the case of food & drink, it’s so random:

  • alcohol with snacks: champagne and hershey kisses, tequila and ramen, vodka and sour patch kids
  • beer with chinese food: IPA and orange chicken, stout and spring rolls (Americans: they’re NOT egg rolls, there is no egg), winter pale ale with kung po chicken
  • wine and pizza: syrah and pepperoni, riesling and hawaiian, pinot noir with cheese
  • beer and dessert: hefeweizen and key lime pie, double IPA and cr&$232;me brûlée, porter and chocolate strawberries
  • alcohol with cake: pedro ximenez with coffee cake, rosé champagne with red velvet cake, gin with ginger layer cake

donutbeer

And now, there’s beer and doughnuts. Chefs and masterchef contestants are increasingly making all sorts of weird and wonderful doughnuts. Although I can’t really see beer and doughnuts, I guess why not. They pair fruity framboise with chocolate glazed, sour beer with jam-filled, guinness with boston cream.

My choice is limited because I only like plain doughnuts and even those are too sweet and too stodgy for me. On the chart, cider goes with old fashioned and stout goes with cinnamon sugar, the two doughnuts that most appeal to me.

1984wine

But wait, there’s more. Pairing alcohol with favourite book. It’s a superficial pairing, like Middle Earth cask ale and Lord of the Rings, as if an intern did some googling and came up with it. There’s a brewery in the Midlands called Middle Earth. Other pairings suggest a little more knowledge of the books, like mint julep and The Great Gatsby, smoking bishop (Victorian-era mulled wine) with The Christmas Carol, and wine, any wine with 1984.

tentative holiday planning

prov160terview

Met mm at the travel agent’s to see what options we have for a European trip. We don’t have dates or destination, and this amount of flexibility is dangerous. Options include:

  • Spain and Portugal–we’ve never been, which adds to the attractiveness. So many cities and regions like Madrid, Barcelona, Basque country, Galicia, Lisbon, Porto…the list goes on
  • Italy–we want to spend more time in Tuscany, along the coasts, and to San Giovanni Rotondo (pilgrimage to St Pio)
  • south of France–we said after last time that if we returned to Provence, we’ll base ourselves at Aix and go further south
  • Normandy and Brittany–I still have lots of research notes
  • Holland and Belgium–can be combined with northern France, we can base ourselves at our friend L’s house and go from there
  • Scotland and Ireland–which of course includes London and distilleries

Airfares in april and may are okay, most of the airlines have open jaw or stopover fares. Another option is Emirates, but the cost is not that much different from KLM and Emirates has bad stopover times at Dubai.

The travel agent mentioned the possibility of spending part of the trip cruising. There’s one that goes from Hamburg to Southampton and passengers can embark either port which then goes to the Norwegian fjords. Not too bad, except it’s all Norway and it’s MSC. I’d rather mm’s first cruise experience to be with a better cruiseline.

I also asked him for summer Chicago tickets. He’ll look into it. The problem is again, the cheap fares don’t allow seat allocation and has no airmiles.

iphone homescreens

via daring fireball, Michael Lopp, an engineer at Slack, wrote an article about apps on his iphone and how he carefully curates apps on the homescreen, then he asked people to share their homescreen on twitter. There are some really interesting designs and use philosophies. Here are the ones I like out of the submitted screenshots.

Extreme minimalist, with the majority of apps in one folder in the dock, from @grinder:
iphonescreen01bulb

Another minimalist, with a beautiful wallpaper and other apps in one single folder on the second page, from @michamore:
iphonescreen02white

Beautifully arranged according to colours, from @daniel_whiting:
iphonescreen03colours

Another artistic one, from @lyle:
iphonescreen04splash

Black, from @jasonbaum:
iphonescreen05black

I notice a number of minimalist screens, with only a few apps that are presumably the most heavily used, that have probably resulted from reading this post. Someone had all apps in alphabetical folders. Someone else had a picture of their dog and just one app.

The twitter thread then became a contest of the largest number of unread email, as theads like this are wont to become. I identified with the comment by someone who had none because notifications are all off except messaging apps.

