Minor chores

I got back from my morning run today just in time to miss Destroyer throw up her breakfast, which was a nice way to cool down. She was inconsolable until we put her in the bath, at which point she reverted to her normal merry burbling. I took her sister to school, hoping there wouldn’t be a repeat performance.
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Marathon training – week 10 of 14

I think this was a better week than last week. It’s a bit hard to say, looking back on a Sunday night where I ran for 2 hours and 20 minutes and still didn’t go as far as I was meant to.

Looking at Training Peaks, I was therefore surprised to find I only ran for 6 hours last week (21 minutes less than the previous week, when I had the excuse of jet lag). Whoops. I did fit in my yearly attempt at the Akira Road Relay, although this was a pyrrhic victory – no entry in the toaster oven meant no real shot at glory.
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The consequences of IKEA

Tonight I’ve got a three hour run to do. I put off doing it this morning because I was feeling tired from yesterday’s run, and ostensibly because I should be practicing my nocturnal workouts now in preparation for the race. Also, this morning we went to IKEA and I had to have all my mental resources marshalled for that ordeal. 

Recently, the blinds have been falling off the walls of our flat. First it was the blinds in our bedroom, and then last week the blind fell down in Destroyer’s room. It’s probably a function of them being the cheapest blinds IKEA had for sale when the flat was fitted out five years ago, and then Singapore’s cruel and unrelenting heat and humidity eating away at the plastic fittings. 

So we went off today to get curtains, rather than semi-transparent blinds, and curtain rod to hang them from. It’s all very complicated trying to choose between Hymen and Buttplug or Ming-the-magnificent or whatever names they decided to give their curtain rods this week. And that’s before you have two kids screaming and weeping because the world is misaligned by 4 millimeters. 

Eventually we abandoned the hardy self-starter attitude IKEA is meant to promote, and asked a shop assistant what we should do. She told us to chuck half the Buttplugs and all the Hymens back on the shelf, add six finials to our shopping basket, and sent us on our way. Which goes to show do it yourself is never the most time efficient choice. 

We went home, I fell straight to sleep and didn’t wake until 3pm, and neither did the kids, which means we’re having the very devil of a time getting them down for the night, which in turn means my three hour run is probably not going to finish anywhere close to this side of midnight, which means I’ll feel like death warmed over tomorrow, and all because I went to IKEA this morning. Consequences, consequences. Will noone think of the parents?

Akira Road Relay 2017

Just as for the last three years, this afternoon I headed off to Bedok Reservoir for a 3.8km relay race, organised in fairly shambolic, yet very bureaucratic fashion. This time around I brought wife and kids (last year they stayed at home, and previously La Serpiente had accompanied me).

Bedok is quite far out (in Singaporean terms) and our taxi took us on a circuitous route to get there. I was worried, even though we’d left with .Ore than an hour to spare, that we wouldn’t make it in time; the organisers tend to start the race totally at random, sometimes ahead of the scheduled time, sometimes way after. Or they’ll announce it’s starting half an hour early, then spend so much time faffing about that they start half an hour behind schedule. 

Last year it was sunny, but rain and lightning this year threatened to have the whole thing cancelled. As it was, we started 45 minutes late, when I was nervous the event would be called off and I’d have dragged wife and kids there for nothing. 

The course is simple: you run up a tarmac road for about a mile, then down a muddy bank, and then along a winding dirt track by the water’s edge back to the start. The relay is for a team of four, exchanging a large rubber band at the changeover point by the start/finish line. 

(If you stand too close to that area and cheer the rest of your team on, you get told to move back because you’re putting everyone else off. That would make sense if you weren’t cheering on the only runner to be seen for two minutes on the track. But I digress…)

This year I was third. Previously I’ve been first, fourth, and I can’t remember the first time. Who can, really? The rest of my team were running in about 13 minutes each so my 14 minute effort was a bit dismal, but I think we still got in the top 3 at the end (and I was a minute faster than last year). The big prize, the raffle of consumer electronics, I didn’t stick around for this year, to my great chagrin.

But it was probably time to get home. In the 14 minutes while I’d been away, Destroyer had fallen and given herself an egg-sized bump in the middle of her forehead (what is it with my kids and their heads this month?) and La Serpiente was exhausted enough (no proper nap today) to be in full meltdown. Though it pained me to miss out on the opportunity for a free cut-price Akira rice cooker, this was probably the right decision. 


