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.

TWE tasting sets


TWE is promoting its newest gift idea, dram-sized tasting bottles and sets. Cute 10ml bottles of all sorts, not only whisky but gin, bourbon etc. Single bottles or a dark wood gift box of multiple bottles plus a glass, what a stroke of packaging and marketing genius. They have a balvenie set, a lagavullin set, a sherry cask set. The tour of Scotland set has auchentoshan, glenfiddich, two lagavullins, talisker. The bourbon discovery set at £44.95 has the usual suspects–makers mark, evan williams, four roses, wild turkey, elijah craig. The Japanese whisky set has chichibu, mars, nikka coffey grain, taketsuru, yamazaki 12 at £54.95. To be honest, totally overpriced and we are definitely paying for packaging.

twechocwhisky

The around the world set has english whisky, miyagikiyo, michter’s, kavalan sherry oak, amrut peated. I’ve tried all of these. English whisky company is current and amrut is in the rotation queue. Miyagikyo is probably my favourite japanese single malt, even more so than the more well-known yamazaki and yoichi. I’m surprised they don’t have a european whiskies set, opportunity wasted.

The sets I’m drawn to are the rarer ones. Lost distilleries, Port Askaig, Laddie set. The chocolate and whisky set at £44.95 should be popular. It helps that in that set they have balvenie, glenfarcas, taisker and port askaig. Actually I wont mind this set, I’ll take the whiskies and give mum the chocolate.

gmail yes no reply

I want to set up simple Yes/No reply buttons in an email to about 50 people. Although this is easily done in outlook it’s not an obvious functionality in gmail. I’m guessing we’re supposed to use google forms. Completely agree that google forms are easy to setup and use but in this case I want recipients to give my recipients a one-click action.

There is a workaround that involves using email links as responses and adding filters. It’s not difficult, but should be easier. In my case I want to ask a group of people if they see books in their reading assignment.

Steps:

  1. Write the email including the survey question and answers

  2. Add a hyperlink to each of the answers and select email then use the plus addressing feature:
    gmaillinks

  3. Create filters to send the replies to different folders:
    gmailfilter

Tested and it works. I guess I can use images instead of links to make it look like buttons. I’m not sending out the email just yet but it’s ready to go.

learn one recipe

On an episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Food Fight Club they asked their guest of the week, Selma Hayek, what dish she’d like to learn from any professional chef. She mentioned a Lebanese chef and a Lebanese dish, I didn’t catch the name. But it got me thinking, if I can learn one dish from a professional chef and then forever be able to make it perfectly, what will it be?

For this purpose I will exclude the fiendish 90-step nightmare that are Masterchef pressure test challenges. Most of them are simply impractical to make at home. What if I did learn how to make Christy Tania’s Mystique? I won’t have the opportunity to make it.

There are well-known difficult dishes to master and these are contenders: baked alaska, soufflé, beef wellington. I saw paella and consommé on the list and upon reflection, they are difficult to do well. Classic French cooking is challenging with the emphasis on technique and sauces. Baking too–croissant, sacher torte, gâteau st honoré. Asian dishes such as curries, tamagoyaki, xiao long bao are also not easy to master. I don’t know much about Latin American dishes either. There’s an old mefi thread that has a lot of interesting suggestions in addition to traditional difficult dishes: follow the recipes in cookbooks such as Alinea, El Bulli, Fat Duck; trying to accurately replicate a twinkie or big mac, make your own cheese.

croquembouche03

The most difficult recipes I’ve tried to make are all baking and desserts: croquembouche, chocolate fondant and handmade salted caramel truffles turned out really well; tart tartin and chocolate soufflé less so. The apple tart had a soggy bottom and the soufflé was more like chocolate cake. I don’t know why I’ve always classified desserts as tricky. Rack of lamb is difficult for some people, but I make as often as I make roast chicken.

In my mind, the dishes to be learned can be grouped into categories:

  • time consuming — cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, haggis, head cheese
  • showstopping — baked alaska, beef wellington
  • deceptively simple — sole veronique, perfect roast chicken, scrambled eggs (remember how Gordon Ramsay said it’s how they test new chefs)
  • baking & desserts — bread, croissant, pastry, meringue, macaron, tempering chocolate
  • needs years of practice — sushi, soba noodles, mole
  • sauces — béarnaise, hollandaise, mayonnaise

It’s difficult to pick just one recipe. I’m going to cheat and pick one savoury and one sweet. For savoury the contenders are beef wellington and cassoulet. My choice of cassoulet is based on what I would like to eat again and again and again. I have better access to duck leg than filet of beef and, well, I’d pick duck over beef most days.

