checked home progress, royal wedding

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

globewedding05food

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

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

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

a camera lens’ two year journey

leicasafariedition

Imagine going on holiday to the US, visitng a national park, and finding a Leica lens sitting on a rock in the middle of the desert.

That’s what happened to Jorgen Loe Kvalberg from Norway. To his credit, he took the lens home and contacted Leica Norway about the find. Leica Norway contacted Leica HQ in Germany. From the serial number, they traced it to Leica USA and Samy’s Camera store in LA. The store manager checked records and found that the lens had been sold as part of a kit to someone named Arthur Galvao.

It turned out that Galvao had lost the lens in the national park two years earlier. One of the Samy’s Camera store rep was going to Germany for holiday, so he picked it up from Leica Germany and returned the lens to its owner in person.

So when we’re talking about a camera lens and it being sold as part of a kit, it’s not the bog standard 18-55mm that comes with an entry level Canon, we’re talking about a US$3,500 Leica lens that came with a $9,990 Leica M-P with 35mm f/2 Safari Edition camera.

All credit to Kvalberg, all the folks at Leica around the world, and the camera shop in California. What’s amazing is that the lens was still in perfect, if dusty, condition after sitting out in the desert for 2 years. I guess if it’d been sitting in damp conditions, it would have broken down after that time.

I also think it got found and safely returned to its owner because it’s a Leica lens. Not many people will bother checking for the owner of a 18-55mm Canon kit lens. If I found a Leica lens, I’ll know it’s valuable and will try to return it to an official office.

via petapixel

pilot boards ship whilst it’s still moving

Thanks to The Secret Language of Ships, I can tell that there is a bulbous bow under this ship (visible in red just peeking out from the ice), and that the pilot will board the ship in a vertical opening in the hull.

I learned something new too. Even through ice, ships move quickly. And pilots are superhumans. Watch this pilot in Finland casually step onto a fast-moving freight ship from a narrow platform while the ship is still moving. Over ice. Amazing, and so casually done.

retroactive posting, and nothing’s changed much in 11 years

This post is dated 02-May-2018 but is written on 07-May-2018. Most posts dated April were written several weeks later, because I went through most of the month not feeling stable enough to post every day. I find lately that posting is cyclical: I go through days without bothering, and then I do a massive catch-up, writing 3-4 retroactive posts a day. All because of a perverse need to continue the one-post-a-day streak that has been going since 25-jun-2007. That’s not a typo, I’ve managed one post a day for almost 11 years.

I don’t think the quality or content of a post deteriorates if it’s written days or weeks afterwards. If anything, I think it filters out the less interesting topics. I instapaper articles, videos, images that I find interesting and find that I delete around half when I come to writing about them, because I no longer find them worth writing about. There’s a recent guardian article about delaying reading the news for a few days. Because of the always-on 24/7 nature of the news cycle, mental exhaustion creeps in, and anxiety level increases.

Of the 45 troubling things you saw on Twitter this morning, two or three may prove to be signs of the rise of fascism/the destruction of the environment/the collapse of Brexit Britain. Yet the rest won’t.

I still read the news everyday, but I take my time. I don’t rely on twitter for breaking news, and I spend no more than 15mins a day on fb. By the time a news item has settled, then I feel like I can read more.

Still, why do I feel like I need to post everyday? I have no idea. Routine, may be. Fear that if I missed a day the momentum is lost. In a way, it’s the same mentality of regret that I felt when I missed nano2007. If only I just wrote rubbish, any rubbish, to get to 50k. It’s a missed event I can never get back.

A few weeks ago, Jason Kottke wrote that blogging is almost certainly not dead and I find myself nodding in agreement. I didn’t get a chance to submit my website, but thousands of others did. One of them, karigee talked about why she’s kept her blog for 15 years:

I also keep it out of spite, because I refuse to let social media take everything. Those shapeless, formless platforms haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. I’ve blogged about this many times, but I still believe it: When I log into Facebook, I see Facebook. When I visit your blog, I see you.

Emphasis mine, and how I agree.

Let’s look at the 25-jun-2007 post that started the streak. Entitled new old thoughts, it’s my usual jumble of weird thoughts. To my 2007-self’s credit, reading the post brings me back to my situation then. There was an upheaval at work, my last day was that week, and I’d booked myself on a month-long trip to the US and Chile, the first and only time I visited South America. It’s interesting to read about ex-colleagues, some of whom I have kept in touch with but most of them I haven’t.

stg050sunset

The big trip is worth reading about, it started off on day 1 with a flight cancellation at JFK, where I had to sleep on the floor next to a vending machine overnight before rather recklessly deciding to drive to Chicago. Once I got to Chicago, we almost immediately hopped into the car to drive to Dallas, Fort Worth, and eventually to Washington DC to see the 4th of July fireworks and the museums. The Chilean leg of the trip was equally impressive, with skiing, wine train, and beaches. Holy moly, I did all that?

Anyway, going back to the post, this is how it ended:

But right now my brain is in a state of frozen limbo shock. I can’t believe I quit my job. I can’t believe I quit my job with no new job to go do. I can’t believe the things that our new management team is getting away with. I can’t believe I’m going on such a long trip. I can’t believe I basically have no plans beyond this July trip.

None of this is new. Nor is it a surprise.

Frankly, nothing has changed in almost 11 years.

don’t judge

Today is the semi-annual charity collection. One of the collection points is diagonally opposite us, so it’s really convenient. We had been storing up stuff to give to them, there’s a big pile of clothes, books, kitchen and home stuff. Sis came over to help too, and we carted some bags to the collection point. The building janitor expressed interest in some of the stuff, so we gave some to him. I usually give him old electronics that he can use as parts or sell.

The part-time helper came too so we had 4 pairs of hands packing today. Made some progress. I should be pleased that so much got done, but I’m not. We’re running out of time and there’s still so much stuff not sorted. Why is it so difficult? Takes mum 5 minutes to go through one item of clothing. How can one person have so much clothes?

In terms of distraction and entertainment, how about this 9-year old captioning New Yorker cartoons. It started when her aunt posted her work, which then got noticed by the magazine itself.

dontjudge

I have several favourites. This one is most apt to my current circumstances. I’m trying very hard not to judge, honest.

interpreting letters, numbers and symbols on container ships

Very rarely do I learn so much from just one article, and this is what I just did, reading about The Secret Language of Ships, or how to interpret the names, numbers and symbols on huge container ships. The names and symbols are not only for officials, they also tell tugboats all the information the pilots need to help steer a ship. I remember the Hastings singlehandedly rescuing our cruiseship just outside Melbourne, and one of our neighbours is a tugboat pilot and it’s simply amazing, what they can do.

ship01

The owner, name and flag of the ship is paintec at the stern. Here the owner is Hanjin, the ship’s name is Beijing, and it sails under the flag of Panama. The International Maritime Organization, or IMO, number is the ship’s identification. Over its lifetime, the owner, name, or flag may change, but the IMO never changes. It’s possible to look up the ship’s history and location using IMO.

