what did i miss part 3

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

1a. marathons #1 — elites

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

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

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


1b. marathons #2 — blind solo runner

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

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

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

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

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

wearworks

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

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

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

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

It’s not the end, it’s just a start.”


1c. marathons #3 — grass root runner

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

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

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

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

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

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


2a. drinks #1 — alcohol and cancer

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

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

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

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


2b. drinks #2 — bartending in antarctica

antarcticabar

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

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

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


2c. drinks #3 — escape from IPA

escapefromipa

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

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

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


2d. drinks #4 — free beer while shopping

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

morrisonsbeer

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

what did i miss part 2

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

1. how to pronounce some place names

londonnames

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

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

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

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


2. map of walking times between tube stations

walkingtubemap1

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

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

walkingtubemap2

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


3. john snow’s cholera map

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

choleramap

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

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


4. property prices

londonhouseprices

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

initial over-optimism and a tougher market

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

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

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


5. decadent hot chocolate

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

darksugars

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

hotelchocclassic

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

what did i miss part 1

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

1. paradise papers

chi233fed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

redditdownvotes

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

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

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

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

ibmplex

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

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

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


3. john lewis christmas ad

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

nano day 15 | 50213 words total

nano

1640 words | 50213 total

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nano day 13 | 44440 words total

nano

4053 words | 44440 total

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

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

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

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

nano day 12 | 40387 words total

ldn044poppy

4186 words | 40387 total

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

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

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

nano day 11 | 36201 words total

nano

4625 words | 36201 total

I have no idea what day of the week it is. I wake up in the morning and one of my first thoughts is to figure that out. Every day is the same. Weekdays there’s masterchef, weekends there’s strictly, that’s the extent of how I keep track.

Home all day, and not quite as distracted. Soft target was to get to 35k, reaching 36k is a happy bonus.

I have a new buddies on the nanosite this year, and there’s a publisher’s group on fb doing nano too. I keep forgetting to check in with them. So happy to see so many people reporting their wordcounts and making great progress. I’m probably a little ahead of some people, but it’s not a competition. I have to remember to participate in that group more.

nano day 10 | 31576 words total

nano

2522 words | 31576 total

There are days when writing is difficult because of external influences and strains. Today was one of those days. I had wanted to go run some errands then meet the family for dinner. Somehow that didn’t happen and I was forced to make the decision to stay at home all afternoon. In theory that meant more time for nano but in practice I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

Still, I managed to eke out 2500 words.

creperie20171110

Anyway, it’s my niece’s birthday and we met for dinner at La Crèperie. I had a galette with ham, cheese and egg and shared a sweet galette with her. Independently we both came up with our choice–vanilla ice cream and salted caramel. Sis, Rob and I also shared a bottle of wine and another bottle of cidre. The cidre was very sweet, at 2.4% alcohol tasted more of apple juice.

nano day 09 | 29054 words total

nano

4046 words | 29054 total

Yay, a 4000 word day. I was home all day, and mostly on my own so I didn’t have a lot of distractions. Spent a lot of time reading, but spaced it out so it was a reward for reaching certain milestones. Got to 28k before dinner and the usual 1000 words after dinner, shower and masterchef.

I was hoping it wouldn’t flare up, but it did. My wrist. Sigh. I just moved it up and down and it cracked like fireworks. Wrist brace for the rest of the night and when sleeping tonight. Necessary evil.

nano day 08 | 25008 words total

nano

2715 words | 25008 total

Met up with mm in the afternoon and evening, drove out to the beach with free parking and sat at a bench taking in the sea air. She had some work to do so she took her mb, I brought my ipad and read, having failed in getting scrivener to sync. Dinner near her place, fish and noodles. She drove me to my flat to check the mailbox and to drop some stuff there. I got home, showered and it was 10pm. Instead of relaxing, I spent 2hrs writing.

Because I wanted to get to 25k today.

Halfway on day 8 projects to finishing on day 16. Off the top of my head my average is around 15, 16 days so I’m bang on target.

nano day 07 | 22293 words total

nano

2113 words | 22293 total

I met sis for lunch and we went shopping for gifts in the afternoon, followed by a quick happy hour. I got home just after 5pm and was sooooo tired. I just sat at my desk and I had no energy to do anything. Eventually I napped for 10 mins.

