Buds of Spring

Filed in Photo of the Day

絕對值得去。不過至少要預兩個幾三個鐘。好精彩!
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木乃伊

Buds of Spring

Filed in Photo of the Day

Buds of Spring

Household enemy #1

Filed in Hong Kong

You know the weather is changing when the pets change the way they sleep, or rather the surfaces they sleep on. Yes, the weather has finally warmed up here in Hong Kong. The fog has left us and although we still cannot see blue skies because of the nice pollution we get from our large neighbour, the weather overall is great; not too cool and not too hot. We're averaging around 28 degrees celcius, probably warm enough to go for a swim which we probably won't do anytime soon even though we live literally 10 minutes walk from a beach.

When the weather cools, our dogs scrunch up the blankets we provide them and then sleep on the blankets. Now that the weather is warming up, they're choosing to sleep on the tiled floor instead where it's cooler, so cool in fact that considerable moisture builds up in front of their faces on the floor as the moisture in their breath condensates upon contact with the cool floor.

Mosquito Along with the warmer weather came more mosquitoes; many more. It is now one of my responsibilities here at home to scan the home before I sleep, armed with an electric mosquito swatter, pouncing on every mosquito I can find. I have the best eyes in the house so it's only natural that I'm the one to be given this responsibility.

I hate mosquitoes. In fact, they're probably the only existing animal or insect that I despise. We don't have many flies here so they don't bother me although the meat-eating flies are a real threat if any of our dogs are injured with open wounds. Last year when I was stung on the big toe by a centipede, I didn't seek to kill it or punish it. It was simply protecting itself so I accepted the warning and let the centipede continue on its way. I didn't get off lightly though because my foot and then my lower leg were in severe pain for three to four hours after the sting. It was very difficult to bear, even when iced.

I hate mosquitoes so much that I'm now quite adept at swatting them in mid-air with my bare hands. I can swat them so fast that they slam against the wall and frequently stick to the wall as their blood-filled belly explodes onto the wall. Consequently, our maid has the additional task of wiping dead mosquitoes off the walls whenever she sees them. It happens a lot.

I hate their buzzing at night while I'm trying to sleep. They don't bite me often because they apparently don't like my blood, and I also suspect that the hair on my arms and legs makes it more difficult for the mosquitoes to get close enough to my skin to actually begin sucking. However, that buzz and the mere threat of being bitten while asleep is impossible to ignore. It also annoys the heck out of my wife, and they love to suck on her blood. Unfortunately, she swells readily at each and every point where they bite, and the itching really gets to her. It can be very uncomfortable for her at the best of times, so it is doubly important that I kill as many mosquitoes as possible before I sleep.

Mosquito trap We actually purchased a mosquito trap from the U.S.A. a little over a year ago. It mimics a heart beat, releases a fragrance similar to the carbon dioxide that animals release and emits warmth just as a warm-blooded animal does. It works pretty well but it doesn't catch everything. The instructions state to place the trap away from where the people live to attract the mosquitoes away from the people rather than to them. This theory simply doesn't work in our case. With ten dogs and five people, the warmth and carbon dioxide emanating from our home is simply too over powering and attractive for any mosquito to ignore no matter where the mosquito trap is placed. After weeks of experimentation and some careful analysis of my own, I concluded that the best place for the trap was just outside our screen door. The breath and warmth of ten dogs and five people would ultimately draw the mosquitoes to the door. When they realise that they can't get to us, they'll take the next best thing; the mosquito trap. In its current position, it works really well. Unfortunately, we can't buy replacement carbon dioxide strips and sticky paper here in Hong Kong so we have to organise with friends to get the replacements from the U.S.A. whenever we can.

There are other mosquito traps available which transform LP gas into warmth and carbon dioxide and attract the mosquitoes to a vacuumed area using these attractants. These traps are apparently very effective, even more so than our current trap, but they are extremely expensive to buy here in Hong Kong. In fact, the Mosquito Magnet Liberty trap costs twice here in Hong Kong what it costs in the U.S.A. At those prices, only institutions can afford to buy them. That counts us out. So for the foreseeable future at least, I'll be the principal weapon in our war against mosquitoes.