gateausthonore

For the sweet recipe, I’ll go with one of the Cordon Bleu’s three most difficult recipes to make: gâteau st honoré because of the sheer number of pastry techniques needed in one single dish:

puff pastry, pâte à choux (dough for cream puffs), caramelized sugar and Creme Chiboust, a filling made from pastry cream and Italian meringue.

flavours

aquavit

Sis gave me a pack of small bottles of aquavit from the Swedish shop a while ago. Since I’m trying to reduce my total amount of stuff, I opened it to give it a try. The labels are all in Swedish and I’m too lazy to google translate them. I can figure out some info from the pictures, there are bottles flavoured with rosemary, orange and some classic-looking labels. Aquavit is a spirit distilled from grain or potato and flavoured with caraway, dill, anise, fennel–caraway being the primary spice used. In Sweden, it’s a holiday or celebration drink drunk as a shot and accompanied with singing, before, during and after each round of shots with increasing enthusiasm. I can definitely taste the caraway and there’s a strong aftertaste of anise too. My first few sips had too much anise, but after a few more, it became sweeter and I was able to tolerate it better. I did not burst into song.

Tried with orange and passionfruit juice (which was what we had in the fridge) and it was quite nice.

Another spirit I’m trying to finish is a small bottle of ouzo I got in Greece. It’s been said that if:

you’re a fan of absinthe, aquavit, or liquorice in general, you’ll dig ouzo

because they all have the base note of anise together with fennel, coriander and cloves. Again, I had it with juice and it was pretty good.

This is very, very odd. I absolutely do not like anise-flavours and I will spit out liquorice. I can’t stand coriander either, it smells like detergent and I can’t stand to have even a small morsel in my food. But I love, love, love fennel and I was fine with both aquavit and ouzo. Okay, I wasn’t very keen on tasting them neat, and perhaps the sweetness of the juice masked the anise notes. I’ve also had absinthe before, once in France and once in the Czech Republic (oh, sorry Czechia) and I didn’t like it. There’s some whacky flavour palate thing going on.

Liquorice, like durian, is a very black-and-white flavour in that people either love it or hate it. There seems to be some scientific theories behind it, that there is a difference between how we handle the aroma vs the taste of flavours. Or precisely, specific chemicals in the food. Anise type food contains glycyrrhiza glabra, and aversion to its taste seems to determine whether someone likes or hates these foodstuffs. The compound that gives this class of food its distinctive smell is anethole, and reactions to smells can be changed over time. Still doesn’t really explain my experience.

One thing is clear, I’ll finish the aquavit and ouzo (with lots of juice), continue to cook fennel, and stay far away from liquorice.

the theatre of food

This was the first semi-final of Bake-Off Crème de la Crème (ie the professionals). One of the tasks was to live plate a dessert in front of the judges. Not only must the dessert taste good, they were also marked on the theatrical element. A lot of prep, planning and teamwork went into creating this experience.

achatztabledessert

The idea of plating a dessert on the table originated at Alinea. Of course. I should have guessed either them or one of Heston’s. It was the last course of of a 20-course menu. With meals starting at US$175 and going up to US$385 for the kitchen table–per person, before wine and must be pre-paid like theatre tickets–diners expect a lot. And with Grant Achatz, I bet they do.

Someone on reddit was posting about showing a pic of this to their SO and complaining about how people are supposed to eat it. SO replied:

You’re supposed to eat this with your eyes.

Food? Art? Foodart? Art food? That’s bordering on very deep.

brooding

I’ve lived with this view out of my living room (East River, NYC):
monterey02view

On this street (Chicago):
balmoral001street

And this (London):
ldnsnow2012020502

WIthin walking distance to this (Lake Zurich at Tiefenbrunnen):
Swaying Silently
image courtesy flickr user eric andresen because I haven’t scanned my pics

Running distance to this (Belmont Harbor, Chicago):
chibike008belmont

So why am I now a prisoner in a hovel of a room where two rooms-worth of stuff are piled on top of each other and there is no space to walk more than 3 steps. Pollution so bad I’ve needed antihistammine every day for the past 6 months. Always weary of dark spots in case there are undesirable visitors. No way out.

happiness is anticipation of experiences

We realised this long ago, and the idea is widely shared by others, that experiences, particularly travel, is more important than money. There’s scientific studies that show that anticipation of an experience lead to a higher level of happiness than anticipation of a material good. Cornell researchers Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth and PhD candidate Amit Kumar:

You can think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation, and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your pre-ordered iPhone to arrive.

Dr Gilovich talks about the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. People who are happy about their purchase of, say, a new iPhone, find that their degree of happiness decreases over time. Their happiness with an experience, say a concert or a holiday, does not diminish at the same rate.

This is true even in the negative. If the iPhone stops working, happiness drops. However if something negative happened during an experience, like if a beach holiday was rained out, people tend to say “we went to the museum instead and still had a good time.”

