Monday, January 31, 2005

I love it when weak logic is exposed.

Found this wonderful piece on Boing Boing, which examines the validity of the following statement:

Some have attempted to paint copyright piracy as a victimless crime,
arguing that "if I make a copy of a computer program, you still get to keep your
copy, and we are both better off." This is hardly the case.

Reducing piracy offers direct benefits. The equation is a basic one:
the lower the piracy rate, the larger the IT sector and the greater the
benefits.



by substituting the terms of the equation with alternate ones, such as:

Some have attempted to paint tooth-brushing as a victimless crime, arguing
that "if you brush your teeth regularly, you improve your dental hygiene, and we
are all better off." This is hardly the case.

Reducing tooth-brushing offers direct benefits. The equation is a basic
one: the lower the rate of tooth-brushing, the larger the dental prosthetic,
dental filling, and dental surgical equipment sectors, and the greater the
benefits.


The original (longer) piece of which the article is an abstract can be found here. What appeals to me about this is that it both exposes flaccid reasoning for what it is, as well as work by comparison and examples.
And now, for something completely different from the previous post

Man peed way out of avalanche

A Slovak man trapped in his car under an avalanche freed himself by
drinking 60 bottles of beer and urinating on the snow to melt it.

Rescue teams found Richard Kral drunk and staggering along a mountain path
four days after his Audi car was buried in the Slovak Tatra mountains.

He told them that after the avalanche, he had opened his car window and
tried to dig his way out.

But as he dug with his hands, he realised the snow would fill his car
before he managed to break through.

He had 60 half-litre bottles of beer in his car as he was going on holiday,
and after cracking one open to think about the problem he realised he could
urinate on the snow to melt it, local media reported.

He said: "I was scooping the snow from above me and packing it down below
the window, and then I peed on it to melt it. It was hard and now my kidneys and
liver hurt. But I'm glad the beer I took on holiday turned out to be useful and
I managed to get out of there."

Parts of Europe have this week been hit by the heaviest snowfalls since
1941, with some places registering more than ten feet of snow in 24 hours.

[from Ananova]


Friday, January 28, 2005

Sketchbooks

Found this link to a French artist who has scanned in all his (her?) sketchbooks from 2001 online. The artist's statement, roughly tranlsated from the French:

"Since the beginning of 2001, I draw in small notebooks 11 cm X 15 cm
(approximately), always with a ball point pen, always on same paper, always in
black. I contrained myself never to tear a page off, what is done... is done. I
put the date at the beginning and the end of each notebook. Each day (or almost)
I spend one hour or two drawing in these notebooks. At this day, I made
approximately 450 pages distributed in 12 notebooks
."
[translation courtesy of Boing Boing]


Without being able to understand the French, I can only marvel at the almost obsessive nature required to generate this output.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Mental Meanderings over lunch

Lunch, unsurprisingly, is the one time the mind at work flees the cubicle and wanders aimlessly through its own dark alleyways.

At the post-office: the first thing that struck me is how much I hate queues now, and how little I can now tolerate something that I used to endure with incredible stoicism. It says something about how convenient and efficient most of our services have become that a simple 15 minute queue at the post office stands out in my mind. The two things that made it bearable: the interesting wildlife adjacent to me in the queue, namely, man with Jack Russell terrier in his backpack (no, really) and my iPod Shuffle.

On the iPod Shuffle: enough about the features (blogged about even before I bought it), the one thing I only realised when I got it yesterday is that Apple has once again resurrected that particular shade of green that crops up once in a while in its product line. It first reared its head with one of the last iterations of the original iBook (called variously the clamshell or the toilet seat, depending on your attitude towards it) somewhere in '98 or '99, and I remember Steve Jobs making a big deal about the colour. It died its own shocking green death after Apple moved on to the white minimalist purity of iPod and iBook for the next few years.

The packaging for the iPod Shuffle, however, is that green. The iPod Shuffle itself, while mercifully sterile and clean in design and colour, displays one slash of that green when you flip the switch through off-play-shuffle. Either Steve Jobs must really like that particular shade of green, or Apple has done some marketing research on the effect of green on consumers. Like it makes their eyes hurt, perhaps.

