Wednesday, December 29, 2004
From Sunday till today, I've watched the death tolls on CNN and BBC escalate from 2000, to 9000, to 10,000, and now 60,000. Even as I type this the TV tells me it's now 71,000. It's like a nightmare that won't stop. I don't remember a disaster as large, that affected as many countries - when you count the human connections, the relatives, the people who knew people who knew people, when you think about the fact that in countries as far away as Sweden (apparently the majority of tourists in the parts of Thailand that were hit) families will grieve, you realise that this is perhaps a globalised world's first global disaster.
The one thing that bugs me now is how aid and humanitarian assistance will reach the places that need it most - some countries have been hit much harder than others, but there seems to be no international effort to co-ordinate or allocate relief to where it's needed most. No doubt in a few months time, when the engines get into gear, there'll be more than enough aid to go around, but right now, in the crucial days and weeks where people could still die from disease and injury, it seems the world needs concerted leadership to organise humanitarian efforts. Surely it would be a colossally irresponsible of us to let the outpouring of support and aid be frittered away in inefficiency. I hear the UN will issue an appeal for aid on Monday - but a week is very long time for the tsunami victims to wait.
Anyway, the same debating team had their photoshoot by Terz yesterday, and I must say he did a fantastic job. The photographs I saw, even as yet unedited, brought out their personality, character - all the best bits of them on celluloid (well, pixels) - and made them look larger, better than life - which is what art is supposed to do, in a way.
I'm a bit zonked today from the (now regular) gaming last night. One of those nights where you sit down at the laptop at 8pm, and you lift your head up and it's midnight. Wesley joined us, and the group is reaching the critical mass where we can really play team matches properly. Great fun, and hilarious when we moved from MoHAA to UT, and Terz started imitating the computer voices - "DOUble-KILL" - "MEGa-KILL" - "ULtra-KILL" - "LUdicrous" etc. I laughed so hard I couldn't aim straight.
Friday, December 24, 2004
Boxing Day has been more fruitful. K and I went geocaching after the family lunch, and logged Red Ant Hill, an easy find. Dropped off the KeyChain Magnet travel bug, and K picked up the Cambodian Hitchhiker travel bug. Unfortunately, Cambodian Hitchhiker's ambition (the bug has "Cambodia Please!" written on it, making its eventual destination fairly obvious) is unlikely to be fufilled anytime soon, and probably not by us. We'll move it to another cache where it can log up some miles travelled. The travel bug's log is itself an interesting reflection on connectivity: on 11th October 2003, it started from California, reached Hawaii on July 6 2004, thence to Australia on September 3rd, reaching here on November 21st. I suspect that the route it took is directly related to the popularity/frequency of international flights and routes: I also suspect that any travel bug bound for SE Asia is likely to end up here, given that we're a regional travel hub.
Other Good Things that happened today:
- Finally managed to fix my bedside table/shelf. This was a custom made piece of furniture that the wife and I paid a fair amount of money for sometime ago. We had it made to fit the space beside the bed, with room for our dry-box, books (since I was already leaving piles of books next to the bed, the wife wisely decided to institutionalise this procedure) and all the other stuff I tend to leave around me as I doze off. We also had it made with a little fold down table, intending to park my powerbook there so I could work in the bedroom. While the shelf itself was perfectly fine, what we failed to realise when we took delivery of it was the fact that the fold-down table was held up by some very weak chains, which promptly went on to verify what everybody has ever told you about chains being as strong as the weakest link. I've never used it as intended till today, when we finally bought some lengths of stronger chain, and I fixed them on. My Powerbook will now spend its happy retirement days as a bedside workstation.
- In the same hardware store, I found this, which is something I've been eyeing on the internet for a long time - a torchlight that needs no batteries! I put off buying it on the off-chance that somebody would bring it in (oh alright, I was too lazy to get around to buying it as well) and sure enough, they have. Too bad they only had the large "security guard"-sized version, rather than the smaller "is that a torchlight in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" compact-sized one, but still, it was a steal at the price they were selling it at.
We're back at home taking a little nap, but may work up the energy to go out again to find some more caches - all in all, a pretty productive Boxing Day.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Monday, December 20, 2004
(We did manage one obligatory game of MoHAA at the Ritz, just so we could say "We played MoHAA ... at the Ritz-Carlton")
In related news, I've bought myself a new mousepad for gaming, and Homeworld 2. Still having some problems installing the game, but I note with amusement the ESRB content warning on the box side: rated T, violence, with the note "Game experience may change during online play". As in what? from "sucky" to "sucky with human interaction?" = )
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Lucky Chinatown was the name of this cache, and we were quite lucky to retrieve and replace it, given the numbers of muggles walking around. Took us about an hour of careful scouting before we found the cache and could retrieve it without being noticed. Found another Travel Bug - the Keychain Magnet - in it, which we took, dropping off Guiding Star.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Meanwhile, K and I have managed to fulfill Travel Bug Guiding Star's wish to be photographed in front of a fire station. We're thinking of buying some Travel Bugs of our own (it would be nice to release one in Calgary and see it make its way home to Singapore!) but the Geocaching online store doesn't sell outside of the US (daft) so we'd have to get it from a retailer.
And last but not least, Kristin Thomas has some new spam poetry up.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Friday, December 10, 2004
The waiters looked rather surprised, either that we couldn't finish, or that we asked for the food to be packed for us - which makes me wonder what kind of clientele they have, who can polish off in one sitting a meal that looks like it has enough calories to feed a third world family. It makes you wonder about the culture of waste we've all bought into, when restaurants serve portions that no normal person could possibly finish, and which most people wouldn't bother to bring home as leftovers. We live in first world wealth, and yet still hold on to third world notions of largesse and prosperity as being defined by how much you can afford to waste and throw away.