I was going to talk about something surprising I found in a loaf of bread, but I'll talk about that another time. I'm going to brunch with friends at a friend's restaurant tomorrow morning so it would be prudent of me to shower and sleep earlier rather than later tonight. My friend's restaurant by the way is great. She cooks everything she serves, and that includes more than fifteen varieties of cheese cake. Yummy!

Till later, don't let the mosquitoes bite.

Java from Australia

Filed in Food & Drink

Here's that coffee article I promised.

I have some friends who I have known for a long time. We met in Australia while attending the University of New South Wales, were together frequently for most of the time I have been in Hong Kong and still stay in touch since they moved back to Australia. We're good friends.

Occasionally, I help my friends out with their Apple Mac computer problems. I've been working with Apple Mac computers since the late 1980's and know enough to be helpful to my friends. So when my friends announced that they were coming to visit their families in Hong Kong, I quickly asked them about bringing me a coffee espresso maker.

While in Australia last Christmas, my family's neighbour mentioned that the Australian Choice magazine had done a study and comparison of espresso makers. Remembering this little tidbit, and the fact that the leading espresso maker was not the most expensive one, I went online and found the study. It turns out that Breville makes good espresso makers at a price that I could justify. I researched the Breville espresso makers and promptly asked my friends to check the local pricing for me.

Now I've had one or two bad experiences with buying electrical appliances overseas before. Back in April of last year, I purchased a KitchenAid countertop cake mixer while in Los Angeles because the price was great and decent cake mixers are almost impossible to find in Hong Kong. The average Chinese person does not make cakes. My wife brought the mixer back with her but we later discovered that the mixer had developed a problem. In Los Angeles, we actually tested the mixer once and it worked fine. Back in Hong Kong, the vaunted "very slow stir" was malfunctioning. I can only conjecture that the mixer was damaged while being transported by airport cargo staff. If you've ever watched the video seen of airport cargo staff on 60-Minutes, you'll understand that your cargo is definitely not in the best hands at the airport.

Unfortunately, the mixer's warranty only applied to the U.S.A. so unless I could get the mixer back to the States, it wasn't going to get fixed. It never got back because we couldn't find any friends to take it back for us. We then discovered that KitchenAid actually does have a distributor here in Hong Kong, one that even supplies 220V models. If we'd known earlier, we would've bought it locally. They can fix our mixer for us but it will cost HKD600 for inspection and extra for any parts they need to replace. The price of the mixer could easily double once the cost of the repair is included. It's a really nice mixer so we'll have to fix it; soon.

So this time, I was a little more careful and checked to see if the Breville espresso makers were available in Hong Kong. It turned out that Breville has a local office and distributes product locally but they don't distribute the espresso makers locally. Bummer!

My new Breville espresso maker Well my friends came to Hong Kong and were anxious to see me asap. They completely surprised me by bringing over Breville's top model; the 800 Class Espresso Machine; and giving it to me as a gift. I was one very happy customer.

I've now had the espresso maker for almost two weeks. The available options are extremely limited but its two primary functions work extremely well; making espresso and frothing milk. There are no electronic LCD control panels and there are no complicated choices to make. And the machine is made extremely well; no plastic! It's a work of art.

So I won't be visiting Starbucks as often as I used to. The coffee I'm making at home is pretty good and getting better every time I make another cup. All I'm missing are a couple of shot glasses to measure the espresso output.

For those of you into coffee, here are the primary characteristics of the espresso maker from my perspective:

  • The entire machine is made of stainless steel. There's almost no plastic used in its construction. Almost every other espresso maker I've seen on the market is made of plastic unless you're buying the really expensive models.

  • It uses a 15 bar Italian-made thermoblock pump to deliver the espresso and the steam. 15 bars is a lot of pressure and espresso makers with that much pressure usually cost a whole lot more.