The human-shaped dummies are there to deter pirates into thinking there are crew members on watch.

ship02

This ship has what is called a bulbous bow, a round shape at the bottom of the bow that reduces drag, increasing speed and fuel efficiency. When at sea, the bulb is underwater so it’s necessary to tell tugboats that information, so there is no accidental collison. The white symbols, the one that looks like a 5 without the top line and the circle with a cross, is used for that purpose. The 5-alike symbol says there’s a bulb and the circle-cross says there’s a bow thruster also equipped.

ship03

The white rectangle with yellow border tells pilots this is the place to board the ship. It’s called the pilot boarding mark and the tugboat will wait till the rope ladder and gangplank are deployed. On some boats there is no gangplank and the pilot climbs solely using a flimsy rope ladder. Makes them even more kickass. Negotiating a huge ship into a narrow port is already amazing.

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

water refill and water filters

bkk265water

Part of the reason we think I got so sick that day in bangkok is because of heatstroke and dehydration. We were cycling for hours in direct sunlight, and even though I had watermelon slushie at lunch it wasn’t enough. We didn’t utlise the roadside water stations either.

I’m still feeling the aftereffects of that bout of sickness. Waking up with a splitting headache that lasts the whole day, sometimes the room will be spinning around. Thankfully, no throwing up or urge to.

So, lesson learned. Keep hydrated.

refilluk

Something new that’s gaining momentum in the UK is the Refill initiative. It started in Bristol and is now in Bath, Bicester, Durham, Dumfries, Norwich, Henley-on-Thames, Brighton, Bicester and all over Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Here’s how it works:

Participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses simply put a sticker in their window – alerting passers-by to the fact they’re welcome to come on in and fill up their bottle – for free!

That’s it. Anyone with a refillable bottle can go into participating locations and fill it up with tap water. There’s an app (of course there’s an app) that shows where these refill points are, and individuals and businesses can even suggest additional refill points. One of the first companies to sign up is Whitbread so there will be 3,000 participating Costas and Premier Inns by March. There are currently 1,600 refill points across the country.

The traditional alternative to buying bottled water is water fountains. But they are the responsibility of local councils, are expensive to install and maintain, and prone to vandalism. This scheme seems much more likely to succeed. Honestly, I’d support it even if there’s a small charge like 5p. But I guess trading standards come into it.

I remember filling water bottles from fountains in Europe and of course now a lot of airports have water stations beyond security. This type of scheme may not work in all countries; I’m thinking countries where citizens are, well, less disciplined than the British. I can just see a post at r/britishproblems where the OP goes into Costa to ask for water refill and end up buying a muffin because they feel bad that they went inside and bought nothing.


Talking about water, here’s the latest from probably the charity I support most, Folia Water: they’ve been selected as a finalist in the Women Who Tech startup challenge. The 10 finalists will present their pitches on 8-March at google’s NYC office. Amongst the other finalists are IoT and AR systems; products to help infants and Alzheimer’s patients; sustainable processes that use bio and organic materials; and two water treatment products including Folia’s pAge paper. Go Dr Teri!!

frozen niagara

Many pictures on social media and in the news about the Niagara Falls freezing over. Amazingly, some parts of the national park is still open, like the journey behind the falls attraction. Instead of the roaring noise of tons of water rushing down, and a thick veil of water, it’s now just a sheet of ice. The Indy reporter braved the conditions:

My fingers turn red and stiffen as I snap a few photos, rubbing shoulders with others wincing from the bitter wind chill. As we chat, our breath crystallises, as if forming cartoon conversation bubbles

It’s not unusual for the Falls to freeze over, as the area has harsh winters due to lake-effect snow of the Great Lakes. Such a long period of sub-freezing temperatures so early in the winter is not as frequent. The last time was during the polar vortex of 2014. Quite a lot of pics being circulated this round was actually from 2014, according to snopes. Other years that the Falls were frozen include 2007, 2011, and 2012.

tor193falls

Yep. I was there during one of those years when the Falls were frozen. This was from March 2007. Here’s the rest of the Toronto & Niagara set.

thank you, @mrdavidwhitley

farageskint

This was on twitter and too good to pass up. Background: Nigel Farage says he’s skint. Yes, the Nigel Farage who lives in a £4m house in Chelsea, and draws a £90,000+expenses salary as an MEP. That the ultimate Brexiter is an MEP is an oxymoron in the extreme. Anyway, this is the tweetstorm thread from David Whitley.

Or to read on this page, thanks to spooler for storifying it:

I hope his boiler breaks down.

I hope he loses his car key, and getting it replaced is a costly bureaucratic nightmare.

I hope the delivery he was waiting for arrives when he’s at the sorting office picking up the delivery he missed two days ago.

I hope his favourite pub gets turned into a Zizzi.

I hope his bank makes him change his online banking password to something he’ll never remember, and he has to go through a needlessly complicated reset password procedure every time he tries to log on.

I hope he goes to a toilet in a shopping centre, has a shit, then realises there’s no toilet paper.

I hope he puts a washload on, forgets about it for two days, and when he finally opens the machine all his clothes have attained a permanently damp smell.

I hope he has to spend a day repeatedly going back to B&Q.

I hope he gets home hungry, puts a ready meal in the oven while he has a shower, then comes back downstairs 25 minutes later to find he didn’t turn the oven on.

I hope the chip in his passport breaks, so he has to stand in a queue every time rather than going through the e-gates.

I hope he drops his phone in the urinal, leading to it only working intermittently, but being fine when he takes it into the phone shop to see if he can replace it for free under contract.

I hope he gets a cotton bud stuck in his ear while trying to dewax it, then has to explain it to a nurse who keeps saying: “You do know it specifically says not to do that on the box, don’t you?”

I hope he spills a glass of red wine on his carpet, then when frantically trying to clean it, knocks the table, sending the rest of the bottle onto another bit of the carpet.

I hope, while wrapping presents, he slightly misjudges the amount of wrapping paper needed, and has to start over again. Then, when there’s one present left, to run out of wrapping paper.

I hope he’s horrifically hungover and gets stuck in traffic with a really chatty taxi driver who just won’t take the hint.

I hope Windows 10 does a massive update on his computer when he’s trying to print out tickets at the last minute.

I hope he’s away for bin day after Christmas, and his neighbours don’t put his bin out for him.

I hope his favourite Quality Street is discontinued.

I hope his hotel room has really inadequate curtains, and there’s a streetlamp directly outside.

I hope there’s a little icon at the top of his phone, indicating that he has new messages, but he never has any new messages and doesn’t know how to make the icon go away.

I hope he has to wait in all day for an electrician, and when the electrician finally arrives, he doesn’t have the part needed and it’s too late to go and buy one.

I hope he loses the pub quiz by one point, following an answer that is technically correct, but the quizmaster won’t allow it because it’s not what he’s got written down.

I hope he changes mobile phone service provider to save £5 a month, then realises the reception is really poor in all but the least used room in his house.

I hope he orders a lot of furniture from John Lewis that he thinks will be delivered ready-assembled, but actually requires a whole weekend of flat pack self-assembly.

I hope he cuts his lawnmower cable while mowing the lawn, spends £75 on getting an electrician to repair it, then immediately cuts it again in a different place within three minutes of restarting lawnmowing duties.

