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Best places to eat in Cambridge

I've been staying in Cambridge recently, on a research visit. (Cambridge UK, that is.) So I've had lots of opportunity to try the local eateries. So! Now you get to find out which are the best places to eat, if you ever need to eat in Cambridge:

  • Bibimbap, Mill Road - delicious Korean eatery. Like many amazing places, there's not much choice - you choose from veggie bibimbap, beef bibimbap, pork bibimbap, or a few others, but that's it. What you get is great: a pot of rice and veg and a fried egg, plus sauces and your optional meat. They make their own soy-like sauce which is rich and deep. There's also a "senna tea" (?) which is apparently made from some sort of bean - very savoury and surprisingly moreish.

  • Rainbow Cafe - vegetarian food in the hippy style. I had a delicious artichoke filo parcel. This place has been open for at least a couple of decades and it's still going strong, definitely a top recommendation, even if you aren't veggy. Light food or hearty food, all good.

  • The Sea Tree, Mill Road - sustainable tasty fish and chips - and make sure you don't miss the thoroughly great mushy peas. they also do various other fish dishes but I was definitely in a fish and chips mood.

  • Rice Boat and Cocum - two good places to get a dosa (south Indian savoury pancake). Cocum does a nice set of pickles (I had chicken, veg, fish, and bitter lemon pickle); Rice Bowl's "inchy curry" (gunpowder-ish strong little thing) is a top side-dish.

  • North China Dumpling - does what it says on the tin. A homely little Chinese dumpling cafe.

  • Hot Numbers - hipster coffee place. Good place to taste different coffees (they grind their own) but also they do a good salmon salad, and some surprisingly tasty panini. The food can be a bit over-sweet though - whatever you order (salad or bacon sarnie) it'll be sweetened.

Those are my definite recommendations. Here's a map with them marked on. Thanks to everyone who gave me tips on where to eat! Also some honourable mentions to:

  • Gardenia - fast food takeaway in the town centre. the special burger from Gardi's is glorious: comes with cheese, feta cheese, tzatkiki, gherkin...

  • The Mill - a well-known pub in prime position by the river, they do some decent food, and it's much less painfully trend-hunting than their sister pub The Brew House.

  • The Green Man (Grantchester) - another well-known pub, out in Grantchester.

(I also previously blogged about sushi in Cambridge...)

Monday 25th May 2015 | food | Permalink / Comment

South Woodford: the nom review

All these years I've been living in South Woodford I've been tweeting food things from my @nomnomdan twitter. Now, as I prepare to leave South Woodford, what will I miss? Or to put it another way, if you're in South Woodford what should you definitely eat?

  • International Supermarket - great range of cheap fruit, veg, herbs and more. They manage to outdo the Sainsburys, M&S and Waitrose, all nearby in the same precinct. Lots of international foodstuffs: great pittas, turkish delight, dudhis, and for some reason about 500 different varieties of feta.

  • Kistruck's Bakery - fantastic breads, especially the corn bread, the beetroot bread (Saturdays only), the danish bloomer, the lionheart, the German sourdough. Nice pastries too. The continental breads (croissants etc) are just there to fill out the roster. Ignore those and get a couple of their great loaves of bread. They keep for longer than the Sainsburys bread, too.

  • Casa Castelo - friendly little Portuguese cafe. Their pastel de natas (custard tarts) are addictive, and they also do great hot pork sandwiches, and feijoada (pork stew).

  • Cafe on the Lane - it's quite unassuming from the outside but there's quite a lot on their menu that they do just right. Such as: eggs benedict, the "wickerman" burger, and their posh full-english breakfast.

  • Turkish Mangal - for a great iskender. They've changed hands a bit though so things might have changed.

  • Wood Oven - for a great adana kebab.

  • Little Woodford Cafe - friendly little caff, for breakfasts, sarnies etc.

Restaurant-wise, there's plenty of stuff to choose from. Turkish Mangal I've already recommended. Also good are Ark (fish restaurant), Wildwood (italian chain), Nino's (italian), Morello (italian).

