checked home progress, royal wedding

Went over to check renovation progress, the electrician finished drilling so we’re allowed back. All the places for the wires have been drilled and prepped. Today they’re also replacing all the windows. When we walked into the car park, the old metal windows were there waiting to be collected–our watchman will take them and we’re happy for him to sell and get a little money for it.


Mum went shopping and I met sis late afternoon in the British pub to watch the royal wedding. All the tables were booked but I managed to grab a couple of stools at the bar (someone conveniently finished and left just as I was about to go elsewhere). The place wasn’t crowded at first but it got really really crowded and loud very soon. Our seats were pretty nice, with a good view of the tv screens on the wall. They even had a special Harry & Meghan menu including Pimm’s! I tried both the regular Pimm’s cup and the Pimm’s spritzer, then switched to diet coke. Had dinner there too, I had scotch egg (as befitting the occasion) and sis had fish & chips.

The wedding was really nice, although we couldn’t hear too much due to the noise at the pub. People tried to shush whenever the Archibishop of Canterbury, Harry, Meghan, or someone else was speaking. Even though later I read about how “everyone” loved the address by Rev Michael Curry, at the time people at the pub thought he went on and on for way too long. His way of preaching also seemed out of place. I think Americans love his sermon because he was lively and passionate and presented it in the typical loud American way. Brits heard his message, but personally I wish he could have been more restrained, to match the location. And made it shorter, because it felt like he was hogging the limelight and stealing attention from the royal couple.

I walked home and caught the bit when they were in the procession back to Windor Castle. Very happy about the wedding, very proud and delighted for the couple. Remember the sad and lost 12-yaer old prince walking with his mother’s casket? Princess Diana would have been so proud of her son; and I can just imagine her sitting with Doria Ragland and crying tears of joy together.

what did i miss part 2

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

1. how to pronounce some place names


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

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

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

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

2. map of walking times between tube stations


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

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


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

3. john snow’s cholera map

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


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

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

4. property prices


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

initial over-optimism and a tougher market

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

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

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

5. decadent hot chocolate

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


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


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

“I’m old, I don’t know computers”


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

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

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

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

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

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

All that happened 20 years ago.

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

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

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

whitesplaining food and cooking

Learned two new terms recently.

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

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

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

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


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

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

And don’t get me started on yellowface.

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.


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:

at the banks

Bank day. Met sis at 10am at bank #2 and stayed there for over 2hrs. We had to open a joint account, a securities account, an investment account and close Papa’s accounts. There was a mountain of paperwork. Thought nowadays banks should be more automated, but there seems to be only more and more forms to fill in. The staff weren’t slacking, they had 3-4 people working on our case and it still took them to lunchtime to finish.

Lunch was at a conveyor belt sushi place. The set was nice, the sushi plates on the conveyor belt were barely touched, as most people ordered directly.

In the afternoon we went to bank #3. The staff there was also very helpful and there were also forms to fill in. We have to come back in about 2 weeks’ time after they sort out one of the bonds.

Long day and pretty tired. Bought meatballs and salmon from Ikea and took the bus home.

welcome home Major Peake

After a 6-month stay at the ISS, Tim Peake came back to earth.

The first UK astronaut to spacewalk; the second astronaut to run a marathon (London, which he completed in 3.35). I’ve been following him on the news, on twitter and flickr. He’s safely back on earth now, but not before a final tweet from space:

Beautiful pics on his flickr feed. Aside from the marvel that is seeing the Earth from space, there’s his keen eye too. It’s good to be reminded of how beautiful our planet is.

The Earth:
Planet Earth

Aurora over Canada:
Aurora masterclass

Sunlight reflecting on a Himalayan lake:
Stunning colours

p.s. all pics copyright Tim Peake ESA/NASA, from Tim’s flickr.

happy news: young woman runs own business

Sometimes heart-warming stories come out of reddit. This is a story about Jo and her incredible daughter Emma. 21 year old Emma has Downs Syndrome, autism, hearing loss and a cleft palate, which prevents her from learning to read and write. After an encounter with a girl who lost her mother, Jo realised that she needed to help Emma plan for her life as Jo won’t be there forever.


Turns out, Emma’s inability to read and write is a bonus, and now she runs her own successful shredding business, Master Shredder. Her clients include a solicitor’s and a credit union; they give her confidential documents and she shreds them in a non-recoverable way. Jo:

If I look at this from the perspective of confidential documents that’s great, she can’t read it. You could put a state secret in front of her and she won’t know.

