Best way to learn

In my drifting life, I often crash in on campuses across Asia, seeing what is being discussed. Also, such events often have free food (free food tastes better than the one you pay for).

In one such campus, I happened to find an ex-student talking to current students on how to study better. I was expecting some fancy method but the ex-student had a single slide with these words. 

Share out loud.

An old raincoat won't ever let you down

These traveling companions are worn and falling apart. Yet they are comfortable. Such are the times when I miss my Saigon backstreets where an equally weathered man can fixes my shoes, and gives me the news of the town. 

People often ask me the best phone for travel.  I will recommend the Nokia 1280. This is the sole phone I am using at the moment. The reason I like this phone is that you’ll only need to charge it once every 10 days or less.

The screen easy to read in bright sun. At night the backlight is bright enough. There is also a flashlight feature that is helpful when you in places where power is often out.  The phone is light. This phone was launched in 2010 and it is probably the last non color phone you can buy. I bought mine about a year back in Vietnam and it was 20 USD.

I will highly recommend getting this phone while they are still selling them. Just keep it in your travel bag. Even if you have a smartphone, just buy a cheap sim card and slot it in the Nokia 1280. It is a good backup to have. I also bought an USB to Nokia charging cable, this lets you ditch the charger. A caution though, this phone will not work in Japan as it has no 3G radio.

The title of this post is another song from the 1970s that I like.

Come across a mention of a book on a website, find the book on Kindle store via this bookmarklet

You often encounter mention of a book on a web page or a blogpost. Sometimes you are intrigued enough to buy (or perhaps download a sample chapter of) the book. You probably end up doing these actions.

Highlight the name of the book and copy it.

Open website.

Select the Kindle book from the search field options.

Paste the book that you copied earlier and run the search.

I find this a bit tedious. So I made a bookmarklet (by made I mean, I found a bookmarklet on the net that was doing some other search and I changed the code a bit to search the Kindle store)

If you want to install this bookmarklet in your browser, head on to

Ivan Zimine on open events for technology and science and programming for non-geeks

Ivan is a scientist and technology populariser. I have have collaborated with Ivan to run two WorkCamps. WorkCamps are un-conferences where we discuss the changing nature of work, collaboration, incentives and renumeration. In this recording Ivan talks about what prompted him to run the WorkCamp. We also talk about his other interests and a programming course that he is running for non-tech people.

Container Terminal 9

I was in Tsing Yi in Hong Kong. From my window I could see the Container Terminal 9 stretching all the way to Rambler’s Channel. I have always been curious about how well the global logistics system works.

And then I wondered about the history of containers. Who first thought about moving things in metal boxes? How did so many companies and ports standardize on the size of containers? How does the system work so well?   A search on Amazon, and I found The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger .

Learn how a truck driver went on to build the container shipping system.

Across the Sea of Japan

I went to Niigata because I wanted to see the Sea of Japan. I had never previously been to the western part of Honshu. it was good that I went there - it was warmer and the sky was clear. Japan sea seems bluer and more rough. There was hardly anyone on the beach. 
Mousan found tis plastic bottle on the beach. There was Korean text on the bottle. It says “Elite”. The design of the bottle and the printing looked much simple compared to what South Korean sport.  We speculated that it must be from North Korea. Looks like sunscreen, Wow!! it must have drifted from the East coast of Korea, a journey of 900 kilometres. 

Omoide noto - Memory Notebook and iWinkd

So we are in Kyoto and staying in this lovely ryokan - a traditional guest house.

And what do we find here, a dairy...

Some stories inside, most are in Japanese

and one in Chinese too

You will find in this many of these guesthouses. They are called Omoido noto, or memory notebook. Guests can leave their experiences of Kyoto and the guesthouse in this diary. 

Omoido noto is like a blog of a place. I like this concept. How can we use this. Early in 2008, we build a service called iwinkd. 

Conversations with Future Readers

I had loaned out this one book on some esoteric topic. While it was still on loan to me, I received an email informing me that someone else has reserved the book.  Wow, there is someone else who is interested in the same topic as me. 

Couple days later, I was at the library returning the book. The librarian was printing the reservation ticket for the person who has booked the book. I asked her if I can leave a note in the book pointing the next reader to my blog post (about the book) and inviting him/her to discuss the book with me. The librarian quoted some privacy rules and brushed me off. 

This was one of the situations that prompted us to build iwinkd. We were figuring out what would be a totally non-intrusive way to get two strangers to talk about an object that they both encounter and care about. 

So I am reading this book Fatherland by Robert Harris.

And I want to connect with future readers. One of the initial ideas we had was to leave my email and blog address. I figured that might not work. I needed a neutral space where people can come in. Lets see how this works on iwinkd:

I head on to iwinkd and create a message for the future readers.

iwinkd comes back with the tag for your message.

Place this tag somewhere in the book. One can use a post it.

Someone else encounters to book couple of weeks later and finds the tag. The new reader types in the tag at the iwinkd website.

He reads the message that I left for him. And decides to leave a comment.

Hopefully, we can keep talking about the book. 

Good to be a monkey in Prachuap Khiri Khan

Somehow I wandered into the town of Praphuap. The idea was to keep traveling north from the Thai border but I guess this is the northernmost I will go to this time round. The sea side here hosts couple of mobile bars in the night. There is a night market with good local food. I spend the time learning Thai from some students, talking to a food vendor who loves her dog deeply, and trying lots of local foods. 

Growing up in 1960s China

I always bore my friends or their parents in China into telling me about life in the 1950s, the 60s and the 70s. I love looking at old brownish photographs from those days.

I am reading “The Attic” by Guanlong Cao. He talks about his growing up in China, 20 years after the revolution. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in studying modern history of China. You read about distant and near events unfolding from the point of view of the family. Interesting are author’s description of Shanghai street markets of his childhood days.

The Sikhs had been brought to Shanghai by the British during the colonial times, primarily to serve as gate watchman. After the revolution their quiet personalities carried over into their new, meager business. Off in a corner of the market a tall gloomy Indian crouched beside the hind leg of his horse. A huge white turban rode above a pair of deeply socketed eyes. Patiently he waited for a rare customer to come over for a cup of freshly squeezed mare’s milk. As a ritual some mothers like to feed their newborns a few spoonfuls of horse’s milk. They believed that the galloping speed of the horse would boost the quickness of their babies’ mind.

And the food!

Sticky-rice balls, fried rice cakes, scallion pancakes, steamed bread, meat-filled buns, boiled sesame dumplings, seep-fried pork steaks, skewers of barbecue lamb, fragrant steam and greasy smoke rose and lingered above the Penglai market from dawn until midnight.

Now, we are hungry, more details about the book at Books: The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord’s Son