So now you know what to eat! (BTW - if you agree or disagree, let me know on twitter. For example, Welshbeard says Bella Naples is great, I didn't get round to trying it.)

Sunday 10th May 2015 | food | Permalink / Comment

Probability magic: distribution of iid exponentials conditioned on their sum

Maths can be magic sometimes. Here's a probability thing - it's very very niche, but it works out nicely.

I needed to sample K iid exponential variables given that I knew their sum was S. The exponential distribution has one parameter for the "rate" (usually written as the greek character lambda, but let me write it as L). We don't necessarily know the value of L but we do know S.

Let's start simply. Instead of saying we have K variables we'll start with just two, and we'll call them x and y. So we know S, and we know that x+y=S.

For comparison, let me see what happens when we condition on the maximum rather than the sum. So we know the maximum M, and we know that x<M and y<M. It's quite a similar problem, and in that case we find that x and y remain independent, and identically distributed: P(x|M) and P(y|M) are just the truncated exponential distribution. This distribution still involves L. The shape of the distribution still depends on this unknown rate parameter.

So back to the real problem. It's the sum x+y=S that we know. So let's write the joint distribution:

P(x,y|S) α L exp(-Lx) L exp(-Ly) I(x+y=S)

(where "I()" is the indicator function, and "α" means "is proportional to" - my blog doesn't do proper maths typesetting.)

and we can substitute y=S-x:

P(x,y|S) α L exp(-Lx) L exp(-LS + Lx) I(x+y=S)

P(x,y|S) α L exp(-Lx) L exp(-LS) exp(Lx) I(x+y=S)

P(x,y|S) α L^2 exp(-LS) I(x+y=S)

So the x and y vanish to leave constant terms (except for the indicator that limits us to the 2-simplex). The distribution is simply uniform on the 2-simplex! It doesn't even depend on L - the lambda vanishes. Magic.

In other words, to sample two iid exponentials conditioned on their sum S, you can do it by taking a single uniform sample in the range [0,S]. Much easier than we might have thought.

This generalises to more than two variables. Sampling K exponentials conditioned on their sum S is equivalent to sampling uniformly from the unit K-simplex and multiplying the result by S.

This is covered more formally in this free book Non-Uniform Random Variate Generation, which I found via someone's blog article Sampling from a simplex (where they're coming at the problem from the other way round).

Thursday 7th May 2015 | maths | Permalink / Comment

Cambridge sushi review

I'm surprised that Cambridge doesn't have many sushi places. Surely they've always had plenty of Japanese students around, and plenty of posh metropolitan types? Or does it not work like that? Anyway, I have found two proper sushi restaurants in Cambridge (UK) so here's a quick review.

(Actually, as well as these two, in the middle of town there's a Yo Sushi and soon-to-be a Wasabi too. I've nothing against those chain shops but I don't think of them as proper sushi, simply because you can usually only get tuna and salmon stuff, they don't have a proper sushi selection. Good for convenient food but not the full deal.)

  1. U-Sushi near the Grafton Centre is a friendly little place that does a lot of takeaway. The fish could have been fresher, but there's plenty of variety on the menu and I particularly liked their vegetarian california rolls, made with asparagus, avocado, cucumber, shitake mushroom and pickle.

  2. Japas just off Lensfield Road has a bit more of a restauranty vibe, if that's what you're after. They also seem to do plenty of takeaway. The fish is the same quality as U-Sushi and the range is pretty similar too. I wouldn't bother with their deep-fried ice-cream for afters though, it's nowhere near as much fun as it should be.

Anyone got any more tips? Let me know. There must be a secret sushi palace secreted around here somewhere...

Saturday 11th April 2015 | food | Permalink / Comment

The best DAB radio

I want to tell you which is the best DAB radio. I have it here in front of me:

Radio photo

I've seen many DAB radios in my time. My ex worked at the first BBC digital radio station when it launched, so we saw all the early models.

