the other oxbridge race

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

Not the Boat Race.

The other race between Oxford and Cambridge.

goatrace

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

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

 

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

living in concrete pipes

opodinside

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

opodoutside

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

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

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

cpu minutes

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

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

Step 1: check system

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

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

Step 2: configure wordfence

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

Step 3: install WP-Disable and WP-Optimize

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

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

Step 4: uninstall high CPU plugins

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

cpu201803

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

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

bbmm relaxing afternoon tea

chickenwingstea

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

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

teatins

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

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

catching up on tv watching

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

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

coldsmoker

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

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

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

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

significant numbers

randomnumbers

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

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

sheku kanneh-mason

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

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

bbmm leisurely day 2

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

201803bbq

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

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

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

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

bbmm leisurely day

201803jojo01

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

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

201803sheko

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

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

Leisurely day. Worked hard to destress.

cold in amsterdam

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

lily004house

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

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

canalbefore

canalafter

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

outside gear

A few outdoors gear spotted at outside recently.

backpack

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

sneakers

boatshoes

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

the skate-shoe aesthetic

whisky tumblers

tumblerklean

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

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

a quiet perfect restaurant

bitehouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

future foods from ikea

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

space10bhotdog

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

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

space10burger

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

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

space10neatball

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

space10salad

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

space10icecream

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

Food of the future isn’t scary at all.

iphone setup and apps

homescreen01old

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

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

wallpaper

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

23nightsky.jpg

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

setup

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

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

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

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

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

I did the same for the second phone:
homescreen05iphone5c

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

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

apps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fantasy islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my lego

mylego

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

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

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

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

beer, doughnut, book, wine

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

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

donutbeer

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

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

1984wine

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

tentative holiday planning

prov160terview

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

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

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

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

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

iphone homescreens

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

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

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

Beautifully arranged according to colours, from @daniel_whiting:
iphonescreen03colours

Another artistic one, from @lyle:
iphonescreen04splash

Black, from @jasonbaum:
iphonescreen05black

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

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

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

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

the book under the wall

castlebook

image ©Jorge Méndez Blake

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

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

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

spare cash

moneystack

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

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

bbmm homecooking take 2

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

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

seafood06clams seafood11abalone

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

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

Home-cooking wins again.

new mbp

So, this arrived:

mbp2018box

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

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

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

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

mbp2018mba

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

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

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

food: nutritious food, notable food, plating

Three food-related articles I saw recently.

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 in descending order:

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

cherimoya

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Finally something fun, from coolhunting.

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

ski robots olympics

winterolympics2018

I didn’t get to see as many winter olympics events as I would have liked because of limited coverage. Mostly I read about the sports, the competitors and winners. Not that medals are the be all and end all of the Olympics, but Team GB came home with 5 medals, 1 gold and 4 bronze.

One event wasn’t part of the official Olympics but was so cute and worth watching was the Ski Robot Challenge. It took place at a ski resort about 1hr away from Pyeongchang and had 8 teams competing from universities and companies. The skiing robots

had to be more than 50cm in height, be able to stand on their own two legs, have independent power systems, use skis and poles, and have joints that allowed them to bend their knees and elbows

Like toddlers skiing. Not only cute, but useful research too.

bbmm home cooking

lambrack04

Best day ever! And we didn’t do much. I keep saying I’ll cook lamb rack for mm so today I went over to her place with a couple of racks marinating in olive oil, rosemary and pepper. We can’t just eat lamb so we walked over to the market to look for inspiration. What a great market! We got there around 5pm and stallholders were beginning to discount their produce. Got some portabello mushrooms as well as prawns and clams for starters. The seafood was so fresh that all we needed was to drop them in boiling water. I overcooked the lamb slightly but it had lots of flavour and was still tender.

Opened a bottle of cabernet that a friend of hers brought back from California. Highly recommended, very fruity and not too tannic. Great for sipping whilst cooking and eating.

Watched HP 1 and 2, we decided to watch all 8 films as a goal this coming few weeks. Much more preferable staying home and cooking vs going out to eat.

milk tray

milktray

Trying to clear some space in the fridge, so I opened this big box of Milk Tray that’s been there for a while.

I’m not a big chocolate eater so one or two pieces was enough. Most were way too sweet for my taste. The only one I like is apple crunch.