On Sushi bars: Being downstream at these conveyor belt Sushi places is lousy. All the nice stuff gets gobbled up by people upstream, and all you're left to do is twiddle with your chopsticks, while a lobster stares dolefully from its aquarium prison at you. I think it's very disturbing to be face to face with a potential food source so close to its demise. Steak restaurants do not make you confront the cow before you consume the steak, and neither should sushi places force you to eyeball a lobster. While I didn't eat any lobster for lunch, having them stare at me like that was distinctly unnerving.

It made me wonder about lobsters though. They seem to possess a very inefficient design: almost half their body mass consists of the large muscular tail (the bit that most of us eat, as well), which seems to serve no purpose in everyday activities where locomotion is accomplished by the legs. The tail only kicks in (literally) in an emergency, when it propels the lobster backwards rapidly. All that food and energy to sustain a muscle half its body weight that only serves to give you an emergency escape route, and that being only limited to one direction of escape? Seems inefficient - and it seems that most animals are designed purely to survive and propagate, and thus there's a vicious cycle - a massive tail is needed to keep the animal alive long enough so it can grow ... a massive tail. A body for the sake of survival, survival in order to build a body.

Thoughts only possible when you're downstream on the sushi conveyor belt and there's nothing appetising coming your way.

The Jack Russell terrier, by the way, was incredibly well behaved throughout its post office experience - not a single bark or yelp, just quietly hanging out from the backpack and waving its tongue at the people in the queue.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

random thoughts

I must declare that I'm really proud of my wife. Over the course of the last month, she has been installing mesh screens on our windows, to make the house a safer environment for the cats (a fall from 17 floors effectively negates 9 lives, as it were), and she's been doing a terrific job. There's a distinct possibility that she may be even better at D.I.Y. than I am - the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail is certainly better than mine.

____________________

I've been pondering the frustration I feel with my mobile phone. On the one hand, I don't think I could live without its convenience. On the other hand, I've noticed myself becoming increasingly frustrated when I receive phone calls - for example in the taxi just now when the Apple shop called me to inform me that my iPod Shuffle had arrived, and I felt so pissed off, even though all I was doing was chilling out on the ride home, listening to my iPod. I think the true source of my frustration is that the mobile phone means potential for ubiquitous disturbance. It means that time otherwise spent with the mind in low gear, churning over ideas and issues, or just allowing the accumulated emotions of the day to settle down and precipitate, is now up for grabs by telemarketers (hate hate hate), work-related calls, and other random acts of telecommunication. Most of my friends sms, which is slightly less intrusive, so the only real calls I get are from complete strangers or colleagues.

____________________

I'm toying with the thought of spending the 15 hour flight to Canada listening to all the songs on my iPod that I haven't yet. The number is surprisingly large: I tend to download entire CDs from my collection, even though only 3 songs on the album will get heavy play, so there's probably 15 hours worth - though I'm sure my battery won't go the distance.

____________________

Still on the iPod, the song that I've been listening to again and again today is "After the Parade" by Dan Bern, from the album My Country II, nicely subtitled "Songs Against Bush", which more or less tells you what the album is about, and why I had to buy it when I saw it on the shelf. Mr Bern has had my fullest support and appreciation since his album Fifty Eggs: anyone who can write a song comparing his balls to Tiger Wood's swing has balls the size of ... well, Jupiter, according to him.

Some thoughts on Firefox

Some insight into the design philosophy of Firefox, from one of the co-designers ... who was 17 years old when he started work on the team. It's not many people who can put that on their college applications.

Equally impressive, of course, is Firefox itself. When I first saw Firefox sometime last year, my first impression was that it was very much like Safari. It turns out that I may have got the provenance wrong - apparently Safari was developed by someone who left the Firefox team. Either way, I grateful for both browsers, and for this kind of thinking:

Giving people unadulterated access to the web became something of a religion,
and every wasted pixel, button or dialog that impeded it was a demon that nagged
at us. Every time someone was “pulled out of the dream", every time they had to
stop and realize that they were using a browser called Firefox and not just the
amorphous Web,” was a personal failure.
[blakeross.com]

If only my workplace would switch to Mac, or at the least use Firefox - but I doubt this would ever happen. Thankfully, I haven't had to use IE at home for 3 years, which can only be a happy thing. IE crawls at such a pace that it makes me forget I have a broadband connection.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Weekend round-up

Twinkle received her first bath yesterday. Judging by our track record with Cats No.s 1 and 2, this is also likely to be her yearly bath.