Didn’t have a chance to write in the morning, so today’s nano was just under 2hrs before bed. I was determined to get at least my target minimum of 2000 words. Finished chapter 4, and our MCs still have not interacted. Definitely in chapter 5, I promise.

nano day 06 | 20180 words total

nano

4057 words | 20180 total

This accurately describes my november: eat, sleep, read, write. Repeat, lather and rinse. We ate mostly leftovers since I went overboard with cooking late last week. I’m not sleeping well, but I never do. I sneak reading time and give myself proper reading time when I reach a milestone. And I write towards soft targets, the only hard target is 50k by the 30th. I’m not bothered by the exact day I get to 50k, although I’m sure I’ll do a little analysis like I do every year.

Since I stayed home all day, I was confident of reaching 20k. Not a lot of distractions aside from reading. Got to 19k before dinner, then finished off the remainder 1k in less than an hour after masterchef and shower. 40% in, and the MCs are finally in the same room. I’m thinking, they may get to speak to each other or at least have some interaction within the next few scenes.

nano day 05 | 16123 words total

bonfirenight

2306 words | 16123 total

It’s Guy Fawkes’ Night. But no fireworks here. It’s sunday though, and I was out with mm all day. We had a leisurely late lunch at a new korean place near me. Then we drove out all the way to this fishing village that is supposed to have a good view of sunset. Without consulting each other, we both brought some whisky to share. She brought the macallan that we’ve had for years and years and I brought a hipflask filled with dalwhinnie. She even brought glasses! We didn’t have a lot, probably half a dram each. The weather was good, we could sit by the shore and it wasn’t too hot. We even got talking to a guy who had set up 2 tripods to take time lapse pictures of the sunset. Early sunset, the sun started turning orange at around 5pm.

Drove to another town for dinner, one of those hawker centre hot pot places. Lots of customers meant decent food. Soft drinks included, I had my fill of cream soda.

I managed to get to 15k this morning, before mm arrived. Not a lot of time left to write at night, just an hour or so. Quite pleased to get another thousand words.

nano day 04 | 13817 words total

nano

3630 words | 13817 total

The first saturday of november is double up donation day and the idea is to double wordcount target and donate to the cause. The goal is US$125k 175k and 125 million words in 24 hours. Donate $25 and receive $50 donor gifts. I’m never bothered about the gifts, it’s the donation that matters, though having a halo is cute.

I also didn’t double up my wordcount. I was distracted. I got too involved in reading in the afternoon. I did get to 13k before dinner then after dinner I was flipping channels and there was Strictly.

This was week 5 which was originally shown in the UK 2 weeks ago. The most important bit of the entire episode wasn’t any of the celebs dancing, but Craig impersonating Bruno. I’ll take multiple clones of Craig over Bruno any day. There were still 12 contestants so the ep was long (we get both regular and results show at the same time). By the time I finished watching, showered and got back to my room it was 10pm.

Managed around 800 words. Yes, I can push on for another hour or so to get to 15k but why the unnecessary stress. On to chapter 3 now, a tiny step towards advancing the story.

Overall, didn’t double up my wordcount; 3630 words is okay.

nano day 03 | 10187 words total

nano

3007 words | 10187 total

I had to go to the market and supermarket so lost a few hours during the afternoon. The soft target today was definitely 10k, and here I am on target on day 3. I’m still on chapter 2 and pretty much still backstory. Not filler, it’s just taking its time getting to the beginning of the core of the story. I had a rough outline of 15 timeline items that would take us to around the halfway point and I’m on item 3. Today’s research learning experience is about personal injury and how insurance companies try to get out of paying compensation to the victims. They seem to be particularly uncooperative compared with travel insurance, health insurance or home insurance claims.

9.30pm finish again, I’m not stress at all. I was skyping with Car this morning and I said one of these days it’ll be november and I’ll be like, “Why am I doing this again?” Will I ever get bored of nano? Will I get to 2025 and say, hey it’s year 20, time to hang up my boots. At this point, it’s very simply something that I do. It’s like when you get on a bus you pay the fare. Well, it’s more seasonal that that, it’s more like it’s Christmas so buy presents, order turkey, carols & mince pies at the yacht club on Christmas Eve.

nano day 02 | 7180 total

nano

3812 words | 7180 total

Uneventful day. I made lunch, wrote a bit, hit 5000 and gave myself a small reward of reading. Reached 6300 by the time I had to go make dinner and got the rest in by 9.30pm. At this early stage, I’m introducing characters left, right and centre. I’m using a combination of scrivener’s name generator and behind the name‘s random name generator which helpfully gives basic stats and life story. This year’s nano takes place in a pretty homogeneous suburb, so I’m sticking with simple westernised names.