It’s also really heartwarming to watch Emma working very diligently; and how happy she looks when with other people. Beautiful story.


long to reign over us

image: getty

Today, the Queen becomes the longest-reigning monarch in British history, overtaking Queen Victoria’s 63 years, seven months and two days. It’s both a sad and happy day, as it marks the day she lost her father, George VI. Lots of commemorations and celebrations in the news. The bbc has a wonderful series of pictures from each year of her reign. The Telegraph has this video that transforms her from when she was 25 years old to now, at 89:

Even the stoic Independent is full of praise for her, recognising her dedication, sense of duty and the rock on which the country has built on for 63 years. How many 21 year old princesses would say this:

I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family, to which we all belong

She’s the only Queen I’ve known. There’s an unspoken sense of awe, respect and…love for her that isn’t there for the other members of the Royal Family. It’s like it’s baked into our core. Even the people who want to scrap the monarchy have to admit that she has been a great queen, seeing the country transition from the glory days of the Empire through devastation following WW2 and then to the modern age.

Of course we can’t hope for another 63 years, but we’ll take as many as we can while she is with us.

two kinds of people

An interesting tumblr with drawings highlighting the difference between different types of people. More or less, extroverts vs introverts, type A vs type B, neat vs messy. Some of them quite true.


People seem to have either zero notifications or unread emails, or 30,000 of them. I’m the one of the right. Notifications on the iphone are limited to line, whatspp and phone. Absolutely no push email notirications. I clear notifications, missed calls immediately. I’m also proudly inbox zero.


Actually I organise my books alphabetically so I’m neither.


When it comes to sandwiches, I’m the one on the left. I don’t mind triangles, and I understand the argument that they are more aesthetically pleasing. I just find rectangular sandwiches less messy.

two inspiring running stories

Couple of inspiring running-related stories in the news, one in humid Miami and one in snowy Boston.

Miami: twin pushes disabled sister at half marathon


Spotted via runnersworld, the inspiring story of how a runner pushed her disabled sister to finish a half marathon together.

Twins Nichole and Jennifer Rider were both runners and athletes through school. In 1995, Nichole was in a car accident that paralysed her from the neck down. Eventually she regained enough mobility to kayak and handcycle. At last week’s Miami Half Marathon, Jennifer and a friend took turns pushing Nichole, the trio finishing the race in 2:06. They were racing to raise awareness for a new organisation Thumbs Up International that aims to match able-bodied runners, swimmers and cyclists with those who need help in participating in races.

I really like this idea, this is something I’d rather do than sign up for a charity place. I’m slow, so pushing or guiding someone will definitely slow me down even more, but I don’t mind. It’s also potentially challenging to match personalities too. Hmm, reminds me of a story idea I have on the backburner, of two people forced together to train and race in exactly the same scenario (able-bodied and less able-bodied).

Thumbs Up is Miami-based only right now, won’t be it great if the idea is picked up by one of the big races?

Boston: local bartender shovels Boston Marathon finish line


Boston and other parts of the northeast part of the US got hammered by snow this week. Someone took a pic of a good samaritan shoveling snow from the Boston Marathon finish line, which is permanently painted on a street. This led to a twitter search for #WhoShoveledTheFinishLine.


Boston Marathon has a very special place in the hearts of both the people of Boston and to runners, moreso after the bombing in 2013. The good samaritan was eventually identified as Chris Laudani, a local bartender, who said he cleared the finish line because it:

isn’t just a strip of paint in the road. It means so much more to us as a community of Boston and of runners

Ironically 4 out of 5 of his Boston Marathon finishes were as a bandit. There is a long tradition of banditing Boston, but that’s another discussion. He’s been offered an official place this year, so there’s a happy ending to the story.


houshi ryokan — family owned for 1300 years

Houshi Ryokan in Awazu Onsen is the oldest family-owned hotel in the world and second oldest owned hotel. Beautiful ryokan, beautiful onsen, beautifully shot video. Sad too. The ryoden passes down through the eldest son and the current owner, Zengoro Hoshi, is the 46th generation. His son died suddenly, and the film also focuses on Hoshi-san’s daughter, and her struggle to take responsiblity for the business, responsibility and pressure she hadn’t thought was hers.

gamergate, shirtstorm, ubergate

Things have been happening in the science & technology world lately that make me feel uncomfortable and sad.


I’m at best a very casual gamer. I don’t have the patience or interest to spend more than a few minutes playing a game, however much I’ve tried since I was young. So I peripherically follow games news without paying much attention.

Twitter exploded with something called #gamergate during the summer. A simple summary:

  • a nasty breakup led to one of the party writing terrible, bitter blog posts about his ex, accusing her of a) sleeping around and b) sleeping around with a games journalist
  • he implied that games journalists are not objective since they are in bed with devs
  • somehow the posts went viral in certain quarters
  • trolls attacked the dev, including doxxing her (releasing her personal information such as address and phone number) and sending her death and rape threats
  • other women who came to the dev’s defence were also horribly harrassed using the same methods
  • a female journalist who wrote about the death of the identity of ‘gamer’ (because of popularisation of gaming) was also horribly harrassed
  • more women who spoke up were equally horribly harrassed
  • interestingly, a male gamer who called #gamergaters every name under the sun was not harrassed

Ostensibly #gamergaters are up in arms about ethics in games journalism, but they have never been able to articulate exactly what they were after. The turning point for me, was when well-respected, well-loved gamer who wasn’t a dev or a journo got doxxed within an hour of her writing a personal post on the subject. Which part of ethics in games journalism was that attack?