I managed to make it for yoga class on Saturday (this being the class which my dear wife signed me up for, and paid, and which I've missed multiple lessons of so far). The good: receiving compliments from the instructor on how flexible I was. The bad: aches and pains in the neck and shoulder the next day. The ugly? - realising that a paunch, a loose T-shirt, and a shoulder stand do not go together. Most of my shoulder stand was spent trying to concentrate on keeping my wobbling legs straight, while realising that (a) an upside down position dramatically inceases the size of your paunch and (b) the only thing keeping the entire class from seeing what I was seeing was the likelihood that they were too busy focusing on their own respective legs and paunches, if any. Note to self: tuck in shirt next time.

Reading: Collapse, from the same person who brought us Guns, Germs and Steel. Jared Diamond's follow-up examines why some societies fail: his first book examined why some succeeded, so this is a logical complement, though different in approach. I enjoyed the first one tremendously, probably because it adopts an anecdoctal approach to providing evidence - many little stories here and there to illustrate points and ideas. I seem to like books like that - The Tipping Point, Blink, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (to name a few) all take this approach. Collapse looks to be slightly more tedious: the first section is a detailed case study of Montana, which I'm enjoying for the sole reason that I've always wanted to live in Montana.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Photo shoot for the cats


Iffy under the sheet, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Amazing what you can do with a D70, an SB 800 flash on remote, and a white sheet. K and I set up a little photo shoot in the living room, the plan being to get a "family portrait" of all three cats. I'll admit that this was probably too ambitious on my part - to think that we could get all three felines to co-operate for even the few seconds required to take a shot was, in retrospect, plainly hopeless. Retrospect arrived about 3 seconds into the attempt, with Patch going straight into the storeroom to hide, and Iffy and Twinkle getting into a fight the moment they were put on the sofa together.


Vitruvian Cat
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
Out of the 100 plus photographs, we edited down to 22, two of which are here. Iffy's shot has a nice luminosity to it, courtesy of the white sheet. The flash was positioned behind the sheet, and it channelled the light very nicely around her, highlighting along the way the grain of the wood and the texture of the fabric.

This shot of Twinkle puts me in mind of a feline version of da Vinci's The Vitruvian Man - but instead of the straightened limbs and geometric strictness of square and circle, we have the fluid lines of a cat's body, all curves and arches.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Warp Factor 7, Mr Sulu

In the space of 1 minute, my lovely wife has stated my resemblance to Tom Selleck, and then James T. Kirk. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, but as a man does not get compared to Tom Selleck very often (especially since am most emphatically not like Tom Selleck), this is an event that is worthy of permanent record in some obscure corner of the blogosphere's collective memory.

The James T. Kirk comparison I'm a bit more leery of, but ... then ... again ... there are ... similarities.

Twinkle's mugshot


Twinkle's mugshot, originally uploaded by Wahj.

The photos so far don't really do justice to Twinkle's most striking feature - her eyes. Even this one doesn't quite capture the subtle green of them. Not jade green - unless we're talking about the pale faded smoothness of aged jade. Not quite the green of tropical seas - although there have been some beaches I've seen that have had that colour. Not quite anything really - but there they are, set in a delicate face sloping to a pointed muzzle.

Her socialisation grows apace. Last night, she behaved much better: rather than try and sleep on us, or paw us through the night, she slept on her own. On K's pillow. Immovable as a rock. K bumped over to take over some of my pillow space, and we occupied two-thirds of our bed, with a tiny sub-kilogram kitten taking up the remaining third, blissfully unaware that there was anything particularly wrong with that.

After all, as all cats instinctively know, they are the centre of the universe.

Princess Bride reference


Princess Bride reference, originally uploaded by Wahj.

While searching in Blogger's Knowledge database on tagboards, I found this in-joke to one of my favourite movies of all time. I remember how my friend Phil (who was an American exchange student at my university) once told me emphatically that there were four, FOUR movies that I absolutely HAD to watch -

The Princess Bride

Spinal Tap

Monty Python's Holy Grail

... and I've forgotten the fourth one. Damn. Inconceivable.