Update nano site, update website, save, back up, done. Reading time.

The only eventful event that happened today was I roasted some chestnuts and was unsuccessful in getting them out of the shells. I have no idea why. When I cracked the shell, the nut would break in two and I had to use a spoon to get the flesh out. So now instead of the expected whole chestnuts I have a container of chestnut breadcrumbs. I was going to use them in a stew but now I either have to make soup (I saw recipes for carrot & chestnut and cauliflower & chestnut soup) or a dessert or use as ice cream topping. I guess it’s not a huge disaster.

nano day 01 | 3368 words

nano
3368 words

I was still up at midnight so I got 300-odd words in as a headstart. Title, synopsis and prologue.

Went about my usual morning routine, started writing in the afternoon. Progress was very slow but steady. Target was 2000 by dinner and I got to 2300. Watched masterchef australia and added another 1000 words. Saved and backed up. I’m off to read, not going to stress about getting to, say, 5000.



This video of a logging truck making a sharp 90-degree turn from a narrow road (more like a path) onto a tiny bridge was making the rounds today on digg and boingboing. The driver was so skilled and I bet this isn’t the first time. It also illustrates tangents. Note how when the truck was in the middle of the turning circle around the one-minute mark, the logs are actually on the curve and not the bridge. The position of the logs at 1:12 is the tangent of the corner. Good thing the bridge has low walls, if they were higher than the clearance underneath the logs, the turn would have been so much more difficult.

storytelling

nanoready

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

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

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

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

nano prep

tangentcurve

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

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

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


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

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

nanoreportcard2005

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

nanochart

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

happiness and people

peopleinacircle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

meatball pasta attempt

pastameatballs201710

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

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

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

vending machines hokkaido

via colossal, all images ©Eiji Ohashi

hokkaidovending01

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

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

hokkaidovending02

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

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

coincidence photography

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

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

perspective, scale, and certainly a bit of luck

coincidence01

coincidence02
All images ©Denis Cherim

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

iphone ice cream

iphoneicecream

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

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

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

family and bbmm day

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

wontonfriedfishballs

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

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

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

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

there’s a new apple in town

honeycrispapple2015

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

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

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

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

dramatically dark, richly flavored and explosively crisp and juicy

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

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

london a-z food guide

londonfoodtour

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

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

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

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

someone invented a tea-making machine

teforia

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

machine-learning tea infusion device

and its features include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

ribs, tomato, pepper, potato

ribstomato

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

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

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

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

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

family visiting | chow mein sandwich

chowmeinsandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

excel art

excelart

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

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

smoked water

smokedwater

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

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

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

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

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

little jade

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.

nano blank

notebook02

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

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

poor libraries

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.

home maintenance and evil property developers

hk002ede

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

reading list

goblinemperor

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

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

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

where to live in the uk

sisuk012chi

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

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

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

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

a criminally under-visited county

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

bbmm mental health day

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

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

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

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

worldmentalhealthday

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

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

the story of how baileys was invented

baileys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

why we miss things in front of us

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

toothbrush

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

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

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

the most important part of learning is forgetting

learningforgetting

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

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

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

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

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

the most important part of learning is actually forgetting.

deverry take 2

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

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

solar egg

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

solaregg

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

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

microwave media festival

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

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

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

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

one sky

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)

nano prep

nano2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30-sep

I don’t know what I did to my shoulder, may be slept on it wrong or something. Feels like mild rotator cuff injury. It’s not as bad as before, I can lift my left arm with some discomfort but can’t pull it behind me as much as usual. I’ll need to foam roller, I guess.

We asked my decorator to come in and give us a quote on stuff to be done. We told him our wishlist and may need to not be as ambitious depending on the cost. See what the quote comes back to be. He did a good job when he did my flat a few years ago. Probably wise to ask for another quote from another decorator though.

When the part-time helper was here on Monday and cleaning windows, one of my windows broke. So now the glass is being held together by tape. I think these are original windows, which means they are older than me. Just as well, one of the items on our wishlist is to replace the windows.

ptown036pilgrimtree

It’s still ridiculously hot. All week the forecast is temperatures still 30, 31, 32ºC. I haven’t been exercising (I haven’t left my room much tbh) so I need to go walking or running because I’ve put on weight. I hope it gets cooler soon. We don’t get much autumn here, no changing of colours. Not like this pic in ptown last time I was there.