I hope he gets a document that’s slightly too big for the drawer in the filing cabinet it belongs in, meaning he has to change his entire filing system to accommodate it.

I hope his credit card company blocks his card as a precautionary measure every time he tries to use it abroad, even though he repeatedly tells them he spends a lot of time abroad for work.

I hope all the chargers for his electrical devices require slightly different connections.

I hope the alarm on his phone has failed to go off on at least two occasions, so that he’s now eternally paranoid about it not working, and can never get to sleep when he’s got an early start the next day.

I hope all supermarkets remove his favourite sandwich from their Meal Deal.

I hope every time he fills in a passport application form, he absent-mindedly puts the current year instead of his year of birth, then has to go back to the Post Office the next day to get another form.

what did i miss part 2

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

1. how to pronounce some place names

londonnames

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

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

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

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


2. map of walking times between tube stations

walkingtubemap1

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

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

walkingtubemap2

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


3. john snow’s cholera map

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

choleramap

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

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


4. property prices

londonhouseprices

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

initial over-optimism and a tougher market

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

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

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


5. decadent hot chocolate

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

darksugars

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

hotelchocclassic

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

what did i miss part 1

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

1. paradise papers

chi233fed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

redditdownvotes

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

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

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

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

ibmplex

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

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

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


3. john lewis christmas ad

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

storytelling

nanoready

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

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

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

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

“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.

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.

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.

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?

chicago trip day 08

Woke up at 5.30am because we had an early start. We loaded up my suitcase and muji bag of things for people and the silent auction and were off at 7am. It being a public holiday the roads were relatively clear. I took a chance and asked reception if the room was ready and it was. I dumped my bags and joined the group for breakfast and part of their meeting.

chi022wrigley

Very interesting meeting but I and another meeting attendee had to leave at 11am to get a lyft to Wrigley to see the baseball game. A was at a downtown hotel and would meet me at our seats. I’m not sure why we needed to get to the park so early, we got there at 11.45am and they wandered off to their seats. I walked around the outside of the stadium, made my way inside and explored the concession stands. Lots of food–beer,hot dogs, snacks. Souvenir shops too. I got a goose island beer (had to look for it, it was mostly budweiser) and a giordano’s pizza–I asked for cheese and got pepperoni, sigh. Our seats were in the shade behind first base. The game started at 1.20pm, I had over an hour to wait. Again, not sure why the friends took that lyft so early.

chi033flag

It being Independence Day, there was a parade of military personnel, a display of an American flag that covered most of the field, and we stood for the National Anthem.

chi043baseball

To be honest, I found the game boring. There’d be short bursts of action then long periods of waiting around for teams to get organised or change positions or talk strategy. It’s not continuous and makes the game very long, total I think this game was 3 hours.

The cubs were playing tampa bay rays. Cubs took a 1-0 lead but rays in one innings went up 1-6. It wasn’t till the end of the 9th innings that things got exciting. Cubs fought back to 5-6. Two out and two strikes there were people on bases. If the batter hit the ball far enough they’d have a chance to win. But in the end they didn’t so final score cubs 5 rays 6.

We took the red line to A’s hotel, stopping off to get some stuff at walgreens and visit cheesecake factory. Taxi to a blue line station, L to rosemont then taxi to the hotel.

chi113quesadilla

A little tired but hungry. Walked over to the retail park 5mins from the hotel. There was a band and food stalls as people celebrated the holiday. We found seats at a mexican place and I had blackened shrimp quesadilla which was quite good.

chi081fireworks

Had a wine at the hotel bar and joined others to watch fireworks. Long day and tired.

uk election

ukelection2017

When I woke up, counting was already underway. I’m very grateful that I was able to follow bbc’s election coverage on youtube.

First, the exil poll that had the Tories at 314 and Labour at 267. The magic number is 326 so no outright majority. The next few hours were riveting, delivering surprise after surprise. Nick Clegg lost his seat; SNP lost seats; the Home Secretary scraped home after a recount.

I caught the results of Islington North and Maidenhead where Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May both won comfortably. The difference in body language were stark: Corbyn was all smiles and Mrs May looked grim. Corbyn’s words about Mrs May’s mandate:

Well, the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support, and lost confidence

While the Prime Minister seemed resigned to the result:

If, as the indications have shown, and if this is correct that the Conservative Party has won the most seats and probably the most votes then it will be incumbent on us to ensure that we have that period of stability

ukelectionbarnet

Previously seemingly unassailable constituencies like Ipswich and Canterbury turned red. There had been a Conservative MP in Canterbury since 1918! Chipping Barnet stayed blue but with a majority of only 353. Unthinkable when I was growing up. It’s a sign of the times, I feel like one of those 11.5% in Barnet that swing Labour–a previously lifelong Conservative, they offered us nothing whereas Jeremy Corbyn ran an energetic campaign and, unthinkable at the start of the election, looks the part of a future PM.

ukelectionwestminster

My home constituency of Westminster North stayed Labour. I discovered that I can’t just register as an overseas voter, I have to apply for postal voting to get a ballot paper. Next time.

I stayed watching throughout the UK morning. There were 20 constituencies still to declare and at that point the Tories needed 20 seats. Labour held Southampton so mathematically no party was able to secure an outright majority.

Theresa May gambled on what was a huge lead in the polls and suffered a humiliating defeat, even though her party had the most seats and votes. Over the next few days and weeks there will be copious analysis on what went wrong; the demographics of who voted where; and much handwringing about what happens next. Nobody expected a hung Parliament, but that’s what we have. It may not be a bad thing. Mrs May is right on one count, we need stability. But the message is her version of ‘strong and stable’ is not the right one. I am looking forward to a rejuvenated opposition and very curious as to what Jeremy Corbyn will do in the next few years.

more nyt feel-good stories

I needed this, NYT’s latest stories that have nothing to do with politics in which they discover and share stories from around the web that take us away from the current newscycle of politics, terrorism, pain and suffering.

world’s smallest violin

violin64

Atlas Obscura has a story about the world’s smallest violin, at 1/64th normal size measuring less than 12 inches in length. The fraction represents the volume inside the instrument compared with regular violins. Mostly they go to 1/16th so 1/64 is tiny and rare. These small ones are made for kids, with this 1/64 model for 2 year olds. Yep, two years old and learning the violin. I do know that with learning, especially languages and music, the best results are to start young. Most young violinists start off with an instrument constructed from a box–the idea is to get them used to the feel and bow movement before actually getting them to produce sound.

