Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Dying Office Plant Reaches for the Light

a dying plant reaches to the light

My office plant has been dying slowly for the past few weeks. Born and bred and bought from Ikea, the poor fella was brought in replace his predecessors, who succumbed to a merciless regime of alternate over- and under-watering, compounded by an infestation of insects. We let the window ledge lie fallow for a month or two (hoping the pests would die out/migrate) before buying this plant to test the waters.

As you can see, it didn't work out. I'd like to blame the conditions here, but the reality is that other cubicles have plants that seem to thrive. Or are plastic - I haven't checked. It's probably a combination of neglect and ... um, well, just neglect. The fact this, my neighbour and I are so busy that we either forget to water the plant, assume the other has done it, or assume the other hasn't, leading to the plant either receiving no water, too much water, or both, in alternation. I took this photo of it at sunset yesterday: the plant almost looks as if it were reaching for the sun with its last breath.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Lessons in Parenting, from our Cats

Sitting in the study, I heard a crash. Then a bang. Then a bump. The unmistakable sounds of Something Which Should Not Be Moved being moved.

In the living room, I am greeted by the sight of two cats, frozen in mid-step, eyes wide open with the look of deer caught in headlights - or little children caught in the middle of doing something bad. A quick scan showed nothing obviously out of place. No broken cups - no upset furniture - no upended Things Which Should Be Upright.

But, clearly, some wrong had been committed, and one, or both, cats were responsible. So I stood there, and gave them the Look. The one that says:

"I know what you did. In fact, I know exactly what you did. I may not have started screaming at you yet, but I will. Soon. Your only chance of assuaging, however slightly, the Wrath of the Gods is to own up. Right. Now."

And then, in a flash of recognition, I realised this is what parents and teachers did, all the time, when we were children. I suddenly understood: it was always a mind-game, after all. This is what parents do.

Iffy sidled up to me and mewed piteously, so I gathered it was probably her that was making the noises. However, knowing my cats, Twinkle was probably just as responsible, and was most likely the one chasing Iffy around the furniture.

In the absence of definitive proof of guilt, both of them got the Glare of Disapproval (another parenting tactic, specifically a Fatherly tactic: blame 'em all, let Mom sort 'em out) before I returned to the study.

Needless to say, the noises resumed in a short while. Children. sigh.


Sunday, September 25, 2005

Add your own captions

Found this site (off mercermachine's blog) that allows you to add a variety of text to a set of images (some of which are definitely NSFW)

Thursday, September 22, 2005


So tscd tagged me with this meme, which has proven quite difficult. Perhaps the one thing I've learned about myself from doing this meme is that there are some things I've never really thought about.

Anyway, here, after a week of drafting (yes, it took that long), is the meme.

7 things that scare me:
1. cockroaches
2. heights
3. when it goes completely silent for no good reason in the jungle
4. Banyan trees at night
5. lift doors closing on me (also applies to MRT doors, ticket gates etc)
6. decomposed rats (long story ...)
7. loss, potential of

7 things that I like most:
1. Patch ...
2. ... Iffy ...
3. ... and Twinkle (i.e. our 3 cats. And yes, I'm sort of cheating by listing them separately)
4. trees in general (inclusive of Banyan trees, but see exception above)
5. Sleeping in on a rainy morning
6. My wife
7. Sleeping in on a rainy morning with my wife (important enough to list separately, I think)

7 important things in my room:
7 things in my room
count 'em

7 random facts about me:
1. I used to be able to put both my feet behind my head. Used to: this ended sometime in '97 after I hurt my back lifting boxes. Yes, it was a stupid accident right out of the dictionary definition of How Not To Lift Boxes.
2. I collect tarot cards
3. I was a member of Mensa for 2 years, until they asked me for a membership fee, and I couldn't be bothered
4. I hate having to repeat myself
5. I edited Singapore's first, and so far only wargames magazine (Albeit it was our school club magazine, but still. It died after the second issue, but that wasn't my fault, blame my juniors for not keeping it alive. Bah)
6. I read fast, and a lot
7. I topped my platoon at OCS, and graduated in the top 10% of my cohort. It was as much a surprise to me as anyone else, but it was also a great honour, and something I've tried to live up to subsequently