In the meantime, I've gone and bought the Complete Idiot's Guide to Native American History. Not the best volume out there for in-depth study, but I decided not to invest money in the hefty (weight and price) encyclopaedias out there until I got a basic overview of the subject matter. Who knows - there may be a 28mm or 15mm army somewhere in there to be painted up ... = )
Monday, December 06, 2004
The underpass leading to the park is guarded by a fountain with 7 dragon heads as spouts - an odd design for that part of the city, and in a spot where it doesn't get the attention it deserves. On the other hand, its isolation makes it a nice peaceful spot.
Fort Canning park itself is peaceful as ever. Walking up, I remembered there was a geocache on the side of the hill, and this banyan tree is probably it. I didn't bother to go and look for the cache, but the GPS pointed square at it. Banyans are a favourite of mine - there's something sinister yet beautful about them, looking at them you know that they are, or already have, strangled a tree to grow to that size, yet they look so organic and wild, like a miniature self-contained jungle in themselves. Spine-shiveringly primal.
The Discovery channel mood followed me all the way back home: I discovered this fat caterpillar lurking on the lemon seedlings my mother had planted some time back. Now, these seedlings had been doing surprisingly well, given that most of our plants are languishing, and I'd already taken one smaller caterpillar off them earlier to protect them. I must've missed this one though, because it's grown huge (that photo's about life size). Couldn't bear to kill it, so I'll let it live until it pupates, and see what kind of butterfly emerges.
On a more technical note, I had a great deal of trouble getting the white balance on the D70 right. The photo of the banyan tree was taken on the ""bright shade" setting, which was the closest to what my eyes saw, but still too warm. This was alright because it made the scene look sunnier than it was (i.e. the banyan tree looked far more subdued and grey that it does in the photo), but unsatisfactory because it was still inaccurate. The automatic setting gave me too blue a cast, and trying to get a custom setting was pointless without something white to use as a reference mark. This is the first time the D70 has given me problems with white balance: the custom setting we used for the church wedding a few weeks ago was perfectly fine, so the lesson is always carry something white to set the white balance with.
Update: As of this morning, the caterpillar is gone - quite a shame, since I was really looking forward to seeing what kind of butterfly it would have become.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
... finding out that one only scores 61% on an Eighties quiz. Sheesh, I'd better do some studying before I call myself a child of the Eigthties again. Right: it's nothing but Eighties songs on my iPod till I improve my score!
I'm off to try and watch a movie now: lying in a bathtub reading Herodotus has its pleasures, but I gotta get out of the house and do something or I'll fall asleep again ...
Saturday, December 04, 2004
I'll probably stay in bed and concentrate on finishing Herodotus. A surprisingly easy read: don't know why I never tried reading him before, especially with the spate of cheap editions that came out in the wake of The English Patient. The trick with Herodotus, I have found, is to remember that the greek word historia orginally meant an inquiry, and forget the modern meaning of history as something objective. Having said that, reading through his section on Scythia has given me some ideas for building up a 15mm Scythian army for my wargames collection ...
Thursday, December 02, 2004
At Terz' birthday last night (many happy returns!), with 15 people at a long table, conversation was balkanised into distinct enclaves, but there were some things that bridged all gaps.
Case in point: Terz' photos taken on a 22 Megapixel Hasselblad brought every male crowding round his Powerbook to gawk at the unwholesome amount of closeup detail a 22 megapixel, 140 megabyte photo could capture. Think pores, pimples. Think saliva, ulcers. Think every blemish, stain, and hair, in high resolution glory. Surely no one could endure such detail. Surely no model, however beautiful, could look like anything but a lunar landscape in flesh tones under such scrutiny. Surely, surely we have exceeded all reasonable limits - will not the gods of photography punish us for the hubris of daring to build a 22 megapixel camera, to capture in images those things never meant to be seen by unready eyes?
Extremely cool camera. Heh.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
You know how the inside door handle on cabs has a little recess in the top? Right - for putting your hand in - it's part of the handgrip. That's why it's a door handle. This morning, for the umpteenth time, I opened the cab door, got in, reached to pull the door shut, and put my fingers right into a pile of balled up tissue paper.
What - is - it - with - these - morons? what kind of inconsiderate, lazy, person would just blow their nose, and then stick the tissue in the door handle of a cab? This isn't the first time it's happened to me either, so there must be a fairly significant number of door-handle-tissue-stuffers out there.
[A quick look at Comfort Taxi's website gives us the figure of 10,200 taxis, making 390,000 trips daily. Let's round them down to 10,000 and 350,000, for convenience, and on the assumption that companies are generous with their own figures. There are other taxi companies out there, but we'll err on the side of caution here. I take cabs almost every working day - say 260 days a year, some days once, some days twice. Call it 390 cab trips a year. I've put my hand into tissue about 4 times a year - that's about 1 in 97.5 odds. Put that to the figure of 350,000 cab trips a day, and that's
[yes, I know my maths is off, but that's not the point really]
I also found my copy of the The Bhagavad Gita, with, of all things, the invite to my junior college graduation night slipped in between the pages. I remember now that I carried it in the pocket of my jacket as backup reading material in case the night got boring, which is quite funny now that I think of it. If I could send a message back in time, I would say to my old self "forget the book, just have a good time". On the other hand, The Bhagavad Gita is excellent reading, and the penguin edition is a slim volume that fits well in any pocket, and even now I still tend to carry a book with me "just in case".
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
You wait in dreading anticipation for that inevitable moment when a ding or nick will take away the aura of newness, and force you to change your mental labels from "new" to "used". It's almost a relief when that moment comes and goes, because it signals the end of the softly-softly kid-gloves treatment, and means you can start using them properly. Well, that moment has just come for me, in the most spectacular and economical way. I dropped my iPod ...