Update: I've remembered it - The Blues Brothers. Phew.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Cat Update


grudging acceptance, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Twinkle (the name that K and I have more or less settled on - though Tinkerbell and Buttercup are still possibilities that we discuss) has gained some degree of grudging acceptance from Patch, as you can see from the photograph. Iffy is still growling, hissing, and gurgling (yes: she makes that noise) a storm when Twinkle gets too near. Or within line of sight, actually.


bandaged leg
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
We took Twinkle to see the vet today, where she received the full treatment - ears cleaned out with Johnson's baby oil (huge amount of gunk in her ears), vaccinations, anti-tick and ear mite medication, and a bandage for her foot. The vet said it was most likely a sprain or muscle strain. She looks endearingly cute hopping about in her bandage.

Packrat and Ondine came over to see Twinkle just now, and she behaved admirably. The other two cats were grouchy rotten.

Under the skin

Michael Paulus has sketched skeletal pictures of your favourite cartoon characters. They resemble a cross between da Vinci's sketches and some mad anatomist's nightmare. Here's Blossom, Pikachu, and Lucy, to name a few.

Cat Number 3, postscript

Less than 24 hours in the house, and already an olive-grey cat hair has found its way into my iBook's keyboard. Amazing how fast they insinuate themselves into our lives.

As of this morning, the 3 cats were still not mixing. Iffy is aloof, if not actively hissing, Patch won't approach the new kitten and can't approach Iffy, and the new fella wanders about lonesomely, rebuffed. The poor thing is starved for love and attention - imagine how she was taken from her mother as a young kitten, and was only supposed to be in that pet shop for a few days - but the person who ordered her decided they didn't want her, so she's been stuck there for more than two months. She had to be moved from the cat run because the other cats bullied her, so her world has been circumscribed by her small cage. Last night, she crawled right into bed with K and I, pushing her face into shoulders and armpits, no doubt seeking some mammalian warmth and comfort, and making quite a nuisance of herself, frankly, but I couldn't bear to throw her out, so I just hid as much of myself as possible under the blanket - unlike Iffy, this one hasn't learned yet that claws are not nice in bed.

Last night K and I brainstormed some names for her. The shortlist:

Hazel
Olive
Macadamia
Winter
Snowdrop
Twinkle

She responds best to Twinkle, so far, so we may be able to stop referring to her as Number 3 soon.

Sleep, importance of

Circadiana is a blog dedicated to examining sleep. Besides the very informative and technical articles on the science of sleep, I'm also really grateful for the fact that someone is defending the importance of sleep in our lives!

I see some striking parallels between the way this society treats sleep
and the way it treats sex. Both are sinful activities, associated with one of
the Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth and Lust). Both are associated with the most
powerful biological needs. Both are supposed to be a taboo topic. Both are
supposed to be done in private, at night, with a pretense that it is never
actually happening. Education in sleep hygiene and sex hygiene are both
slighted, one way or another (the former passively, the latter actively
opposed). Both are thought to interfere with one's productivity - ah, the good
old Protestant work ethic! Why are Avarice and Greed not treated the same way?
Raking in money by selling mega-burgers is just fine, and a decent topic of
conversation, even a point of pride. Why are we still allowing Puritan Calvinist
way of thinking, coupled with capitalist creed, to still guide the way we live
our lives, or even think about life. Sleeping, whether with someone or alone, is
a basic human need, thus a basic human right. Neither really detracts from the
workplace productivity - au contraire: well rested and well satisfied people are
happy, energetic, enthusiastic and productive. It is sleep repressed people,
along with the dour sex repressed people, who are the problem, making everyone
nervous. How much longer are we going to hide under the covers?
[Everything you wanted to know about sleep]



Sunday, January 16, 2005

Cat Number 3


Cat 3, originally uploaded by Wahj.



This is the same kitten we blogged about in November, and who's been languishing in the pet shop for two months now. K and I finally decided to give her a proper home - with us.

She's a beautiful, incredibly friendly and gregarious cat, with no fear of humans (despite the lack of contact with them, having spent the past 2 months in her own cage - because the other cats were bullying her). She still needs to learn to watch her claws: she doesn't really realise that human flesh is considerably weaker than a cat's claws, and reaches out to paw regularly. She's limping in the right rear leg now - we're not sure whether she was like that from the start, or whether we clipped one of the claws too close to the quick when trimming the sharp edges off: with 3 cats in the house, it's important to regularly trim their claws so they don't get too sharp, given the potential for fights.


iffy sulks in a corner
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
K has already blogged about the other two cats' reactions, so I thought I'd illustrate what she was talking about. This is Iffy's reaction: after one long sniff, muzzle to muzzle with Cat Number 3, her tail all puffed up, she took to sulking in one corner, and hissing at all and sundry, even dear, sweet, scaredy-cat Patch, who seemed to be approaching her to comfort her.


patch watches warily
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
Patch decided to hide behind the table and watch warily from a distance. This, by the way, is Patch's standard reaction to anything new, along with "I'll hide under the bed", a maneuver which, she executes with great alacrity.