There’s a lot of disappointed and frankly angry people in the UK because Cadbury’s gone downhill since being taken over by Kraft. It’s broken promise after promise both to staff and consumers; now come in smaller sizes, higher price and changed taste; and closed several factories.

And of course the creme egg scandal that substituted Dairy Milk with disgusting American

standard cocoa mix chocolate

They lost £6m, but of course didn’t admit it was the change of recipe. Honestly, Americans should stay away from trying to make good quality chocolate.

There are 2 layers in the box, so it’ll take me a while to finish it. In the meantime, I’m looking on youtube for old “And all because the lady loves Milk Tray” ads.

snake soup

snakesoup2018

Took my niece out for snake soup, because she wanted to try it and she asked me to take her. Sis won’t because she’s much more of an ethical/healthy type of eater, well actually she’s more squeamish. Rob won’t because he’s vegetarian lol. There are a few choices of restaurants but I picked one that is near my niece, has a good reputation and is a sit-down restaurant. Some other places I go to are holes-in-wall at markets and I wanted my niece to have a better experience first.

Snake soup is on many, many people’s bucket list. To be honest, it’s not so special although it’s not something I have all the time. I guess it’s like people don’t go out for clam chowder all the time. So, everything you want to know about snake soup:

  • it’s a soup made with snake meat, bones, chicken, mushroom, ginger, herbs and simmered for hours–since snake meat doesn’t have too much flavour it’s like a very rich chicken soup
  • the snake meat is shredded to thin slivers and looks quite similar to chicken, it can be distinguished in the soup because it’s slightly more brown and is a little bit tougher
  • snake soup has been around since the 3rd century and was a luxury dish enjoyed by the wealthy
  • it’s becoming more rare nowadays because special training is required to handle the snakes, most businesses are family-run

The place we went to has been around for almost 130 years and is currently run by the fourth generation family. It’s been in its current location since 1989. So, very traditional although it’s probably the one to take tourists and people who are trying snake for the first time.

And still a luxury. The soup is made from hours and hours of cooking and has additional ingredients to make it richer and sweeter. Equivalent to over £10 per bowl. I also had a bowl of rice with sausage and gis had rice with salted eggs.

The most pressing question, did she like it? Yes she did. She said it was unexpectedly good. She loves rich, almost gloopy soups and this one was exactly to her taste. The snake meat itself was pretty innocuous. May be next time I’ll take her to the really local one at the market.

pokemongo dratini day

dratini

It’s pokémongo community day #2 and it’s dratini this month. Good motivation:

  • increased dratini spawn
  • dragonite evolved during the window will get draco meteor moveset
  • 3x stardust for all catches
  • 3hr lures

I have over 500 ultraballs and around 60 pinaps in my bag (just because, not on purpose), so I was in good shape. I thought the event started at 12pm but when I went out at around 11.30am I saw a bunch of dratinis already. Of course it being niantic, there were problems galore: network error, error 2, error 22, error 26, no gps, and couldn’t login sometimes when I tried to restart the game. There were times after loading when no stops or pokémons could be seen. That went on for a good 1-2hrs, which was alright because I was at lunch.

Sometime around 2pm everything seemed to have gotten fixed. I went to central piers where there is a good 700-800m stretch facing the harbour where commuter ferries dock. Normally it’s already a great spot for dratinis and water-types and today it was a veritable bounty. I ended up using a couple of lucky eggs and basically walked up and down between pier 2 and pier 9 catching everything. Tons of stops, all lured and sometimes in one spot there’d be 6-7 dratini spawning one after another.

I saw on twitter that they knew there’s a problem and the event will be extended. In the end I was there for around 2hrs. I forgot to track my starting stats, rough numbers:

  • dratini caught: around 120
  • of which shiny: 5
  • evolved to dragonair: 1 shiny
  • evolved to dragonite: 1 shiny, 3 regular
  • stardust: no idea, but 120x100x3=36,000 and I caught others too
  • xp: no idea, I was at 3xx,xxx and now I’m at 448,000

Didn’t manage a 100% IV dragonite, the best is 98% IV which I’m really happy about. Threw away a lot of low IV dratinis, and the worst one I didn’t throw away is a shiny at 19% IV. I was using pokeassistant initially and got 18% but pokemeter and pokegenie both gave me 19%. It’s the absolute worst ever pokémon in my collection. Since it’s a shiny, and since it’s so terrible, I simply must keep it.