... on my iBook. Though no significant damage was done to either, it is The First Accident. It's also pretty daft. And about the simplest way it could've happened, two birds with one stone - if one of the birds crashed into the other, as it were.
Until now, all the American song I had heard was that whole body body of popular music that deal with the 57 varieties of forsaken love ... misbegotten love ... love, that was it. Occasionally there was a three little fishies thrown in there but essentially it had to do with a very single, narrow subject matter. And then to realise that there's a whole world out there which can be and needs to be and deserves to be sung about.
One of my complaints about the music that dominates radio (at least here) is how much it flogs this dead horse of the love song to death. I like love songs - but not all the time, and not all the same way. Radio friendly music tends to adopt the same rhythms, phrases, positions, and some songs have reduced themselves to mind-numbing repetition in terms of lyrics and melody.
Songs should go somewhere (or rather take you along somewhere) either lyrically, or melodically. When they repeat the same lines over and over (the radio-friendly hook extended to its logical conclusion) or the same tune, ditty, or lick (again, in its ultimate form, the 'ear-worm' that locks itself into a loop in the listener's mind) they become boring.
The only way then to distinguish your song from the next is by varying (usually increasing) the intensity - louder, faster, or simply raunchier, which is what we see now as well. Perhaps the term "love-song" isn't even accurate anymore, since they're about sex.
And there is a whole world out there that can be described in song, and deserves to be, outside of this very limited ambit. The funny thing is, what people usually want to hear on the radio when they're driving is stuff that won't challenge them to think, and so love-songs it is, not because they're intrinsically less interesting (or easier to write well), but because we are so familiar with the conventions that they're like the old shoes we slip into when we just want to step out for a while to throw out the garbage.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
With the advent of my new iPod, I took a look through my CD collection to see if there was any more music I hadn't downloaded yet, and to my surprise, I counted around 30 CDs. Most of them were stuff that I hadn't loaded onto the old 10GB iPod for lack of space, but with more room now, I',m slowly ripping them in. I have to resist my "completist" tendencies: whereas I've loaded every single Dave Matthews album in its entirety, I'm forcing myself to be more selective now. Some of the stuff is going in for sentimental reasons - as a child of the 80s, I feel obliged to have U2 represented on my iPod, for example. In fact, I've discovered quite a sentimental streak in me recently, manifested in the urge to buy these "Best of the Eighties" type compilation albums so I can listen to all the stuff I heard on the radio as a teenager, but never could own.
On the reading side of things, I've finally finished Trust Us, We're Experts, an examination of how big industry uses 'experts' and scientists to confuse, mislead, and befuddle the public. It confirms what I guess we've suspected all along - you can't trust profit motivated organisations to tell you the truth - but is equally damning in its critique of Big Science, and the culture of 'expertise' that's grown up around it. Highly recommended read.
Also highly recommended is The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, for those of you who (like me) absolutely need a map when you can't figure out where the heck the Hittites came from, where the Hurrians, Mittani, Phrygians and Kushites resided, and generally how all these wierd and wonderful sounding tribes, cultures and civilisations related to each other spatially. I love maps, I have a deep interest in ancient history (if coloured by a wargaming focus) and this book is an excellent reference. And the author's got a nice, droll sense of humour even when dealing with the driest of topics: here's his explanation of the superiority of tin-based bronze versus the earlier version:
Tin bronze improved on its arsenic-based predecessor in two ways: the alloying process could be controlled more easily (because tin was available as a metal) and the alloy itself was superior in strength and ease of casting. Also, it didn't kill you while you were making it.
I'm at 515 BC now, and I forsee myself reaching the next millenium before this night is over.
You Are a Pundit Blogger!
Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few.
My story may sound odd but I must tell you that September 11th is a day I will never forget till the day I will finally die, that was the day of entire lost of my whole life that I built for 62 years, the same day I lost my two sons in world trade center, I thank God my health is getting better now as I am down with stroke. My dear friend I am sorry if I have taken much of your time, but I want you to sit down and read through my mail and see what you can achieve or gain from it."
The email, of course, goes on to offer you fundamentally money for nothing, mentioning God at every opportunity. The reader is offered 15% of the man's inheritance (playing on the receipient's greed), told that he should take the money and move out of the US where it's safer from horrible tragedies like those that have befallen the sender (playing on the reader's fear), told that 70% of the inheritance will go to charities to help the poor (playing on the reader's conscience, as well as greed, since the implication is that he's leaving the money to you to disburse), and that the sender, Mr Anthony Adams, only requires the remaining 15% back to pay for hospital bills. You can see where this is headed, can't you?
What really infuritates me about this particular variant of the Nigerian scam is how they could use a tragedy like Sep 11 to try and get an edge on people, and how they could say things like this:
"As I believe you are a God fearing Human if you are not please do, because he died on the cross of Calvary for you and I to have life and have it in abundance."
I hope there's a special place in hell reserved for these people.
What also makes me mad is thinking about how there would be some people with that unfortunately none too rare combination of greed and stupidity to be fooled by this sort of thing. I don't know which type of person is worse, but I do know that I'm sick and tired of receiving emails from 'people' like:
- Mrs Eveline Babatu (husband murdered by evil dictator Robert Mugabe, oh the poor soul - but hey, look at all the money he left behind)
- Mrs Chae Dae Soon (husband died in Iraq during the fighting, oh the tragedy of it all, but whoops, there's another massive inheritance)
- Prince Johnson J Smith (who apparently, is, and I quote: "32 years old and good looking man, and I am from a Royal Family of an Oil rich Bonny Kingdom Of River State of Nigeria, I have B.SC in Public Administration and I work in my family company (JOHNSON MARKETING COMPANY LTD) as a Sales manager." Right. SURE. Prince. Johnson. J. Smith)
- Mr Adams Benson (some family tragedy or another - HE WROTE IN ALL CAPS SO I COULDN'T BEAR TO READ THE DAMNED EMAIL) (but I'm sure there was lots of money involved)
- Rosemary Rolands, and all the other lottery directors in South Africa whose lotteries I apparently have won, without even having been to South Africa, let alone bought a ticket for. If I had a dollar for every one of these I received, I would ... well, I'd probably just put it in the lottery back here, where I can get a realistic result (i.e. nothing).