A week after her fall, I took La Serpiente back to the hospital to have her stitches removed. That was at the Cleft and Craniofacial Clinic, which sounds both intimidating and just a bit wierd; “I’ve come to see the doctor about my cleft”, anyone?

The waiting area is designed to be quite fun; every treatment room is decorated from the outside to look like a shop. There’s a barber, a florist, a pet shop, and so on. I took La Serpiente on a tour and she got waylaid by the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons on the TV. So much for inculcating good taste. 

We got there just in time for our appointment, unlike our doctor, who arrived an hour late. The actual consultation took about five minutes, after which we went into another room to have the stitches removed. La Serpiente was pretty brave; she grasped my hand for comfort and closed her eyes, but there was no yelping or wriggling, despite there being a big pair of scissors right up by her eyes. The wound has healed well; it’s still a bit pink, but that should fade with time. 

Afterwards, she got some My Little Pony stickers and a huge bag of Oreos to take away with her. Since I dropped her off at school, it was up to the professionals to deal with the sugar rush. And thence, off to work. 

The Sellout

Tonight I finished The Sellout, last year’s Booker prizewinner, and as demented a book as I’ve read this year. I’m not sure what to make of it; is it this decade’s A Confederacy of Dunces ? (Without a dead author, that is.) I’m not even sure if, on some level, I really know what it’s about. 

It begins with the narrator under trial at the Supreme Court before going back to his childhood, raised by a terrific parody of a clinical psychologist. There’s a deft mishmash of Skinner boxes and antebellum monstrosity like the best ravings of a basement-dwelling internet troll, and as the book continues, a seemingly never ending spray of racism and profanity. I found myself laughing but not sure if I should be laughing. The hero reintroduces segregation, inadvertently acquires a slave, and grows citrus fruit in California – none of which are great moral choices. Then with twenty pages to go, Beatty shifts tack and has a go at skewering the whole concept of race relations in America, which is the point where you realise that as a middle aged middle class white British man living a life of privilege in Singapore, you really have little to bring to the conversation. 

It’s beautifully written; trouble is, quoting almost any of it out of context of the book would make me appear like the worst person on earth. And since I borrowed a physical copy from the Singapore Public Library, rather than read on the Kindle, it’s too dark in the room I write this in to copy out the more uplifting quotations. 

So, go read it. It’s an anomalous Booker winner, not because it’s short (288 pages) but because it’s not an utter miseryfest from start to finish. 


Last night I went to an event at Twitter’s Singapore HQ, in the curiously beautiful CapitaGreen building. (That’s yet another glass and concrete cuboid in the Central Business District, but with an enormous red and white flower sprouting from the roof.) I was there to take part in a panel discussion of data science, in front of a crowd of random Meetup geeks. 

Going into this I was a little concerned. Talking about data science can be a lot like dancing about architecture, to misquote Frank Zappa. Either you’re going to go into vast amounts of technical detail and lose most people entirely, or else dispense a series of platitudes without any great depth or meaning. Every once in a while we don’t go to one of these extremes, but in my experience that’s a great rarity. 

Still, it was stress free for me; I got to turn up, sit and watch while one of Twitter’s team showed off some of the stuff they’re doing with conversational analytics, and then I sat on a stool for 45 minutes next to two other analytics professionals, talking in broad terms about the things we have to do. 

I felt like a real contrarian though, given my position on most things was that you shouldn’t get too excited about data science, and the thing you should be excited about is when data science gets so ubiquitous that it’s really boring, and therefore you should be questioning why you’re so psyched about the event you’re at. People laughed. I wonder if they were laughing at me or with me.  

I think I can’t have said anything too controversial, because it wasn’t as if the good people of Twitter chased me from the room, brandishing flaming torches and telling me I’d never work in this town again. I even got a bag of Twitter swag, and I’ll never say no to something with a corporate logo on it. 

Afterwards, I got to talk to a few people about other topics, and got onto the fun subject of replacing people with robots (a hard mountain to scale, given we know how to make humans on a mass scale and they can be just as, or more reliable, than robots in many cases), the joy of cloud services as a callback to 1970s bureau computing, and then I came home. Another night of thought leadership over and done with.