I also like the comments from pokemeter. “Your Dratini has an awful IV, but it’s happy!” Snerk.

hello, human person

robotmindmeld01

This is a fun way of wasting a few minutes. An online word association game called Robot Mind Meld. Both human player and robot attempt to come up with the same word that associates with words each had already came up wth. The idea behind the Numberbatch AI is that it thinks quantitiatively about how words relate to each other by

analyzing millions of documents for patterns, these “numberbatches” now play a role in most programs that process language, from speech recognition to machine translation.

robotmindmeld02

At first, I couldn’t get anywhere and got stuck after more than 10 rounds. But then bingo! We did it in 3 rounds.

I’m not that great with word associations because I either use very literal relationships or go off in a weird tangent. Some of the answers from the mefi users were odd and funny too. Some only took 2 rounds, someone took 79. I LOLed at this:

1 gun boat
2 gunboat gunboat

harry potter’s large pile of ash

hppileofash

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

gloriously bonkers.

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

snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.

But then it rapidly descended into chaos:

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

Uh-oh. A few favourites from the chapte:

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

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

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

Several long pumpkins fell out of McGonagall.

One more:

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

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

visiting papa

lohaspark01

Visited Papa. I looked out from the terrace and realised I was looking at the same place mm and I went yesterday. The slightly curved shoreline with trees on one side that ends at a bunch of residental buildings? That’s one end of the waterfront bike path. It didn’t click yesterday because our attention was focused on the new residental buildings being built and were wondering what it’d be like to live there. Didn’t think to look beyond and up the hill. Plus, it’s further than it looks. Next time we go, I’ll know where to wave to Papa.

bbmm cycling day out

cyclingtko

The sun came out so we went cycling. There’s a waterfront bike path near the velodrome park that we’ve been talking of trying out for a long time. It turned out to be perfect! A little out of the way, we each have to travel around 1hr to get there, but once there it’s pretty easy. We explored signing up for one of the dockless bike schemes that seem to be everywhere nowadays but opted for the more expensive, but safer and more reliable, option of renting from a proper bike shop. We weren’t the only ones, plenty of other people were renting from him too; we’re glad the shop isn’t suffering because of the dockless bikes. The advantage of the dockless bikes is they’re so much cheaper, but that’s about it. Some of the bikes weren’t in the cleanest condition, and they had no gears. The bike shop guy let us try out machines until we found the ones we liked, he checked everything, put in a basket and gave us his mobile number in case of problems. The additional customer service is worth it. May be for other purposes we’ll try the dockless bikes another time.

Like I said, the bike path was great. Well used, but thankfully not overcrowded. Can imagine gridlock at the weekends. There were of course the usual idiots who think they’re Chris Hoy as well as whole families spread out along the entire width but by and large, fairly civilised. After negotiating our way past housing estates, the velodrome and a sports stadium we found our way to the waterfront area. Flat and straight almost the entire way. There was a bridge which provided the only gradient and even then for the lazy, there was a lift.

We brought snacks for a picnic, and there were lots of benches along the waterfront to rest and take in the view. A few boats moored around the end of the canal, a few people put-putting their small boats around. Other people running, walking, just enjoying the day.

We kept track of distance and out and back was only 5k, so a nice gentle day out with fresh air and a bit of exercise.

how far can the eye see

ynp205moon

How far can the human eye see?

Think about it.

What’s the answer?
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

I saw this on an r/askreddit thread that asked: “What’s the smartest thing you’ve ever done?”

seeingmoonreddit

Duh.

Probably further, because some stars are way, way past the moon. The andromeda galaxy, located 2.6 million light years away, is the furthest object visible with the naked eye under the right conditions.

Those military higher-ups were probably asking how far can the human eye see on earth and with the ability to see details. Or the more common question, how far can a human eye detect a candle flame? The quickest answer from googling is 48km. Researchers at Texas A&M university say it’s less than that, at around 2.5-2.8 km.

It’s surprisingly hard to test, because there are assumptions and external variables. Do we take into account the earth’s curvature? At around 3km it’s less significant than 48km. How about light pollution? Even in completely rural areas, are we seeing the candle flame absent light from the stars and the moon? How about under conditions of absolute darkness?