  • The water tank is easily removed for refill. It also features a transparent plastic gauge on the front so that you can instantly see how much water is left. It even uses a small blue light above the water so that the water level is extremely obvious no matter how bright or dark the room is. In addition, the water tank can be refilled by removing the tank or by flipping down a door at the back of the espresso maker and pouring water directly into the tank.

  • The milk frother just works. It's extremely easy to froth milk and it's quick.

  • There's a 'full' indicator in the drip tray so you'll know instantly when it needs to be emptied.

  • Maintenance and cleaning are simple and it doesn't require priming before or after each cup of coffee as some espresso makers require.

So if you're in the market for an espresso maker, take a look at Breville.

If you have any suggestions for coffee brands, please let me know.

Update (26 March 2008)

The Breville 800 Class Espresso Machine is now available locally here in Hong Kong. I've seen it in the B&Q store at Megabox.

High on a fence

Filed in Photo of the Day

From time to time, I manage to take one or two nice photographs (subjectively speaking of course). I'm currently using a Canon IXUS 400 but may soon have a new Canon EOS 350D to play with. Combined with the Canon SRL lenses that I already own, it should enable me to take more appeasing and attractive photographs. The problems with the IXUS 400 are the limitations of the lens, the non-sharpness of the images and the delay between pressing the button and actually taking the picture. All of these problems will be pretty much eliminated by the 350D.

In the meantime, here are two pictures that I took today in an area called Causeway Bay. Click on the images to view them at a larger size.

Two guys painting a fence

Painting a fence

A running update

Filed in LifeTags:

One of my friends asked me how I was getting on with my barefoot running. I had to tell him about the cramps on my last run and how it turned out that they weren't cramps at all. The pain was actually an injury which you could say was caused by not wearing shoes. Does that mean that I'll go back to wearing shoes? No and here's why.

The injury was in the calves of my feet. I say "injury" and "calves" because both calves were injured but the left calf is the one with the serious injury while the right calf has already recovered. The injury was in fact a type of tearing; tearing at the point where the tendons from the base of the ankle connect to the muscle. The calves will need four to six weeks for full recovery. In the meantime, I have to stretch them regularly every day.

What caused the injury? Without shoes, there are no heels to lift my ankles off the ground. Without the heels, the angle between my shins and my feet becomes smaller. On flat ground, this doesn't pose much of a problem but the territory around my home is hilly and that poses a very serious problem. When running up a slope, the angle between the shin and the foot becomes extremely small. This in turn stretches the calf muscle to a length it's not used to. With the repeated bouncing of running, the calf muscle's tendon will eventually begin to tear away from the muscle.

There is one section of my short run where the road begins to slope upward rather steeply. It's a very short stretch but seemingly enough to cause the damage that I've experienced. If I had stretched diligently before each run and nightly before sleeping, the injury would not have occurred because the muscle would have been long enough to accept the full stretch.

Ankle angle flat

The angle at the ankle without shoes on flat ground.

Ankle angle shoe

With shoes, the heel is raised and the angle at the ankle is larger. The calf muscle is slightly shorter.

Ankle angle uphill

When facing uphill, the angle at the ankle is much smaller. If actually running, the leg would be leaning forward at the end of the stride, further reducing the ankle angle and further stretching the calf muscle.

So what now? Well I'll rest for another three or four weeks, stretching every day and then begin the running again. If you never get back on the bicycle after falling off, you'll never learn to ride. My calf injuries are just a learning step in the process of becoming a barefoot runner. I'll be back on the road again soon, although I may have to face the prospect of blisters again.

I promised an article about coffee. I'll deliver it soon. I promise.

A better look for my blog

Filed in Technology

A few days ago, I began looking at the way my blog was styled and considered methods of improving it or at least making it look nicer. I'm a perfectionist in many ways so placing style information within the actual web page was not the way to go. Instead, I used style sheets (technically known as Cascading Style Sheets or CSS for short). They're similar to the way text styles work in word processors. They were developed by the World Wide Web consortium as a way to simplify and centralise the visual design of web pages but took a very long time to be fully embraced by the web community at large. These days, we're looking at version three of the CSS standard and other than Internet Explorer, almost every browser is on board to fully support the standard soon.