For all these scammers out there who are filling my mailbox with scam, may your hard-disks crash, may your file directories be as corrupt as you are, may your monitors ever be blue as the screen of death, and may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your belly buttons (to quote an old curse I learned a long time ago).
P.S. 419 Eater has some pretty funny accounts (illustrated and all) of the tables turned on the scammer. Well worth a read, a laugh, and possibly an evil snigger.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Sitting at his cubicle, he was surprised by the touch of sun on this back, like an old friend tapping him on the shoulders, telling him with a glorious sunset that he only now saw through the window that it was time to log out, shut down, get up and get out. Which he did.
Weddings are such intense things. Over the weekend, K and I were helping out at a friend's wedding, taking photographs, and we were exhausted.
The pace of the day was what got us. Memorable last minute runs include:
- rushing to town to buy shoes (her) and cufflinks (me) the night before the wedding;
- last minute equipment check for camera gear, when I suddenly realised that I didn't have any Tri-X in 35mm - only medium format. classic oh-shit moment, at 11pm the night before the wedding, resulting in post-Church service run to Ron's to get 12 rolls of Tri-X;
- having the flash we borrowed from her dad conk out on us the morning of the wedding (leading to a spectacular pre-wedding-dinner run to Cathay Photos to get an SB-800 Speedlight - in my dress shirt and shoes, with K in the car outside, engine running, dashing into the shop to make what must surely have been the fastest ever Speedlight purchase in Cathay's history. I should've made a scene of it, in my best poncy accent - "A Nikon Speedlight my good man - and hurry, there's not a moment to lose! The future happiness of two young people absolutely depend on it!". Never spent so much money so quickly before).
All this between trying to dress up, look good, and not sweat, for crying out loud. I didn't realise how stressful it would be being responsible for photographing someone's wedding - suddenly, you feel burdened by the thought that the happy couple may never have a visual record of some important event on their wedding day - did we get a photograph of them kissing? of him lifting the veil? putting on the rings? doing that thing with the candles? I must add that the couple themselves were perfectly cool - they were remarkably nonchalant about the photography - it was K and I who were sweating it out!
Saturday, November 20, 2004
The mother cat was the most trusting feline parent I've seen: most are extremely nervous about humans coming into contact with their kittens, but she was perfectly happy to lie there and let the kitten come ambling up to me.
I haven't decided what name to give him yet - these families are like transients, they sometimes pass through the area and are never seen again. I remember one particular mother and kitten pair who we saw once, then never again. Cute little furball of a kitten that was too.
Friday, November 19, 2004
A few nights ago, ah decided t'look at th' Archetype cards ah bought recently. As yo' know, mah wife an' ah have a fair colleckshun of tarot cards, an' other inspirashunal o' dvinato'y decks. Th' Archetype cards appealed t'me on account o' of mah interess in Archetypes an' mahthology.
Th' card thet ah pulled out was Th' Alchemist, an archetype thet has menny links in mah life. Packrat most recently pointed me t'this site, which is frightenin' eff'n only on account o' th' blogger an' ah seem t'share menny interests in common, as enny fool kin plainly see.
Diggin' deeper in mah past, thar's th' link wif C.G. Jung (previously blogged about har), who inco'po'ated menny ideas fum alchemah into his own take on psychology (an' whom ah have t'thank fo' fust intryducin' me t'th' wo'd syzygy, a wo'd which is remarkable fo' its complete lack of vowels, as fine as bein' potentially one heck of a sco'er fo' Scrabble, 'cept thet a Scrabble set don't haf 'nuff 'y's t'make it).
Thar's th' book Th' Alchemist by Ebenezero Coelho, one of them books of which varmints (at least in reviews) say it changed their lives, but which did not change mine (muss've caught me in a particularly cynical phase), but which is a fine read nonetheless.
For those who wish to pursue this further, the site also allows translation into Pig Latin, Cockney, Elmer Fudd, and Swedish Chef. Ooodee-doodee-fun.
The card that I pulled out was The Alchemist, an archetype that has many links in my life. Packrat most recently pointed me to this site, which is frightening if only because the blogger and I seem to share many interests in common.
Digging deeper in my past, there's the link with C.G. Jung (previously blogged about here), who incorporated many ideas from alchemy into his own take on psychology (and whom I have to thank for first introducing me to the word syzygy, a word which is remarkable for its complete lack of vowels, as well as being potentially one heck of a scorer for Scrabble, except that a Scrabble set doesn't have enough 'y's to make it).
There's the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, one of those books of which people (at least in reviews) say it changed their lives, but which did not change mine (must've caught me in a particularly cynical phase), but which is a good read nonetheless.
There's Pierre Bensusan, whose piece (you guessed it) L'alchemiste was my 'song of the day' for the trip to work, another one of those serendipitous things when I pulled out the very card from the deck later that day. On an aside, my iPod has 8+ gigabytes of music on it now, dominated by either instrumental guitarists like Bensusan and Michael Hedges, or by guitar-heavy bands - hit the "shuffle" option on my ipod, and there's an even chance that something by either Dave Matthews or Ani DiFranco will turn up.