One of the manufacturers of small violins is Stentor Music from the UK (their image above), who started making them in the 1980s. They have a factory in Mainland China where small violins are handcrafted. There is a limited demand, because kids grow out of them, so they only make a few hundred a year. I don’t think they are concert quality, but definitely serve a purpose. I wonder how many young musical prodigies started with a 1/64.

happy ending maths problem

happyendng

Quanta magazine tells the story of Hungarian mathematicians Esther Klein and George Szekeres, and their friend Paul Erdős. The problem is dubbed the happy ending problem because Klein and Szekeres fell in love and got married. Anyway, the original problem:

Given five points, and assuming no three fall exactly on a line, prove that it is always possible to form a convex quadrilateral — a four-sided shape that’s never indented (meaning that, as you travel around it, you make either all left turns or all right turns)

They proved it for 5 points to make a 4-sided polygon f(4); and 17 points to make a hexagon f(6). The general solution they proposed, the formula for the number of points it would take to guarantee a convex polygon:

f(n) = 1+ 2(n–2)

was only recently solved by Andrew Suk of the University of Illinois in Chicago. It gets a bit too technical for me, involving what’s known as the cups-caps theorem and an area of maths called Ramsey theory that says:

within large disorganized sets — like a set of points dispersed randomly on a plane — you will always be able to find well-organized subsets

And this is when I wish I were better at maths. I can understand the simple one page wikipedia entry but not the more complex explanation on quanta.


Luckily, numberphile has a video. It was made in 2014 which pre-dates Andrew Suk’s proof but is a good introduction. Talking about happy ending, Klein and Szekeres moved to Australia after WW2 and passed away within an hour of each other on 28 August 2005.

marriage made tidy

The NYT itself had an article about marraige turning a slob magically tidy. Before she got married, Helen Ellis was a slob-hoarder, who didn’t bat an eyelid when she had food crumbs on her sofa, or even bothered to close cabinet doors and drawers. Her husband still married her.

A year into our marriage, my husband said: “Would you mind keeping the dining room table clean? It’s the first thing I see when I come home.”

What I heard was, “I want a divorce.” What I said was, “Do you want a divorce?”

“No,” he said. “I just want a clean table.”

I called my mother.

She asked, “What’s on the table?”

“Oh, everything. Whatever comes off my body when I come home. Shopping bags, food, coffee cups, mail. My coat.”

Her mother called her husband a saint and told her to learn how to clean.

And she did.

She bought storage boxes and gave away stuff. She started dusting and treating making the bed as cardio exercise.

I guess there are two kinds of people, those who tidy up after themselves and those who don’t. I can’t even let a drawer be a centimeter not closed. Everything has to be put back. A slob, even a recovered slob like Ms Ellis has to remind herself to tidy up, it’s not second nature to her.

london

unionjack

Terrorist attack at London Bridge and Borough Market on Saturday night.

White van crashed into pedestrians then a horrific stabbing spree. Seven dead, 48 injured. All over in 8 minutes. [Edit: 8 dead.]

It’s hard to comprehend. I’m not in London, but I could have been. Saturday night out at Borough Market, something that any Londoner could be doing.

It’s hard to have the right words, reaction, feeling.

We’ve been through this before. Too many times. Regent’s Park, Harrods, Victoria station, 7/7, Woolwich, Westminster.

Guardian journalist Owen Jones, Sunday morning on facebook (and this illustrates my point earlier about not able to link, embed or save worthwhile fb posts):

London has far more love than the terrorists have hatred. London is just as it always was today. It’s a Sunday so it’s quieter than usual. People are in cafes, restaurants, and pubs. Parents have taken their children out. People are laying in parks. Dogs are being walked. Box sets are lazily being watched at home. People who are standing on the left side of the escalator are being tutted at, as are tourists who suddenly stop in the middle of busy walkways and people who are listening to music on their headphones on public transport too loud.

That’s not because London isn’t angry at the terrorists, or not mourning the lives of those murdered by these twisted extremists. It’s because a city which has endured all sorts of horror and attack is not going to surrender to terror and fear, which is what the terrorists want.

Let’s remember those who died, let’s come together, let’s debate how we defeat extremists – and let’s also do what the terrorists don’t want: for us to get on with our lives without fear and hatred.

social media border control

socialmediaborder

It was just announced that US consulates can ask visa applicants from certain countries for social media accounts, email addresses, phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information. This is for visa applicants, like for the B visa, not visa waiver / ESTA applicants.

My ESTA is coming up for renewal so I went online to fill out an application. They do ask for employment information and social media accounts. Employment is mandatory and social media optional. Seems to be something implemented by the current administration since the beginning of the year. Don’t forget, this is an application form that asks if you have engaged in or plan to engage in terrorist activities. Who would put yes?

As the social media section on the ESTA form is optional, I left it blank. The ESTA was approved, so at least that hurdle is successfully negotiated. But of course there’s no stopping them from making us hand over devices and passwords. When I tell my US friends, they rightly get outraged and other people online have mentioned the ACLU. There is a huge difference–the rights of Americans returning to the country and visitors visiting the country. Naturally the former gets more protection and attention from the ACLU; I doubt there is much they can do if visitors feel their rights have been threatened. Visitors have very few rights.

TBH, if I didn’t have to be there at the conference this year, I’ll stay home or go on holiday someplace else. America is such a joke nowadays and I feel guilty about saying it.

ronnie o’sullivan 147

elonex

I was reading a post about Ronnie O’Sullivan’s fastest 147, which may have been even faster than recorded. To remind ourselves, he made his first 147 at the Crucible at the 1997 world championship, at the record-breaking time of 5:20. Apparently the time is wrong. Going back 5 minutes 20 seconds from the end of play, ie when the last black was potted, gives a point when the other player was still playing. Which means the actual 147 took less time than 5:20:

  • 5:05 if the clock started when he hit the first white
  • 5:15 if the clock started when his opponent’s ball came to rest

Technology wasn’t as sophisticated in 1997. There at around the 3-minute mark is the Elonex logo, so the BBC must have been using Elonex computers then. Not the computer’s fault, it’s likely a human operator had to start the clock. I’m just blown away by seeing Elonex. It’s a name long ago buried in the past, like Amstrad or Sinclair or Commodore. I can’t remember if I ever bought an Elonex; they were good computers for that time. I wonder if they’re still in business.


It doesn’t matter whether it’s 5:05 or 5:15 or 5:20. The break is still worth watching. Deadspin positively gushes about Ronnie O’Sullivan, comparing him to Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Brian Lara, LeBron James, and Mozart:

when in the zone, he seems to have mastered the natural universe around him. His play is symphonic, orchestral, balletic, majestic, beautiful.

In the days of only 4 terrestrial tv channels, I grew up watching a lot of afternoon sports like cricket and snooker. Ronnie O’Sullivan brought a lot to the sport, and is still going strong, winning the 2017 Masters.

symphony for a broken orchestra

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

brokeninstruments

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

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

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


snap general election

parliamentunionjack

The Prime Minister has called a snap general election on 8 June. What on earth? Most of us kept hearing her say no, there won’t be a general election soon. Clearly she’s changed her mind or is plotting something.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Some analysts say she’s done it to clarify the Brexit mandate. She inherited Cameron’s mess and this is her way of stamping her own authority. Basically it’s a threat, vote for me on my merit or suffer the consequences. She’s also likely to be taking advantage of a big lead in the polls. Labour isn’t an effective opposition party and hasn’t been for a while. The Lib Dems are still too tiny and the SNP is stuck north of the border.

