Monday, April 25, 2005

Purple legs


Purple legs, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Passed by a store window today, and this mannequin caught my eye. It looked surreal - barney purple legs, shiny like some car after waxing, and the domestic prints on the dress.

In other news, K and I have reached level 26 on the notpron riddle ... I can't tell you how much of an obsession it's become for the two of us.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Riddle

This riddle is maddeningly difficult and fascinating. K and I found it just before we settled down for bed last night, and we ended up staying up till 3am. We're at level 12 now ... with 80 more levels to go!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

fetch

K has blogged about it already, so I'll just mention that over the past few days we've taught Twinkle how to play catch. Which is amazing, since I've always thought cats couldn't be taught to fetch, or at least wouldn't be caught dead doing something as beneath their dignity as fetching.

The one problem with this lovely domestic picture hit home two nights ago, when Twinkle kept jumping on the bed with her sock to play fetch with us, when all I wanted to do was sleep. Having several kilos of cat run over your stomach just as you're slipping into sleep is a really unpleasant way of being jolted awake. Needless to say, I slept really badly that night ... which is the price we pay for being able to say (proudly) "Our cat fetches!"

(what about the other two cats, you say? Well, Patch does an amazing trick where she disappears whenever we have visitors, and Iffy has Remote Toilet Sensing capabilities - whenever we go to the toilet, she magically appears and tries to come in with us. I figure it's because she was isolated there when we first go her and she was sick)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Smoke on the horizon


smoke on the horizon, originally uploaded by Wahj.

This has turned into a bit of a photoblog of late, but that's simply because I have more photos than words currently. I'm still slowly working through the photos taken on Good Friday, and this is one of the last few.

This was taken from the top of the hill, looking south towards the port and the heavy industries offshore. The dark streaks on the horizon are smoke going up from the refineries, and sheets of rain falling down from the clouds. The sky really was that dark when I took it, but the bottom corners were darkened in photoshop to match.

Future posts will be more word-centric, hopefully. Coming soon: the exciting story of How We Taught Our Cat to Fetch (honest) and the Unexpected Consequences.

Monday, April 11, 2005

sunset experiment 1


sunset experiment 1, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Continuing with me efforts at teaching myself photoshop, here's my latest attempt. This one involved blending two images - one was exposed for the train tracks (but the sky was overexposed) and the other vice versa.

Not entirely effective, especially in the edges where the two original photos meets, but another rung in the learning ladder.

Swimming pool


swimming pool, originally uploaded by Wahj.

One more IR shot from the Good Friday weekend, this one an overhead view of a swimming pool. I suppose the shot would've been much more aesthetic had the swimmer been (a) faster (a more visually stunning V-shaped wake) and (b) a blonde in a white bikini doing the backstroke, but you can't really expect everything. = )

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Family and tank


family and tank 1, originally uploaded by Wahj.

If you walk through the park at at Bukit Chandu, you eventually get to the top of Kent Ridge Hill. The site itself was the scene of fighting during the Japanese invasion, and a tank has been parked here as a memorial. I took this snapshot of a family with their kids clambering around the tank because it looked so ... domestic.

[for military buffs out there, the tank is an AMX-13, a post-war French design whose main gun is a copy of one of the most famous tank guns ever - the 75mm in the Panther tank]

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Perdido Street Station

Sometime last week, I stumbled on the Hugo Awards nominations, and decided that since I'd already read 2 of the books on the list (The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke) I might as well try and read the rest:
  • Iron Council by China MiĆ©ville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
  • Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross (Ace)
  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald (Simon & Schuster)

Ironically, I couldn't find the books I wanted, so I settled for books by the same author.

[spoilers may follow, so you might not want to read on if you're considering reading the books]


Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross. This is very much a story for the moment - by which I mean that it makes sense, and strikes a chord, because of the specificity with which is targets our current social context. A closed society ruled over a by an authoritarian, luddite government is "attacked" by an alien race called The Festival, which bombards them with cellphones, and free trade. Yes, free trade. They, of course, resist, but eventually the forces of globalisation, I mean, The Festival, inevitably triumph. Not a bad read, but as I said, a story very much of the moment, and likely to stay there.

Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville. This guy can write. More than that, he can imagine. Perdido Street Station has enough characters to populate 5 novels - unique characters that stick in the mind, who have every potential to be leads if they were in a movie, but who are not developed with justice (they can't: the novel's already incredibly long, and it'd have to be several times longer to accomodate them - better yet, it should be broken up into several novels).

In fact, I get the impression that he just crammed every good character idea (and he has lots) into one novel. Unfortunately, this means that many interesting characters are never fully developed. Just when you get to know someone, and find them interesting, they disappear into the plot to make way for another grotesque character, of which Mieville has plenty. The novel parades a whole series of villains, potential villains, and arch-villains before you in rapid succession. At times, he seems to be trying to outdo himself - just when you thought Mr Motley was bad, suddenly the Ambassador from Hell makes his appearance, only to be replaced by The Weaver, who is then displaced by The Construct Council ... etc. It's like an arch-arch-arch-villain. Some of them don't even get more than 5 minutes of air-time - in particular the Ambassador from Hell, but also the Weaver, who drops in and out of the plot like the spider it is.

Conversely, there are characters who appear providentially (and inexplicably) to move the plot past obstacles - the adventurers whom Lemuel hires, and most glaringly, the folk hero Jack, who literally does a deus ex machina to save our heroes at the end. Imagine you were reading a novel set in medieval England. The characters vaguely mention Robin Hood 2 or 3 times in the course of the novel, but he never appears, and has no impact on the plot - i.e. nothing he does affects the story, or vice versa. At the end, when our heroes are backed into a corner, and it seems that they are beyond rescue, who should appear to rescue them but ... yes, Robin Hood. With absolutely no indication given of why he's doing this, or how he even knew they needed help. The novel ends, and he disappears just as quickly as he came. That's exactly what happens at the end of Perdido Street Station, and it's the only thing I would label a flaw.