(I have, in fact, actually tried this out: on a shuffle of 50 songs, I got
- 8 by Ani DiFranco,
- 1 by the Counting Crows,
- 4 by the Dave Matthews Band, and
- 4 by Michael Hedges
I'm guessing Ani turns up marginally more often than DMB, despite the fact that both of them have 12 albums on my iPod, because the DMB has longer and fewer songs, due to the massively self-indulgent solos on their live albums. I love 'em anyway)
Bensusan's music is elaborate, ornate, and partakes of a whole melange of influences - for a French Algerian fellow, his dominant influence, oddly enough, seems to be Celtic music, but he borrows and hints at stuff as diverse as jazz, new age, to what I suspect critics call 'North African' simply because they can't pin it down and decide they have to say something about the Algerian thing. The last thing he sounds like is French. Some days Bensusan sounds like the most profound guitarist, and you hear nuances you never heard before in his pieces: other days he sounds like elevator music. It's odd that way - but L'alchemiste is my favourite piece by far.
Which brings us back to The Alchemist. Linked to The Magician in a traditional tarot deck, the Alchemist represents a quest to transform the base into the precious - whether it be the literal (and simplistic) quest for turning lead into gold, or the search to transform our baser selves into something purer and more innocent. The Alchemist is about the search for unity (uniting opposites, as in the aforementioned syzygy) as well as the search for the "philosophers' stone", the key and catalyst that transforms all things into better things.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
The long weekend, of course, was spent rediscovering the joys of fragging. Terz and I basically realised on Friday night that we could link our two Macs wirelessly (score another point for Apple: connecting our two laptops via Airport was as easy as one mouse click) and before we knew it, we had a game of Mohaa (that's Medal of Honour: Allied Assault) going.
Fragging continued on Saturday, in between watching the Star Wars DVD (summary: Solo still shoots first, Vader's lightsaber has gone pink, Luke's lightsaber does the mood ring thing, switching from green to blue, Jabba looks marginally better in Episode IV, and Hayden Christiansen appears as one of the three Jedi spirits. Yuk). The high point of the weekend was when we managed to link 4 computers together at Packrat's for a happy few hours of oblivious 2 on 2 team play. Finally, more fragging on Monday to round things off - all in all, it's been a very productive weekend. = )
The wives, of course, have done their fair share of wifely eye rolling (and blogged about it)- although I've discovered that the sound of computer generated gunfire sends my wife to sleep.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
This was about the only coherent part of the dream I recall, and I'm guessing it's my Inner Bureaucrat asserting itself. Then again, this is the second time an issue of saints has popped up in my dreams - last week, Saint Anthony was the subject of a dream involving boats and ships. The scary thing is that I'm not even Catholic ...
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
T and Y's reference, here's the cat from the pet shop. Right now, she's languishing behind bars, along with a bunch of other cats, (one of which bullies her quite badly) but a cat of her elegance and breeding is clearly going places soon. I mean, just look at that face ... = )
I've been waiting for this break with increasing anticipation - things have been piling up in increasing degrees of shittiness, starting from Mild and going up to Throw In The Towel levels of fecal profundity.
The bright spot in this sullied week is the new iBook - all 12 inches of gleaming clean lucite whiteness, like a shiny white brick of pure Mac computer goodness, oozing comforting vibes from every rounded corner and streamlined edge.
If I've never said so before on this blog, I'll say it now: nothing beats a Mac for a truly human computing experience. All the PCs I've known have made me work around them, cursing and swearing: all my Macs (iBook being the third after the TiBook and the iMac) have made it easy be around them. I transfered my entire user account from my TiBook to the iBook with no problems at all - no need to dig up the whole chain of passwords and user ids for the internet account, or find my favourites and bookmarks from my browsers, or indeed even try and find the program files: just link the two computers with a firewaire cable, start the process, and 1 hour later (hey, I have a big home folder) I switch on the iBook, and resume computing as if I'd never changed computers. It's like coming home all over again.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
First impressions of the D70: an impressively solid piece of equipment. It feels much the same way my Voigtlander cameras feel in my hand - it feels right. You know that expression 'nothing but net'? Well, that's the way it feels shooting the D70 - every whirr and click is purposeful and directed, there's a sense of confidence in the camera's movements and actions. This is in direct contrast with the shutter that most digital camera's suffer from. The most irritating thing I find about digital cameras is a lack of responsiveness - that's why I like my mechanical cameras so much. When I hit the shutter, the shutter goes, no questions asked. The same thing for the D70, which is very impressive.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Following up on the history of the game led me to this website, and the category of fiction called nanofiction - stories under 55 words in length. Here's a description culled from the site on what the boundaries of nanofiction are:
This book, entitled The World's Shortest Stories, edited by Steve Moss, sets down the rules for 55 word stories as such: each story must contain the following four elements: 1.) a setting, 2.) one or more characters, 3.) conflict, and 4.) resolution. Plus of course, the whole thing can only be 55 words long, not counting the title, which must be no more than 7 words long.
(apparently there's a slightly more long-winded ancestor called microfiction, at 100 words)
It's been a long time since I've written anything, but something clicked when I saw the description of nanofiction. I remembered how I used to write poetry way back when. Ok, so it was bad poetry (well, what do you expect from a teenager? or a Literature undergraduate, for crying out loud?) but it was fun. Over the years, I've stopped writing altogether, except for one brief coughing fit of haikus a few years ago (must go dig those up). For the busy man, who has to juggle work and wargaming, hobbies and a household, cats and career, surely nanofiction is the way for his inner Bard to once again re-express himself, at minimal expense, barely any effort, and only a few minutes of work each day?
Also, I always needed to learn brevity. So, here's Nanofiction Number 1.
The Seventh Biscuit
After the beggar, he knew the seventh biscuit was close. He shuddered, remembering her words, and tried not to look at anything on the bus home. At his door, he stopped, a scream frozen in his throat: the hand that reached into his pocket for the keys was holding the mouldy remains of a biscuit.