It’s Hobson’s Choice for the voters. One of my fb friends said it best:

would I rather have an incompetent prime minister with his heart in the right place, or one who I disagree with 75% of the time, but who has the ability to deal with foreign leaders, internal dissent, day to day chaos

As disillusioned as I am with the Tories, I cannot stomach voting for Corbyn. Like my fb friend said, nice guy but no presence.

I’m glad I renewed by voter registration. Let’s see if this time roung I get a ballot paper.

spring marathons #bostonstrong

It’s spring marathon season. Brighton was last weekend, Paris was yesterday, London is next weekend. Today is Boston, which is an anomaly in world marathons in that it’s run on a monday.

I’m mesmerised, watching how they let pedestrians cross the street in the middle of the marathon course. Effective and using low tech ideas. Just a few officials, a couple of signs, rope and a rectanglar box in the middle of the street. Very clever.

switzer

And talking about Boston, it’s the 5th anniversary of the bombing so #BostonStrong. The biggest finisher wasn’t Geoffrey Kirui or Edna Kiplagat (yay for Kenya) but bib #261, Kathrine Switzer, aged 70. Ms Switzer was the first woman to officially run Boston in 1967, having registerd as K.V. Switzer. The iconic photo of the race director trying to grab her mid-course seems so ridiculous now, but what she did for women’s sports was set a fantastic example and role model. 70 years old and she finished in 4:44:31. Amazing.

The BAA has retired her bib #261, in her honour.

random reddit

I’m bored so I’m clicking the random button on reddit, which brings me to, well, random subreddits. Yes, reddit has a bad reputation and there are some cesspool subs that shouldn’t exist. But mostly, it’s people getting together because they have a common interest. I’ve come across subs on games, tv shows, anime, sports teams, cities/countries, tech etc. Sometimes the topic is a complete mystery to me.

No wonder certain newspapers steal–um, borrow–content from reddit. A celebrity does an AMA and an article is written as if they gave an interview. Sometimes there are nice human interest stories. There’s one recently, on r/talesfromtechsupport about a tech support person fixing a simple skype issue so an elderly hard-of-hearing person can video call his wife, who is deaf and abroad for a 2 year temporary work assignment:

I looked up and there was Pete, crying while waving to his wife through Skype. Pete called her and she picked up! He introduced me to her and told me that it’d been 3-weeks since they’d heard from each other.

Anyway here are the most recent 5 random subs and some random posts.


r/minimalism

A place where people gather to talk about simplicity. I have now subscribed to it. Posts about people’s experiences like a post on decluttering using the one in, two out method. Most of us have heard of one in, one out but throwing or donating two out will definitely declutter. The OP says,

it makes me want to replace and upgrade the things I already have, rather than buying entirely new things

which sounds like a solid reason to try the program.

lv225sky

Many image posts of minimalist pictures. The was one with blue sky and a part of a slanted roof. I can do better, here’s one I took ages ago in Las Vegas.


r/dbz

dragonballz

I know very little about dragonball z, even though it’s been around for ages and ages and ages. The subreddit has discussion posts on all sorts of topics including specific episodes. What is dragonball z:

it follows a boy named Son Goku from childhood to adulthood, as he trains himself in martial arts with the goal of growing stronger. Throughout his adventures, he and his friends search for seven magical Dragon Balls that, when gathered together, can grant a single wish

There are posts with titles like What would happen if Dai Kaioshin was removed from Majin Buu? which are meaningless to me. Lots of fanart and I can see the effort that has gone into it. Not surprised that fans are gathered on this sub, this is exactly what the site is about.


r/cactus

Hahaha, a subreddit dedicated to cactus. Mostly pics of people’s plants, identification requests and posts with questions on caring for their cacti. Again, I love that there is a space online that people with similar interests can gather.

hkcchau020cactus

My contribution. We saw this whilst walking around one of the islands a few years ago. I’m loving the flickr search function.


r/historywhatif

Wow, I hadn’t realised there are whole subreddits on history whatif, future whatif, time travel whatif, even magic whatif. Very interesting, if one is interested in history. The top post is entitled Republican Spain wins the Spanish Civil War?

So lets assume that by means of less army defections or more international support or any combination of factors leads the Republicans to oust the fascists from Spain by April 1939(The end of the OTL civil war).

Not a historian, but food for thought. I started clicking on the other whatif subs and now I can see why whole hours, days, weeks, can be wasted.


r/submechanophobia

Okay, I was like, huh? This sub, which has almost 40k subscribers, is all about:

the fear of partially or fully submerged man-made objects

Ah okay. The banner pic is a cruise ship half sunk in the water and most posts are pics of submerged objects like ships, WW2 fighters, cars, submarines. One thread is entitled I will never become a Navy SEAL.

The best thing, I learned a new word.

brexit triggered

brexit

The Prime Minister triggered Brexit on Wednesday 29 March 2017. It’s a bit like knowing exactly when a bomb will go off but not having any choice in the matter. All we can do is watch the ripples spread out in concentric circles as we, as the Guardian described (it’s their banner here) we’re stepping into the unknown. There are tons and tons of opinion articles on this, from doom and gloom to glee. I’ve saved an extremely helpful BBC article all you need to know about Brexit. Many sensible questions, like:

What impact will leaving the EU have on the NHS?

But some equally amusing ones like:

Will we be barred from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Most of the answers to questions are variants of “it depends.” No one knows how the negotiations will give us. The overriding lesson from the past 12 months is: take nothing for granted, the world is unpredictable, people do not behave in ways we assume they would. No one person has the same circumstance as anyone else. Naturally I’m hoping for a soft Brexit, with as little disruption to everyday lives as possible. It’s probably naïve and unrealistic because of special interest groups and people with different agendas to ours.

There are a lot of people immediately affected by Brexit; I’m in the last group which arguably is the least affected:

  • 63 million people living in the UK
  • 58 million British people living in the UK
  • 2.9 million EU citizens living in the UK
  • 1.2 million British people living in the EU
  • 4.3 million British people living overseas (excl EU)

My primary income and financial assets are not in in the UK, so I’m less affected by the fluctuation of GBP or, to a lesser extent, EUR. If anything, sterling is cheaper for us so we should go back to visit or look into buying property. That puts me in an embarrasing predicament, because I can stand to gain from Brexit. What does it say for me as a Remainer, do I take advantage of FX volatility and falling house prices? Do I take the high road and not try to use this opportunity to my personal advantage? It’s stupid to take the naïve moral stand, TBH. When I can get us organised, I’m persuading mm to go for a househunting trip.

Aside: Scotland is in an interesting position. They voted overwhelming to Remain. If there is a second IndyRef, and if they vote for independence, will it then be a feasible location to move to? I don’t know.

There’s a part of me that still can’t believe how we got ourselves in this mess. I don’t know anyone who voted Leave but I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive them. I’ll wait and see. And hope for the best.

randomly curated links

I don’t maintain a sideblog, partly because I don’t have material all the time. That said, I have been saving a bunch of articles that would perfectly fit a sideblog. Random topics I’m interesting in like tech, travel, photography, entertainment.


icecaves

In the far, far north of Canada, which spends the most of the year under snow and ice, tides are extreme. When it’s low-tide, caves form as the topmost layer of ice remains while the water underneath recede. The native Inuits take the window of opportunity to climb underneath the ice to hunt for mussels. The caves underneath look magical, but only for a short time.

