Another Bike Lock Incident

I got to Cambridge this morning (after landing into Heathrow at 6:30AM) only to find that yet again some idiot had locked his bicycle to mine. Unlike the first time this happened this guy had locked right around my inner frame so there was no way I was going to be able to get free.

Some idiot locked his bike to mine

I figured if I couldn’t get my bike free, the only other option would be to try to open the lock. Here’s what it looked like:

Close up of the Lock

It looked pretty straightforward – four numbers on a dial. I figured there were probably “teeth” inside and the correct numbers would have a gap under them that allowed the teeth through. I was reminded of 1996 when I read the (in)famous MIT Guide To Lock Picking while procrastinating at University. Could this lock really be that simple? Surely it had to be more complicated than this?

So I gave the following a try:

  1. I pulled the cable very tight, putting stress on the lock.
  2. While pulling the lock I rotated each number one-by-one. Each wheel was very hard to move (due to binding friction of pulling on the lock) but when I hit the “right” number the wheel eased up significantly.
  3. I did the same with each of the four wheels and the lock pulled open.

The above took me less than 20 seconds, and I’ve never picked a lock in my life. Here’s the end result:

Lock Opened

My bike was free! The whole ordeal, from noticing my bike was locked and including cursing, looking for a way to unravel it, kicking the guy’s tyres, texting Sylvia to bitch about it, figuring out the lock was probably easy to pick, and picking the lock was about 3 minutes in total. It’s not surprising that so many bikes get stolen at Cambridge Station.

And to the guy who’s lock this was:

  1. In the future, watch what you’re locking your damned bike to and,
  2. Buy a new lock immediately.

My New Eyes – Part 2

It’s been about two and a half weeks since my first surgery and almost a week since my second. All is well! I had an eye test on my right eye and I can see better than 20/20 – so better than I was ever able to see using contact lenses! It’s still amazing to me that this kind of surgery is even possible.

Here is what my right eye looks like. In the right light (like in this picture!) you can see the Artiflex intraocular lens that’s permanently attached to my iris, beneath my cornea:

My eye with the Artiflex lens visible


I’m still taking eye drops for the next month or so (antibiotics and steriods), but by about the time of the yearly Saturnalia holidays I should be in the clear.

Fun fact, the steroids that I’m taking (dexamethasone) is the same drug that resulted in Polish cross-country skier Justyna Kowalczyk being disqualifed from the Under 23 (U23) OPA (Alpine nations) Intercontinential Competition in Germany. Too bad: I was planning on participating in competitive cross-country skiing this winter after my convincing run last year in Finland.

My New Eyes – Part One

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with epithelial keratitis, which resulted in severe photophobia one morning in June. I learned that 17 years of soft contact lens wear had eventually taken its toll on my eye and, while they would likely recover, it would be difficult for me to wear soft contact lenses regularly for a long time. My high-myopia prescription (-10 & -9) is too strong for LASIK to be totally reliable and there’s no way I was wearing glasses for the next few years (I have no peripheral vision and I’m likely to get hit by a bus).

So, today I am going for my first of my two eye surgeries (like most people, I have two eyes, and sadly, they don’t do both at once). I will be getting an Artiflex Intraocular lens (IOL) implanted into the anterior chamber of my eye. Something like this:

Artiflex Lens Diagram

Basically a bit of perspex inside my eye. I can’t believe they can actually do these things and, apparently it’s quite routine. My doctor is Dr. Chad Rostron, who’s be doing surgery similar to this for many years.

I know, you’re so excited you can hardly contain yourself, so here it is … video of similar procedure to what I’m getting today:


Wish me luck!!

Stupid British Confectionary #1: Yorkie

I found myself esurient today so I sallied forth and infiltrated the local corner shop in search of some confectionary to easy the hunger pangs. I came across a display that I had seen a few times since coming to the UK: that of a British chocolate bar called “Yorkie” with a rather stupid tagline of “It’s not for girls!”

Yorkie Display


For those who know me, they know I tend to be attracted to stupid local foods and drinks, which is why I have Pocari Sweat powder at my desk at work and used to stock my bar with Brennivín. So of course I coudln’t resist the attraction of trying a new local product with a stereotypically British name of “Yorkie” for only 55p.

Yorkie Bar

The Yorkie in all its glory


Next to the “It’s not for girls!” tagline I also noticed that it contains 18% of an adult’s GDA of Calories. Good thing I skipped breakfast this morning, otherwise I’d feel like I’m being unhealthy.