(based on a real life imagined incident - really)
It's four more years for Bush
Surely that should be "four more years of Bush" for most of the world. When a nation becomes an empire, it's internal politics are of international interest and concern, and I think these U.S. elections have been most keenly watched and felt by the rest of the world, including me. In the wake of this, I wonder who will get invaded in the next 4 years?
Monday, November 01, 2004
I had been fooled into reading it as if it were a historical novel. Quite a few reviewers have compared Clarke's writing to Austen or Dickens, and everything about the novel - the title, the look, the font, the style - led me to treat it as if it were one of those detail-heavy, character driven, long-winded drawing room type novels. The nameless narrator (who speaks to you as if you've known him/her all your life, in a very Austenesque, very Classic Realist omniscient narrator way) speaks entirely in the present tense in the many footnotes accompanying the text, as if now were the 1800s. There's a wealth of accurate historical detail - the description of the battle of Waterloo, for example, something I know well, and was quite pleased to see the attention to detail there (down to some of the more bizarre 'truth is stranger than fiction' moments, like the button salesman turned aide de camp).
Somewhere along it line, to my surprise, it turned into a fantasy novel - in fact, it reminded me of Tad Williams' Dragonbone Chair, with menacing faerie creatures and an unwitting hero. The connection is probably more due to the fact that Tad Williams had come up in a conversation with Tym, than any real similarity, since Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is quite in a class of its own - an entirely new breed of creature, I think, which makes it hard to describe. Think Jane Austen meets Harry Turtledove, an alternate history of an England where magic once ruled, and will rule again, played out in dusty libraries in isolated country houses.
I think I enjoy books that surprise me in this way because I've become too canny a reader - too aware of the mechanisms and conventions of writing, and so easily bored by them. I zipped through Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in one day, because it was fluff, though entertaining fluff. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, on the other hand, caught me off guard, and I liked it.
The remainder of the weekend not spend reading saw me painting up some of my backlog of 15mm miniatures. I've been sitting on a bunch of Carthaginian figures for the longest time, some really nice ones from the two best companies (in my opinion) in the business - Corvus Belli and Xyston. These guys make about the nicest 15mm ancients figures you'll find, and since I've ordered a bunch more figures for a Mycenaean army, I thought I'd better get these painted and out of the way before the other stuff comes in.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I took these photographs a few years ago, my first experiment with infra-red film. I didn't even have a proper filter then - just a piece of red cellophane I'd stuck onto a cardboard frame, and held in front of the lens with one hand while shooting with the other.
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
As always, infra-red film lends something special to even the most ordinary of objects - the cathedral seems to glow, and the tree stump has a strange edge to it, something about the way the contrast works.
Both these were taken with my Voigtlander and its trusty 15mm Heliar lens - one of the film cameras I mentioned in an earlier post. For some time I thought about buying this camera, which would effectively allow me to use my existing lenses (3 very fine ones - the 15mm Heliar, the 75mm Skopar, and the 50mm Heliar) on a digital camera, but the price is completely out of my range. We're seriously eyeing the Nikon D70 though ...
You are a WRCL--Wacky Rational Constructive Leader. This makes you a Golden God.
You think fast and have a smart mouth, and you are a hoot to your friends and razorwire to your enemies. You hold a grudge like a brass ring. You crackle.
Although you have a leader's personality, you often choose not to lead, as leaders stray too far from their audience. You probably weren't very popular in high school--the joke's on them!
You may be a rock star.
Of the 48389 people who have taken this quiz since tracking began (8/17/2004), 7 % are this type.
Well, rockstar that I apparently am, I've been having an amazing dreary day. The highlight was finally finding out what was on that roll of slide film I discovered some days ago. Turned out to some rather old shots of our cats, all underexposed, and badly processed to boot.
This comes from discovering than my favourite photo developer has gone completely digital, and no longer develops film. Without rehashing the film versus digital debate, I'd just like to say that this poses a real worry to me: I have a good collection of film cameras that I like using, and when your old stalwarts no longer stock medium format film, you start to wonder when the day will come when film developing will be the province of a few speciality shops. Black and whites I can develop on my own, but my guess is that in a few years time, I might have to get my developers and fixers off the internet, along with my film.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Durians being what they are, of course, later on in the car (my dear wife having come to pick me up, with Tym and Terse in tow)(what alliteration!) a single burp from me brought an instant reaction from the ladies, and the immediate winding down of windows, which was strangely satisfying to me in a naughty sort of way. = )
Monday may have been shitty, but the durians more than made up for it in the end. I go to bed a with a contented tummy, having fulfilled my yearly durian quota, and looking forward fondly to next year's binge.
Monday, October 25, 2004
A nice companion for a Monday morning, both of us trying to weather out our respective storms. Judging by the skies though, his weather will break before mine does ... = )
In the meantime (as in, "not work-related matters") my current reading list (as in "books I've bought but have yet to finish reading") has expanded to include Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke, a novel whose initial attraction for both K and I was it's all-black cover. Yes, very superficial, I know, but in our defence, can I add that the antique/antiquated font on the cover was equally intriguing? No? Not a sufficient excuse? Err, OK - how about this: it's a novel about English magicians ...and has a bit about the Peninsular War (the Napoleonic wargames connection, see) ... and has nice drawings inside. It also comes in an all-white cover, though I have yet to determine any substantial difference in content between the two. And it's thick - massively so.