Before long, the sound of ticks and pops signaled the returning tide as it lifted the ice on the bay. Soon, the water would fill the caverns.

Beautifully photographed. I’m a big fan of alaska, life in the cold stories and this article confirmed the region’s harsh climate and even harsher way of life.


amazon’s continued online shopping dominance

A couple of months old, but still interesting is jason kottke’s account of online christmas shopping. The drone that his son wanted was out of stock at amazon, so he shopped with the manufacturer direct. Multiple emails and phone calls to verify the order and suddenly the order was refunded even though he never requested the cancellation. He couldn’t complete his purchase at Walmart’s online shop. Target’s website was slow and the item arrived late. The point is, everyone hates amazon, but it’s the only one that consistently works.

The site is always fast, I have never seen a 404’d product page, the URLs for their products haven’t changed in almost 20 years.

Come to think of it, that’s true. Product urls at amazon never 404. My only complaint is that there are now way too many products and it’s becoming more difficult to search. I need replacement lightning cables and I remember reading about some sturdy kevlar ones. Search for “kevlar lighting cable” returned 130 results, some of which are variations of the same product.


Talking about search, here’s 10 ways of searching for information on google, some I know, like searching through a specific website or url; some didn’t know about.

For instance if I were looking for an onsen in either kyoto or osaka I can search: onsen kyoto or osaka. If I want to exclude certain results, like if I want to search for interesting books but I don’t want to buy any I can search: interesting books -buy.


Musical interlude. Here’s the latest from The xx called Say Something Loving. I don’t know The xx very well, this song has grown on me. Plus the video is all.about.London albeit a London from a young person’s point of view. Video arcades (Trocadero may be), the skate park under the National Theatre, the Coronet.

We wanted to celebrate our home town and revisit some of the places that reminds us of our friendship when we were growing up.


Via the always reliably interesting boing boing a video breakdown of the Battle of Helm’s Deep. They talk about use of colour, silence in the cinematography. I didn’t realise it was 40mins long, my attention never faltered from the first anticipatory shots of silent waiting to the arrival of Gandalf. Classic.


Even darker, a LA Times long read about revenge that I spotted, fittingly enough, on r/prorevenge. Very long read, very riveting and surreal.

tl;dr: Entitled rich lawyer mom somehow perceived her precious snowflake son was slighted by the PTA President. Hatched an elaborate scheme with her (also lawyer) husband to place drugs in the hapless lady’s car. Police officer didn’t take the allegations at face value and turned the investigation to the husband and wife instead. They were arrested and jailed. Both lawyers were disbarred. The civil suit for damages was in favour of the president for $5.7million.

Apparently, a film is in the works, with Julia Roberts attached as producer and star.


Here’s a cruise I’d never go on, travelling on container ships. It’s okay for a young, single guy. It’s not only the time needed–2 weeks to cross the Pacific, for instance, it’s just that they’re not geared towards passengers:

You are a liability to the ship, and there is no reason why they should bring you onboard. Most ports are secured to a level where you cannot access them. Life onboard the ships come down to a few things: work, eat, sleep, recreation. A passenger is an interference to the ships routine.

So why do it? Because it’s there. And because someone thought about it as an idea and did it. There are apparently good things too. The passenger can share in the facilities and one ship had a sauna. There’s a lot of downtime. The view is different. And once past the bureaucracy of getting onboard, it’s cheap.


nyc549citibike

A form of cheap transport that I do like is bike sharing schemes. I was surprised and quite proud of myself at how I took advantage of NYC citibikes last year. Manhattan was surprisingly easy and safe to navigate on a bike, unlike London where I tried cycling to Harrow Road post office once and gave up. I think it’s the attitude of London drivers towards cyclists as well as the hunking buses that make it dangerous. When it works, there’s very little to dislike about these schemes. They are eco-friendly, cheap, convenient and healthy.

bikesharegrowth

Even in car-centric America, bike sharing schemes are growing. Granted, most of the growth is in cities–85% of all rides are in 5 cities: NYC, Washington DC, Chicago, Miami, Boston. It doesn’t fit everywhere. Seattle cancelled its scheme due to low usage (weather, hills and lack of commitment from local government). Schemes probably won’t work very well in rural areas.

One statistic that is impressive is how safe bike sharing is. The possible reasons make sense: the bikes are sturdy, making them heavier and also slower; they have working lights and brakes, users tend to only use them for short distances and are less experienced so they are more careful.

The world seriously can’t rely on petro-driven cars forever. Electric cars and self-driving cars may be the future but there’s also room for low tech transportation like bikes.

london bridge has fallen

London Bridge Roundel
photo credit: flickr user diorama_sky, under CC

I can even fathom, but one of these days the Queen will pass away. Spent a few minutes (more like 20, it’s a long read) reading the Guardian’s article about Operation London Bridge, or the top secret plans for the few days after the Queen’s death. The extension plans cover both the Queen’s death and Charles’ ascension and have been in place since the 1960s. The group of people involved (government departments, the police, the army, Palace staff, the media) meets regularly to update the plans and there are rehearsals for all manner of eventualities.

The middle of the article talks about Britain’s decling power compared with when Queen Victoria died. Then, we had the Empire. Now, there’s Brexit. But the Empire is gone, it’s nothing to be ashamed about; the world changes and evolves. Britain will still mourn the death of our monarch with dignity and it will be done with full-on British precision and ceremony. Extensive procedures will be followed, every detail, from the thickness of the cloth covering the bell of Big Ben that will ring the start to the Queen’s funeral to stockpiling of condolence books in all corners of the country, are in the playbook. The Prime Minister will be informed, Parliament will be recalled. TV and radio programs will stop and networks will merge with the announcement. The BBC, other channels as well as newspapers and magazines will have material already prepared.

The royal standard will appear on the screen. The national anthem will play. You will remember where you were.

And it being a completely modern world, the news will spread very, very quickly. It took hours before George VI’s death was announced; the press who were in Paris with Robin Cook who was travelling with Princess Diana knew within 15mins. Now, it’s as fast as data is carried over the internet.

There will be a profound outpouring of grief. Some observers predict an increase in patriotic feelings.

People who are not expecting to cry will cry.

I don’t cry a lot and I was close to tears just reading this.

fearless girl

fearlessgirl
photo credit: Federica Valabrega

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

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

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

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

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

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

nyc295bull

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

subscribe to newspapers

nytsub

How is the NYT really doing, asked om malik. Newspapers are painfully transitioning from print versions to digital versions, some with more success than others. I can understand the constant calls to subscribe, or to put articles behind a paywall–they have to make money after all. I left the NYT when they started their paywall, but have enjoyed a free trial subscription thanks to my friend R for the past 3 months. The question is, do I continue subscribing once the free period is over? Their income from ad revenues has gone down significantly although their digital subscription rate has gone up, possibly due to the US election. A basic subscription is only USD2.75 a week, and I really should support that.