The researchers found that one of the reasons experiences rate higher than material is because comparison with others is less significant. There is no constant need to buy a bigger car, or earn a higher salary.

The last point is interesting. I have friends and acquaintances who are travelling right now–one couple is on a round-the-world trip and have reached Tanzania where one half did safari and the other half climbed Kilimanjaro; one couple is on extended honeymoon to Italy; an acquaintance is in South East Asia–and while it’s fascinating to see their trip posts, it feels weird because I’m usually the one travelling to lots of places.

So to make me happier, let’s increase the anticipation. With mm’s mum still ill, it’s not feasible in the immediate future, but worth keeping in mind as an option somewhere down the line. I was watching a program where James Martin travelled to Annecy and it looked gorgeous. Research time.

Annecy is located in the Haute-Savoie region of SE France halfway between Geneva and Chambéry. It’s called the Venice of the Alps–it has a river and two canals running through the picturesque city. A blogger called it a real life fairytale town; another said it will steal your heart.

It has everything–a beautiful lake, a well-preseved old town, a river and a couple of canals, a great market. Cycling, hiking, skiing in the winter, boating in the summer. And of course wineries, a local woman-run brewery, boulangeries, restaurants, and cheese, cheese, cheese. Seems to be less well-known and crowded than Chambéry and obviously Geneva, both less than 1hrs’ drive away. I randomly plugged in one week’s stay next April on airbnb and found great looking places for around $70-80.

No wonder it’s a must visit. Just look at these pics. It being in this part of France, the architecture feels very Swiss.

Along the Thiou canal:
Buildings along Thiou canal
courtesy flickr user kosalabandara under cc

The 12th century Palais de l’Isle:
Annecy
courtesy flickr user pug_girl under cc

The lake:
Annecy & alentours
courtesy flickr user lyanna_wolf under cc

What is so attractive is the location. Halfway between Geneva and Chambéry, 45mins to Switzerland and 1.5hrs from Italy. It’s easy to fly to Geneva, pick up a car from the French side of the airport. A trip that can combine Geneva, Annecy and Chambéry, that’s the ultimate in anticipatory happiness.

english whisky

englishwhisky

I saw this English Whisky at M&S and thought I’d give it a try for the novelty factor. I’ve tried small drams by the St George’s distillery before, and the label says distilled in Norfolk, where the company is. I guessed (and confirmed) it’s a Marks and Spark’s exclusive distilled by St George’s.

First clue, NAS. Plus the distillery has only been in operation for about 10 years, so not likely to be more than 7 years old. My first impression, on taking the bottle out of the box, was how pale it is. It seems that it’s barely been aged in barrels at all, or that the barrels used are different from the typical sherry or bourbon barrels for scottish whisky.

Not much of a taste too, not fiery on the palate. My initial reaction was cake, but not as rich as cake. Somewhat sweet but not fruity. It was better when a drop of water was added, more fragrant, sweeter, and a longer finish.

In the UK it’s on sale for £35. I got it for equivalent of £50. For this price, there are plenty of other options. I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t go back to it once this bottle is finished.

flat errands and happy hour

fridgebeer

Had to go back to the flat for a gas appointment. Every time the gas supply is turned on, off or transferred they send a technician to test it, free of charge. It’s a bother, but it’s safe. I turned the supply off after he left since no one will living be there for a while.

I probably need to do a little work to the flat. The main door hinge is broken and the wood pretty chipped so I may as well replace the whole thing. I’d like to redo the bathroom too but it may be costly. I’ll have a think think.

I was meeting sis for happy hour but there was a lot of time, so I stayed around to read. I only had my ex-tenant’s coffee table, but it seemed sturdy enough to sit on. Plus the beer and vitamin water he left behind were refreshment enough. The beer was mostly heineken so honestly not appealing but the vitamin water was good.

I was early getting to the hh place and they hadn’t started so I found myself at another place around the corner. They had a 2-for-1 deal which, in retrospect, wasn’t suitable because I had to finish 2 glasses of wine before going to the original place. Ah well #firstworldproblem. The hh place didn’t have any special deals, but they had canapes which made it a very popular location. They had small sandwiches, prosciutto, fried pumpkin and pasta. Enough to fill me up without needing dinner. Their wine selection was also much, much better than the around the corner place.

container ship timelapse


And another video. This one by Jeff Tsang has been making the rounds. 10 minutes of unadulterated peacefulness and mesmerising goodness. Worth watching multiple times. He works on a container ship and set up his Nikon D750 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 lens facing the bow, then proceeded to collect over 80,000 images or 1.5TB of material which he edited into a timelapse video. 30 days of sailing in 10 minutes from the Red Sea to Sri Lanka to SIngapore to Hong Kong.