But before consumption, I just had to know the back story Рwhy is Yorkie just for guys? Is it full of beer and foodball? Does it scratch its privates in public? Is it afraid of commitment? The Nestl̩ Yorkie site has this to say:

The ‘Not For Girls’ campaign theme for Yorkie uses humour, which resonates with today’s British male and simply states that Yorkie is positioning itself as a chocolate bar for men who need a satisfying hunger buster. With five solid chunks of chocolate, it’s a man sized eat!

It also mentioned that “Advertising reflected this with macho imagery – lorry drivers who take it one chunk at a time.” I can tell you from experience that lorry drivers in the UK are insane, so I can see how they want to take it “one chunk at a time.” They certainly drive like their aim is to take one chunk out of every pedestrian.


After being suitably educated, I cracked open the Yorkie:


Yorkie Chocolate


So how is it? Well, like many local foods that haven’t cracked the larger market, it kinda sucks. It’s just cheap milk chocolate in a chunky bar. Somehow I doubt that today’s British men are resonating at the idea of cheap milk chocolate in bar form. Furthermore, it did not “bust my hunger” as Nestlé claims, as I still needed a proper lunch only a half hour later. But perhaps I’m just not man enough for a Yorkie: while I often enjoy sitting on the couch and drinking beer, I’m not watching football when I do it.

In the end I think I discovered why Yorkie is “not for girls!” Most women aren’t stupid enough to waste 55p on bad quality milk chocolate. Blech. I would ask Nestlé for my 55p back but I know I would just blow it on their “Raisin & Biscuit” Yorkie.

Radisson Shanghai – Ground Zero for Bird Flu

I was staying in the Radisson Shanghai the other week for business, and they had a rather interesting Easter display:

Radisson Shanghai Easter Display

It was interesting for two reasons:

1) it was mind-bogglingly tacky
2) there were dozens of live rabbits and chicks

Radisson Shanghai Easter Display - Chicks and Rabbits

Radisson Shanghai Easter Display

People kept coming by the display and picking up the animals; kissing and snuggling with them. So remember – the next time you hear about an outbreak of birdflu in China you know who to blame: the Radisson Hotel Shanghai New World.

PS:  the hotel sucks – never stay there. The staff aren’t nearly as helpful as you would get from any other hotel in Asia and the heat wasn’t working in the guest rooms. Plus they’ll give you bird flu. Fun!

The Battle of the Brands

Which brand is the best? If you were given two random brands, say, Coca-Cola and Manulife Financial, and put them in head-to-head competition, which would be the victor?

Coca-Cola vs Manulife Financial

Some might define the best brand on a set of criteria – from brand awareness to corporate valuation – and generate a global brand scoreboard. This would rank Coca-Cola as #1 and Manulife as somewhere … not in the top 100. Or perhaps you could run a poll and ask respondents a question like “…which three brands do you consider the best?” With this method Coca-Cola might come out on top, while Manulife Financial might be … well, not in the results.

While these methods seem reasonable on paper, they’re clearly biased against Canadian brands most people have never heard of.

So what’s a fair test for brand comparison? While scholars have debated this fundamental question for a millennia, initial data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN suggests the optimal method would be something like the following:

  1. Take a pair of similar useless trinkets
  2. Place the competing brands’ logos on each trinket, converting them to Corporate SWAG
  3. Pit the two brands head-to-head on by selling the SWAG on eBay
  4. PROFIT!

Whichever gets the most money is clearly the superior brand.

Fortunately I was fortuitous enough to be in just the right situation to test such a theory. You see, most people think you should throw out (or, if possible, never take) corporate SWAG, but my Mother knows better: they make perfect stocking stuffers! And as a result, Sylvia and I came into the possession of the ideal crap to peddle on eBay brand testing material.

We’ll need some help if we’re to complete our mission. Call in FUWA!!


Beibei the Fish, Jingjing the Panda, Huanhuan the Olympic Flame, Yingying the Tibetan Antelope and Nini the Swallow. Together they form, VOLTRON!! Er… no. Actually they don’t do anything. But they will help us sell our SWAG on eBay, as they’re the official mascots of the Beijing 2008 Olypics. (PS: Tibetan Antelope?!)

In one corner we have the green team, neatly decked out in Manulife colours:

Manulife Pins

And in the red corner, we have the heavyweight champion and maker of diabetics – Coca-cola!

Coke Pins

Both teams will be represented by Fuwa. Otherwise who wants to buy a bunch of crappy corporate SWAG? If the pins don’t sell then the whole experiment is for naught.

So Good It’s Badminton
Nini shows ’em how it’s done. She’s so good, she’s badminton.

Huanhuan shows us his O-face. O-O-O.