The alternative is to subscribe to the guardian, which is marginally more expensive at USD3.85 per week. There obviously is room for both, it doesn’t work out to be that much.

Thinking.

US politics #resist

Something heinous and sinister is happening in the US. The new president, KGB Agent Orange, enacted a series of measures in his first week of being president that are intended to bully, divide and self-promote. I watched my fb and twitter feeds this morning as the drama of people detained at various airports unfolded. People who have valid visas; green card holders. In which mature and civilised country is this right? This makes me think very carefully about whether I want to travel to the US. The last thing I want to experience again is the SSSS “random” screening every time I passed through a TSA checkpoint. It wasn’t random. It was racism, no denying it.

parkrangers

That said, it’s great to see how people are coming together with the same reactions and goals. The protests and marches. Friends who believe in doing the right thing becoming passionate activists. Urging people to contact their representatives to make their voices heard.

One of the best things that happened last week came about from another of those heinous and sinister measures. Orange banned staff at several agencies from speaking directly to the public, including via social media. This prompted the setting up of various unofficial alt-twitter accounts: the National Park Service, Forest Service, NASA, FDA, EPA, DOJ, State, DHS, Treasury, WH staff etc etc all have private accounts that aim to keep the public informed and not be gagged. Of course, we have to be careful about these accounts but they seem to all have good and honourable intentions. Definitely not what dystopian novels predicted, that park rangers will be leaders in the resistance.

What’s been very prominent in going through my feeds is that we all seem to be talking to each other in a bubble. I get why people unfollow or unfriend their friends / relatives who do not hold the same view. But not knowing, denigrating and arrogantly ignoring the opposition is perhaps one of the factors that cost the Democrats the election. In order to win, one must understand one’s enemies. I’m still subscribed to a couple of reddit threads that have right wing views, to see what’s on their minds and their interpretation of what’s been happening. It’s amazing how utterly different the perception is from the other side.

One of the vast number of post-mortem articles about the election is this thoughtful piece in the Guardian that paints one side of the picture of how Orange won in rural small towns

despite his vulgarity and his big-city ways

because the people who live in those dying towns are desperate. Not because they are ignorant or small-minded or ill-advised. Because there is no longer any industry in their town, there are no prospects, and they see their way of life eroded by corporatisation. The result is the rise of nostalgia. There’s been a lot of snorting and head-shaking about Orange supporters’ perceived yearning for the good ol’ days. The article suggests that we shouldn’t laugh it off.

There is nothing un-progressive about wanting your town to thrive, about recognizing that it isn’t thriving today.

And surely these are the people Democrats need to win over.

May be my blood pressure hasn’t shot up and I can read the alt-right stuff unemotionally because I’m no more than a distant observer in this. Yes, world economy and world politics will be affected, but America is only one country and it has a tendency of overestimating its importance. I’m closely watching what’s going on in Europe too. And of course our own upcoming CE “election” (a rigged vote cast by 1,200 people in a city of 7 million is not an election). Here, the feeling is positive about the US because relaxation in oversight and Orange’s obvious pro-business stance means more profits and better investment opportunities. Two different bankers told me this. I’ll absorb this piece of information, just like I’m mopping up all the news that is already overwhelming and it’s not even the end of January.

2016: tl;dr

It’s december and time for best of, worst of, retrospective of, summary of and all that of the year. How to start? Sigh. This was on reddit: what’s the tl;dr for 2016 and some great answers. Two most meaningful ones for me, the first for the world in general:

2016 is the year we went from thinking that there might be alternate universes, to realizing that we are the alternate universe

The second one from someone who said exactly what was on my mind:

My dad died, and the world literally stopped making sense

And then someone put all of 2016 in a song. Like what the first comment said, no need for me to say which song it’s based on, by the chorus readers should start humming along:

2016tldr

at the banks

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

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

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

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

2016 olympics

2016olympics

The Olympics finished. Didn’t watch a lot because the tv channel only showed the big sports like swimming and athletics. Very happy and proud that Team GB finished second in the medals table. So many greats, Katherine Grainger, Mo Farah, Andy Murray, Nicola Adams, Giles Scott, Max Whitlock, Nick Skelton, the divers, the hockey team and the entire cycling team. 67 medals in total, 2 more than London 2012, an impressive achievement for an away games.

Another way of looking: 7th weighted medals by team size which is very good too.

Special shoutout to the 10 countries winning their first gold medals: Bahrain, Fiji, Ivory Coast, Kuwait (as Independent), Jordan, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Tajikistan, Vietnam. It’s easy to focus on the big countries and big crowd-pleasing sports, the achievements of the smaller countries and smaller teams is proportionately even larger. And what about Sakshi Malik, who won India’s first ever medal, a silver in wrestling. Imagine the difficulty she’s had to overcome.

sportsmanship

There are no better embodiment of the Olympic spirit than Nikki Hamblin and Abbey d’Agostino, who were awarded the prestigious Pierre de Coubertin medal for fair play. One of the best moments of these Games.

olympics is here, remembering london 2012

The 2016 Olympics is here! Whilst there are undoubtedly problems due to many factors such as weather, illness, incompetence, corruption, the fact is that it’s an event that is worth getting excited about. I hope I can get my once-every-four-years fix of sports hardly seen on tv like handball, rowing, dressage. I’m also hoping that there is more coverage of the Paralympics, the athletes deserve so much more exposure.

Nostalgia time. Four years ago I experienced London 2012 at first hand, having been lucky enough to be in London at the right time and getting lucky with tickets. Been looking through my pics and posts. Pics: olympica | paralympics

ldnolytorch031change

Catching the torch on the last full day before it got to Olympic Park. So, so, so glad I decided to hop on the bus. Holland Park was a good spot to see the relay pass not once but twice. Was at the right spot to see one of the handovers too.

ldnolybvolley033chgr

Getting a last minute ticket to see beach volleyball at Horse Guards’. Got a nice seat, the atmosphere was carnival-like and for a change I didn’t mind the drunken loud people around me. Watched until the last game ended at almost midnight shivering in the summer chill. Saw two big US names: Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.

ldnolyarch026gbmog

Another last minute ticket to see archery. Walking distance, at Lord’s. Even tried my hand at it in the play area.

ldnoly011stadium

I had tickets for 3 diving events, gave one set to Sis’ FIL. The first one was women’s 3m springboard final. First time at Olympic Park too, went there with mm early so we could explore. It was super sunday and I remember someone shouting that Andy Murray had just won the tennis gold medal and there were cheers all round.

ldnoly091diving10m

Diving was quite spectacular but ended quite quickly. The second diving was women’s 10m platform final, I had 4 tickets so CC and M could join.

ldnpara033wheel

What was really enjoyable and eye-opening was going to see the Paralympics. I got a last minute ticket to see athletics. I’d never been to a track and field event in person. It was absolutely wonderful. Highlight was definitely David Weir winning the T54 1500m final.

ldnpara097murder

I had a day pass at Olympic Park and managed to see tennis, football, wheelchair rugby (murderball) and goalball. All very different. Tennis was wheelchair players. Murderball was so exciting, I can’t believe it’s not shown more on tv. Football was 5-a-side and blindfolded. Goalball was played in absolute silence.

ldnpara146fencing

My last Olympics/Paralympics outing as at Excel. Saw boccia, table tennis, wheelchair fencing and sitting volleyball. Love the quiet dignity of boccia and the excitement of fencing.

typhoon last night

We got a direct hit from typhoon Nida last night. It made landfall 40km away and there were winds at 150km/hr plus more than 60mm of rain. Many places were flooded. T8 was raised.