Old analogue radios, like a lot of analogue things, had this great built-in interface quirk. In the old days you couldn't just choose a radio station, you had to turn a dial and that would tune the frequency to the station you wanted. I'm NOT talking nostalgia here, I'm talking usability. This strange quirk meant you could learn the interface really well - the radio stations were always at the same place on the dial, and you very quickly learnt exactly how much to turn to go straight from Radio 4 to Radio 1.

DAB radio designers didn't really have this, they just had a big list of stations. In fact they had it worse than that: if there was any "natural" interface driven by the mechanics of DAB it would be a hierarchical list where first you choose your multiplex, then you choose your station. The early DAB radios forced you to do this. Firstly, navigating a hierarchical list is fecking annoying on any device that doesn't have a massive computer screen. Secondly, the hierarchical list means nothing to anyone. No-one knows intuitively if Smooth FM and the World Service are on the same multiplex or not, and they shouldn't have to know.

DAB radio designers came up with various ways round this. They added presets of course - lots of FM radios have this too. Trouble is, they generally had to add lots of buttons, especially as they needed to support both DAB and FM. Bleh. Clicky interfaces, menus to scroll through. Bleh.

Well now the perfect DAB/FM radio interface has been settled on and it looks like this:

Radio photo

It's from John Lewis (it's called the "Spectrum"), and it's a little portable thing. It does DAB, FM and USB, it runs off battery or mains, it doesn't take more than 4 seconds to turn on (unlike many other digital radios which sit around saying "hello" while secretly they're frantically booting stuff up).

But the one thing I want you to notice is how easy it is to operate it in the dark, with your eyes closed, or with one hand stirring a pot of soup. There is a very small number of buttons/knobs, and when you grab for it without looking you can instantly feel which button you're on. After a day or two you can change the station, change the volume, change DAB/FM, or turn it on/off without looking, and really that's all you need!

The minimalism continues through the interface too: there are no presets, for example. Some might find miss the lack of presets, but it takes away a lot of interface complexity. There's an implicit "two-preset" character anyway, since of course it remembers one DAB station and one FM station, the ones you had on last.

The two dials on the top are not continuous dials, by the way, they're click-wheels. I do miss a little the ability to be as subtle as you like with the volume control, but I don't mind much. On the station dial, for DAB you're wheeling through the alphabetical list, which you can sometimes do with your eyes shut but not always - but at least the stations are always in exactly the same place, it's still a learnable interface. On FM, the dial changes the frequency, as you'd expect, plus the curiously named "Reset" button does auto-scanning for you on FM, and that works fine too.

I actually bought this radio for my ex. After seeing it in action for a while, I went and bought another one, for myself!

Sunday 5th April 2015 | design | Permalink / Comment

How to use a different key for Return on Ubuntu

My Return key is getting a bit flaky, so I've just worked out how to reuse my "AltGr" key as a backup in case of emergency. Noting it down for my own reference.

In Linux you can configure anything, including custom keyboard layouts, but it can be tricky to find the advice online that actually matches your system. (Standard Ubuntu has some helper apps that a LXDE desktop doesn't, etc etc.) I think this method will work with any Debian-based system, and I took it from Debian's multimedia-keys guide.

Basically, follow the instructions in that wiki page:

  • I used "xev" to discover that my AltGr key emits keycode 108. I also noticed that when I pressed the Return key, it confirmed that the official name for the Return key event is "Return".
  • I made a file ".xmodmaprc" containing just the text inside these quotes: "keycode 108 = Return"
  • I ran "xmodmap .xmodmaprc"

That's enough to enable it for this session. Then you just have to add that last command as one of your autostart programs so it'll be available in future sessions. I did it by running "gnome-session-properties" tool, but also belt-and-braces in my .zshrc because of some other config I have in there.

Thursday 26th March 2015 | linux | Permalink / Comment
Islam and imagery (Saturday 31st January 2015)
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