I'm taking this book slowly, since I'm still ploughing through the Alexander book, and also since I'm taking it as an opportunity to delve into yet another new area of research for me - English traditions of magic. I still halfway through Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter (sample chapter here) which draws deeply from folklore and traditional beliefs about Faerie and such, and I've always been fascinated with the Elizabethan mathematician/magician/astronomer/astrologer (these Renaissance men just couldn't keep their interests segregated) John Dee , who has his own appreciation society, it seems. I like their little "resume" of him - in addition to being
"the first to apply Euclidean geometry to navigation; built the instruments to
apply Euclid; trained the first great navigators; developed the maps; charted
the Northeast and Northwest Passages",
he also apparently
"Put a hex on the Spanish Armada which is why there was bad weather and
Nice breadth of work experience, eh? = ) Which also nicely brings us back to the weather, which is what we began this post with, and which signals that I should get back to work.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
A few things disturb this well-crafted verisimilitude though - the camera flash in the Nepalese mine is distinctly out of place, and I have to get a closer look at the tactical markings on the P40 - I don't think they actually read "polly" reflected in water - upside-down maybe, but not reflected. Other than that, tremendously enjoyable. Of course, the first thing that came to mind walking out of the cinema was that somewhere in the world, someone is making 1/72 scale models of the robots and airplanes from that movie. The second thought? - "It must be mine!" = )
Friday, October 22, 2004
It's the kind of day where I want to be somewhere else. The kind of grey, quiet, gloomy, peaceful afternoon where one should ideally be either (a) in bed or (b) out walking and taking photographs. Neither will happen, since I have as much work on my table as I lack the motivation to do it, so it'll be a longish Friday afternoon.
This photo was taken on the same kind of day, so a look at the background will give you an idea of the weather and mood as I'm writing this. The black cat is real: the others are all part of a sculpture that can be found on one end of Cavenagh Bridge. This particular black cat can often be found posing next to his inanimate kin: perhaps he feels some kind of affinity to them, or perhaps he's aware of how photogenic he looks to tourists! One thing though: this photo was taken some time ago, and with the way they've been culling cats, there's no guarantee that he's still alive. I haven't been back there for a while, and I'm almost afraid to look, for fear that he won't be there anymore.
The camera is an old Ensign Selfix* that Ron found for me (from, of all places, Iran), and I must say it has the most wonderful bokeh (explained here). I don't use it as often as I should, but I'm going so much into digital now that I hardly ever use my film cameras anymore ...
* couldn't find a link to an accurate photo: the camera I have is very similar to the model in the photo, but it's the Selfix 16-20 with a proper viewfinder, rather than the fold-up ones.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
My blog post titles are becoming more literal and blandly descriptive. My cough/sore throat/flu transmorgrified itself into a monstrous migraine yesterday, that pulsed horribly with each cough, and kept me in pain throughout. I went in to work today, despite still being on MC, and I had to leave after lunch to see the doctor's. My main worry was dengue, but the doctor just gave me some painkillers. I suppose they'll have to do for the moment.
All of which has nothing to do with the photo, and vice versa, but there it is. Or there they both are. Or something.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Since Flickr seems to be meeting my photo needs better than Fotolog, I've begun to transfer most of my photos from one to the other, though I'll still keep my Fotolog active.
Here's one photo that I previously posted on my Fotolog. This was taken on a photo-trip in Chinatown, where each of us chose a colour theme to shoot by. Mine was blue, and though this photo isn't the best example of it, I liked it because of the way the cracks in the wall resemble forks of lightning, and the funny abstract look the clothes line and the mop take on in this photo.
More of my previously flogged photos will appear in the next few days.
The funny thing was that I found out I knew the doctor at the 24-hour clinic - an old friend from Delta company back in my OCS days, way back in '92. He was standing in for the regular doctor (who obviously has to find someone to stand in, especially on weekends, when he's running a 24-hr clinic) and I spent about 15 minutes just talking to him, never mind the consultation.
The upshot is I got some antibiotics, some cough syrup, and two days MC (though I'll probably go back to work tomorrow: can't let the work pile up too much, and I'm starting to feel better already).
I suspect this throat infection has something to do with the haze that's in the air. It was so bad last night that it looked like fog - visibility was easily down to 150-200m at night, and the air smelled of burning. The other possible culprit would be the kids I invigilated on Friday - since most of them were recovering from illnesses, it's likely I caught it from one of them. Most probable is that both these two contributed - the poor air quality probably weakened or inflamed my lungs, and the kids were the source of whatever virus or germ that started this illness.
I'm gonna spend the rest of today either in bed, reading Robin Lane Fox's Alexander, (mine's the "movie tie-in" version, with Colin Farell on the cover. retch, but it was the only version available at the time) or painting some more figures. Keep the windows shut and the bad air out, and I should be ok by tomorrow morning.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Spent this morning in a reforestation plot - complusory community involvement project from work. Not too bad an experience: I learned that the vines that smother most of our forests are called Smilax. Bloody thorny things, as I recall from reservists, but at least I know what to call them now. We spent the morning clearing a small patch of jungle of as many Smilaxes as we could, armed with snippers and gloves, the logic (as the people from National Parks explained) being that this would save the newly planted saplings from being strangled. I half suspect we probably trampled and killed a few saplings as well, given that there were 20 of us in an area about the size of a tennis court, but it's the thought that counts. Really.
Friday, October 15, 2004
Powerful. Intimidating. Trivia Nazi. President Bartlet is all of these and more. A super-nerd who's into chess, National Parks, and rambling off things in Latin, POTUS is the 'real thing.' Not being completely upfront with the American people may cause him re-election headaches, though...
:: Which West Wing character are you? ::
Interestingly, one change of answer - Yo Yo Ma instead of Bruce Springsteen - gives me this:
Known as the only one who can control Josh Lyman, she answers to his every bellow. She has a thing for Yo-Yo Ma, philately, and Josh... but won't act on it. Although hired on the Bartlet Campaign by pure luck, Donnatella has now proven herself to be a valuable asset.