It’s a no-brainer, really. They have been exposed as a emotionally retarded boys who don’t want girls to play video games.

Makes me sad, reading all the threats against the women, and it’s all been against women.


On 12-nov-2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a small space probe on a comet, after a mission spanning more than 10 years. It was an incredible moment in human scientific achievement.

One of the scientists, while on a global livestream broadcast, wore a colourful shirt with cartoon naked / semi-naked women. In one stroke, he spoiled the vast achievement of the ESA by his stupidity and insensitivity. The STEM industries have had trouble recruiting and retaining women, and this was symptomatic of the reasons why. Lots of negative comments on the topic of #shirtstorm.

Then, guess what? Women scientists who spoke out got horribly harrassed with death and rape threats.

The scientist has since made an apology, but I feel it’s a hollow one. I’d like to see what he, and the ESA, do to recruit and retain women into the industry. My fear is, nothing.


This week, something else blew up. It’s all about ride-sharing service, uber. This storify gives a good summary. Basically, a senior uber executive suggested at an official dinner that the company could hire a team to dig up dirt on journalists who write critical articles about them. He threatened the family of a particular journalist and said they could expose her personal life.

The uber exec in question half-heartedly apologised to the journo (by creepily calling her, when she had never given him her phone number), and the CEO of uber issued an apology that was more like an internal memo, while not firing the exec.

Other journos revealed that uber was not careful with confidential data, accessing and showing ride history and location without the permission of the customers involved.

There are 2 stories here that dovetail into each other. One is the threat against the family of a woman journalist who wrote critical things about a company. However much someone disagrees with any person or company on a professional level, to bring the fight to a personal and family level is unacceptable. It’s sad and scary that a company such as uber would even think of such action.

The second is the seemingly casual attitude the company has when dealing with their customers’ data. They have personal info like credit card, phone number and home address. Furthermore they can deduce where the customers work, what they do on a Friday night and where their kids go to school.

No wonder the journo who was threatened has now hired security for her kids.


I’ve never used uber. Taxis and public transportation are readily available and cheap where I am, and the couple of times I looked into uber, it’s been more expensive than a taxi. I get that ride sharing services are useful in cities where there’s poor public transportation and/or insufficient taxis. I downloaded the app for a) emergency and b) when I’m in another city and may need a ride. In any case, after #ubergate, I’m heeding the call of many techies to delete the app. It doesn’t matter to me, I hope that people who have loyally used it can find another, more ethical and more trustworthy, service for their needs.


if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it

A potential diner rang a restaurant to order take-out, but the restaurant said they didn’t offer take-out, so the diner posted a poor review on yelp. The restaurant replied with a rather epic take-down. Read the eater article, it’s worth it.

Some restaurants offer take-out food, some don’t. Personally I won’t expect an upscale restaurant to, and if they don’t specify (or specifically say they don’t) I won’t expect them to change their policies for me. This is what the yelper did. Expected to be accommodated against the rules, and repeatedly tried to intimidate by saying that her husband was a lawyer. I suspect that if she had asked nicely, or asked about which menu item could possibly be boxed up, the restaurant would have considered her request.

I’m glad the restaurant wrote their reply, even though it was a little snarky. Far too often we see 1-star amazon reviews because the packaging was torn, or people with entitled attitudes thinking the world evolve around them. I remember asking a guy who brought his dog into my garage when I had a garage sale, and was met with snark. Every dog owner before him tied their dog outside before coming in, isn’t that common courtesy?

I don’t think I’ve ever left a review for anything. If I liked a restaurant I wouldn’t necessarily gush about it on yelp. What if their standards change or next time I go, I don’t enjoy it as much? I have been known to recommend Hawksmoor enthusiastically, by bringing friends there so they can experience it themselves. And if I didn’t like a restaurant, I just won’t go again. I tend to believe that if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it.


the future includes robots

Published another article at medium.

The humans need not apply video has been doing the rounds lately. An apt summary:

“Technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can’t match” + “Economics always wins” = “Automation is inevitable.”

So the message is, humankind should look forward to being treated like horses in the early 20th century and become obsolete as robots take over jobs previously performed by humans. And it’s presented like it’s a bad thing.