7 things I plan to do before I die:
1. save the world
2. go to Alaska
3. see the aurora borealis (probably contingent on No. 2)
4. get organised
5. exercise my way back to fitness levels circa 1995
6. write a book
7. do some good

7 things I can do:
1. stay calm
2. rise to the occasion
3. think clearly
4. talk fast
5. listen well
6. ignore idiots
7. teach

7 things I can't do:
1. file (as in papers, documents etc)
2. drink (as in alcohol, not fluids in general)
3. drive (as in a car. Though I can drive people to distraction)
4. dance (as in ... well, yes)
5. scuba-dive (I failed to complete my lessons ... sheer laziness)
6. lie very well (as in untruth, not horizontal-ness)
7. name 7 celebrity crushes

7 things I say the most:
1. "Good Grief"
2. "mmm"
3. "wa lao eh"
4. "There's nothing that rolling a steady stream of sixes won't solve in a wargame"
5. "Oi!!"
6. "Let's take a taxi instead"
7. "Darling ... are you done with the bathroom yet?"

7 Celebrity Crushes:
1. see above

7 people who could do this:
1. my lovely wife
2. ru
3. TKDodo
4. ampulets
5. TOHAmpulets
6. ondine
7. packrat


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I can't cook

OK. It's now been firmly established that I can't hold a candle to my wife when it comes to cooking.

Given the same ingredients (frozen spinach, cheese, spices) I managed to make a meal that looked like what you'd find deposited on the windscreen of your car, while my lovely wife made a dish worthy of a restaurant. Surf on over to her post (pictures and all) to see what I mean.

In my defence, I must say that my concoction didn't taste bad at all. It's just that, looking at the photographs, it really looks like some bird had massive diarrhoea over my plate.


Firefox on a stick

A quick post to highlight this very useful application.

My work computer is administrator locked - not usually a problem, except I'd much prefer to use Firefox instead of IE. If, like me, you prefer to enjoy the benefits of tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking, then you know what I mean.

This version of Firefox runs off a thumbdrive (30-something MB of space needed) - which is exactly what I'm doing now. Nothing needs to be installed on your computer, which gets around needing administrator access. Your bookmarks and preferences stay on the thumbdrive, so you can bring them with you if you move between computers at work and home. This is possibly the most useful thing I've seen this whole year.

There are still some problems getting it to work with Macs (detailed on the page), requiring some manual editing of the files, but I already have Firefox installed on my iBook at home anyway. This just means I can now bring it to work with me.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mid-autumn festival

Lanterns 1

K and I went out with her sister and our nephew and niece last night to ... well, walk around with lanterns, which is what you do on the mid-autumn festival. Don't ask me why: it's a tradition. Or an old charter. Or something.

While we adults obviously had fond memories of lanterns to relive, the kids were far more prosaic about the whole affair. At one point, Sam (the niece) turned to me and said "After the candles go out, we can stop, right?". Obviously lanterns don't hold the same appeal for her as they did for us as children.

lanterns 2

Tradition is malleable, of course. Tonight, as K and I were walking around our housing estate, K asked me what the tradition was behind the various things that the children were doing - like lining up a whole bunch of candles in a row on the ground and lighting them. Or making little piles of paper from spare lanterns and burning them. The short answer was that I didn't know: I don't recall doing those things as kid during the mid-autumn festival. I only remember walking around with lanterns. As for the various displays of incipient pyromania - well, if you give a kid candles, he will light them. Nothing to do with tradition.

, originally uploaded by CATch-up.

Or perhaps there is a link, to something deeper. One of the most compelling sights I saw was a bunch of kids sitting round a pile of burning things, just staring into the fire (see photo above, courtesy of my wife). No talking, no movement, just staring into the flames. There's something very primal about fire that draws us to it, and even with all our conveniences, even with electric light available at the flick of a switch, we're still fascinated by a naked flame.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Headless Man with Umbrella

headless man

This would be a strange sight to see on any day, but knowing that he's standing within 50m of where a dismembered head was found last week adds a morbid touch to the whole affair.

Apparently, the Headless Man with Umbrella is part of some advertising gimmick, for a contest for tickets to see Quidam, the performance by Cirque de Soleil that's showing here (least that's what the people giving out postcards next to him told me). You see more of this on our streets these days - performers, costumes etc - it seems advertisers have to work harder to get the attention of a jaded public .


