Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Red Cross site has a press release detailing information on how to contribute to humanitarian aid for the victims of the tsunami. If you're a DBS account holder, you can donate directly from their internet banking website as well - instructions are on their front page.

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.

You know you're old when ...

... you're talking to one of the kids you're training in the debate team, and when that J.Geils song "My Angel is the Centrefold" (you know: na na nananana ... yeah: singalong) comes over the radio, and she tells you it sounds like S Club 7.

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

Post-Christmas Activities

Christmas passed with the usual round of family dinners and lunches. Christmas dinner was nice this year, with a nice mix of children running around, younger folk like me, and the seniors contributing to a nice warm-fuzzy-feeling Christmas dinner. My little niece of 5 years surprised everyone - when asked where her chewing gum went, we said it was stuck on her "palette". Much consternation and musing occurred over where she'd picked up such advanced vocabulary at such a young age (even I would have answered "the roof of my mouth" rather than use that very precise and specific word). At today's lunch, she further demonstrated her precociousness, this time at geometry, identifying squares, circles, triangles and rectangles, but also cones and trapezoids! What are they feeding them nowadays? (besides the dim sum we were feeding her right there and then)

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

Frankincense

Last minute Christmas gift shopping netted me a whole basket full of rather expensive aromatherapy soaps, shower gels, and balms, to be gleefully redistributed at Christmastime. I did, however, pamper myself a bit with some lip balm (in expectation of cold, dry climes in the near future) , and some frankincense balm. The side of the box proudly proclaims that frankincense (among other things) promotes feelings of calm, cures you of feeling sad, and drives out evil spirits. Sure, I'll buy that - I'm an easy consumer today. I could use some dispelling of sadness these days, and on the basis that what you believe invariably becomes true somehow, I should be walking around tomorrow in my own private olfactory nirvana. Besides, frankincense is so christmassy - I'd just have to get some myrhh to go along with it, and the smell-scape would be complete. No luck finding myrrh so far though.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A night at the the Ritz

How often does someone turn to you and say "I have 3 spare rooms at the Ritz Carlton: do you want one?". K and I had to turn down that offer last night since we both had something on today, but we were most assuredly mentally kicking ourselves all the way home from G's wedding for passing up on a nights' stay at a posh establishment where the service staff have seemingly been trained to respond to every customer request with "my pleasure" (yes, it did get irritating after a while, but I'm sure that's a kind of irritation one can get used to). I'll leave the luckier others to blog about the Ritz then, and just post a photograph of the view from the Ritz Carlton.


ritz carlton
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
Needless to say, the rooms had a fantastic view of the cityscape and skyline, with some spectacularly voyeuristic full windows in the bathroom (suffice to say that one should have one's bathrobe handy when getting out of the bathtub, lest the hotel opposite be treated to a viewing of the goods, as it were). Were I not so busy, I would've loved to have set up for some skyline shots in the daytime and at sunset. I've always maintained that it's better to be helping out at weddings, which can be interminably boring if all you're there to do is eat, and I still stand by that, but these traditional weddings which start at 7am in the morning are a bit of a strain on the system. Add to that the fact of a Sunday (as opposed to Saturday) wedding and the need to crawl out of bed to work the next day, and K and I were well and truly knackered by the time the evening wound down.

(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

huzzah!

K and I found another geocache tonight (yes, I know what I said about geocaching at night, but this was an urban cache ... so it's different = ).

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

Just read through slashdot that the Geminids meteor shower will be tonight. All my previous attempts at meteor spotting here have failed, of course, because of the conjunction of light pollution and tropical cloud cover, but maybe I'll find some time to stare at the sky tonight.

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

Sunset


flowers, barbed wire, and sunset
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
K and I went to the Sunset Grill for dinner. This is the latest restaurant by the guy who started the eponymous Jerry's, sold it and went on to build Buckaroo's, then sold that and went on to start this little restaurant. Each successive restuarant has served up the same meat-heavy American menu while being more and more isolated and out of the way - Jerry's was a ways off from the city centre, Buckaroo's moved even further north, but the Sunset Grill has set new standards for being hard to reach, located deep within the grounds of a former military base, at the edge of the runway of what is now a small civilian airstrip. It is so out of the way and hard to find that the primary reason K and I went there tonight was so that I could waypoint it on my GPS, to guide us on future visits.


xmas lights at sunset grill 2
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
Isolation notwithstanding, the place has quite a following - families and groups just kept turning up while we were there. I don't blame them: it's hard to find places like these that are still so peaceful and quiet (runway notwithstanding - only smaller prop planes land there, infrequently, and there's something nostalgic about the sound of propellors anyway) if only because its far away from everybody else. The base itself seems like a person still slumbering in the '50s: the lamp-posts, the houses, the way the roads are laid out, everything seems just a little bit dated, like you've stepped into a little pool of the past still swirling in stasis, not yet moved on into the present. Sitting outdoors, under the shade of a massive tree (currently decorated for christmas like the milky way), watching the planes land and take off while the sun set over the airport was nice.


K and I went geocaching after that. I think I'll never go geocaching at night again: while there's less chance of having caches spotted (and ruined) by muggles* while you're retrieving them, there's also proportionately less chance of finding a cache in pitch-darkness (yes, we used torches ... but that kinda invalidates the "less chance of arousing the suspicions of curious muggles" argument, since nothing looks more suspicious than people with torchlights at night in some park beating through the bush). Some of these caches are really, really hard to find - our second and third tries were located on steep slopes that I would have hesitated to climb in the day time with good light, much less in the dark, and we didn't find them (although one of them seems to be inactive from the looks of the website).


Cherry's Inspiridon Cache
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
The first one was fun though, located in the trunk of a large tree. A pleasant surprise was finding a Travel Bug in the cache (Guiding Star: it's the dog-tag-like thing attached to the star in the photo) which K and I will hold on to until we can put it into another cache. This one has travelled all the way from Victoria in Australia, and wants to have its picture taken next to a fire station - I think I know just the place to do that before we send it on its way. I'd love to hold on to it and bring it to Calgary, but its impolite to hold on to these things for more than 2 weeks - they really belong on the road, in a cache somewhere.

*non-geocachers

Friday, December 10, 2004

the gift that keeps giving

The leftovers from our dinner at on Wednesday were finally polished off for brunch today. That's two whole days of meals derived from what the Dan Ryan's menu describes with great understatement as a "two-person set dinner". The soup and salad alone would've filled us (and we were hungry): the pasta and lamb we immediately asked to be packed, throwing in the towel (or the napkin, as it were). The brownie was an endurance test in chocolate.

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

A Walk in the Park

Took the D70 for a little photo expedition today, after watching Alexander (more to say about that, but in another post). From the cinema, it was a short 15 minute walk to reach Fort Canning Park.


dragon teeth, originally uploaded by Wahj.

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.


banyan tree, originally uploaded by Wahj.

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.


caterpillar, originally uploaded by Wahj.

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

OK, amongst the many idle things one can do in place of staying in bed all day are ...



... 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

The wife is away on a family visit, and I find myself strangely aimless. Spent the whole day in bed, not really knowing what to do with myself. I vaguely considered going to watch a movie, but gave it up as being too much hassle. The cats have nearly overwhelmed me, since there's only me to pay attention to them now.

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

It's an odds and ends day again

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.