The eBay auction is simple enough. Just a straightforward listing with “{Insert Brand Name Here}-branded collectable pins from the Beijing 2008 Olympics. 5 pins in display case, as shown.” A photo (like the one of the ones above) is also shown.

So who will be the victor!? Tune in next week to see the exciting conclusion …


Nah, not really. The auctions ended on Friday. Manulife Financial won. That’s right. MANULIFE-FREAK’N-FINANCIAL! TAKE THAT COCA-COLA!!! And it was a commanding victory as well: the Manulife pins sold for a whopping 5% premium over the Coca-Cola pins. FIVE PERCENT!

The results are below:

Auction Results

Unfortunately the proceeds won’t even pay for my breakfast, but at least we know which is the better brand. Tune in next time for Microsoft vs Polka-dot Door.

It’s Been One Fantastic Year

One year this week, September 10th, 2006, I entered the United Kingdom. And what a year! Sylvia and I got married on the 23rd (our first year anniversary, “paper,” is fast approaching) and after spending almost 6 months living apart we started living London. We went through the arduous process of importing our two cats into the United Kingdom and we both started new jobs.

Travel this year for Sylvia and I has included Fiji, The Cook Islands, Hong Kong, Thailand, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, and all around England. We’ve already got a few more trips lined up to Germany, Italy, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. My business travels have taken me to Taiwan, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, The USA, and Canada with a total of over 63 flights this year – and that’s just from flights where I kept the boarding passes! I managed to avoid going to Korea somehow, despite having LG and Samsung as customers; we’ll see how long that lasts.

This year we’ve viewed more flats in London than I’d care to remember: dealing with estate agents is a truly painful experience. We have had a few friends make the long journey over to visit and we have as many again coming in the next few weeks!

We’ve had lot of interesting experiences that have made it to the blog including attending horse races, dealing with the tube, travelling by train, hunting for the perfect flat, buying Manolos, navigating the floodwaters, watching local sports, exploring English cuisine, mobile blogging, tasting sweeteners, bitching about the weather, hanging out with the cats, stumbling through the language barrier, getting well deserved status, attending tradeshows, exploring the Sunday pub culture, tasting cheese, the trials and tribulations of international professionals, ranting about the commute, ranting about budget airlines, and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of travel.

So what do we think about living here? We bloody love it. Let’s hope 2008 is even better.

Licence to … Drive

I’ve got my UK driver’s licence! Oh yeah!

Driver’s Licence

No, it’s not what you think – I didn’t take a road test. Actually I still have yet to attempt to drive in the UK at all. Through the miracle of international treaties, I can drive in the UK without ever setting foot in a right-hand drive car. It’s like diplomatic immunity but … well … nothing like diplomatic immunity.

Consider this list of countries:

  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Canada
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Zimbabwe

What do these have in common? Well nothing, except that the UK allows people with driver’s licences from this haphazard list of countries to “trade in” for a UK licence. My Canadian licence was due to expire next month so I figured I might as well do the swap. By the way, I notice a disproportionate number of “island countries” in this list. I think there’s a pro-island bias in the UK.

But it’s not all roses and kitten tails. I cheerfully ordered the relevant forms but when they arrived I found their dirty little racist secret:

Automatic Only Licence for Canadians

What?! So you’re telling me I go take a driver’s test in Zimbabwe and I’m a-okay to putter around in a manual transmission but a Canadian can’t hack it? Are they saying that the drivers of Barbados are more capable than I, a noble graduate of Ontario Truck Driving School (car lessons)? I feel so singled out, betrayed. I bet if I were born on an Island they wouldn’t have any issues with me. At least they printed it on 100% recycled paper.

But then I realized I’m kinda crap at driving a manual transmission anyway and they’re probably right: most Canadians can’t drive a manual transmission car worth shit.

Ah well. I traded in a licence that expires in 2007 for one that expires in 2017. Shazam! Maybe I’ll try taking a driving test in Zimbabwe next time I’m there.

The Great Sweetner-off

I was once in the coffee room of my old employer when I saw a co-worker getting a Diet Coke out of the pop machine (as people so often do). We began to have some idle chit-chat and I asked her how she could possibly drink the nauseating swill she was currently enjoying (a common subject of conversation). Not just because it’s Coke, I said, but also because it is sweetened with aspartame which tastes more like a nasty chemical concoction (think Matt Crane) than sugar. She commented that she can’t tell the difference between aspartame and sugar, at which point I told her what I though about her mother and we’ve never spoken since.

