HP 20th anniversary (US)

Packing continues. I’m working on my next sideboard and the kitchen. There seems to be something to pack everywhere. So.much.stuff.

uspotter20thanniversary

I know I put a ton of books to be given away, but I kept all my David Eddings and all the Potters. News about Potter, its US publisher is releasing new covers to mark the 20th anniversary of book 1’s release in the US. The 7 covers come from one giant image and are designed by Brian Selznick.

Think about that for a moment.

20 years.

Technically 21 years because Philosopher’s Stone was first published in 1997. And honestly, at this point, they should just scrap the stupid Sorcerer’s Stone name.

happy mac susan kare

happymac

As reported by gruber, Susan Kare has been awarded an 2018 AIGA Medal for design.

Anyone who used macs before they got popular will have heard of Susan Kare, or will go “duh” when shown her work. From the AIGA medal page:

she created some of the most recognizable icons, typefaces, and graphic elements in personal computing: the command symbol (⌘), the system-failure bomb, the paintbrush, and, of course, “Clarus the Dogcow.”

She drew many of her creations by hand, using the smallest graph paper she could find–a 32×32 grid that so happened to total 1024, one square per pixel. Other iconic creations include the Chicago font. She later spent time at facebook and pinterest, but it’s her work at apple that is so meaningful.

braille neue font

brailleneue

Braille Neue is a font designed by Kosuke Takahashi that combines regular Latin characters with braille dots. It can be easily read by sighted people, and visually impaired people will be able to identify the characters equally well. Most braille characters fit almost perfectly into the letter, with a few exceptions.

A Japanese version is in development. I wonder how braille works in different languages. I know sign languages are different around the world; I expect braille to be different too. Wonder if it’s possible to design a font that can be understood by as many sighted and blind people as possible.

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.

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.

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.

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?

harry potter’s large pile of ash

hppileofash

Last year, the folks at botnik programmed an AI to write a chapter of a Harry Potter book, by having it learn and analyse all seven books to find combinations of words likely to follow each other according to the style of the writer and then generating text using their predictive keyboard. The result was Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash and it was, as the guardian described it:

gloriously bonkers.

It started promising, describing a castle that could be Hogwarts and the surroundings which was

snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.

But then it rapidly descended into chaos:

Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.

Uh-oh. A few favourites from the chapte:

“Death Eaters are on top of the castle,” Ron bleated, quivering. Ron was going to be spiders.

They looked at the door, screaming about how closed it was and asking it to be replaced with a small orb. The password was ‘BEEF WOMEN,’ Hermione cried.

The tall Death Eater was wearing a shirt that said ‘Hermione Has Forgotten How to Dance,’ so Hermione dipped his face in mud.

Several long pumpkins fell out of McGonagall.

One more:

Harry could tell Voldemort was standing right behind him. He felt a great overreaction. Harry tore his eyes from his head and threw them into the forest. Voldemort raised his eyebrows at Harry, who could not see anything at the moment.

And now they’ve recorded the chapter, with delightfully literal animation by Jamie Loftus and perfectly voiced by Rachael Wright. Must watch.

rock stacks, leaf circles

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

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

Rocks:
jamesbrunt01

Leaves:
jamesbrunt02

Twigs:
jamesbrunt03

More on twitter and prints are available on etsy.

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

zioncairns

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

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

nyt star wars book

nytstarwars

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

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

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

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

musical interlude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

home is a cup of tea

hometea01

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

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

This is how it starts:

hometea02

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

hometea03

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

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

hometea04

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

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

lazy day and a still-funny video

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

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

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

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

the last jedi

lastjedi

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

No one’s ever really gone.

And to Kylo Ren, sounding just like Han:

See you around, kid.

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

What about the dark side?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other random thoughts:

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

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

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

And I hope I dont.

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

polar city books

polarcitycover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what Kit said about Polar City Blues:

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

There’s a short excerpt on her website too.

Next up, the Nola O’Grady series.

#firstworldproblem: sausage rolls vs bake-off #gbbo

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

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

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

flowatermeloncake

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

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

the last jedi supercut

It’s December, which means ep 8 soon.

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

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

what did i miss part 1

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

1. paradise papers

chi233fed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

redditdownvotes

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

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

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

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

ibmplex

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

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

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


3. john lewis christmas ad

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

little jade

littlejadebook

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.

poor libraries

reddit

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.

mel103library

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.

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.