Here’s what I think. I think that automating tasks currently performed by humans is awesome. The cost of “running” a human is so astronomical compared with running a robot, and it includes errors and inconsistencies made by humans. Am I the only person who has been following news about driverless cars with enthusiasm and happiness? Driverless cars (and buses and trains and other modes of transport) will probably be much safer because robots don’t get tired, fall asleep, text, or get distracted while they are driving. The current difficulty of integrating driverless cars isn’t just the technology, it’s that these cars need to negotiate roads occupied by unpredictable human drivers. There’s not been any difficulty in using driverless trains or trams that use fixed tracks. I’m sure that the map of roads in a few hundred years will be vastly different from our network of highways, but it’s progress.


There’s always been resistance to change over the course of history. People used to manually write out copies of books by hand, their jobs were eliminated when printing was invented. The Industrial Revolution replaced manual labour with machinery. The digital revolution had similar impact on jobs.

But every time there was a new invention or progress, as dust settled, people went on to do something else — trading, finance, services industry. Going back to the printing example, yes there was no longer any need for meticulous book calligraphers, so did humankind grind to a stop? History tells us otherwise. The widespread availability of books meant improved literacy and education. Humans who used to copy book contents went on to create content for more and more books. When robots assume the more mundane tier 0 or tier 1 tasks, a human brain is freed to take care of the more complex, emotionally driven, critical thinking tasks that robots can’t do yet. Robots can cook burgers, pizza, sushi, but they can’t create sublime dishes that are more art than mere food. I can live with robots at Mcdonald’s, but there will still be a place in the world for the Fat Duck or Noma.


Leisure, that’s our lot in future.

Our ability to consume leisure nowadays is astounding and something that our parents’ generation would never imagine. When I think of horses, who, as the video told us have been deemed unemployable, I see them grazing in meadows. The ones who are working are mainly “employed” in the services industry — touristy horse-drawn carriages, horse racing or in the services of police forces or farms. Just as horses’ lives have changed, it is up to us, humankind, to find a new place in the brave new world of robots. As wired said (emphasis mine),

We’d still have to find our place among the robots, except this time without work as a guidepost for defining a sense of purpose. By eliminating the need for people to work, robots would free us up to focus on what really makes us human.

I admit, I’ve presented an overly simple and westernised view. How the next generation will work is unclear. May be we will see the end of robot-like commuting and fixed hour (9-5) work as people gain more flexibility not only in hours they work but where and how. The world is going through a prolonged recession, if I knew how the next generation of jobs will evolve, I’d be a famous economist.

pool invaders


Remembering that I live next to the pool, sometimes I get disturbed by people and staff walking and talking outside. In the middle of the night, this couple decided to sneak into the pool. 12.30am. And the pool is closed, and covered as it’s only open at weekends during May. These two were smoking, drinking, kicking the water and chatting. I watched for a while, annoyed that they’re out there: I hate when people loiter outside at night and I don’t feel completely safe until they’re gone. But they weren’t doing anything, I lost interest and went back to bed.

p.s. yes, topless.


4.56km 26.06min 5.43min/km (9.13min/mi)

The GPS was weak because of the crap weather so I did 26 mins instead of 2.62 miles. Just run, jog, walk and log your miles in support. Wear a race shirt or if you don’t have a race shirt, wear blue and yellow.

nos amis le roast beef


I was watching an old episode of Rick Stein’s French Odyssey, the one where he arrived at Languedoc and met up with some English people living in rural France. Ah, that’s something that has been a fancy of mine, having a holiday home somewhere in France. Provence, Franche-Comte or Alsace. Sigh. Definitely just a fancy.

One bit that got me LOLing was when he met Helena Frith Powell, who was telling him about a book she had written about living in France and how to help the French understand their new neighbours. The way she described the poor French people’s new neighbours as “nos amis le roast beef” was funny.

found iphone in taxi


I hopped into a taxi and promptly saw an iphone on the floor. Told the taxi driver immediately, and luckily we weren’t far from the taxi stand; he slowed down, we all looked around and saw a couple frantically waving at us. All was well, they’d discovered they lost the phone, and we got it back to them quickly.

But what if we were too far away, or there weren’t frantic owners? My first instinct would have to take it to a police station. But a little bit of googling gave me ideas on what I could have done first. Like almost all smartphones, the passcode was on, so I couldn’t have looked through the contacts list for someone like “Mum” or “Home” to call. I could still use Siri or voice call with the screen locked and asked the iphone to call. The problem is it doesn’t work very well. I tried calling Mum via voice control and my iphone called some random number instead. (May be I wasn’t enunciating correctly.)

In any case, the carrier’s name is on the top left, and the online consensus is that it’s probably better to return it to them than to a police station. They can take the sim card out and figure out the owner. Okay, I could have taken the sim out too, but it’s better done by the carrier.

I have a folder on my iphone for emergency apps, one of which allows me to type in name, blood type, allergies as well as emergency contacts and have it displayed as my lockscreen password. May be it’s not so confidential to display Mum’s number, but it’s a risk worth taking for peace of mind.