I can see why there was a discussion.

changed theme

The feed between the website and fb has been weird lately. More often than not, the image inside the post doesn’t get through and only the default website logo shows up. If I’m doing multi-day catchup posts, my timeline looks like a series of very boring links with the same maratree image.

Not that it matters. I deleted fb off default tabs and only check it once or twice a day if I remember. I’ve been slowly becoming disinterested in what I’m seeing on there; plus I’m fed up with its algorithms and how it’s so desperate for me to see what it wants me to see rather what I want to see. They’ve been in the spotlight recently, none of it good: it’s undisputedly the place where fake news fester and breed; its Protect feature is advertised as a security function but it actually installs spyware on the users’ phones; it spams users on the phone number provided to activate two-factor authentication.

So when the feed image problem started, I thought it was something to do with fb. I know that if they had their way, they won’t allow cross-posting via rss and instead force me to blog using their native Notes. If they stopped the IFTTT feed, I’m not going to spend the effort copy-pasting posts. I won’t play in their closed garden.

badfeed01

But when I checked feedly, the image problem was there too. So it’s more likely my rss feed.

I’ve switched to wordpress for just over 2 years now, and I’m still not finding some of the under-the-hood stuff intuitive. I kept googling and trying to look for how to edit and modify the wp-include files. I mean, yes, I can do it all the way at website level but surely there’s somewhere in the wp dashboard that allows that?

I finally found where I could be editing but couldn’t fix the image issue. I didn’t have much luck editing any of the rss files directly in the website’s control panel. either.

badfeed02

I should have gotten a clue when editing functions.php is under the themes sub-menu. So may be it’s time to try a new theme.

I suppose I have to grudgingly accept the versatility of wordpress and how easy it is to change themes. Just a few clicks and the problem seems to have been solved, at least for the last 3 posts. It’s not a bad theme either, still keeping to the clean and simple look I prefer.

cny dinner

2018cny04

Family dinner tonight at the posh club where sis and Rob are members. A bit of fun beforehand, sis booked the bowling alley and the three of us (me, niece and rob) tried to bowl. My scores were abysmal, the highest round was 95, ugh.

The dinner was buffet at the garden lounge at the top floor of the club building. Unlike hotel buffets, it was very civilised and the atmosphere very pleasant. There were only around 20 tables, so that was an advantage already. Soup and a half lobster salad were served at the table. My niece doesn’t like lobsters so mum had a whole one!

Both sis and I opted to add-on free flow drinks, which included champagne, red and white wine, and sake. We mostly stuck to champagne, I tried the sake with dinner and it was really good. Not dry, and went well with food.

Food was the usual buffet fare. Cold seafood of oyster, crab leg, prawn, clams were alright. Sashimi was fresh and enjoyable. I had two huge plates of rocket and beetroot salad and a little bit of cold poached trout. Skipped most of the hot food although the others said it was good–steamed fish, beef checks, iberico pork chops, curry. There was a noodle station which had very little business. Outside on the patio was a bbq station with skewers, roast rib-eye and other bbq meat. The skewers was disappointing, either overcooked (chewy and dry) or undercooked (the scallops were almost raw and not charred outside).

Had a sorbet and some macarons for dessert. There was a cheesecake with chestnut topping, I only ate the topping. Half my plate was full of delicious blackberries.

cny day

cny02 cny03

Most people spend CNY with family. All I did was stay home and cooked lunch and dinner. No difference from any other day.

Lots of greetings received on whatsapp groups. I looked and looked to find ones that didn’t have dogs, which was pretty difficult. These are from one of the priests mm follows on fb, he made them himself. I especially appreciate the explanation at the side, together with a pronounciation guide. With so much negativity around the use of fb (I deleted it from default tabs and check it once a day if I remember), it’s nice to see something that isn’t an ad, a stupid meme or spam.

cny eve market

hkpark05

Traditionally people go to a flower market on CNY eve to buy flowers and to participate in the festive atmosphere. Last time I went was so many years ago and all I remember is the crowd.

We set off around 11.30pm on the tram, the slowest means of transport. It was nice to enjoy the view and the cool breeze and not have to hurry. Catch pokemons too, tram is slow enough.

