Saturday, October 29, 2016

Visiting London / three nights / 2016

Best thing we ever did was to order Oyster card online, which arrived before our departure.  With 15GBP credit on the card, it made our transfer from Heathrow to our hotel cheap, and effortless.   During our time in London, we tapped the card upon entering and exiting the train station, depending on distance traveled, the fare was deducted.  We only topped up a couple of times during our stay. To get to the airport, we bought tickets on Gatwick express, 19.9 GBP. The Gatwick express leaves Victoria train station every 15 minutes, and travels to Gatwick non-stop.

On arrival to our hotel we were surprised to find out that the Holiday Inn London - Kensington Forum charges 30.75GBP for early check-in.  The fee entitled us to eat-in at the all-you-can-eat-buffet breakfast.  The hotel was in great location: close to the Metro's Gloucester station, in a not too crowded, clean, upscale neighborhood,  nice restaurants, and cafes close by, and branches of two major supermarket chain, Tesco and Waitrose, within walking distance.  The average nightly fee was C$211/night.  From our hotel room we could see "The Eye".

The  Eye was the first place we went to.  We spent an hour in line to get the ticket, we spent almost half of hour sight seeing money to buy the express tickets, then waited another hour to get on the famous Ferris wheel.  The wheel took us on a 30 minutes spin above London, where we snapped a few out of focus pictures, right.  When it was all over, we wondered if it was worth it, and the answer was NO!

But going on the Hop on Off tour which included a cruise of Thames river from the Tower of London to London Eye was well worth it.  We cruised around the city passing important buildings, churches, and colleges while listening to the rich history of them: Churchill Arms and the very ordinary looking palace of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Kensington, the St. Pauls Cathedral and Westminister Abbey, Peter Pan and Lady Diane Memorial fountain in Hyde Park, the Paddington neighborhood, and the station where trains take travelers to Paris in under 2 hours, the London School of Economics, Royal Albert Hall, the house where Beatles lived, the house where the Prime Minister lives, Number 10 Downing street, The Houses of Parliament, Piccadilly and Trafalgar Squares, and I am sure I am forgetting a whole bunch.

And of course, you can't be visiting a new city and not try their cuisine.  This was not an easy task, as with the globalization and immigration there was fusion every where we looked.  On my list there were a place that boasted to serve the best English breakfast, another that was renowned for its tea, and one that was down to earth but served very delicious fish and chips, all these had addresses in East End London.  I was surprised to find out that the neighborhood is not suited for non-Londoners, so we skipped them, and ended up eating in not so very exciting places, like Prezzo, Spaghetti House, Pret A Manger, Burger King, and Paul.

Similar to food, finding shopping authentic to London was difficult.  Walking down Oxford Street we were surprised by how every where you go you see the big brand names, and how absent the local design is from major shopping streets.  But, we had to see the Selfridges and so we went, and although in the series the restaurants are all on the main floor,  we were told there is a not too expensive restaurant on the roof top.  We had lunch there, Fish and Chips --mediocre.

Getting out of London provides the opportunity to see the roads, and high ways, and experience the culture of transportation, an essential element of growth and prosperity.  And internet makes it possible for visitors to book tickets in advance to save time.  We bought our tickets to Bath on National Express web site, and found Victoria Bus Station, and although there is a myriad of bus companies that operate between Victoria Bus Station and Bath's, we spot the National Express bus.  It's a long trip, better suited for overnight stay, but it can be done in one day.  Bath is on UNESCO's list of heritage cities, so it's expected to feel ancient, the Roman Bath and the Bath Spa are the two main attractions of this city.  It's said that the mineral water pools of Bath have healing powers.

We did manage to go to one museum during our stay.  There was no fee to get in but the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit , which was the main motivation for our trip, had a nominal fee of 10 GBP.  This was to introduce a different side of Leonardo Da Vinci, not the painter of the famous Mona Lisa Smile, but the innovator of many equipment and machines.

I think visiting London and surroundings could be educational and fun!

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

I am on such emotional high right now, and it has been a couple of days since I flipped the last page of The Goldfinch. I can't stop thinking about the plot, the characters, the language, the prose, and the places mentioned in this book. And that's only scratching the surface. Theodore Decker's story has touched my soul. I was not just reading his story, I was living it. 