The sky and the weather looked so beautiful. I thought he was lucky but I remembered that pollution usually settles in built up areas and in the vast expanse of the oceans it’s really just the elements. And vast and expansive it was. For long periods there was nothing in the horizon but sky and water.

His captions are simple and educational too. In just a few words he described the hard work done by pilots, how long it takes to unload and load a container ship, and how traffic is organised (in lanes going in one direction in the straits around Singapore and no organisation around the South China Sea as fishing vessels are everywhere and crisscross around the ship). He made a decision to leave the camera out to continue recording while there was a storm and paid the price of water in his lens.

timelapse

My favourite bits include the enormous night sky with the Milky Way at around 0:30, lightning at around 3:20, the sky lit up by the full moon at around 6:00. And blue, blue skies.

ice cream and creepy


It’s rare that ice cream and creepy go together, but this ad from an ice cream maker I’ve never heard of manages to do just that. Very well done and very memorable, actually.

To rid my mind of the creepy “eat the ice cream” chant, here are some ice cream pics.

Big Gay ice cream shop, NYC:
nyc608icecream

Ricotta and fig gelato, Siena:
siena018gelato

Frozen yogurt at taste of Chicago:
mpchi117sundae

bbmm outing

We went out for a drive to one of the far away suburbs. 45mins from where I live, which is a long way here. (Okay, we took the longer way that didn’t go through an expensive tunnel, which added around 10mins or so.)

The covered carparks in the town centre were expensive, so we found one of those unofficial carparks just outside the immediate centre. There are altogether around 30 spaces there and the poor guy who was at the entrance was in a booth but no air-con. We decided we’d always find these types of carparks going forward.

Just wandered around for an hour or so at the shops, mainly a furniture/home accessories shop. It’s a chain so the shoe rack mm saw and was interested in she could get elsewhere near where she lives. Went to the market and poked around the vegetable stalls that were having a late afternoon sale. Cheap veg but quality not so good. We both ended up buying some noodles.

Dinner was ayce hotpot. It came with a small selection of sashimi, a plate of A4 wagyu beef, and assorted seafood–mostly clams with some fish and a couple of oysters. We don’t go crazy with ayce menus anymore, carefully picking the food we like. The normal beef was good too, and we also ordered lamb slices and lots of prawns. Most hotpot restaurants also offer noodles and dumplings, cheap filling food so people will order less seafood and red meat, most like.

Non-alcoholic drinks were included, as was ice cream. We both had 2 small tubs; my sesame and red bean were okay, mm had red bean and mango which she said tasted exactly like the three-flavour ice cream we used to have when we were young. Tasted artificial to me, but there was a nostalgic factor.

An easygoing afternoon and evening, which suited us.

whk105penguinselfie

And just because I’m feeling random, here are some penguins taking a selfie. (Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ)

“I’m old, I don’t know computers”

toolbars

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that happened 20 years ago.

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

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

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

museum wars

Thanks to my friend N (who works at the Smithsonian, how cool!) for linking to this.

The Natural HIstory Museum and the Science Museum had a twitter museum-off the other day. It started when someone asked who would win in a battle between the two. The social media managers at both places had a field day.

museumwars1

First shot fired by NHM, and a quick return by SM. It got worse from there, when random ammo like vampire fish, polaris missile, cockroaches, wellies, dragons, submarines, fleas, balloons were brought out. When NHM fired a tweet with locust, SM fired back with pesticide. All were museum exhibits.

museumwars2

Meanwhile, the V&A were sitting pretty.

Of course, civility returned. We’re British after all. Compliments all around and each took the opportunity to mention more of their interesting exhibits. The entire silliness episode here.

a day of errands, and a great beer to end

A day full of errands and running around.

My tenant moved out. We exchanged emails around 2 weeks ago so I know he’s accepted a job offer in another country but I didn’t know that he’d be flying out so soon. He left the keys in the mailbox.

To his credit, he had professional cleaners come in and clean the flat. He also left his large coffee table, a dirt devil vacuum cleaner, a doorframe pull up bar and a modem which he should have returned to the internet provider. He also left lots of beer and vitamin water in the fridge–there must be 20 bottles of beer and 10 bottles of vitamin water. Now I have to figure out what to do with the flat next.

I didn’t have too much time to spend at the flat, I was rushing to a doctor’s appointment to clear my blocked ears. Yeah, I finally decided to get them sorted. It was nice to live at reduced volume but it’s not ideal. I’ve been to this ENT doc since I was young and he knows my ear health history. He poked and vacuumed the gunk out of my ears, pretty uncomfortable but effective. Expensive though, around USD80 and that was without medicine.

Took a bus back across the harbour to Sam’s. He out-did himself this time. Gave me an even better than normal haircut and within 40mins too. This time he cut it shorter than before and it feels so good to have so much of the thickness gone.