Many people have the same set of apps–google maps/waze, instagram/snapchat/twitter, pocket/instapaper, spotify, overcast, strava/fitbit. Hardly anyone has facebook although one person has a folder called time wasters with the usual social media apps. I’m taking notes on apps I don’t have that seem worth downloading:

  • 1password: I’m still on the fence about password managers, seeing the number of people with it is making me think more
  • bear: an evernote replacement. I’m not an EN power user but I use it a lot especially for travel research. I’ll have to look into bear
  • carrot: weather app with funny comments
  • discord: because that’s likely where it’ll be, when fb gets overwhelmed by advertisers and old people
  • fantastical: a calendar app that looks much more feature-rich than the native calendar app or even google calendar
  • iA writer: clean, clutter-free writing app
  • mega: ostensibly a dropbox alternative, but with its history of being created by Kim Dotcom…I’m not giving away secrets
  • reeder: rss reader, can be used with feedly
  • snapseed: I think I may actually have it, should install it

the book under the wall

castlebook

image ©Jorge Méndez Blake

I find this image fascinating. This is a project by Mexican artist Jorge Méndez Blake called The Castle which is intended to subtly examine the impact of a single outside force on the bigger picture. He built a brick wall but somewhere in the middle there is a copy of Kafka’s The Castle which gets in the way of the neat line of the bricks. Colossal describes it:

This minimal, yet poignant presence is reflected in the brick work—Kafka’s novel showcasing how a small idea can have a monumental presence.

For some odd reason it reminds me of the princess and the pea fairy tale although the pea was never the disruptive influence the book was meant to be. The similarity is purely along visual lines. I’ve never thought about the moral behind the princess and the pea story. May be don’t take anything on face value, because the princess didn’t appear to look like one?

spare cash

moneystack

The trigger was reading that the old £10 note has gone out of circulation. Then I realised that the old £5 notes expired in 2017. I looked in my drawer and I have both, eeek. Not a huge amount, added up to under £100. I also have a variety of different currencies, left over from travelling: eur, chf, dkk, jpy, krw, thb, sgd, aud, nzd, cad. Not sure when I’ll get a chance to return to those countries so I decided instead of keeping the spare cash at home, I should drop them off at the bank. I’ll keep £20 notes since they won’t go out of circulation till 2019. And usd because I go to the US most often.

Some currencies I can deposit directly into my multi-currency account and there won’t be a fee if I want to take it out next time. The smaller, rarer currencies the bank had to convert to local$ before depositing. They don’t have a real demand for accounts in dkk, for example. It took the poor cashier some time to handle the transactions, even though I’d already bundled different currencies, written down how many notes and the total. She still needed to officially count them and give me a deposit slip for each currency. All in all, I freed up a fair bit of space in my drawer and my bank balance went up by a tiny amount.

bbmm homecooking take 2

After the success of home cooking and HP day, we couldn’t wait to do it again.

There was so much tempting and fresh food at the market, we were spoilt for choice. With great reluctance we limited ourselves to fresh clams, blue swimmer crab, and some very interesting small shell abalone that neither of us had seen before. On the way back to mm’s place, there was a pop-up stall selling still moving squid and clams. We got only the squid.

seafood06clams seafood11abalone

Food this fresh doesn’t need much work. Steamed with a little garlic, and for the abalone some dried orange peel. One dish at a time so piping hot when we started eating. Very sweet and delicious. My favourite was crab and mm’s favourite clams. The abalone were okay, not a lot of flavour although tender.

The squid we’ll reserve for lunch tomorrow. At the market we also got some ripe tomatoes so it’s simply a matter of making a calamari and tomato sauce then throwing in some pasta.

Home-cooking wins again.

new mbp

So, this arrived:

mbp2018box

I was looking into getting a new computer around christmas but lost my nerve and saw the available units disappear in front of my eyes. I had a gut feeling that 01-March means a refresh and I was right. What am I talking about? A refurbished machine of course. There are lots of advantages of getting a refurbished mac, because it comes with a new casing, new serial number, possibly new battery, and is inspected and covered under warranty just like a new machine. All at an approx 15% discount.

The only con is, I can’t think of one. The model I chose was a June 2017 13″ mbp with 16GB RAM and 512GB HD. There was one with 1TB HD but significantly more expensive. Do I need that much hard disk space when I can plug in an external HD anytime? Absolutely not.

The only concession I made is that this is a Core i5 machine, not i7. I suppose I can wait another 3 months to see if they have an i7 16GB RAM 512GB HD but why wait. For what I’ll be using it, the bump in processor speed isn’t significant. Plus, I’ve been using my trusty 2010 mba with 4GB RAM and I manage both photoshop and imovies on it, albeit not at the same time. The new mbp will be fine.

The current batch of mb, mba and mbp isn’t perfect, and definitely has some flaws that made me think very hard and long before committing. This is the other reason I didn’t get the top of the line model. Like what businessinsider said, I may not want to future-proof this purchase so much because a few years down the line, my perfect mbp or whatever model they have then will be introduced, and I want to have no guilt or remorse when I upgrade.

mbp2018mba

Anyway, the new mbp arrived just after lunch and I’ve been transferring everything from the mba to it. Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to buy a usb-usbc cable so the transfer went over wifi at the lightning-fast speed of 5MB/s. It’s all good, because everything transferred, including passwords, settings and even the trash.