When I stepped out of the taxi, I automatically patted my back pocket to check I still had my iphone.

english is not their first language


I saw a notice on the bus that said a particular route will be advanced effective a certain date. It’s a football club that will get promoted up next season? Upon further examination, it turns out that advancement means the timetable will be extended, and there will be an extra stop somewhere along the route. I’m thinking someone’s vocabulary needs to be advanced.

Far too many examples of poor English usage that ends up being hilarious (or sad, depending on your POV). Reminds me of this “germy” bread I spotted a while ago. Some type of super word association must have gone on — it’s wholegrain breadrolls, and wheat germinates, hence germy.

I wonder what these people are thinking. Their excuse is English isn’t their first language. (Except, um, google translate.) Then again, it wasn’t the first language I learned either and I turned out okay. Shrug.

waiting for marshmallows

It occured to me last night that right now, I’m essentially jobless and homeless. True, all I have on me is what was in the luggage — mba, kindle, 2 iphones, passport, money, certificates, clothes and shoes. But the situation only sounds dire because it’s a snapshot of my current state while I wait for my shipment to arrive, and get some rest before I start making contacts. Therefore the snapshot is only valid as a statement of fact as opposed to an indication of wider circumstances. In other words, context.

I’m an impatient person, but some things I can wait. If I’d sat through the marshmallow test as a kid, I probably would have been able to wait — the reward for waiting is so much greater. Well, I hope anyway, because apparently those kids grow up to be smarter and thinner. It’s called delayed gratification, which upon reading seems to be another name for listening to your head vs your instinct. The other factor is that the reward is so bluntly stated. Wait x minutes and you get two marshmallows. What would have been even more of an incentive is if the child waited another x minutes, the number of marshmallows will double again. That becomes a no-brainer. Some things in life are obvious, I learned from a young age that when given 3 wishes, the third wish is always 3 more wishes. I also operate better with a goal. Witness how my running has gone pearshaped because I don’t have a goal race. Effort, temptation and reward are all intertwined.

Some comments in the article give an interesting perspective that I never thought about. That the delayed gratification outcome will only work if the kid trusts or knows that the adult will bring back a second marshmallow after the prescribed waiting time. Interesting for me, because I’d never doubt it, as a 4 year old and now as an adult. Is it a class thing? An education thing? A glass half-full thing? Going back to the jobless-homeless analogy, there is never any doubt in my mind that if I wanted to, I can find a job. What does that say about me, that I’m a fool or I have too much self-confidence. The homeless angle is irrelevant, my apartment is long paid for and requires very little financial maintenance.

That said, the main reason I’m being so laid back and not doing much is more likely to be laziness anyway. Delayed gratification may be another name for “I can’t be bothered.” Hee.

sing, diamond jubilee

I’ve been catching up on the jubilee festivities. The pageant on Saturday was a bit boring to watch on iPlayer, but I watched the jubilee concert on Sunday in its entirety. Super production, very moving, all the performers, comedians and 600 support staff. Shows the world how it’s done, and I think I’m like a lot of people trying to avoid saying something like “Gary Barlow did a good job, take that!”

This is Sing, written by Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Weber and performed by the Commonwealth band/choir and the Military Wives. All (?definitely most) of the performers are not professionals, but their voices are simply magical. Beautiful song, beautiful performance.

god save the queen

I wasn’t technically born British (slight complication with it being a British territory and not part of the UK proper) and didn’t acquire full citizenship till I was in my teens, but I’ve only known one Queen and she is celebrating her diamond jubilee. Setting aside the union jack plates, buntings and fairy liquids for sale, there is a real sense of pride and patriotism for someone who was never born to rule, but has done so with such dignity and poise for 60 years. God Save the Queen!

Steve Jobs at Macworld Expo 1997

Yes, it’s 45mins long. Yes, Gil Amerio drones on for the first part. Be patient. Wait till 6:55, when Steve comes out on his return to Apple. The contents of his speech may be outdated (NT, Director, LaserWriter) and who remembers NeXT computers anymore but he was already talking about apps running on cross platforms. The conviction and charisma is there. Still compelling. I watched all the Steve bits and fast forwarded the Gil bits.

idiots on the track


What the hell is up with stupid idiot running groups? This coach brings his teams for training on the track around the same time as I go for runs. The track has 6 lanes and these idiots think they own the entire track. They do warm ups, run in the opposite direction and STOP suddenly with no regard for other runners. The coach yells a half-hearted “look out for others” but these idiots are oblivious.