Went to the supermarket and bought a couple of bulbs of fennel. Seeing so many contestants use fennel on masterchef gave me a hankering after it. Organic and imported so very expensive. Almost USD10 for two small/medium bulbs. Ah well. Sis gave me a voucher for this supermarket and I still have quite a lot of balance left.

stbernadusabt12

By then it was around 5.30pm and I’d been running around since 1pm. Have over an hour till meeting mm for dinner. Decided on beer over wine so walked over to frites with their huge belgian beer selection. I wanted to see if they have St Bernadus abt 12, which I came across very often when I was googling Westvleteren 12. The story is shortly after WW2 the owners of St Bernadus brewery and the trappist monks from nearby St Sixtus monastery had an arrangement where they would share equipment and location. More importantly, the brewmaster from Westvleteren brought over the recipes, the know-how and the St. Sixtus yeast strain. The arrangement stopped in 1992 when the trappist monks decided that authentic trappist beer could only be brewed and sold within monastery walls. Nevertheless, St Bernadus continued with the recipe.

The long and short of it is, St Bernadus is the nearest alternative to the extremely rare Westvleteren 12.

I didn’t know enough when I was tasting the Westvleteren 12 to get a bottle of St Bernadus too. So I’m comparing a beer today with one I tasted a month ago. There are similarities and differences. Both are dark, creamy and complex. The Westvleteren was richer, smoother and had more dried fruit notes. The St Bernadus seemed more aerated and towards the end, I felt it tasted like any other dark ale whereas the Westvleteren was fruity and rich even at the end.

I still think the St Bernadus is a top-notch beer. Frites has happy hour monday to friday between 3-8pm and it was half price. With Westvleteren extremely difficult to get, I’ll be back again to taste the St Bernadus and I won’t feel like it’s a second choice.

t-shirt i want

I’m on book 4 of the Deverry series, so almost finished with the first cycle. It’s been wonderful even though I was tempted to skip the bit that was my least favourite of the serie–Perryn’s abduction of Jill. I really, really, really dislike Perryn, more so than the obvious villains–the Old One, the Hawks, all the scheming lords.

ireadtshirt

One of our chats, mm sent me this and said: “This is you.” Awwww. I have too many t-shirts but this one I’m interested enough to try to track down. She said she saw it on fb, so not much help. Reverse google image search brings me to amazon with various designs and the same wording on sale for between USD12 and 20. Some have books or owls or even one with unicorn. But not snoopy. There are similar t-shirts on a fb page called snoopy lovers but the links to purchase seem too dodgy.

Probably my wyrd that I’m not supposed to own this.

new sneakers i want

vansultrarange

I think I’ve found my next pair of sneakers, these vans ultrarange rapidweld. They look light and sturdy without having the traditional running shoe look that I don’t like in my everyday sneakers. Like the adidas ones I’m currently wearing. The tips are too narrow and it simply looks too much like trainers. The vans are different, they have the classic skater shoe look that simply looks cool. Outside magazine called them the best shoes for travelling.

The issue, as always, is that they only come in men’s sizes. The smallest on the vans website is US 6.5 which converts to US 8 or UK 6. I buy timberland siders at US 7.5 so may be I can use a thick insole. I’ll need to find a shop and try them out.

whitesplaining food and cooking

Learned two new terms recently.

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

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

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

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

sap152fishstand

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

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

And don’t get me started on yellowface.

solskinsoen

via Outside magazine, Solskinsoen is a film about running a brewery on an island in Denmark.

Penyllan brewery is located on Bornholm, which is mainly a holiday destination that fills up with holiday crowds in the summer and is very quiet in winter.

penyllan

What a beautiful place and committed brewers. They’ve only just started, their website is a landing page only. Their fb page says they will launch their first beers on 4 October.

camping food test

When I created my emergency go bag, I bought a pack of MRE to put in the bag. It’s vacuum sealed and can be stored for years. The mains is chicken pesto pasta, and there are other pouches in the pack with crackers and stuff. I hadn’t given much thought about the flavour, I think I was more focused on a value-for-money single pack that could keep for a while.

Looking at the Wirecutter post about best camping food, I’m thinking when the MRE expires I should consider supplementing with other food. The camping food in the test are one-pouch meals that are prepared by adding boiling water. First they did a taste test of specialised camping food vs standbys from the supermarket like spaghetti and mac & cheese in their office. Interesting discovery:

a surprising number of our backpacking standbys are, in fact, revolting when served indoors on real dishes

Then they asked their testers to take the camping food with them on one- or two-week hiking trips in locations as varied as Corsica, the Colorado 14k peaks, and the 1,000 mile Centennial Trail in Idaho. The food they tested weren’t boring chicken pasta. They had curries, chili, noodles, fajita as well as the usual pasta and meat flavours.

campingfoodthaicurry

Their best in terms of taste was a Thai curry. It’s likely that after a long and exhaustive day hiking, the testers’ palate appreciate the intensity of flavour of the curry. Seems like there’s a lot of vegetables and the addition of powdered coconut milk (in a separate packet) is a winner. The disadvantages are price, small portion size and it took a long time to rehydrate.

return to deverry

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

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

deverrybooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ramen

ramenyokohama

Had a meeting in the morning, don’t want to jinx it by giving too much away.