Similarly, important characters who the author invested time developing, and who the reader has got to know, disappear halfway through - Lin, an intriguing character, effectively drops out of the story at the halfway point: she does reappear at the end, but brain-dead, as a burden to be lugged around.

At this point, I think I'd better say that I actually like the novel, because I seem to be criticising it more than anything else. Mieville's strengths are his characterisation, but you can't see it in this novel because he has too many characters and too little time.

Mieville makes me think of Coleridge's distinction between imagination and fancy (from the Biographia Literaria):

"The IMAGINATION then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; and blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory it must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association."

Mieville's writing, by Coleridge's standards, is dominated by Fancy, not imagination. The city of New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station is peopled with a vast amount of detail - races, sects, alliances, political parties, history, hidden agendas, but all of it a variation on known and familiar things, achieved by combination or association. New Corbuzon is like Victorian London, with place names like Brock Marsh and The Ribs, and with ethnic groups replaced by different species. The 'alien' species are themselves an example of Coleridge's "association": you have cactus people; insect people (the khepri, with human bodies and insect heads); vodyanoi (frog people); garuda (yes, bird-people); handlings (think of them as pupper master looking like the face hugger from aliens: a human hand and a long tail); the Construct Council (sentient machines, but steam powered); and the Remade (people who've had animal/machine parts forcibly grafted onto them). In a sense, all of the species and peoples in Perdido Street Station are Remade, and Mieville's vision of alien-ness can be summed up in the character of Mr Motley, who is so Remade you can't tell what he was originally (think Jabba the Hutt with multiple heads, arms, legs, all of different species, all thrown together in a ... well, motley). It's a menagerie of the grotesque - a grotesqurie, if you will. (at least he doesn't have the usual Elves and Dwarves) There's something recognisably dickensian about this novel, from the grim streets of New Crobuzon to the sordid lives of the characters, and the evocative naming, like Mayor Rudgutter and Mr Motley.

Mieville's next book, The Scar, is a much tighter composition, and his strengths begin to show more clearly here - good plotting, a fine sense of the dramatic, and the fewer characters he focuses on are intriguing and captivating. Set into a much smaller space (all the action takes place on a floating city of ships), there's little detail to distract the reader from the story at hand, and from the development of the hero. Mieville's two novels that I have read are, in the final reckoning, all about the characters - there's a crisis, yes, there're conflicts, battles and wars, there're plots and intrigues, but in the end, they are about the growth and 'enlightenment' (for want of a better word) of a single character. Now that I've read both of his earlier novels, and seen the direction he'd heading towards, I can't wait to read Iron Council, but it doesn't seem to have reached our bookstores yet.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Crane in the rain


crane in the rain, originally uploaded by Wahj.

It rained very heavily from mid-morning through lunch, and I was stuck in the office, staring out the window. This is the view, heavily attenuated by the sheets of falling rain and the drops on the window.

Planes, trains, and letters

There's something nostalgic about letters, now that we communicate mostly by email, sms, blogs, and IM. Email is fast and cheap, but nothing beats holding an artefact in your hand that bears the evidence of coming from faraway lands - the postage stamps, the franks of foreign postal systems, the though that this thing travelled a long way to reach you.

I discovered the General Post Office (now the opulent Fullerton Hotel) when I was a teenager, and I realised that here was a way of going abroad without going abroad: sitting in the main lobby of the GPO, you could see people from all sorts of places walk in, and get a taste of foreign lands without buying a ticket. The same experience can be had at the airport, with the added bonus of choosing your emotional soundtrack: hang around departures to see tearful farewells and relieved tourists going home, hang around arrivals to see joyful homecomings and bewildered tourists coming in. They've taken the old GPO away now, and its replacement, some ways away from the town centre, isn't as cosmopolitan in its clientele - functional, but without the colonial feel of the old GPO at Fullerton building.

I haven't written a letter in years, or received a letter, excepting christmas cards. It's too convenient just to email, or to sms from abroad. It's amusing how outmoded things are automatically nostalgic - I'm sure train journeys and cruises were mundane when they were the best there was, but now that we have flights, they're imbued with a certain romance (unless you're talking about the Indian rail network, I suppose). I'd still prefer to travel by train than coach or plane, partly because it's slower, more stable, and gives you the room to walk around and stretch your legs, but also because it seems more like doing things the old-fashioned way.

Anyway, all this was sparked off by receiving a package in the mail from poketo, some things that I ordered from them. I'm happy to report that they delivered promptly (1 week between ordering and receiving) and without fuss, and that they have some very fine merchandise indeed.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Skyline panorama


Skyline panorama, originally uploaded by Wahj.

This is my first attempt at stitching a panorama together. It's not particularly clean - if you look carefully you can see the joins where I've had to blend 3 separate photographs together, but it helped me figure out a few ideas for how to do this sort of thing.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Two views of the woods

These two photos were both taken at the park, in almost the same location. The dark gloomy picture was taken first, underexposed 2 stops, then we walked forward, and I pointed the camera up, and overexposed 2 stops instead. I ran them through photoshop to tone down the green from the infra-red images, and heighten the contrast between the dark and light patches.

The result is two very different images, both of which I've put up because I can't decide which I like better. The first image is what I had in my mind's eye when I was walking through the park and the Robert Frost's words kept running through my mind - "The woods are lovely, dark and deep ...", and the second is me trying to get a sense of the surreal into the image.

dark woods, originally uploaded by Wahj.


bright woods, originally uploaded by Wahj.