Track etiquette is common sense and easily googled:

  • run anti-clockwise — I’ve done clockwise on a long run just to break up the monotony, I ran on the outermost lane and watched out for other runners
  • the fastest lane is on the inside — omg these stupid middle-eastern women who walk three abreast on the inside lane breaks me
  • never block the track, ie stand around chatting or doing pushups or talking on the phone
  • never stop suddenly, move to the side and stop
  • no bikes, dogs (fucking dogs), skateboards, rollerblades, kids or people who are not running on the track
  • no kicking a football around or playing basketball or other sports that are inappropriate on the track
  • be aware of others

Sadly, only the very few will do this. I bought a sonic dog repeller, I so wish there is a human equivalent.

making ends meet


Read in the evening standard that families are living on £162 a week after taxes, bills and transport. The alarming statistic is that this represents a 7.9% drop from last year, and with inflation at 4.5% on top.

Yes, I have more left over and I can survive on a weekly grocery budget of £25. The problem is, savings suffer big time. Everyone is feeling the pinch. I’ve been thinking of retreat strategy.

dinner and news


Met Sis’ friend C and his partner for dinner at Strada. Pretty okay food, nothing special. The best was the garlic pizza bread starter. I had risotto. First time I’ve met them together (can’t remember C that well), but we had a great time and good conversation.

In other news, after a week of outlandish and outrageous revelations, the announcement came in the afternoon that the news of the world will close after sunday. I’ve been following the story all week, and I can truly say good riddance. There are no words to describe what they did, the invasion of privacy of ordinary folks at their most vulnerable is just…inhuman.



This was the moment when the royal couple stepped out from Westminster Abbey. Confetti showered us at Hyde Park as we watched on the big screen. Yes, I woke up early enough to make my way there, got there at 9.30am, bought a roast pork bap for breakfast and found a spot with a view to one of the screens. It was moving, watching as the guests arrive at the abbey, the wedding parties departing from Clarence House and Buckingham Palace, the extended royal family in the very non-traditional minibuses and of course the bride and groom themselves. A big cheer when Kate stepped out into the waiting car and the world saw her dress for the first time.

Impeccable service, we belted out Jerusalem and God Save the Queen, or at least most of the 100,000+ crowd did. There were union jacks galore and a cheer for the royal couple and the Queen every time they appeared on screen. Kate’s dress was perfect, in fact all the guests’ suits and dresses were amazing.

It was at the moment when they were in the state landau making their dignified way back to Buckingham Palace, and accompanied by all the guards in their full regalia, that I realised, for the first time since I moved back, how glad I was to be in London. I didn’t stay after the service ended, walked up Edgware Road (which was very, very quiet), quickly went to Tesco, hopped on a bus and was home in time to see the royal kisses. Watching the crowd march with such calmness up the Mall to fill up the space outside Buckingham Palace, or learning that the bells of the abbey were to ring for a full 3 hrs, I was a little regretful that I didn’t go to St James’ Park or Trafalgar Square instead, but oh well.

One of the top trending topics today on twitter is #proudtobebritish. I’m naturalised, but that’s not unusual; it’s not such a big deal here. Today is William and Kate’s day, the Royal Family’s day and Britain’s day. It is a day to say to the world that I’m proud to be British.

thanks for the free day off


Everyone is gearing up for the royal wedding on Friday. While it’s true that much of the frenzy is probably whipped up by the media, no one I know here in the UK is complaining because this will be our second consecutive four day weekend. So, may as well show our appreciation by joining in the festivities. I’m still undecided, if the weather is okay, I might brave the 200,000 crazies expected at Hyde Park.

lost and found


I don’t do well in taxis, or actually I don’t do well with alcohol which is more accurate. I went out for a colleague’s leaving drinks on Thursday and took a taxi home. Stuff in my backpack fell out and while I was picking them up my wallet fell out of my pocket. I discovered it as soon as I got home but there was nothing I can do. I called the bank to cancel my cards, and hoped for the best, that the taxi driver would at least return the IDs and pictures. The cash was a write off.

Friday morning at work I saw an email. A couple of bankers from BNP picked it up and left it at the Berkeley. I hurried over, with my passport as ID. Everything was intact. They must have seen my business card and got in touch. Wow. I’m so lucky. It’s the first time something like this has happened to me, and I will have to make sure it’s the last.

the truth of what we know


Overheard recently at work:

A: did you hear, [our intern who recently left] got a job at Goldman Sachs
B: Where’s that? A law firm?

I did a double take. True, if you asked 10 people on the street, only a small percentage would have heard of GS. But we are in the same industry, they are a big player, so that was unexpected. To give Person B the benefit of doubt, they are fairly junior and will learn more about our competitors as time goes on. I just assumed that if I talk about Goldman, or JP Morgan, or (sigh) Merrill, people would be suitably impressed or, as the case may be nowadays, repulsed. To be met with a “who?” is disconcerting.

I was also reading the article in the NY Times about how Nokia’s engineering driven culture has put them behind the likes of Apple in terms of design and therefore sales of their smartphones. They are talking about hardware engineering vs software and design engineering of course. One of the commenters said that engineers know instinctively figure out how to use a device just by playing around with it, but they

don’t understand that the rest of the population doesn’t think like them. To them, the user interface they created makes perfect sense and the rest of the world are idiots for not understanding it.