It is not just the story that is extraordinary. Although to come up with such a plot, placing a 13 year old ALONE in the world, whose view of the world is so dark, and rightly so; and then inviting colorful, vastly different from one another: bourgeois, artists, drug and art mafias, alcoholics, and junkies in and out of his life, and engineering events in very well chosen cities is nothing but genius. But also the words used to describe the events, places and characters; the vocabulary the characters choose is nothing short of amazing. 

I think aspiring writers should read this book at least once. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Work from home -no more!




Is working from home an individual's or a corporate's privilege?  It's hard to say?  On one end, an individual benefits from the freedom, flexibility, and convenience it provides, and on the other end, corporation benefits from saving on the cost of maintaining office spaces,

I recall when I started in the software business, there was no limitation on where a company could hire talent. Having a physical presence in all geographical locations was impossible and  Internet made work from anywhere possible. When interviewing, I regarded the availability of work from  home option as an option not an alternative.  The idea of working and living in the same space didn't appeal to me.  Without face to face discussion with my colleagues I felt at a disadvantage.  Yet, it was still nice to be able to work from home when there is an errand to run, a doctor's or dentist's appointment to attend, and the weather was bad.

Recently, company policies shifted to forbid working from home altogether.  Those who live within 80km of the office had one month, while those living further have 6 months to adjust their schedule to the new policy.  Everyone has to be on site 5 days a week during the core business hours.

It was hard to imagine work-life balance without the ability to work from home.  These two terms have become tightly coupled.  Now the errands, and/or appointments should be made on weekends or personal days.  And when sick or snowed in, one should just take a day.

So, I thought, my life will take a turn for the worse, I'd be behind on both work and chores at home.  In reality something else happened.  I find myself more focused at work, because I know at the end of the day, there is no more an option of taking work home.  And when at home, I am no longer split between checking on work, and getting house chores done.  This separation of the two most prominent entities of my life has been good for both.

Having said the above, I am one of the few lucky ones with just a bit over 10 hours of commute each week.  There are colleagues who spend 20+ hours per week to get to and from work.  Spending these many hours driving, or taking public transit takes a percent of the energy that should have otherwise been spent on work.  And in the long run, makes us more tired, weak, and overall less productive.  If we are encouraged to show up in the office everyday, to collaborate, innovate, and work side by side to improve productivity, we are getting the opposite effect.


Thursday, October 06, 2016

Home cure for the dry cough

If you have suffered from a dry cough spell, you'd know they are not fun! This hateful condition starts with a ticklish feeling in the membrane of the throat, which one badly wants to reach and scratch, however, that's not practical so what happens instead?  The lungs contract, air is sucked out of them, and long stretch of cough starts, followed by gasping for air in between, and wiping down the tears rolling down the face.  This usually lasts a good few minutes!  After it's over, with the sense of relief and elation, one is left with tight muscles around the neck and shoulder.  But the tightness is a piece of cake compared to having to cough pointlessly repeatedly. It's not fun for the person going through this, and annoying for the people around her.

I just had to step away from writing this, because I got one of these!  As a result of this being too personal, I have been looking for a home cure for it.  I found a list, as it is the norm, on how this information are put together on the web sites, but only two resonated.  I tried both, and to my delight, they are both effective.

They are:
1. Honey:
 A spoon full of honey, goes straight there, and it feels like it coats the membrane.  After a few minutes the area feels soothed and relaxed.

2. Saline
Gargling with salt water solution for a few minutes, and then rinsing with regular water keeps the area clean, as well as helps with the discomfort.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Buying the right laptop 2016

There!  It's September and marketing folks prefix or append "back to school" to products in order to make their purchase necessary at this time of the year.  One product that is very relevant these days is a Laptop. 

I have a Dell INSPIRON 15. It takes up a large space. Carrying it is similar to weight lifting. Once powered on, irrelevant processes run, advertising Dell software and services. Despite a 64bit AMD processor it doesn't scale. And it has a loud fan.
I am thinking of retiring the old dude!



"It's all about the specs!"  The Best buy representative said. "When shopping for a new laptop it is best to compare specs of the laptops in one's price range."