When we got closer to the flower market park, we saw the beginnings of the hoard. The station was completely blocked and there was a queue along the pavement to cross the road. Lots of police officers there to direct traffic and keep it orderly. It was very crowded, but organised.

There was a one-way system in place at the market, so we had to go up one aisle of stalls and down the next. So crowded that progress was slow, may be a few steps every minute. The market split into roughly two sections; one for flowers and one where mostly school and college kids sold soft toys, cushions and other festive stuff. Cute at the time, but incredibly useless and tacky a few days later. This year, there were so many dog soft toys it was hard to find anything else.

We only managed half of the souvenir section, there was one part that was completely gridlocked. When we calculated that we’d moved may be 10 steps in 20mins, it was time to give up. The flower section was marginally less crowded, so we headed there. Many stalls had discounted flowers, the market had been in place for about a week and it was the last few hours. We left with a few bunches of flowers, mostly for mm’s mum. I got a pot of basil for the equivalent of £1.

By the time we left it was something like 3am. Amazingly there were still people heading into the market. These wise and persistent individuals were there for last minute bargains, good luck to them.

14-feb

brokenheart

My contribution towards Valentine’s Day? I cancelled lunch and a day out with mm. She’d booked an Indian buffet for lunch but I wasn’t feeling 100% when I woke up. Strange headache on the left side of my head behind my ear, sometimes it’d feel hot and sometimes it’d feel a bit numb. Occasionally there’d be a sharp pain. But not debilitating like a migraine. Thought it was best to stay home and rest. Headache persisted throughout the day, even with panadol. Drank a couple of large cups of green tea and took a 20-min walk to the small park to get some sun and fresh air. Slight improvement. Probably need a good night’s sleep or rather, a week of consecutive good nights’ sleep.

Anyway it wasn’t a proper v-day event, we were just talking about Indian food and how long it’s been since we had it. We usually don’t pay much attention to v-day. More importantly, it’s Ash Wednesday. Busy this week, between Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and CNY coming up on Friday. May be it’s the trying to keep track that’s giving me the headache.

single atom photograph

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via giz, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (“EPSRC”) just announced the winner of its annual photography prize, which goes to David Nadlinger of Oxford University for a photography of a single strontium atom. The atom was excited by a laser, absorbs the energy, re-emits the light, and was held stationary by electric fields. The process occured sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture.

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Zoom in and the atom may be seen clearly. Images © David Nadlinger.

There were over 100 entries to the competition, in 5 cutely named categories: Eureka & Discovery, Equipment & Facilities, People & Skills, Innovation, and Weird & Wonderful.

The ESPRC was formed in 1994 after the SERC was split into reserach councils responsible for engineering & physical sciences, particle physics & astronomy, and biotechnology & biological sciences. Every scientist in my university cohort who went beyond first degree knows the SERC very well.

benign existence

Not much happened recently, so in the spirit of r/benignexistence here’s a list of mundane things I did this week that are, in the sub’s definition perhaps relatable but do not necessarily evoke a strong reaction:

  • low level headache that refuses to go away, ran out of paracetemol blister packs, went to pharmacy to buy some
  • visited a local small restaurant that apparently has been there since before I was born, their speciality is Thai food–chicken rice, braised duck, red and green curries
  • bought a small amount of global leisure fund, top 5 sectors:
    1. software
    2. media
    3. internet & direct marketing retail
    4. hotel, restaurant & leisure
    5. household durables
  • completely vacuumed under the bed, including taking out and cleaning shoeboxes
  • in addition to morning yorkshire tea, drank two large cups of mint or green tea in the afternoon
  • caught some gen 3 pokémons and participated in legendary gyms
  • removed ghostery because it’s on the side of the advertisers, installed privacy badger, which is from the EFF instead: why privacy badger is better
  • searched my flickr to see what ‘boring’ will bring up

kiel026fleamkt

What flickr gave me as ‘boring’ was based on my description of the pics of Kiel on one of our cruises. Here’s some random crates we saw at the flea market. Benign existence enough.

rock stacks, leaf circles

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

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

Rocks:
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Leaves:
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Twigs:
jamesbrunt03

More on twitter and prints are available on etsy.

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

zioncairns

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

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

australia is a continent not a country

I spotted this on buzzfeed and watched it make its way around social media. I posted it to r/facepalm and so far I’ve gotten more than 10k views and more than 1k points.