I finished around noon, so I was on the lookout for a quick lunch. Wandered around and the candidates were the usual diners, one that has pasta and a glass of wine, or this ramen shot that usually has a big crowd outside waiting. When I went to the ramen shop, it was just 12.05pm and there were counter seats. So ramen it was. The name of the shop is Yokohama ramen, but I don’t think there is anything special about Yokohama.

Watched the chefs make the ramen and they were authentic enough. The ramen were from Japan and the broth made from pork bones. I had one with the charsiu in cubes as opposed to the usual sliced. Overall, enjoyed the meal. When I left, there were already more than 10 people queuing outside.

star wars stamps

starwarsstamps

The Royal Mail has started taking pre-orders for its October set of commemorative Star Wars stamps. Commemorative stamps are released around once a month and I have two boxes of stamps and first day covers from my philately days.

These stamps are designed by UK digital artist Malcolm Tween; some of the stamps feature secret details revealed only under UV light. There are already previous Star Wars stamps featuring Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan and many others. Out of the newest 8, my favourites are BB-8 and Maz Kanata. Of all stamps in the collection, it has to be Boba Fett. That guy’s just cool.

There are also framed stamps, medal covers and display units for sale. Some are limited edition. I’m considering the £19.99 medal cover that R2 on one side and Princess Leia on the other side of the medal. I dunno, I’m trying to figure out how to sell my stamp and FDC collection, not add to it.

@watty_io came first in a competition

wattyio

Last October I got a bunch of congratulatory tweets meant for a Swedish internet of things startup. I noticed that they have gotten some good reviews and attention for their product.

Seems like they won something again. My twitter notifications blew up that they came first in something at the annual Sthlm Tech Fest that was held in Stockholm over the past few days. It’s described as the biggest tech startup event in Sweden where

[e]very startup founder, investor, designer, developer, and journalist comes together to share, be inspired and meet the whole startup ecosystem, and welcome visitors from 20+ countries.

I congratulated them and they tweeted me back that they love my handle, hahaha. So I DMed them to ask what actually they won and their response was that it was “a flic button competition or something like that.” Interesting. So it seems that flic is a smart bluetooth button that can be used to control all sorts of devices and apps. Wow, the more I delve into these startups the more impressed I am. I’m glad that through a shared name error, I’m learning so much and can watch so many cool products develop peripherically.

At least I’m not the regular person behind famous twitter handles like @coke or @bmw.

photofriday: blur

mel286night

This week’s photofriday challenge is blur.

This bokeh-like pic was taken in Melbourne in February 2017, the first night we got safely back after being stranded in the middle of the ocean with no engines. Full moon so we took a walk on deck 7 after dinner. The camera was trying its hardest to autofocus so I clicked the shutter while it was still focusing. Then i tried to blur the image using manual focus. And played with the iphone too, it focused quicker so I had to click faster.

the yellow wallpaper

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

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

gutenbergyellowwallpaper

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

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

temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency

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

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

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

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

millions dream of the lives we are living

millions

I saw this on an askreddit thread but forgot to save the page so I can’t even remember the question. I do remember being momentarily floored by this simple comment.

We must be more grateful for our lives.

The 2016 World Bank report on Poverty and Shared Prosperity is almost 200 pages long, so I didn’t read it. But looking at the World Bank page on poverty just hammers home how lucky I am, and everyone around me, and everyone who is reading this.

globalpoverty

There has been progress:

  • in 2013, 10.7% of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4% in 2012 and 35% in 1990
  • nearly 1.1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty since 1990

But the fact is that there are still 767 MILLION people who live in poverty, defined as living below US$1.90 a day. I cannot for the life of me imagine living on that tiny sum a day.

Which is the bigger problem, inequality. The Gini index measures wealth gap. A perfect distribution of wealth within a group means a Gini index of zero. A Gini index of one is where one person in the group has all the wealth and the others have none. So, the lower the better. Here’s another World Bank chart:

gini

The global index (blue line) has decreased since 1988, in part due to globalisation and rapid growth by developing countries–countries are more equal as shown by the light orange between-country index. But look at the dark red in-country index that has gone up a whopping 75%. In real terms, this means the rich in one country has gotten richer, and richer, and richer. It’s a challenge to explain this. Politics, economics, taxation, market movement, greed, these are all factors.