I have a $1000 budget. My ideal spec would be:
> Intel processor, preferably i5 or i7,
> No less than 8GB of RAM,
> Less than 1.5kg
> No less than 8 hours of battery life
> A quiet keyboard
> Doesn't heat
> Equipped with USB, (preferably 3.1), HDMI, and Ethernet ports
> Not bloated with pre-installed useless software




ASUS X540L comes with two Intel i7 cores, 8GB of RAM, less than 2kg, USB 3.0 and is $749.99 CAD on Best Buy's "back to school" sale.

I bought and trialed run it yesterday, and I am returning it today.
On this computer there is no visual aide to indicate Caps Lock is on! Typing is a painful task of many backspace/erase keystrokes, e.g. the page up/down keys are not co-located with the arrows.  It comes pre-installed with crapware.
The only thing this laptop has going for it, is its sharp display. Pity, I cannot keep the NVIDIA graphic card!

I will trial run a Lenovo next!  Meanwhile, my old dude is staying.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Midwife of Venice, Roberta Rich

Roberta Rich says the story came to her on a trip to Venice, when visiting the Jewish ghettos she imagined life of the Jewish families arriving from Northern Europe, Spain and Portugal, and settling in these neighborhoods in the 16th century.   Hannah Levi, her protagonist, lives in the ghetto.  She is a mid-wife, married, barren, and known to deliver babies by witch craft. The witch craft refers to her birthing spoons, she invented by hinging two spoons in the center, and practiced delivery with them, by pulling an onion out of a chicken belly.  Her reputation has spread to the Christian neighborhood. 
The desperate Conte Padovani needs a heir to stay in charge of his estate, and to keep it safe from being blown by his younger brothers.  His pregnant wife has been in labor for two straight days, has lost a lot of blood, but there is no sign of the baby yet.  The Conte comes to Hanna hoping that she agrees to help deliver his baby despite it being against law for Jew to deliver a Christian baby.  What will Hannah do?  Hanna has a lot at the stake.  She has to consider the people living in the ghetto.  If she can't deliver the baby or if something happens to the baby or the mother, she along with the rest of her people will suffer from the consequence of breaking the law.  At the same time, and only recently her husband's on board a ship was attacked and captured by the Knights of Malta.  He is now in their custody and sold to one of merchants of the island as a slave.  She needs money to buy Issac's freedom.  

This book is an easy, entertaining read. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi


Stories like Satrapi's are common and have been told before.  Like Satrapi many were old enough to remember but young enough to really make sense of the events of 1979 Iranian Revolution.  And a few have written about it, Daila Sofer. It seems to me that there is demand to hear about the events of those years; books written on the topic are popular in print and yield lucrative business for film adaptations.  So, more of the same keeps popping.  The question that has come to my mind more than once is had the authors of these books not been part of this historical event, would they be writers today?
Perspolis is yet another one of these stories that belongs to the same "genre".  It tells a story of a girl, the author, who lived the events during and after the revolution.  Her story, like the rest, is dominated by her experiences of those years which is shaped by her family's social status.
What I am trying to say here is, this book doesn't offer anything new, if you have read September's of Shiraz, for example.
The only unique thing is it is illustrated. The illustration however make the story and the characters in it more colorful.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nanjing Requiem, Ha Jin

The book chronicles another dark moment in history of humanity. In this one: Japanese soldiers attack and take control of Nanjing, the capital of China during 1937-38. Their actions towards every living being in the city is beast like. They slaughter, rape, torture anyone almost willingly, without remorse, with no conscious. And so it doesn't come as a surprise when a group of missionaries from around the world are there to contrast the evil with goodness and humanity; it's the Yang to the Yin. In the center is Ms. Minnie Vautrin, whose life is devoted to the Women's College, Jinling, she helped co-found. She is there to protect and be the voice of people who have been abandoned by their government. Her story of fighting the fight that is not hers inspires!
The book is classified as a novel. The fictional story is largely based on research of Ms. Vautrin's memoirs. The writing is to the point, says it as it is. The story touches on the emotions, the anger, and the sadness only briefly. Nanjing Diaries is a better suited title for this book.