The gist of the facepalm-worthy story is that a student who is doing an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University was doing an assignment comparing social norms of America vs another country. She picked Australia. This seems to be a good topic, and a simple google found me several interesting articles for later reading: quora answer on cultural and lifestyle differences; businessinsider’s 20 things about Australian culture that can surprise non-Aussies; long article comparing differences.

The student’s professor gave her a F for her paper. The reason? I’ll let the professor explain herself:

facepalmaustralia

The student appealed, and sent a link to the Australian government website that describes Australia as both a continent and a country.

The professor dug her heels:

Thank you for this web-address

After I do some independent research on the continent/country issue I will review your paper.

Mysteriously the paper’s grade was adjusted to B+ but there was no apology or further communication. Subsequently, the college issued a sort-of apology via twitter:

Still, looking at both the reddit and twitter threads, there were people who defended the professor. A sociology professor doesn’t need to know geography. It’s just a mixup and the professor shouldn’t have lost her job for it. The correct name of the continent is Oceania (wrong, see below).

SMH.

oceania

I can’t remember how old I was when I learned about continents and first heard of Australia. I’m very sure I was very young, primary school age. This is basic knowledge. Australia is a large enough country, with so many wonderful exports that I have a hard time reconciling the fact that a professor who teaches at a college has never heard of it.

There seems to be confusion between Australia the continent and Oceania the region. First of all, Australia is a country located on the continent of Australia. It’s the only country on earth to occupy an entire continent. A continent is a large land mass and again this is basic knowledge that there are 7 continents. Not all countries are located on continents, for example many of the Pacific islands are too small to be considered as being on a continent. Pacific islands, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia for the geographic region of Oceania. Clear?

random finance

We met a friend of ours, P, for lunch at a Japanese restaurant he recommended. Good choice, the food was fresh and the location convenient for all. P said he bought a small apartment in the Ōta region of Tokyo, which is southwest of Tokyo towards Yokohama. So jealous!! I wonder if we can rent it from him for short visits.

riskreturn

We talked about current affairs, Brexit, property, where we like travelling to in Japan, and since he is a branch manager of a local bank, what investment products are good right now. He stayed on the conservative side, telling us about guarantee funds, life insurance based products, and mortgage funds. Have to do some reading on mortgage funds, not as familiar as I would like. I do know that they are supposed to be relatively low risk and generate returns a bit better than money market funds. They’re supposed to be more resistant to interest rate fluctuations–when interest rates are low, income from mortgages are low but underlying equities do well; when interest rates are high, equity markets tend to correct but mortgage funds have higher payments supporting it.

Red flags to watch out for in mortgage funds: where it invests, the type of underlying loans, entrance fee, exit fee, management fee, whether it pays all dividends or partial dividends.

My risk appetite is higher than this although I try to take a balanced approach. Anyway I should take a look at my investments, seeing how volatile the market has been this week. I’m not going to panic sell, because I’m not in need of any of those funds. But it may be a good opportunity to find some bargains.

making the hasselblad x1d

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One lucky reporter at The Verge visited Hasselblad’s factory in Gothenburg and got a tour of how the X1D is made. Amazing series of pictures. Top image from Hasselblad, all other images © The Verge.

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The building is nothing fancy, and the company is small enough to feel personal. The parts may not be all manufactured in Sweden (eg the sensors are made by Sony), but everything is assembled, calibrated and tested in Sweden. Almost all the process is done either by hand, or closely monitored by a human being if done by a machine. Dust is the enemy of all cameras, and the factory is spotlessly clean. All workers and visitors wear lab coats, hairnets and gloves if necessary.

hasselblad03

As expected, quality control is of the highest standard. Parts are tested continuously and each body comes with a signed release by the person who inspected it. Testing is treated as part of the manufacturing process rather than something that needed to be done afterwards. Here the camera is being tested on how well it reproduces the blue of the test sphere.

hasselblad04

Even though the cameras are state of the art, the manual manufacturing process means not all the tools used are hi-tech. They’re still using Windows XP and old Dell and Sony computers. Cleaning is done by hand using tiny brushes. Each one comes with certificates of quality and exhaustive paperwork.