Tuesday, September 13, 2005



K spotted this man perched atop the billboard across the road. The visual juxtaposition of his precarious position with the giant "heavyweight" on the ad was what caught out attention.


Monday, September 12, 2005

Paths not taken

paths not taken

Back alley in Little India

Geocaching has taken K and I all over Singapore. Here are two photographs from our little explorations round the island. Both are about paths not taken. We're often rushing to find a geocache, so paradoxically while geocaching is explorative, in the sense that it takes us to places where we'd never normally go (like an abandoned former Japanese barracks near the top photo, the hot spring we didn't even know existed, or the animal refuge), it also means we often dash in and out of places, without stopping to fully explore them.


gendered music

One of the most interesting ways to reinvent a familiar song is to get someone of the other gender to sing it.

It says a lot for how music is conceptualised as being masculine and feminine when you experience the shock of hearing some baritone male voice singing "Hit me baby one more time", or Nina Gordon's delicate rendition of N.W.A.'s "Straight Out of Compton" (here's a link: to hear the song, click on the song title near the top of the page: be warned that the language is as strong as her voice is ethereal, but it's a perfect example of the cognitive dissonance I'm talking about).

This whole train of thought was sparked off by coming across Jonatha Brooke's excellent cover of "Eye in the Sky" (by the Alan Parson's Project), followed by the discovery of "An Acoustic Tribute to Dave Matthews", where (though I didn't realise it when I bought it) all the covers are by women. It's intriguing to hear some of my favourite songs from DMB recast in a more feminine light (though I must admit all 12 singers started to sound the same after a while).


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Why it's so difficult to get out of bed

Why it is so difficult to get out of bed

This, by the way, is the reason why it's so difficult to get out of bed: no sooner are you in than a cat curls up on top of you. You try looking a cat in the eye and telling her that it's time to get up, even while she's snuggling even deeper into the blankets..


Blue golfers

blue golfer

The Singapore Golf Open was held this weekend, which I presume is the cause of these mysterious blue golfers at the junction of Orchard and Scotts. Being a non-golfer, it really makes no difference to me, and (I suspect) to a lot of Singaporeans, seeing as golf is not exactly the people's sport.

This seems to be the latest thing in advertising, ever since Comfort DelGro put up those cows earlier this year, which were such a hit. Some enterprising individuals have obviously caught on - witness the White Elephants of Buangkok. I thought were a pretty tactful way of making a point - better than the letters to MPs that Singaporeans are fond of writing. We could do with a few more cows and elephants of this type on our roads.


Saturday, September 10, 2005


Longitude 2
probably better viewed large

I've passed by this shopping centre many times without really paying attention to this line embedded in the ground, but what with the recent round of geocaching, something clicked today, and I decided to shoot this composite of it.

On my first "pass", I fastidiously made sure my feet didn't show in the photographs, which meant a lot of awkward leaning as I moved over it like a human scanner. The irony of it was that a few minutes after I shot the whole sequence, I realised that the completed image was going to lack a sense of scale, so I went back and deliberately shot one photo, in the centre of the line, with my feet in it. Which explains the difference in lighting for that one patch in the centre (which I was okay with, since it would give the eye something to fixate on in the image). For comparison, here's what it would've looked like without me putting my feet in it. Both these shots are probably better viewed in large size, but there's no way they would've fit on the webpage that way.

Longitude 1

A slightly different perspective on the longitude marker, giving a better idea of its context on the ground.

longitude 3

I find this line strangely comforting: it makes no sense, but it's as if you knew where you were, and where everything else was in relation to you, just because of that information written on the ground. I feel the same way about compass roses, sundials, distance markers, and almost anything made from brass, embedded in concrete, and with a number telling you Where You Are. This extends to Things That Help You Find Out Where You Are: maps, compasses, and now GPS receivers. If I ever had the money and the space, I'd probably have a room dedicated to displaying all the National Geographic maps I've collected - which I know is not likely to happen, but one can dream. There's something about maps that fascinate me - but I'll leave that for another post.


Friday, September 09, 2005



I remember cockles as a childhood treat. My mom would buy them from the market, we'd scald them in boiling water, and eat them plain.