I'm not going to bore you with the techie details because they are boring for all but the people actually using CSS to make their web sites more attractive, functional and manageable.

Anyway, after three nights of customising the layouts and style sheets, my blog's pages are fully scalable. So if you think the text is too small to read, simply enlarge it using your web browser's Bigger Text function and the whole page will scale appropriately; even the left and right columns. If you need really big text, I'd suggest getting a 17" monitor and enlarging the page to the full size of the screen. I tried it, and it works great.

Other improvements: Pictures within the stories will scale down if you narrow the middle column, and they now have a nice black border for better definition. The calendar in the left column now indicates dates with linked stories much more effectively.

And in case I forget, there's also the new Subscribe to email notification feature in the right column. If you'd like to be notified every time I post a new article, type your email address into the field and click the Subscribe button. RSS news feeds still work too if you'd prefer to use RSS.

I'm definitely not a web expert, so if you find any glitches in my blog regarding the placement and size of the text or pictures, please let me know.

As advanced as CSS is, there are still a few aspects of it which are quite mind-numbing. How properties 'cascade' is a little complex in some situations, and creating a scalable page using relative em values was not easy either. The technology still has a way to go before it's really mature, and we're still waiting for wysiwyg web page layout applications which fully support CSS rather than tables and in-tag style properties. On the other hand, if you write the code for your web page with sound structure, then laying it out and adding appearance properties to it becomes relatively easy; once you fully understand how CSS works.

I won't talk much about web technologies. I suspect that for the majority of my readers (Douglas excepted of course), web technologies would be very boring to read about.

My next article will be more to the liking of most of my readers: ie, coffee!

Fog, fog and more fog

Filed in General, Hong Kong

The last time I wrote about the weather here was back before the Chinese New Year when it was foggy and wet. Guess what? It's still foggy and wet. In the last eight weeks or more, we've only seen six or seven days of warm weather with sunshine. Otherwise, it's been foggy and wet. The only difference now is that the temperature is on the way up with average temperatures of mid-twenties (that's celsius for those of you in fahrenheit countries). By summer time, the temperature will be up in the high twenties and sometimes near the mid-thirties. It can get very warm here.

Living in the fog, the humidity is very high. The tile floors inside the apartment and outside the back door are still creating water without any help from us or the dogs. It makes it very difficult to keep the apartment clean when the floors are constantly wet or at least moist.

I've lived in Hong Kong for the last 18 years, and I've lived in our current area for five years. This foggy weather is very unusual. We normally get foggy weather each year, but it's normally in March and only lasts for three or four weeks. It even has a name. It's called "Return of the Southerly Winds" or 回南 as it's known locally. With this big change in weather this year, I believe we can look forward to some really strong and powerful hurricanes in early and late Summer. We had a couple last year but I haven't really seen anything really strong since 1985 when I visited Hong Kong the first time for just a week with a fellow student from the University of New South Wales.

You have to remember that I come from Queensland, Australia where they have real hurricanes except that they're known as cyclones there because they rotate in the opposite direction. At least that's what my friend says. I remember that we had cyclones in Queensland when I was growing up, but I also seem to remember having hurricanes. I always thought that hurricanes were larger in diameter than cyclones. I guess I was wrong. If my father reads this, I'm sure he can enlighten us all.

Which brings me to another small detail that came up as a consequence at lunch the other day. Supposedly, water while flushing down the toilet rotates or swirls in opposite directions in Australia and Hong Kong because they're on opposite sides of the equator. I believe it but I've never actually made the effort to compare the directions for myself. Maybe I'll check the next time I go back to Australia.

And that brings me to Annie's song: "Oh, the sun'll come up, tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be sun." I hope so; soon at least.