Just for reference, the price of this camera is over US$10,000 for the body alone, and is Hasselblad’s cheapest camera. It’s the first mirrorless medium format camers available. Medium format photography is so far above my skill level that I still think of the old Mamiyas with 120mm films rather than modern digital cameras.

The X1D looks nothing like those old Mamiyas, or indeed like the first image of Hasselblad that comes to mind. It’s simply…breathtaking. It’s been described as the Ferrari of cameras. Is it for everyone? The professional photographer at petapixel correctly says no. It’s way too expensive for amateurs, and not even professionals who work with high resolution images. For professionals whose work are likely to be printed in ginormous sizes, like artists, fashion or portrait photographers, this is ideal. He’s definitely keeping his:

While I can’t say with any finality whether this camera is worth it for anyone else, I can say that you’ll do better trying to wrench a soup bone out of a pit bull’s mouth than to wrest the X1D from my firmly clenched grip.

there’s a car in orbit around the earth

I’d read about SpaceX but hadn’t paid a lot of attention to what is happening, so I was pretty excited to read that they just lauched their latest rocket, Falcon Heavy. The rocket launched from Cape Canaveral and is hugely significant: the rocket is intended to be reusable and it’s the heaviest rocket ever launched. The two outer boosters landed safely back on earth but the centre core didn’t land safely althought it was supposed to. The 27 engines produced 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, meaning it’s able to take a payload of 140,000 pounds and put it into the earth’s lower orbit. The launch video is 35mins, but all of it worthwhile viewing.

spacextesla

To test the rocket’s capacity meant trying to put a heavy object into orbit. While SpaceX could have just put a pile of scrap metal, a useless satellite, or something unimaginative, they put the silliest thing Elon Musk could imagine: his red Tesla Roadster. Definitely a great sense of humour, in the passenger seat is a spacesuit wearing a seatbelt just like it’s driving the car that is called Starman.

Other cool trivia associated with this launch, aside from the obvious supercool thing that THERE’S A CAR IN ORBIT AROUND EARTH:

  • the launchpad was the same one used for Apollo 11
  • the rocket launched to David Bowie’s Life on Mars
  • there’s a sign that says ‘Don’t Panic’ on the dashboard of the Tesla
  • apparently inside the glovebox: Asimov’s Foundation series, a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a a towel

spacexteslaorbit

Originally the Tesla was headed to Mars, but then it overshot and they said it would go into the asteroid belt. NASA calculated the Tesla’s orbital trajectory and they predict that it will stay closer to the sun and end up in an orbit somewhere between earth’s and mars’. It’s still visible from telescopes but will soon travel too far away. Astronomers say it won’t be visible again until late 21st century. TIL NASA has a articifial object database of things in space.

Trivla and coolness aside, the reusability and power of the rockets have the most value. They are still testing, but already on the schedule is a communications satellite from Saudi Arabia and a test payload for the US military.

bbmm afternoon outing

Cold but sunny day. We decided we needed some fresh air so we headed out to the wetlands countryside area. Late lunch at an AYCE Japanese bbq place, then followed the signs to an “eco farm.” It was a big letdown. They charged an admission fee and it looked from the map outside that the so-called farm consisted of walking paths, small gardens, a playground and a kids’ petting area. There was one other car in the carpark which didn’t bode well either. We decided to save our money and give this placa a miss.

nam003bike

Ended up at the small village at Nam Sang Wai. First thing we saw when we parked the car was a row of dockless bikes that have invaded the city. No fewer than 3 different companies with yellow, green and blue bikes. To the credit of the users, the bikes were parked in a neat row. We saw others in poorer shape elsewhere–covered in mud or just thrown into an unsightly pile. How these schemes make money we don’t know.

nam012bridge

The famous “wedding bridge” had been slightly repaired, and handrails added. This is the place where a lot of people come to take wedding pictures, because of the beautiful scenery. The bridge is more a small wooden pier but its location at the side of a canal and the background of trees and a small hill is ideal for photography. This was taken on the iphone and with no adjustments whatsoever. I know, golden hour and all that. Still, pretty.

nam023path

Walked further into the small village. There are around a dozen houses, mostly metal-cladded and quite run down. People do live there though; we saw a young woman watering her vegetable garden, heard the sound of a tv or radio through the gap of another house, and there’s laundry out to dry in front of several houses. The concrete path turned into one that was basically rotten wooden planks, which is part of the charm.