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

onesky

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)

return to deverry

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

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

deverrybooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the yellow wallpaper

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

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

gutenbergyellowwallpaper

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

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

temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency

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

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

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

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

what Ken Cheng thinks about the new pound coin

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

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


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

poundcoin

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

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

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

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

gary the gurnard cake


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

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

gary
© Peboryon

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

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

big family cooking showdown

bigfamilyshowdown

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bake-off channel 4


Ugh. Channel 4’s Bake-Off trailer is here. This is not the Bake-Off we know. Channel 4’s Jay Hunt:

It’s got a new tone to it.

bakeoffch4

If we get it here, I know I’ll watch it. But it’ll be accompanied by much hand-wringing that I’m somehow not being loyal to the BBC version. However good they are, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding are not Mel and Sue. Prue Leith is okay. I just don’t feel any warmth or cosiness in this group. Quite the opposite, there’s something creepy and off-putting. Sandi Toksvig is the only one who looks normal and approachable.

I’m looking forward to Mary Berry’s new show to find Britain’s best cook. Not that keen on Mel and Sue and the Generation Game though.

wonder woman

cokefreestyle

Saw Wonder Woman at the local cinema today. Lots of screens, large cinema, quite crowded. We bought a combo of large popcorn and 2 large drinks, the total came close to the price of 2 tickets. The drinks was coke freestyle which meant I could play around and get all sorts of coke products. I mixed orange flavoured coke zero, lemonade, sparkling water and a little mixed berry juice. Doesn’t taste as awful as it sounds.

The seats were all reclining so the footrest comes up. Comfortable.


As for the film itself, so much has already been said. US$380 million domestic sales, overtaking Deathly Hallows Part 2. US$760 million worldwide. Top grossing film by a female director. Best DCEU film.

It did well not only in box office numbers, but reviews too. 92% at rotten tomatoes, high scores from major newspapers, good reviews everywhere I read. All my friends are raving about it.

They handled the backstory and the reboot into WW1 timeline very well. It suited the backstory–amazon princess misplaced in ‘modern’ era but one without computers or anything too technical. All too often, superhero films and tv programs fall into the trap of making their heroes too idealistic, too wonderful, too much of everything that it becomes a bad cartoon. Patty Jenkins and her team didn’t do any of that. Gal Gadot had an air of determined innocence which was balanced well with a low key performance by Chris Pine. Love the supporting cast too. No one too OTT, too much of a stereotype, never took away the limelight from the main characters. The Verge:

Wonder Woman represents a number of delicate balancing acts: between humor and gravitas; angst and adventure; full-blown, unvarnished superhero fantasy and the DCEU’s usual unpacking of what those fantasies mean.

There’s a lot of attention on the film’s message of empowering women and certainly it has a wonderfully encouraging message to girls and women everywhere. For me though, ultimately I thoroughly enjoyed the film not because it was a film directly by a woman, or had women in starring roles, or even that they had real athletes playing the amazons. In fact, I’m meh at strong women dressed in amazon costumes–I’m not a fan of Xena or the tv Wonder Woman. I guess what I’m saying is that I liked the film despite of that. Because it was a story well told, with exciting fight scenes and believable characters. I think many people feel the same, male or female. As producer Charles Roven said:

Historically, audiences in this genre are male — 60 to 40 percent — but if you can really tap the market and maintain the males and actually add a significantly greater female audience, it’s a great win-win.

conference day 02 | hamilton

To get up early for the 8.30am session or not, that was the question. We were good students, so we did. The day was full of educational sessions. One that touched on the current political climate, a masterclass on great openings, an update on the legacies project documentary, a discussion on swearing. The membership meeting highlighted the contributions made by volunteers and that the organisation was in good hands.

One of the most important meetings I went to was the one on awards changes. I had some input to this and we were excited with the improvements suggested. Seemed to be well received by the membership too, so the effort wasn’t wasted.

chi091hamilton

We finished early and met at the lobby for the drive into the city. The destination, Hamilton the musical. Car had gotten tickets as soon as the booking window opened and a group of us piled into her car. There were a number of our friends who were there also. I hadn’t had dinner so I bought some of their “pyes” ie small apple and cherry pies. The theatre was completely full and as soon as the house lights went off the audience cheered loudly. And the cheers didn’t stop. The show was really amazing. I know very little about Alexander Hamilton except he was one of the group that included George Washington, James Madison. I was able to follow the story easily. The music was a departure from usual musical style, I had listened to the soundtrack so I knew it was mostly hip hop. Simply put, very well done and a fantastic show. Up there with Les Miz.

killers new song


The Killers just released The Man, their first single in 5 years. From the upcoming album Wonderful Wonderful.