What I like: much faster, and since I’m not using an obsolete machine I can use things like the dropbox folder, whatsapp desktop, airdrop and see flash content on, gasp, firefox quantum. The keys have a good snap, and I’ve missed the keyboard backlight. I’m meh on the touchbar, so far all I’ve used it for is to adjust brightness and volume.

What I don’t like: only usb-c ports so I’ll be forced to buy adapters. I’m very disappointed at apple for this. At the corner of my desk I have 2 iphones and an ipad charging, and I can’t plug any of them to the mbp out of the box. What happened to the “It Just Works” mantra that we grew up with?

food: nutritious food, notable food, plating

Three food-related articles I saw recently.

From the BBC, the 100 most nutritious food in the world, based on the impossible ideal of a food that:

contains all the nutrients necessary to meet, but not exceed, our daily nutrient demands

or in other words, the perfect optimum food. There is no such food, but scientists took 1000 raw food and assigned each one a nutritional score. The usual suspects of healthy food that I’m quite pleased to see I eat often. From #100 to #91:

  • sweet potato–a staple at home, I roast, bake, boil, make oven chips, and mash with regular potatoes
  • figs–just bought a whole box of fresh figs from the fruit market
  • ginger–use in vegetables and stews
  • pumpkin–great substitute or compliment with potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes
  • burdock root–I don’t cook with it often enough, but I’ve had it before mainly in japan
  • brussels spouts–roast them till almost charred, fantastic
  • broccoli–mum just bought a bag of broccolini from m&s
  • cauiliflower–another one for roasting or making cauli couscous
  • water chestnuts–easy enough to get, I don’t use it often enough
  • cantaloupe melons–mm is allergic to melons, but canteloupes are the least allergic

The list continues with all the good stuff. Not surprised that there are tons of fruit and veg. Seafood gradually make a appearance, with octopus at #89 and pink salmon at #77. I’m scrolling down the list and there are very few foods I won’t eat, like leeks (#71), grapefruit (#67), coriander (#36). And there are favourites: rocket comes in at #64, kale at #31, clams at #28.

Top 10 in descending order:

  • snapper
  • beet greens–no wonder we save the greens
  • pork fat–this is the only non-seafood meat item on the list, and a total surprise
  • swiss chard
  • pumpkin seeds
  • chia seeds
  • flat fish–this includes sole, flounder and one of my absolute favourite fish, turbot
  • ocean perch
  • cherimoya
  • almonds

cherimoya

I had to google cherimoya. TIL that it’s native to central america. I’ve had it before, we call it ‘westerners’ lychee’ and it’s also known by a more common name, custard apple. The ones I’ve tasted had soft, almost creamy flesh although it looks like some varieties may be juicier and more crunchy. Next time I go to the market, I’ll look out for it.

As for #1, almonds, sigh. I’m not a huge fan of nuts and almonds aren’t on the list of nuts I like. May be I’ll try to find alternatives.


From the guardian, the observer food monthly top 50 food related thing, place or people for 2018. An interesting list, because they split into categories of people, places, food & drink, and food writing.

In the people category, they have really diverse talents, ranging from butcher Charlotte Harbottle, to Burmese supper club chefs the Rangoon Sisters, to chef-humanitarian José Andrés.

In the places category, there’s cheese toast at the Cheesy Tiger in Margate; non-alcoholic restaurant The Brink in Liverpool where all proceeds go to charity and is intended as a safe place for people who suffer from alcohol, drug or other addiction; and, well, the new Noma because why not dream big.

In the food & drink category there’s oxtail canelones from Rambla for the princely sum of £5 (must try! must try!); the best £10 bottle of wine which is a 2015 Chinon from the Co-op (there goes my hidden secret, I was hoping to keep people from knowing all about chinons); and a new appreciation of…butter.

Smaller selection on food writing and the ones that caught my eye are Ruby Tandoh’s new book, and people starting to use Tiny Letters as a alternative to blogging and social media. I have a TL account, but I haven’t figured out how to use it. May be a monthly digest of the most interesting post? Since I only have a handful of readers on this website, I wonder how many will sign up for an emailed newsletter?


Finally something fun, from coolhunting.

Here’s NYC chef Chuck George collaborating with videographyer Jimmy Pham and photographer Henry Hargreaves to take the contents of a packet of MRE and plate up fine dining style. Probably look better than the dishes taste. My emergency MRE may be expiring soon so I may play around with it when i get a new pack.