:: Which West Wing character are you? ::
In other news, the replacement wedding ring has been engraved, collected, and is on my finger, so I can fondle it gloatingly and whisper "preciousssss" in my best Andy Sirkus voice. This one's one size smaller than its predecessor, so it should stay on snugly until my knuckles swell in arthritic agony and I can no longer wear it.
For those with an interest in painting and collecting miniatures, I've recently put up some photos of my Trojan War 28mm figures on my other blog. This is my first attempt at large scale painting of 28mm figures (I normally do 15mms:cheaper, easier, faster - smaller, yes, but what's not to like?) and I'm finding quite it an expensive proposition. My dream of a 2000 point Warhammer Ancient Battles Mycenean/Trojan War army has already been downsized to a 1000-pointer given how much these things cost.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
I've always wondered about the English translation for what Chinese call foreigners. It's usually translated as "foreign devils", and if you know Chinese, the word in use doesn't actually concord with "devil" quite that well - it's variously used to cover English words like "ghost', and "spirits", and I've always thought "foreign devils" didn't quite match.
Well, today in the taxi, I suddenly realised that there is an English usage of "devils" that matches the Chinese word - in the expression "That poor devil", when referring to some poor sod. Why did this come to mind? Well, through a long-winded process of strange association, primarily sparked off by hearing on the taxi's radio some chinese singer attempting a Monroe-esque "Happy Birthday", only she kept saying "Happy Burstday".
The other thing that happened was I finally tried one of those Seng Choon instant eggs that Tym has blogged about. Her blog wasn't actually the first time I'd heard of them: during reservists, one of my men had sung high praises of these eggs as a substitute for combat rations (the infantryman's perpetual quest is always for better food).
To be precise, he opined that you could put a naked woman, and these eggs, in front of him and he would choose these eggs. It wasn't phrased so politely, of course, but phrased far more eloquently and convincingly - well, you had to be there to hear him, and I'm not going to reprint verbatim what he said.
Now, with a recommendation like that, one has to try these things, so I picked one up at the 7-11. Verdict? Naked woman wins by a long, long margin over rubbery eggs. The taste isn't all that bad - artificial flavourings cover a multitude of sins - but the texture is like eating rubber when you bite into the "white" and sand when you hit the "yolk".
Better yet, give me good old real eggs anyday ...
They (Primary Two kids) were a barely controllable mass of energy and restlessness. I now know why my Primary school teachers were such tyrants - they had to be. Within minutes, I felt the words "Shut up and sit down" waiting at the tip of my tongue. In the space of 1 hour, I began to use time-honoured and much-hated tag questions that I normally reserved for the worst of my students:
- "Is there something interesting outside of that window?"
- "How difficult can it be to sit down and keep quiet, hmmm?"
- "Which part of 'Sit down and keep quiet' did you not understand?"
- "What did I say? WHAT did I say? Hmmm? That's right: if you've completed your test, just sit down and wait"
Thankfully, one of the school's teachers dropped in from time to time to look in. Her methods were more direct:
- "YOU!" glare
Monday, October 11, 2004
Since I got married, I have worn my wedding ring always and everywhere, and that includes on field training in reservists. I've never had a problem with it, and I've never even come close to losing it. This time, I even decided to take some precautions: I taped over the rings (I wear - wore - my wedding band and another ring on the same hand, a celtic design that I bought in Boston which served as an ad hoc engagement ring for me). It was a blue Finding Nemo plaster (oh cursed plaster). In retrospect, it was probably the plaster that did it - the slick surface of the plaster was probably more slippery than the rings would've been on their own, and sometime after getting off the helicopter and assembling at the start line for the mission, I realised that my rings were gone.
I can't really describe how incredibly downcast and demoralised I felt. Even before the mission started, there was a sense of disaster, a stroke of ill-luck. I felt like a complete idiot - the kind that could lose his wedding ring, for gawd's sake. I cursed myself for not putting the thing on a chain (a thought which had come to me before, and which I should've acted on).
That night, in the short span of time we had before the mission started, I went back along the trail several times trying to look for it - a hopeless task since it was dark and I couldn't use a torchlight. I held on to the hope that I could come back after the whole thing and look for it again, even though, as my CSM put it to me very rightly, it would be like looking for a needle in a needlestack. The missing ring haunted me for the next one and a half days.
After the exercise was over, I borrowed a land rover and went back with a few guys to look for it. As it happened, there was other, military, equipment that was lost and needed finding, so I took the combined search party out. We found the lost military equipment where it had been dropped, but when we went back to the landing site to look for the ring ... well, imagine looking in an area the size of a football field, overgrown with grass and mimosa, and without metal detectors to help us. I'm very grateful to the 5 guys who helped me look, including my CSM, who was nursing a back injury, but almost an hour of concerted looking couldn't turn it up. It was, as my wife's students would write in their compositions, to no avail. To be honest with myself, even had the ring been on the landing site, the blast of the Chinook's rotors would've sent them flying off to god knows where.
So, if anyone happens to come across two rings taped together with a blue Finding Nemo plaster, drop me a line. The rings have immeasurable sentimental value. You'll recognise them: our names are engraved on the inside, and the wedding date 14th Dec as well.
In the meantime, I've just come back from the jewellers where a replacement ring has cost me $570. Ouch.
Damn you Salazar. Damn you.
Most of the temples in Angkor Wat are chambers within chambers, galleries and passageways leading from one courtyard to another. Temples like Preah Khan (where this shot was taken) for example, seem like a mass of doorways connected by courtyards, rather than the other way around.
This second one is from either Ta Prohm or Beng Melea: I can't remember which by now. There's a sense of mystery walking through these temples, and a little bit of awe. Preah Khan especially - it was getting dark as we walked through it, and the light was failing fast. There was the fear was getting lost in the temple and night falling, and being alone in a very, very eerie place.