So the lesson today is, assume nothing. I assumed everyone has heard of a leading investment bank, or to go back one step, everyone knows what an investment bank is; but that’s just not true. Engineers assume everyone know how to use the camera on their iphone. The reality is very far from those assumptions. People aren’t like us.

country stereotypes


via kottke, a map of Europe according to Americans. There are other stereotypes, including Europe according to Britain (most of mainland Europe = Evil Federated Empire of Europe), France, Germany and Italy. Pretty accurate, IMO.

Reminds me of a recent joke that was circulating around fb:

A teacher at an International School gave a class assignment: “Describe your own personal opinion of the food shortage in other countries around the world.”

African student: what is “food”?
European student: what is “shortage”?
Chinese student: what is “personal opinion”?
American student: what is “other countries”?

pickup schedule scam alert


I got this postcard in my mailbox. Normally I’d be suspicious but my sis had actually ordered something for my niece to be delivered to me, so I was expecting a package. I called the number on the front and was put on hold for a long time, but I held on. Then when I was finally connected the operator started telling me that I was selected to receive a global vacation package. There were 3 options, but I wasn’t listening at that point. I’d figured it was a timeshare type scam. When she finished her speech she said that to start with she will need to ask me some questions. The first was “are you single or married?” To which I answered “No thank you” and she hung up. I should have kept her talking.

Quick googling led me to several places that tells me that it was, as I thought, scam. Now I’m worried that they have my name, address and phone. At least it was the office phone. I reported the incident to the BBB. Be on the alert, people.

hate running groups, hate dogs

One of the reasons I don’t like running in a group is that they occupy the whole pavement and don’t allow enough space for other people. Hog the water fountains too. I was doing a nice 8k and this group (fleet feet? cara?) was having a briefing in a big circle and, yes, spread themselves out on the entire corner. I ran smack in the middle of their circle, I didn’t care.

Related, dogs and dog owners need to disappear off the face of the earth. They are the pits in terms of occupying useless space. Hate, hate, hate.

evil children

Lots of coverage in the UK about the Edlington brothers who were jailed for the torture of two young boys. The two were 10 and 12 when they committed the horrific, sadistic attacks on 2 boys, aged 9 and 11, who were just out riding their bikes on a saturday morning.

There has been a media blackout on the brothers’ names, Edlington is the town near Doncaster where it happened. Unlike Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, their names will not remain in the halls of infamy forever. Although their notoriety will. I couldn’t believe it when I read that they

beat, strangled and sexually degraded their victims, before putting a plastic sheet over them and setting it on fire. It was only tiredness that caused them to abandon their victims, they presumed, to die.

Fingers have been furiously pointing since the case came to light. Social Services admitted that the attacks could have been preventable and I’m sure there will be people fired for lack of action. The Times talked about the irresponsible society in Britain, I dread to read what the Mail or Mirror have to say about the issue — no doubt something indignant and sensational, I shan’t be tempted to go to their websites.

Rightly so IMO, is that the spotlight has been placed on the parents. “Toxic” family life has been used to the point of overuse. I believe the spotlight should remain on them. No matter how badly the government and local authorities failed, ultimately it’s the PARENTS who are responsible for the actions of children of that age. They did issue a statement saying how sorry and upset they were, but I just can’t help but feel they will try to shift the blame to someone, anyone, else. I’m glad to read that they may be prosecuted and hope that they too are punished. I find that my anger at the parents far, far exceed how I feel about the brothers. I’m sure, like everyone else in the UK, I want to just ask them, “How could you?”

Related to this news is a brilliant, in-depth article in the Independent about Britain’s child prisons, where the brothers will be detained (in separate facilities). A very lengthy article that I read with interest, about how life looks like for children who commit crimes but are too young to even be classified as ‘young offenders’. How because of their age, and over 90% have suffered some sort of abuse, it’s not a matter of all punishment all the time, but that they may be rehabilitated, educated, and given structure in their lives.

These children are taken away from disrupted backgrounds, with no boundaries, and dangerous adults, and are put somewhere where they are safe, fed and housed and told No by people who understand how to set limits. It’s tough love. It’s a great skill, creating an experience that approximates to a proper family life.

Sober reading, but there is some level of hope. Oh, and I can’t believe that an issue of this magnitude of importance has received zero coverage here. I know Haiti takes precedence, but I couldn’t even find the story when I navigate to the Europe section of the big broadsheets — NYT, LAT, Washington Post, Trib. Shame, shame.

google, china and single markets

So google is getting out of China, and most publications in the English speaking world are hailing GOOG’s ethical and principled stance against cyber attacks, censorship and even human rights.