Right now, both cats have taken refuge in the bedroom with us, refusing to mix with Number 3 (maybe it's better for the time being, eh?), and Iffy is hissing at everyone and no one in particular.

Sigh. Children.
When I first read Little Red Boat a few years back, the impression I had was Bridget Jones made flesh in the blogosphere. Here are her musings on the possibility of Killer Cows ...

"And, if I heard right, I've now been justified in my beliefs. I was right. And everyone told me that cows were peaceful, cudloving big-beasts were wrong. Wrong I tell you, wrong. Is that why cows are untouchable in some parts of the world - because, essentially, they know better, that you never, EVER, fuck with a cow? Should the phrase be 'Sacred Cow' or, would perhaps 'Scary Cow' be more fitting?"


Another link found off her site is Angry 15 yr olds for Bush, which contains such gems as:

Here is George W Bush screeming at a bunch of terrists at the UN meeting he went to. He said "STOP HATING AMERICAS U R TOO STUPID DON'T YOU KNOW WHE WILL BLOW UP YAR HAUSES?!?!"

That is why George W Bush is so awesome, he is not afraut to screem at the terrosist and go to war and all John Kerry can do is be a dumb soljer who just listens to the big man in chrage whose name is no one elses but GEORGE W BUSH!!!
[Angry 15 year olds for Bush]
Almost certainly a parody site: the alternative would be too painful to contemplate (although Packrat has shown that there are some 24 year olds out there whose good sense and maturity would hardly fill matchbox anyway).

Friday, January 14, 2005

Blink

Latest read: Blink (excerpts here, here and here) by Malcolm Gladwell, with it's intriguing subtitle "The power of thinking without thinking". Written in the same lucid style as his previous book The Tipping Point, Blink is a convincing exploration of what Gladwell calls "thin-slicing" - our ability to make rapid decisions that bypass the normal (systematic and slow) decision-making processes. When you look at something and just know that it's right or wrong, or when you look at someone and come to an immediate impression of them, that's thin-slicing. Blink operates on two assumptions: that knowing how thin-slicing works, and how powerful it is, can help us to trust our intuitions more, and that knowing how thin-slicing fails (when it is prejudice, for example) can help us avoid its mistakes. Good read, and fast as well, so good on all counts by my criteria.


Other stuff on the reading front:


Am now within hairs-breadth of finishing Herodotus. It's taken me far, far longer than I thought (and I've read something like 3 books in the meantime) but I've just got past the battle of Plataea, and will soon reach the end of the Histories.
One of the other books read in the meantime was Long Way Round, by Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman, chronicling their motorbike journey across the world (well, most of it: the European, Asian and North American continents were covered with the exception of stretch by rail in Siberia, and oceans, obviously). Not a bad read, and (as with most contemporary travelogues) better for its revelation of the gritty and pragmatic, rather than romantic, elements of a journey. The list of their gear in the appendices reads like a geek's wishlist, worth reading just to see the stuff they carried.


Another recent read is The Making of Alexander, by Robin Lane Fox, the same historian who wrote Alexander the Great, which I read a few months ago. Fox got himself a good deal: as official historical consultant for the film, his one request was to be in the front 10 riders of every charge Alexander's Companion cavalry made. He got his request (a "non-negotiable" requirement in exchange for his help with the movie, according to him) so if you watch the movie, remember that there's an Oxford don somewhere in that charge at Guagemela. The book itself is refreshing change from the usual "The Making Of" books than accompany movies - externally, it looks like its peers, but reading it shows a completely different perspective on the movie-making process. Most "Making Of" books divide themselves into predictable sections - one on the Big Stars, one on Special Effects, one showcasing Storyboards and Artwork, etc. As an outsider to the movie industry however, Fox brings with him both a common man's surprise at some things movie-makers probably take for granted (how much food a film crew consumes on location, the cinematographer's challenging task of matching lighting conditions, the extremely long conceptualisation process needed to establish a simple "look" or "feel" which the averaege viewer will never consciously appreciate) as well as a historian's objectivity (more precisely, a historian's ability to write as if objective) to his record of the film-making process.