Much more upbeat than their previous work. Very catchy. Brandon Flowers:

sonically, it’s pretty funky, funkier than we’ve ever done before

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And they’ll be at lollapalooza, which is where I first saw them live. Holy moly it was 8 years ago.

feeding wolves

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I saw this post at kottke during the Japan trip and saved it to read again later. This is one of the stories from Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight:

One time, on a sweltering August night, Grandfather and I made camp down by the ocean. He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between the two wolves that live inside each of us.”

“Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air.

“One wolf is evil,” he continued. “It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking at the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving.

“The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.”

I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?”

Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

I was at the right age to be profoundly affected when Reality Bites was released and have a copy of Hawke’s The Hottest State. He’s always appeared to be a thoughtful actor and his writing seems to be that of a sensitive person underneath a broody exterior. Quite intrigued by the book, will put it on the list.

Kottke’s self-reflection on the story is so on point:

I’ve been feeding the wrong wolf recently. He’s so hungry and there’s been a lot of available food, but I’ve got to get back on track.

The pic is the statue of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio at Basilica di Santa Maria Degli Angeli in Assisi. That is another thought-provoking story.

tv day

TV catchup day. 2 eps of masterchef australia at lunchtime, followed by australian bake-off. Regular 2 eps of masterchef again at night then TAR. In between, I finished packing and did a load of laundry. I’m sad that I’ll be missing an entire week’s worth of masterchef, especially since we’re now in top 9. Ah well. May be I can find old episodes online somewhere. May be I’m getting older and more out of touch, I don’t know how to find stuff as easily as I used to.

symphony for a broken orchestra

We can do with as much good cheer as possible right now. NYT has a page of 12 great stories that have nothing to do with politics. Between US politics, the French and UK elections, I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ve stayed off fb mostly. I understand my American friends’ frustration with the recent healthcare situation, but I only have so much empathy to share. UK elections is no better, I used to lean Conservative, but I can no longer stand them. The problem is there is no alternative.

brokeninstruments

Anyway, one of the great stories is about symphony for a broken orchestra. It all started when Robert Blackson of Temple Contemporary, a part of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, learned that there are over 1000 musical instruments in the Philadelphia school system that are broken but can’t be repaired due to lack of money. Mr Blackson collected the instruments for an exhibition and is planning a performance of a piece, Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang. The composition

is written specifically for the sounds these instruments can only make in their broken state

They are still looking for volunteers to play the instruments, help with aspects of the performance and to repair the instruments. People can donate and adopt an insrument: after the performance the instruments will be repaired and given back to the schools so young people can learn and enjoy playing music. Here’s some more information:


new books

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Favourite bookseller is having a sale: buy 2 get one free. I got caught up with some book shopping, got 7 books total for US$40. Good motivation to start reading again, haven’t read anything for a few weeks.

Finished one book in a few hours. An easy-to-read romance from an author who is consistent, reliable and I know it’ll be well written. While the premise is formulaic, I was still absorbed in the story. Our MCs meet, fall in love, some obstacle happens, they break up and get back together again. And lived happily ever after.

I always feel very sad when I read traditional romances. It’s so easy for them. Oh, there are always obstacles, but it’s a guaranteed happy ending so the angst never last long. Not real. You don’t look across the room and feel everything fade to the background with only your soulmate lit up like a spotlight. You don’t start finishing each other’s sentences after talking to each other for five minutes. Friends and family and colleagues and society are not that accepting. Life is not that smooth. It’s a fantasy. Sometimes I hate these characters; it’s so unfair that they get to find the one and spend the rest of their lives together.

What about those of us to struggle and know there is no solution, no happily ever after. The angst doesn’t get resolved. Problems build instead of dissipate. Mere living, the act of staying alive, is tough.

May be we put too much emphasis on love. After all, it’s just an emotion and we can’t live on emotions. It’s not like food, shelter, air, water. Argh, I’m too cynical and jaded. Jeanette Winterson was writing in the Guardian about how the concept of marriage has changed from ownership of women a thousand years ago to business and convenience a few hundred years ago to marrying for love, a decidedly Victorian idea. On the topic of love, she says,

love is like gardening, or writing, or working out, or cooking, or eating, or meditation, or reading – it’s an everyday activity that needs to be fresh and alive every day, tended, and with tenderness.

Pretty idealistic but practical too. What of marriage in the future? May be we move away from the boxes society places upon us. Some people want to be married to one person; some people don’t want to be bothered with the grand declaration; some others have no option to be with someone but need to escape loneliness. It comes down to the different types of love. Does romantic love have to be the ultimate goal? What about the love of family, good friends, close community.