Going back to the reddit comment. I don’t know how to solve inequality aside from being aware of the issue. Just let’s be more grateful, okay?

bbmm at travel agent

okinawa

Met mm at the travel agent’s to get some information about cruises and resorts. Her mum’s doc says she can go on short breaks and it will likely be beneficial. But she can’t go too far away and preferably as little travel hassle as possible. It was the doc who suggested cruises. There are definitely advantages, mostly it’s the minimum amount of travelling and yet she can enjoy going away.

We’re limited by the total number of days, preferably under a week. There are only a few itineraries that fit the criteria. Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan. And the Japan one is only as far as Okinawa. I knew Okinawa is south of mainland Japan but I didn’t realise it’s that far south. It’s nearer to Taiwan. From brief research, it’s mainly a beach resort type of destination.

The Okinawa cruise is on the huge Ovation of the Seas. Over 4000 passengers, 167000 tons. One day at sea, then arriving at Okinawa at 1pm. Stay overnight then leave at 2pm the next day. Another day at sea. Truth be told, it’s an odd itinerary and doesn’t give a lot of time on the island.

We’ll see.

day out with sis

Sis and I went to the computer area to hunt for various gadget-related stuff for her. First, lunch at the vietnamese stall in the cooked food market above the market. Street food inside with air-con. The pho was good, and it came with a drink. We also ordered chicken wings, prawn cakes and vietnamese 333 beer. On the way out we saw several large tables with what looked like freshly cooked delicious food.

I bought a few small wicking towels and some superglue. She bought belts, straps, replacement sponges for headphones, hand-cranked survival radios, and all sorts of other fun gadgets. It’s okay to go on a weekday, still crowded but manageable compared with the weekend.

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There was still time and we wanted some drinks. Nothing in that area so we went back to PP and found a japanese restaurant. I had a sawa or calpis cocktail. It was surprisingly refreshing although there wasn’t much alcohol flavour. Calpis is actually one of my favourite drinks, slightly carbonated yogurt flavour a bit like yakult. Hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

meat index

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Interesting article about meat prices around the world, based on a a study by a UK b2b catering company. The study itself is a huge table that looks a lot like airinc goods & sevices tables.

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The Eater graph shows the top and bottom 10 countries in the study in terms of meat prices compared with the average global price. Switzerland is way out front with meat prices almost 1.5 times that of the global average. The US comes in at only 17.94% and the UK actually below average at -3.06%. Meat in Switzerland and Norway is expensive because they are expensive countries. Meat in HK is expensive because everything is imported. Which is why I don’t buy minced beef–there is not that much difference per kg between minced beef and braising beef like cheeks and oxtail. I already know meat in the US and UK are not that expensive, especially if cooking at home.

It’s not very useful to simply compare prices. A more indicative index is affordability. The study also indicated how many minimum wage hours will be needed to buy 1kg of meat. In Switzerland, that comes to 3hrs. The US comes in at 2.67hrs, UK 1.42hrs and HK around 5hrs. The most expensive, in terms of number of hours needed, is India at 27.38hrs.

There are also other areas of consideration like regulations, trade tariffs and cultural differences. All in all, an interesting area.

uncle H (2)

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The actual funeral for Uncle H. Only Mum and I went, it’s a school day for G so Sis couldn’t come.

After a short service led by the same priest as yesterday, we went in a coach to the crematorium. The priest talked a little about green burial (yay us) and how our bodies and physical objects will remain, only in different states. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The lunch afterwards was at one of Uncle H’s favourite restaurants. Auntie F says there are fixed dishes that had to be eaten, and fixed number of dishes too. She had been heartbroken the past 2 days and I’m glad to see her smiling, joking and talking to everyone. All her siblings were there (except those in other countries). I sat next to her sister and they were telling stories of when they were kids.

A family kind of day.

uncle H (1)

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We said goodbye to our family friend Uncle H today. He’s not actually related but we call each other uncles and aunties out of respect. Both our families moved to the UK at around the same time; they are just a few years younger than us, not so much younger that we couldn’t play together as kids.

We went with Uncle H and Auntie F on our first ever cruise to the Mediterranean, so they are the “guilty” ones who introduced us to cruising. I won’t say I was impressed with that particuar cruise, but there were some new experiences. The last time I saw Uncle H was about a year ago when mum and I met them for lunch.

Their son J used to be this nerdy kid we made fun of. He is now owner of his own architecture firm and he has won numerous prizes. He looks exactly the same as Uncle H. It occured to me that we are now older than my parents and J’s parents when they moved to the UK with their young families.

There were many people paying their respects for Uncle H. A priest and a group of kind volunteers from their church came to conduct a service. It started off with a reading of Psalm 23, always appropriate. The choir sang Amazing Grace and a few other hymns.