The wooden planks lead to another small pier, this one at the side of a river/canal. There’s a boatman who rows people across to the other side, probably the shortest river crossing ever. Equivalent to 50p per crossing, add 10p per bike. Very sedate. A sign says it’s around 15mins’ walk to the nearest train station from the other side of the river. During the 10mins that we were there, we saw a good 5-6 people crossing, one came back to this side with his bike and 2 bottles of either detergent or comfort in the basket. Looks like it’s widely used by locals.

We caught the sunset as we were walking back to the car. It was quick! We were both full from lunch, so decided to call it a day. I was home by 7.30pm.

sleep or read, a dilemma

cattune005rest

Almost every night when it starts getting late, after 11pm or so, I look at the clock constantly. The dilemma is, sleep or read on, because I’ll inevitably be reading a book.

It’s very cold the last few days, at night it’s below 10ºC. I can hear some people scoffing already, pffft only 10ºC, stop complaining. Consider this: our buildings have no insulation and no heating. Most of us get by with a small fan heater which is okay for heating a small area but nothing more than 10 steps away. Heat leaks out through the walls and the windows. Next time it gets to below 10ºC, turn your heating off and open your windows (to simulate the lack of insulation) for three days and just use a fan heater. See how you get on.

I’ve been wearing socks all day, so my feet are warm. Ease of falling asleep is directly proportional to feet temperature, more specifically temperature at bottom of feet. There’s an old study in Nature:

As we approach the threshold of sleep the body’s temperature regulation system redistributes heat from its core to our extremities. The phenomenon is closely related to the release of hormones such as melatonin, which regulate sleepiness and wakefulness.

Anyway, because of the cold weather, I find that I’m waking up later because it’s nice and warm underneath my duvet. This is a great duvet, even better than the 13.5 tog white goose down one I’ve had forever, this one mm ordered for me at a duvet making place, it’s supposedly handmade and very, very warm. Regardless of when I finally climb into bed, I tend to wake up around the same time. Late.

I’ve always been more of a night owl than a morning person. Luckily I only remember one all-nighter when I was studying, that one time I tried to do what people said to do and drank some coffee which resulted in me getting more sleepy and not liking coffee ever. I don’t exactly find myself getting more energetic as it gets later, it’s just that I find it quieter with few distractions. So I’m up past midnight and I’m reading, or writing a post, or doing something else. Again, there’s a study on this phenomenon which they call delayed sleep-wake phase disorder:

a typical sleep pattern that is “delayed” by two or more hours…Once sleep occurs, the sleep is generally normal. But the delay leads to a pattern of sleep that is later than what is desired or what is considered socially acceptable.

It’s not a disorder, really, is it. Following a different sleeping-hours pattern is not wrong, and people should stop discriminating against others who are simply different. As long as I get my work done, when does it matter what time I did it? Of course it’s easier when I had the freedom of living on my own, and not have to go to work at regular hours. Even people who work at home find it challenging.

Back to my original dilemma. Sleep or read? Let me go read for a little while longer, then I’ll decide.

dark coin puzzle

Very cool quick puzzle that has a “surprisingly easy solution.” I had to think about the solution to fully realise, yes it is surprisingly easy.

darkcoinpuzzle

You’re in a completely dark dungeon room with hundreds of coins; each coin has a silver side and a gold side. There are 20 coins with silver side facing up, the rest has its gold side facing up. You are to separate the coins into two piles, and each pile must contain the same number of silver-side up coins. The size of the piles may be different. The coins feel the same and flipping is allowed.

Hint: algebra is involved in the solution.

yorkshire pudding pizza

yorkiepizza

To coincide with yorkshire pudding day, Morrisons has launched a yorkshire pudding pizza. The base is a 6.5-inch yorkie, and it’s filled with tomato sauce, mozzarela plus one of two fillings: pepperoni or meat feast which is meatballs, pepperoni, spicy beef and jalapeño. Seems to be quite small, and will be sold at 491 morrisons for £3.

This is also not new, a diner in yorkshire did it first.

The trend of food mashups continue but this one should work. A base that is crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, filled with traditional pizza ingredients. It’s not unlike Chicago deep dish pizza really, if you think about it.