Smiles

Scored 17 out of 20 on this test, which challenges you to differentiate between genuine and fake smiles. Perhaps this means I should start playing poker more often ... especially the friends who scored 9, 10 and 13 out of 20! heh

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bizzaro iPod video

Still on the topic of Macs, here's a link off Gizmodo to a really, really wierd iPod video. Something a MacAddict might dream of if he were high, or perhaps Bill Gates in a fevered nightmare.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Thinking (differently) about Macs

Nothing inspires lust like a new wave of Apple products. The new Mac Mini, much rumoured and pre-empted over the past few weeks (take a look at this ingenious hoax that came out about a week or so ago) looks like the Minimi to the Mac Cube, itself a groundbreaking product that sadly failed to get off the ground much (though there's still a devoted community of Cube owners). A look at the pictures alone will show you Moore's law in action: the Mac Mini is a third of the size of the Cube, but has greater capability, and is wrapped in Apple's latest aesthetic of white lucite and grey.

The iPod Shuffle, if it takes off, will be a testament to Apple's ability to re-shape consumer expectations and desires. Conventional wisdom dictates that an MP3 player which (a) lacked a display and therefore (b) gave you no control over which song was to be played next could not be a viable product. Apple (thinking differently) approaches this not as a product to be sold, but as an idea to be marketed. Look at how Apple is pushing this product [emphases mine]:

"Random is the New Order

Welcome to a life less orderly. As official soundtrack to the random revolution, the iPod Shuffle Songs setting takes you on a unique journey through your music collection — you never know what’s around the next tune. Meet your new ride. More roadster than Rolls, iPod shuffle rejects routine by serving up your favorite songs in a different order every time. Just plug iPod shuffle into your computer’s USB port, let iTunes Autofill it with up to 240 songs(1) and get a new experience with every connection. The trail you run every day looks different with an iPod shuffle. Daily gridlock feels less mundane when you don’t know what song will play next. iPod shuffle adds musical spontaneity to your life. Lose control. Love it."

Wow. Whoever wrote the copy for that, I salute you. You've taken an apparent limitation, and framed it as an enabler: lack of choice becomes a conscious choice to be random, lack of ability (to choose) becomes liberation. The paragraph is loaded with words that connote freedom, liberation, and empowerment. If the communists had copywriters like that ... well, put it this way: I want to buy one! And, as someone has so eloquently put it in pictures here, why would I want an iPod Shuffle when I already have an iPod?

Or two.

In danger of slipping under the radar is iWork, perhaps a fundamentally more significant product. The world has been locked into Microsoft Office for almost 10 years now - Office, for better or worse has been the alpha-male of writing, presenting, and spreadsheeting. It's so ubiquitous that I don't even have a basis for comparison - I wouldn't know how bad Office was because I don't have anything to compare it with! Hopefully iWork will provide that much needed challenge. At the very least, it will allow us Mac users an alternative to Office. Granted that Star Office and other alternative products have been around for a while, but iWorks will allow the Mac fanboys an officially sanctioned Apple alternative, complete with requisite small-case "i".

In case you're wondering, I count myself an Apple fan, and have loved Apple's products since my first iMac (Sage) in 2000, but sometimes I'm amazed at the reactions Apple inspires - diametrically opposed Love It and Hate It reactions. On the one side, Apple seems to inspire a love that borders on the religious, and on the other, a knee-jerk prejudice founded on misconceptions that refuse to die in the face of facts (like how people still think that Apple computers are slower, less compatible, and less value for money - none of which I have found to be true in 4 years of owning and loving Macs). It is true that sometimes Apple can and will pull things off which no other company could, knowing that their customer base is actually a fan-base - take a look at this nice little parody here of Apple's marketing techniques (Conversely, here's a poke at the Apple-haters out there as well). I can appreciate Apple's products for their aesthetic completeness, and peerless user-centricity, and yet also marvel at their audacity in shaping consumer expectations, and the wonderful irony of a company that tells it's customers to "Think Different" (and walks the talk, producing genuinely innovative products), but which also shapes their thinking to suit their products! Pure genius ...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Stung