Sad all around. Sis and I agreed we did the right thing not having this for Papa. It probably gives people closure and comfort, but we would have hated it.

bbmm saturday

Went with mm to buy a new fridge. She’s needed to replace her existing one for a while, but the available dimensions in her kitchen really limited her options. In the end there were only 1 or 2 models that fit the space. Seems like fridges have become deeper and less wide than before.

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After getting the fridge we went to PP where we were supposed to have dinner with her family. It was only 4.30pm so there was time to walk around or find somewhere to sit. Surprised to see bizou had happy hour. On a saturday, that was unexpected. 2-for-1 plus a small snack selection. Salad, cheese, prosciutto, watermelon, pineapple. We were both careful not to eat too much because of dinner. I had a few plates of just salad after my first plate with cheese and prosciutto. She had a tempranillo from australia and I had a petit syrah from new zealand. Two unexpected origins for these two grapes. No complaints.

Dinner was in the usual restaurant. Excellent ordering by her mum, there was a perfect amount of food and very little leftovers. I left with an orange.

Typhoon coming again–we had T10 on wednesday already. By the time I was at the bus-stop it was T3 and the wind was definitely picking up when I got home.

you must be offline to read this

offline

A thoughtful bit of cleverness from Chris Bolin, you must go offline to view this page (or click on the image).

So I did as asked, went to offline mode. Short article; I agree with everything he said. We suffer through so much external distractions that we have begun to internally distract ourselves too. Try this experiment, imagine having to be still for a few hours, a few minutes, and simply focus on doing ONE analogue thing–read a book, bake a cake, file paperwork. How long will it be before we reach out to our phones and check for a non-existent new text, glance at an inbox with no new emails, or refresh fb only to see the same political article shared by half a dozen people.

There has been plenty of articles about the benefits of unplugging and examples of people saying how great their life is when they go offline for extended periods of time. Many people announce that they deleted twitter, or facebook, or snapchat. I shrug at those announcements, because they will usually come running back in a few weeks.

What I’ve found works for me is, instead of deleting those apps (and of course dramatically announcing the act), simply engage less. There is no need to read every single post of every single person I follow. I read my close friends and family and people whose posts I found valuable in the past. My approach to social media is that it’s a place for me to curate the things and experiences I find interesting. Not to mindlessly, constantly, share. Curating implies putting more thought into each post. I know that I am still learning and I have a long way to go. My weakness is way too many poorly photographed food pics on instagram and after almost 15 years I’m probably still not doing this blogging thing right. But at least I’m aware.

I’m not techy enough to know how the page was coded, a script I think. When I went to see page source firefox tells me it can’t because I’m in offline mode. Snerk.

I’m still offline, so I went back to read the post again. How often does a second reading point us to something we missed upon first reading? Or we see more depth in the words? Here’s parting thoughts on the inevitable complaints that going offline doesn’t work:

I don’t care. Make time. I bet the thing that makes you valuable is not your ability to Google something but your ability to synthesize information. Do your research online; create offline.

≺/offline≻

slow cooked duck legs

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Recipe from Mark Bittman at the NYT. He was writing this week on grubstreet about grilling duck legs too, although the only grill I have is the one at the top of my oven and isn’t the bbq grill he was talking about.

Anyway, the method we see people on cookery programs most of the time is confit duck legs. I don’t really want to waste a bottle of oil so this slow cooked method is better.

In a cold pan over medium heat start browning the duck legs, skin side down. In the meantime, prep carrots, celery and potatoes. The recipe has onions but I ran out so I used extra celery and 4 cloves of garlic. Added potatoes for a true one pot meal. I chopped the veg into larger chunks than the recipe to give more bite.

Once the duck skin has crisped up, turn over and brown the meat for a couple of minutes. Transfer to baking dish.

Pour out almost all the duck fat (I have an old peanut butter jar I use to keep my duck and bacon fat). Sauté the veg for about 10mins, transfer to baking dish with duck. Season with s&p, rosemary, thyme.

Heat chicken stock in pan to deglaze and bring to the boil. Pour into baking dish until most of duck legs are covered, making sure the skin isn’t covered. I didn’t have enough stock, it was perfectly fine to top up with boiling water.

Cook at 200ºC for 30mins, then turn oven down to 180ºC and continue cooking for around 1hr until duck is tender and most of the liquid has reduced.

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Very, very good. There was just about enough sauce to cover the baking dish, and it had a nice intense flavour. The recipe says use homemade chicken stock and I agree, it makes all the difference. The duck was fork-tender and had lots of flavour.

We are lucky that we can get duck breast and leg fairly inexpensively, perhaps because the locals don’t know how to cook them. It’s frozen and definitely not gressingham duck we get in the UK, but with the right cooking method, is one of our staples. Easy to make too. Total cooking time around 2hrs, but mostly unattended.