I’m getting off-topic. The next book in the newly purchased stack I’m going to read falls firmly in the adventure category. No danger of becoming even more sad reading about perfect couples with perfect relationships.

bones 12.12

I was flipping through channels and managed to catch Bones s12e12, the series finale. I hadn’t been diligently watching every single episode; I’d watch what I can when I see it’s on and usually on flights. I do know that it’s the series finale. Episode title “The End in the End.”

The body and villain of the week were dispatched quickly, it’s a continuation from evidently the previous episode(s). It’s hard to cram so much into 45mins, but they did a pretty good job. Everybody was there, including Caroline, my favourite character. All the available squinterns were there, and there were shout-outs to Mr Nigel-Murray and Zack. And Sweets, poor Sweets.

It wasn’t like they were closing down the Jeffersonian permanently. Bones and Booth still walked off into the sunset, the ending in the “and they lived happily ever after” vein. Hodgins got to be King of the Lab. There is the understanding that their lives will go on, it’s just that we the audience won’t be a part of that family anymore. Kinda sad.

Found a 21min retrospective featuring cast and crew. The family vibe was strong.

illustrated marathon maps

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Went running the other day, did 5k around the reservoir park. Extremely slow and there is no doubt I’ve lost 100% of my fitness, probably more since I need to lose weight too. It’s been a year since my last serious run. I still follow Paris Marathon on social media but I don’t dare think about any of it. I wonder when I’ll be ready to go back to running.

Saw the reddit thread by an artist who produced illustrated marathon maps. He’s done maps for Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, MCM, New York, Pittsburg, San Francisco, and Tokyo. All the drawings are fantastic, my favourites are London and Tokyo mainly because these are two cities I know and love. Definitely worth checking out the full gallery.

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The prints are available for sale. $28 isn’t too bad though I wish they sold postcard sized too so I can get the whole set. If they did a Paris map I’ll consider getting the print; it’s the one that got away, innit.

buffy 20-year anniversary

It’s 20 years since Welcome to the Hellmouth. I didn’t watch Buffy when it was on the air but caught up later and followed on twop before watching it all on dvd. Took me a while to get to s7. It’s one of those tv shows that has a special place in pop culture. Here are some top moments, not a bad list. The ultimate recent list is vox’s ranking of every single episode, from #144 Beer Bad to #1:

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Once More with Feeling

Makes me want to rewatch the dvds again.

fearless girl

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photo credit: Federica Valabrega

Advertising firm McCann New York placed a statue of a girl opposite the Wall Street charging bull on behalf of their client State Street Global Advisors. The statue, called Fearless Girl, was by sculptor Kristen Visbal and will be there for a week. The purpose is to bring attention, on International Women’s Day, to diversity and gender equality issues. She starts down the bull and plaque at her feet says

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

State Street is refreshingly unusual in having 3 women on its 11-member board. Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Tisdalle:

She’s not angry at the bull — she’s confident, she knows what she’s capable of, and she’s wanting the bull to take note.

If only the rest of Wall Street is as enlightened as State Street. More than 80% of FAs are men and 25% of Russell 3000 index firms have no women on their board. I mean, has anyone been to the pit that is a trading desk? Sigh.

Come to think of it, I think my friend Larry went to State Street. I think he’s still there, global head of mobility.

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And another thing, they must have roped off the statues for photographers or the photographers got there early. When I was there last year, there were so many people taking selfies with the bull I could not get a proper pic at all.

stopped going to church

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I stopped going to mass. Mum still goes but I told her I’m taking a break. For the longest time we never went, and then when Papa was in hospital we started going again and continued after he was gone. I thought it might help me, get some peace and support for my spiritual and faithful side. I prayed the rosary for weeks.

May be it’s because I never learned how to pray or go to church or open myself to receiving God’s blessing. I don’t feel like it’s helped. I search and I try to feel and all I get is blank.

It’s not like when people declare that they’ve turned their backs on their church because of scandal or politics. It’s nothing like that. I think I still believe in God. There has to be a purpose to our miserable lives. But I decided when I started feeling like going to mass every sunday felt like a chore, I should stop. Again, no earth-shattering reason. It’s like someone suddenly decided to stop eating onions or going to a particular restaurant. There’s no concrete reason.

ten meter tower

This was during my trip and I was watching it in the hotel room. A short film called ten meter tower about people participating in an experiment by jumping off a 10m diving platform for the first time. Even with the camera only on the people on the platform, we can feel the trepidation. The makers, Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson

sought to capture people facing a difficult situation, to make a portrait of humans in doubt

Around 70% did jump. No one can be sure of what they will do until they are up there on the platform. I know I’d be petrified even though I know logically there is no harm.