Apparently.

treedowntyphoon201607

I heard some gusts of winds just before I went to bed but I slept through it all. When I woke up, there were winds and some rain but nothing out of the ordinary. There were bits of leaves over the windows but it was only when I looked outside that I realised it was a ferocious one. Branches all over the ground, the cover of our neighbour’s car had blown off and a couple of the papaya trees in the garden had fallen over.

I’m with her

Been quiet about the US presidental election while watching from the sidelines. Like most outside the US, and many (hopefully many, many) inside the US, I shake my head as Trump gets nominated in his party by behaving ridiculously towards minority and talking utter rubbish all the time.

Resisted until this week, then couldn’t help but tune into the livestream of the DNC. President Obama’s speech was awe-inspiring. Don’t boo, vote.

Khizr Khan talking about the loss of his son in Iraq and telling Trump he has sacrificed nothing was one of the most heartfelt speeches I’d watched for a long time.

And then Hillary Clinton walked out.

I watched most of her speech live, then had to go out. Watched it again in full later. Here are some highlights.

If I can vote for her, I will. I hope and wish that my friends who can, not only go out and vote in November, but spread the message amongst friends and family that there is too much at stake this time. Learn from Brexit. Look at the big picture. Don’t let anger and frustration destroy everything.

brexit: what have we done?

In the end, my vote wouldn’t have mattered. Westminster voted 69% for Remain. But that’s where the good news ended. The rest of the UK, outside of London & the Southeast, Northern Ireland and Scotland (and Gibraltar), mostly voted to Leave.

brexitmap

It’s the biggest event in the UK for several generations. The bbc map and analysis shows a country divided. The analysis also showed that by and large:

  • young people voted Remain; older people voted Leave with the crossover point at around the mid-40s years old, the same age range as our EU membership
  • people with higher degrees voted Remain; non-graduates voted Leave
  • people who self-identified as English voted Leave

I was watching the live results. It was a big shock as constituency after constituency returned Leave. A little respite when the first of the London results came in for Remain, but it was shortlived.

brexitmarket

Even though the European markets were closed, 24/7 trading meant it was possible to see the moment when the world realised Leave was going to win.

brexitfx

The £ dropped to a 30-year low. I’d bought some last week, when it was around 11.01 against local$, and when I checked my bank it was 10.75. Even as I typed in the online order it dropped to 10.62. Texted sis and mm, mm was able to get some at 10.55.

My FA texted. We were going to sell off one of my GBP accounts anyway, and she wanted to put the order in as soon as the markets open. I said it’s the worst time to sell, since there’d be lots of panic selling and the indices will be sure to fall. It’s not like we were desperate for the money. FA was more pessimistic than us, she thinks the markets will fall further. In the end, we set a line, if the drop is less than a certain % then sell, wait and buy back when it’s still cheap. Otherwise sit tight.

If I weren’t flying to the US next weekend for the conference, I would have dragged mm to London so we can go house-hunting. House prices are expected to drop, even though the top end of the property market will probably go up because of the cheap £.

I sound like one of those detested bankers! Taking advantage of a horrible chaos to try to make money.

markets20160624

And chaos it was. I turned on the tv to bloomberg to watch Cameron resign, and the markets go crazy. Interestingly the FTSE-100 only dropped 4% compared with the CAC and DAX. World markets closed for the weekend with red everywhere. One of my uni friends on our whatsapp group joked:

Brexit to be followed by Grexit, Departugal, Italeave, Fruckoff, Czechout, Oustria, Finish, Slovlong, Latervia, Byegium until the EU reaches the state of Germlonely

And still the recriminations continue. I try to understand where the Leave voters were coming from, which boils down to:

if you’ve got money, you vote in; if you haven’t got money, you vote out

It was all voting from the heart, coming from resentment of a government that has failed the entire country whilst lining the coffers of their one-percenter friends. There is no excuse from the government, but let’s vote them out at the next general election and not use the EU referendum as a temper tantrum.

There was a lot fearmongering about immigration too, that the heart listened to. I get it. I saw my own neighbourhood change when I was back in London after more than a decade away and it wasn’t for the better. It’s true, many people who come to the country didn’t bother to assimilate, but Britain is also the country where a hijab-wearing woman whose parents come from Bangladesh can win the most popular baking competition ever and goes on to bake a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday. That’s British identity, not Nigel Farage’s stupid poster.

The heart that voted for Brexit didn’t listen to the head and forgot about consequences. How leaving the EU will affect pensions, mortgages, job opportunities, the economy and, closer to home, making their Costa del Sol holiday even more expensive now.

And we’ll have to be British about this. Apologise to the world about the mess we created. Make the best of the situation. Europe already wants us out. Best case scenario, our politicians (and please do NOT elect Boris Johnson) salvage some of the EU benefits and we become like Switzerland or Norway. Worst case scenario…ugh, that’s a bottomless pit.

What have we done?

EU referendum didn’t vote

euballotpaper

Results are starting to come in for the EU referendum. Despite me being a good citizen and registering to vote, I did not get my chance to vote. Why? Because I didn’t get my ballot paper. I have no idea why or what happened. I received a confirmation from Westminster council, which I duly filed away. Then waited and waited and waited. Most info and articles were geared towards people in the UK. It’s hard for people outside to find instructions. I wonder if I should have registered for a proxy vote, but I don’t know anyone in Westminster.

So that was the tactic then? Not send the ballot papers or send it so we get it after the event. I wonder how many of the millions of overseas voters got their voting card on time and had their vote count.

What’s this about #yourvotematters? Clearly mine didn’t matter.

A bit mad, to be honest.

p.s. for the record, Remain.

welcome home Major Peake

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

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

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

The Earth:
Planet Earth

Aurora over Canada:
Aurora masterclass

Sunlight reflecting on a Himalayan lake:
Stunning colours

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

jo cox

sg013temple

What an awful week. Still reeling from Orlando. And now Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen.

Like most people, even in the UK, I haven’t heard of Jo Cox before. But reading all the tributes, watching her maiden Parliament speech, she was just one of those politicians who are what we want from a politician: hardworking, bright, working for her constituents and her country rather than blagging and hogging the spotlight with empty promises.

She achieved so much. Head girl, Pembroke College, Head of Policy at Oxfam. A

tireless campaigner

for Syrian refugees.

She even lived on a houseboat! She left behind her husband, Brendan, and two young children.

What is the world coming to? Awful, simply awful. There are eyewitness reports that her attacker shouted “Britain First” and although it’s not confirmed the fact that organisations like Britain First exist in the first place is a terrible reflection of how the world has become.

This quote from her maiden speech sums up how we should carry on her legacy:

we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us

We simply must do better.