My Christmas present from the wife was a pair of tickets to the Sting concert. At over thirty, I finally go to my first rock concert - albeit one with an aging rocker, and equally aging demographic (you could tell how old the crowd was: the biggest cheers were raised for the songs that we listened to as teenagers). Still, the man is good as gold - the years have only made him better, I say, and the crowd was equally game to go along with his lead, Sting pulling and tugging the energy levels like a maestro. There was even time for K and I to appreciate the irony of an entire concert hall chanting in perfect unison "Be yourself / No matter what they say", in a stunningly communal expression of individuality.

We even did the groupie thing and bought Official Tour Merchandise - so we could truly say we'd been there, done that, and bought the T-shirts. I left the concert slightly deaf in one ear, and buzzing from the music that was still running through my head. Excellent.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Again, taxi-drivers

Taxi-drivers again.
(someone's gotta do it, since Terz seems to have reached a momentary cease-fire with the cabbies of the world)

I knew something was wrong when the pauses started. Which way would you like to go? he asked. I gave him the route.

Pause.

Which way was that again?

I repeated the route. Silence. I could heard the wheels churning in his mind: he didn't agree with my route home. He knew a better route, he did. But he wouldn't tell me, no. He'd just let it happen, and "ask" me when it was a fait accompli, the taxi already in the fast lane going with no way of changing, the wheels already turning onto the side-road.

Which is exactly what happened. To be fair, I let my concentration lapse: I suspected exactly at which point this switcheroo would take place, and I had told myself Be Alert. Then I got lost in iPod induced Beatles reverie, and the next thing I knew, I was looking up, and the cabbie was already saying Since I'm on this road already, why don't we just ...

So it was as I had feared. Let me make it clear that his route was probably just as good, if not better than the one I chose: the point here is not efficiency of travel (the man probably saved me some money) but that I really would've appreciated him just telling me outright his intentions. It's an Asian thing, I think: we hate to say no, and so we just look for other ways - keep quiet, avoid confrontation, and quietly force the situation. Passive-aggressive taxi-drivers, really. Nothing much we can do about it, I guess, except to sagely declare "Never let an Asian drive you" (unless you're prepared to go his way). Which is patently impossible here, but is likely to be just as difficult where cabs are concerned in some other cities, given the demographics of cab drivers there.

Something completely different: for those out there with laptops, perhaps you have considered hiding it in a pizza box, non? It's funny how the site emphasises that the cases are made from "actual pizza boxes" ... which begs the question of why you couldn't just do it yourself, but then again it wouldn't be waterproof, would it? Of course, their definition of waterproof is you can put the pizza box in a bag. Vague suspicion that this pizza box laptop holder is a clever hoax, but I wonder how many people will actually pay for this, given that it's got a price and all.

Nanofiction #3

Stuck in traffic, he watched a drop of water roll down the side of the car wheel, knowing its attempt to obey gravity and draw a straight transect of the curve would be foiled by the already moving wheel, and thought this some metaphor for something. Like life.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

One Year Old!

While mucking around with my template (decided to collapse the archives into a menu) I realised that Thirty Pounces is exactly one year old today! Here's a self-congratulatory (and self-referential) post to commemorate the first year of pouncing.

In one year of blogging, I have discovered that I have both a lot, and not much, to say. I have learned that while there is plenty I would like to say on my blog, there is even more that I shouldn't. I have also learned that most blogs are like this, after all. I have learned that sometimes it's better (easier?) to post a link, or a photo, in place of an actual opinion. Especially when you may not have one. That's suitable for the public. In one year of blogging, I have gone through three different methods to try and post photos, before finally settling on flickr. The blog template itself has been changed twice, and has only been completely screwed up once by my meddling with it. Blogger has only eaten one of my posts, which is not a bad track record.

So here's to another year of blogging ahead.

Lunch time linking

A bit of lunch-time surfing has uncovered the following.

The navigation may be a bit tricksy (use the dots at the bottom left), but you will want to follow this site through to it's somewhat gruesome conclusion. For a company that is selling wedding rings made from lab-grown bone (i.e. you and your partner both undergo biopsies, and the ring is cut from bone grown in a lab from the extracted tissue) it doesn't try to downplay the morbidity in favour of the undeniable biological intimacy of the gesture (literally giving a piece of yourself, eh?), but instead provides you with pictures of suitably gothic bone cathedrals, writhing worms, and a mouse that's got a human ear growing from its back (Bosch and Bruegel would've been proud).