Then came the fear of hepatitis, and suddenly all shellfish was suspect. We stopped eating cockles, I started ordering "cha-kway-teow, mai ham" (without cockles) and years went by without me eating a single one.

They still had a special place in my heart though. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser talks about children imprint on MacDonalds (in the same way baby birds imprint on their parents) and grow up associating it with happiness and childhood contentment. In the same way, cockles are strongly linked to pleasant memories of my childhood, which is why it was nice to finally eat them again after such a long time. (having had a hepatitis jab in the intervening years between childhood and middle-age helped to allay some of the fears)


Thursday, September 08, 2005

"Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs"

John Scalzi's latest post is one that resonates, that hits the nail on the head in so many ways.

Being Poor


Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.
Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.
Being poor is knowing your kid goes
to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.
Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

17 views of one tree

17 views of one  tree
a wee bit larger ...

Continuing with my experiments in composite photographs, here are two experimental images. This one is made from 17 infra-red photos of a banyan tree on Fort Canning Hill (did I mention I love banyan trees?). I like the way it turned out, though the inherent messiness of the banyan tree's roots might add just a bit too much confusion to the image.


This next one didn't turn out quite as I hoped. Because I shot all the photos standing in one spot, the cannon's come out distinctly curved. This has not been a problem before with things like trees, but it just looks odd with cannons, and other things that the human mind wants to see as straight - so here's a lesson learned about this kind of image. The next time I do this, I'll move along the cannon as I shoot, keeping the camera square to the axis of movement.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Chapel


Nearby to Fort Canning Hill is the former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. I remember passing by it as a schoolboy when it still functioned as a school, not really knowing what it was, but extremely curious because of the imposing high walls and closed gates (insert joke about schoolboys and convent girls here).

It's now a complex of restaurants, bars, and art galleries, a commerical enterprise called CHIJMES. For years I used to wonder what the "mes" stood for (the "chij" being obvious), and I've only just found out that it stands for nothing: the developers added it just so you could pronounce it as "chimes". (insert joke about chimes ringing hollow)

It remains a very beautiful location - the chapel was excellently restored, and they've preserved the stained glass windows very well. If you have Quicktime, then you can try this VR panorama here to get a feel for what the site looks like now, and visit the chijmes website (flash required) to see the photos of the restoration process. The low res photos (from the picture archive section) suggest that behind the original grey walls of CHIJ lurked Singapore's first and only Gothic ruin, before it was cleaned up. It's beautiful, and a bit sad - I'm not sure the "CHIJ" part of this building sits easy with its newer "+MES" identity: it seems sad to yoke together something spiritual with something so mercantile. It's good that an architectural significant building could be preserved - it's sad that we had to turn a convent into a commerical enterprise to do so.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Fort Canning Hill

the wall 2

Another set of photographs from Fort Canning Hill, centred around the field. (what should we call it? an ex-cemetary? a reformed graveyard?) I like the way the tree looms over the wall in this shot - the branches look like veins in a body - and you can see the sloping wall with the gravestones embedded in them.

gothic gate

Looking at the field now, you'd never think of it as a graveyard. The two gates leading into the field, done in the Gothic revival style, give the visitor a hint of what ground they're treading. It's strange to think of the various events that have been held in this field - WOMAD has been held here, as well as "Ballet Under the Stars", and various open-air movie screenings - over ground that used to hold corpses and coffins.

the other side of the gate

And let's not forget the many newlyweds (the Registry of Marriages is just next door) who get their photographs taken here. It is a beautiful location after all. I can't think of a better place to put a cemetary, actually: open and airy, sunny and warm in the afternoons, quiet and peaceful at sunset.

the cupolas 2

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Cupolas

the cupolas

I've always thought these two cupolas were among the most photogenic things on Fort Canning Hill.

Designed by George Coleman (the street named after him is close by, as is the Armenian Church which he also designed), they would be perfect places to sit down and have a break, except that mosquitoes tend to swarm around the still air near them. A much better alternative, is to sit in the shade of the trees, in the open air, where the breeze keeps insects away.

I took two cameras with me up to the hill yesterday - the D70, and the Cybershot 707, which I use exclusively for infra-red photography now. It's getting old and more than a bit wonky, and I'll need to find a replacement for it soon, but in the meantime, it's doing yeoman's work for these IR shots.

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