Since that day I have asked various strangers at bus stops, cafés, and barber shops about their take on sweeteners. To my surprise, many people say they can’t tell the difference between sweeteners and sugar. Could it be that these people never pay close attention and don’t really care? Possibly. But many of these people are the same people who claim they can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi; “Pepsi is sweeter” they often claim. I have come to realize the truth: that I possess a super-human sense of taste that allows me to pick out unique flavour combinations inaccessible to the average person. It’s how I can taste an olive hidden in a 12″ submarine sandwich and wretch appropriately. I can spot umami a mile away upwind. And I can tell the difference between aspartame and sugar.

To test this hypothesis, I secretly obtained samples of 3 major sweetener brands by concealing them in my shirt pocket as I exited a restaurant. Fortuitously, the hotel was kind enough to leave a pile of paper cups in the lobby with absolutely no security supervision. Here are the results of this covert operation:

The Sweetener Lineup

Our contenders are:

Sweet’n’Low (Saccarin)
With its cute treble-clef design, Sweet’n’Low was first introduced in the late 1950s and has been a family favourite for generations. In the United States Sweet’n’Low is made with saccharine, a chemical banned in Canada. In Canada, Sweet’n’Low is made with cyclamate, a chemical banned in the United States. Yes, you read that correctly. It does not make sense.

Equal (Aspartame)
This sweetener is produced by The Merisant Company of Chicago, the same company that owns Nutrasweet. Equal has been on the scene for a long time and was the first apartame-based sweetener sold to the public in the early 1980s. It’s cheif ingredient aspartame is best known for giving me splitting headaches.

Splenda (Sucralose)
Despite being a newcomer to the party, having been introduced only in 1999, Splenda is the current leader in the artificial sweetnener market with over 60% market share. Splenda’s parent company lies to the public with its “It’s made from sugar so it tastes like sugar” message and their other businesses include eating babies and converting owls to gasoline.

Naturally to run a proper experiment a control cup needed to be included. My hotel room was stocked with two sugar packets which were added to the line-up to serve this purpose:

Sugar is added

I also used a cup of clean water to cleanse my pallet between trials. It’s not in the picture but it looks kinda like the other cups of water shown above.

After tasting each cup I can authoritatively say that unless you’re an idiot there is absolutely a huge perceptible difference between each of these options. Here are the results of my testing:

  1. Sugar – Nice subtle sweet taste with a clean finish. Shame about the diabetes thing.
  2. Splenda – Strong sweet taste, but not overpowering. Slight chemical taste that drops off very quickly. Hangs around at the back of the mouth for a while before inducing a slightly chemical after-taste. If only they didn’t kill those innocent owls.
  3. Sweet’n’Low – Completely overpowering punch of sweetness with a nasty chemical after-taste. One word: NASTY. And I thought aspartame was bad.
  4. Equal – Very strong sweet onset with a chemical after-taste developing in the middle of the mouth. Very long chemical finish. Tastes terrible. I don’t know which is worse – the excessive overpowering taste of saccharine or the long drawn-out taste of aspartame.

After clearly identifying the differences in the various options I decided to test my mad skills. Each cup was labelled on the bottom:
Labelled Cups

After a bit of shell-game swapping, I had the following randomized cups:

Anonymous Cups

At this time I was going to run a long list of randomized trials and record my guessing, tabulate my results, run statistical analysis, and record my findings in the next issue of Nature. Unfortunately I ran into a few roadblocks that prevented me from continuing:

  1. Randomizing 4 cups by myself is basically impossible. Each time I tried to move them around I kept subconscoiusly tracking which cup was where. I had to leave them alone until I forgot which was which. I don’t have all day for this. Acutally that’s not true, I do have all day for this but I still don’t want to wait 10 minutes between trials.
  2. Sweet & Low has destroyed my sweet tastebuds. Seriously, this stuff is nasty. After 3 trials of its mind-boggling sweet onslaught Sweet & Low started tasting like sugar and sugar started tasted like water.
  3. Aspartame is nasty and gives me headaches. I haven’t had an aspartame headache in years. It reminds me of drinking Diet RC Cola and those nasty gold cans of Caffeine-Free Diet Coke in the 80s.
  4. It’s actually not all that hard to tell these apart.
  5. Tasting sweeteners is absolutely no fun and my tongue feels like leather.

The results? Sugar still tastes the best with its sweet subtle taste. If you have to go with a sweetener it’s Splenda by a wide margin. And if you’re ever tasting a diet drink and have a nasty chemical feeling in your mouth you know you’ve had aspartame or saccharine. If it’s a disgusting overload of sweetness that drops off quickly it was probably saccharine, but if it sticks around for a while and gives you that fresh chemical feeling with a headache boot you’re the lucky consumer of aspartame.

In closing, I have no regrets about what I said about my co-worker’s mother.