On a completely different note, found this t-shirt being advertised that just seems like a stroke of genius in terms of the art of the T-shirt punch line, being both undeniably true and at the same time complicit with so many assumptions. Of course, it only really works when worn by a girl: the photo of the guy wearing it just shows how incredibly wrong it can also look. This by way of preshrunk, which gathers up other interesting T shirts like "if i had a dollar for everytime i had sixty-cents, I would be canada".

Monday, January 03, 2005

New books

The Reading List for the new year stands at so.

Number 1 on the list is The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks (excellent writer: still haven't figured out why he uses the middle M when writing Sci Fi, and not when writing in that category that MPH, when it existed, called "General Fiction", Times used to call "Serious Fiction", and which Borders simply calls "Fiction"). A slow start, and signs of predictability (his penchant for squeamishly gross uber-psychotic villains is a bit over the top), and his worlds all begin to seem like The Culture, even when they are not. However, still vintage Banks, propelling you onward while steering clear of insulting your intelligence. Not as good as Against a Dark Background, The Player of Games and Use of Weapons for characterisation, and not as clever in plot as Feersum Endjinn, but still a neat little gem of a book.

Number 2 on the reading list is Lost Worlds by Michael Bywater, which I was reading over the New Year. Pretty apt, since there was a time as a child when New Years was a sad time for me, somehow remembering all the nice things that happened in the departing year and lamenting that they'd never come again. Strangely nostalgic and sentimental was I as a child. I can't remember when I grew out of that - when I stopped thinking about the passing year with regret. There may have been a transitional period where I viewed each new year with hope and eagerness (perhaps sometime in University) but that would have been too unlike me. Now I find I view the passing of each year with relief, thankful that the slogging has passed (though there's more where that came from) - I think this started to happen some years back. I wonder how long it will be before I start counting down the years to my life expectancy ...

Anyway, the book. Hmmm, yes, good read. Meandering, idiosyncratic in a take it or leave it manner, leaves the reader completely at the mercy of the author's whims and fancies, unapologetic for said idiosyncracy, and still a pretty good read.

Number 3, I am happy to report, is still Herodotus. I only hope that I can keep him on the active list (i.e. the pile of books that accumulates beside my side of the bed, which still have a reasonable chance of being read, as opposed to the books that have already been retired into a shelf somewhere) longer than the Thucydides.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

New Year


Lighting Sparklers
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
Still recovering from the usual sorethroat - cough - fever - headache nonsense that my body regularly descends into. A nosebleed has been added to the mix, for variety this time.

New Year's was spent at a Bollywood theme party, which saw me decked out in my best generic ethnic costume (which actually comes from Thailand, but well, there you go - it's not as if I could conjour up a punjabi suit at short notice). The party was a combination of children (loud) and adults (loud+alcohol=louder), crowded and fun - so fun even the local police dropped by for a while after midnight, a friendly patrol car summoned at the behest of some rather stupid neighbours who didn't seem to understand that it's New Years, for crying out loud. Things were already winding down by then, so it didn't really matter. The sparklers left over from the Christmas barbeque were burned up in a matter of minutes, the children running around like little pyromaniacs in training - I never realised just how much smoke those things can put up, but then again there were about 126 of them. Sparklers, that is, not children. The party was very well organised - there were door gifts, a lucky draw, and excellent curry - a veritable dinner and dance in miniature, brilliantly hosted and organised. For some reason, I particularly enjoyed just sitting on the floor (not many chairs, and too many kids) and eating a simple meal of plain rice and curry with my hands - it suited my convalescent needs perfectly, and there's something both primitive and simple about just eating with your hands that makes even plain rice taste better. Maybe it was the seasoning of epithelials, sloughed off from my skin.

The whole of today was spent in bed, cradling a hot water bottle (how I ever got through childhood without one I don't know, so comforting they are) and watching CSI on continuous loop on TV. I am completely CSI-saturated: every piece of lint and litter suddenly looked like epithelials (hence the above comment) and clothing fibres. Sudden urge to gingerly pick up random pieces of lint and cat hair with tweezers and bag it.