While I think a certain amount of (admittedly western) moralistic approach was behind the decision, I do not for one moment believe it’s the main reason. If any, I’m willing to bet it ranks may be within the top 10 reasons, and that’s it. Who is google to think that they can influence an entire government? If they want to operate in a country, they need to obey the laws of that country.

The main reason has to be business driven. That google is losing market share to baidu is very significant. First, baidu is associated with the mainland government, so there is validation in the eyes of the population. Second, if I get blank screens or crap results every time I search, I’d eventually stop using that search engine — much like how microsoft and yahoo bled search market share to google.

Lots of commentators say that it’s China’s loss, that it’s the start of the road to oblivion. How wrong, arrogant, and presumptious they are. Sarah Lacy at techcrunch said it best:

We tend to have the view that China is some copycat Internet backwater, and that’s just not true. China has formidable engineering talent, plenty of venture capital, the world’s largest Internet audience, and in many cases better methods of monetization

There is perception that China is still some backwards third world country where people use ricksaws to move around and eat rice with their hands. I shake my head at that ignorance. Google (heh, ironic) any image of Shanghai, or Beijing, or any of the Pearl River delta cities and you’ll see luxury cars, brand name products and a general prosperity that surpasses any city in the world.

Compare China with America and what is the most striking commonality? Sheer size. In terms of geography and population. Dominated by large cities situated at coastal regions (something that Russia can’t compare). Which means…single market. Why is it that American products are so different from the rest of the world? It’s because it’s enough for them to develop in their home market and make good profits. This is why the American mobile and internet market lags behind, American cars are poorly designed and American domestic flights are no better than torture. American consumers don’t know better, and there are enough of them who utilise mobile and internet, drive cars and fly on planes to pad the bottom lines of American businesses.

I’m not trying to slag off American business. My point is that in a similar way, China’s single market is in the same position. There is such a vast pool of people wanting to move up to middle class through consumption that Chinese businesses don’t have to worry about the rest of the world if they don’t want to.

And that is one of the scary things keeping CEOs of non-Chinese companies up at night.

UK-US a world apart

The New York Times had an interesting article today about, yet again, a Brit’s impression of Americans. Ultimately, I agree with the author, that Americans are polite though personally I find them overly friendly. And the reason for the loud American phenomenon:

Americans have no fear of being overheard. Civic life in Britain is predicated on the idea that everyone just about conceals his loathing of everyone else.

Ah, so true, so true! It’s a glass half full vs glass half empty scenario. In America, everyone is assumed to be nice; in Britain, other people’s presence are merely tolerated. So much irony.
Talking about irony, I totally laughed at this:

A couple of years ago a survey indicated that British Muslims were the most fed-up of any in Europe: a sign, paradoxically, of profound assimilation.

dog owners can die and go to hell


If you are walking your dog in a public place, ie a park or on the pavement, it is NOT OKAY to let your dog off the leash. It is NOT OKAY regardless of leash status, to let your dog go up to another person with its stupid tongue hanging out and sniffing the other person and generally invading the other person’s personal space. This person is sharing that public space with you.


It’s NOT OKAY to say things like, “he’s harmless” or “he doesn’t bite” because clearly you do not understand my fear. It’s not about how harmless or cute your darling Fido is, it’s about how I do not want him near me and it’s your responsibility to control him.

Substitute “dog” with “tarantula” or “snake” and try to understand. I’m actually okay about holding snakes, imagine if I were holding one and you walk past me and I let the snake wrap itself around you. Get it now? Keep you stupid dog OUT OF MY WAY, I have as much right to enjoy the road as you do, and I don’t understand how my 30 minute run can be spoiled by three of you not controlling your dogs in public. That’s right. 30 minutes and I get harassed by 3 separate dogs.

Yes, all you dog owners can die and go to hell. I’m sure some of you are considerate but most of you do not understand. I am not going to apologise for my stance.


I’m guilty too. Over the last 20 years I have forgotten, and become uncaring.

I was still young, but old enough to take to the streets when it happened. There was a big gathering on Gerrard Street, then a march up Regents Street. I was near the front, and when we reached Oxford Circus, the end was still filling up Piccadilly Circus, there were that many people.

I have pictures, they’re up at home. I can’t post them anyway cos I don’t have a scanner. But it’s all coming back to me now, and I have to remember.

population density chart

population density

bb guest blogger Charles Platt has been making charts.


This one I love. A visual representation of relative population density.

To create this chart I turned to the CIA Factbook, where I looked up the populations of various nations and then divided this number into their land area (excluding lakes and rivers) to get the number of square feet available per person. I represented the results in squares that are all drawn to the same scale.

It’s an average, of course. Many countries have areas of low population density (like mountains etc) and the vast majority of the population live in urban cities. Still, a good chart.

And one that suggests I am soon to trade up by a huge factor when I move to Chicago. Huh. I doubt I’d be getting an apartment 20,000 times larger.