Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Yes you can, Yellow Coward"


yellow coward, originally uploaded by Wahj.

The photo about says it all really. This was a mousepad I spotted in a shop, and its the kind of idiosyncratic use of English typical of Japanese products. No doubt the designer/copywriter thought it would be just the right kind of encouraging, uplifting message to give to a friend who was down in the dumps.

I can just imagine cheering someone up with this ...

SLAP

"Yes you can!"

SLAP

"Go on, say it!"

(more slapping with mousepad)

"err ... I can?"

SLAP

"Yes!! That's right! You CAN, you Yellow Coward!!!"

A Tale of Two (or More) Doctors

Christmas eve is a very bad time to fall sick. In my case at least it wasn't life-threatening, but a very frustrating case of conjunctivitis, coupled with and preceded by a mysterious swelling of the lymph nodes 2 days prior. Mysterious because there were no other symptoms: no fever, no pain - just a swollen preauricular node by the ear, and then two days later the eye goes red in pain and swelling during the Christmas dinner, and hasn't let up for 6 days.

After several visits to a 24-hour clinic (the only ones open over the holiday), 3 baffled doctors (no, I was not doctor hopping: I started with the 24-hour clinic, and made a conscious decision to go back there for consistency: ironically, every time I went back a different doc was on duty, not unusual given that this 24-hour clinic employs multiple shifts of doctors to cover the time slots), and two courses of antibiotics and eye drops, I thought it was about time I went to an eye specialist to get some proper help.

What a waste of time: I received the most cursory of inspections (I hesitate to even call it a medical examination) and not so much a diagnosis as a dismissal with medicine. More medicine. Better medicine perhaps, but probably just different medicine, when what I needed was a proper diagnosis, and some information. In the end, I was charged $12 for the medicine, and $99 for the 3 minutes in "consultation", which boggles the mind, given that there wasn't much consultation, and the medicine was probably worth far more than that.

In comparison with this specialist, I can't help but think of my old GP, who died recently (and tragically): he was the best family doctor I ever had, the only one who really took the time to listen and talk to his patients, the only one of my doctors ever to call me up 3 days after every consultation to follow up on my condition. It sounds like a simple thing, but it meant a lot to me, and it showed how dedicated he was.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

'net blackout

Undersea cables damaged in an earthquake. Internet access severely limited. For one whole day, I can't reach Google, Blogger, or any site outside of Singapore.

And yet I still receive spam in my email.

What is wrong with this picture?!?!

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Geeky Dive Watch Videos

As mentioned earlier, I haven't got any underwater photos to share from this dive trip because I haven't got into underwater photography. (Yet)

I do have something analogous, and far geekier: the playback from my dive watch of my two favourite dives.

The watch in question is a Swatch Scuba, which shows depth and time underwater, and allows playback of the last dive. I use a Suunto Mosquito for my dive computer, but got this particular Swatch as a backup. The hour (short) hand is showing depth on the inner scale (which runs clockwise from 0 to 40 metres). The minute (long) hand is showing time elapsed, measured on the outside bezel (running clockwise from 0 to 60 minutes). What you're seeing in the playback is a sped-up replay of the whole dive: watch the short hand to see the dive profile (depth over time)



This first dive was the second last of the trip, at a place called Koh Ha. We dove early in the morning, and ended the dive swimming into a cave, through to a second cave, and surfacing in a pocket of air. Fantastic way to start the morning: on the playback, you can see the depth rise up to 0 metres as we surfaced in the cave before going back down to 5 metres and then ascending once more.



This second video is of the last dive of the trip, at Bida Nai near Phi Phi, the longest dive at 63 minutes. We spotted a leopard shark on and off throughout this dive, and were almost surfacing when we spotted it on the sea bed, and went back down to have one last look: you can see on the playback that we had ascended to 5 metres before returning to 14 metres one last time.

Cutest Baby Ever On a Dive Boat

This, surely, must be the cutest baby ever seen on a dive boat:

cutest baby ever seen on a dive boat

She was on the dive trip with us for 3 days, and I've never met a baby so incredibly adorable and good-natured: if you can imagine, she was on a boat for 3 days, in the company of many strangers, loud noises and with all the rocking and swaying and engine rumblings, and she was smiling like that all the time. She never cried, or threw a tantrum, or indeed did anything but just gurgle and giggle at everyone. This is the kind of baby that makes you want to have kids =) Anyway, she was the apple of everyone's eye - I think the two Thai cooks on board fell in love with her, and she had no lack of volunteer babysitters. Hats off to the parents for bringing her on the trip, and thanks - cos I think she actually brought a little sunshine with her and made the trip better.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Arriving at the Phi Phi Islands


Arriving at the Phi Phi Islands, originally uploaded by Wahj.

We're in Phuket now, but the past three days were spent living aboard the good ship White Manta, as we dived around the Phuket area. More pictures will follow (alas none from underwater, as I haven't really got into underwater photography yet), but here's one of the boat approaching the beautiful Phi Phi islands, where we made our last few dives.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Serious about naptime


domesticity, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Of the three cats in our house, Twinkle is the one that is serious about naptime.

If you walk into the bedroom in the afternoon, more likely than not you'll see our three cats asleep on the bed. Patch will already be awake and staring at you when you walk in: she's nervous, insecure and won't want to take any chances: after all, you could be a threat to her. Or perhaps you're trying to take her to the vet again (horror of horrors). Either way, Patch doesn't take any chances.

Iffy will also be awake, but looking at you eagerly rather than warily: she's hoping you'll want to play, or better yet (from her point of view) go to the toilet. Iffy always wants to go to the toilet. It's a strange habit, probably related to the fact that she was quarantined in the toilet for her first week with us, sick as she was. Now she seems to think the toilet is her own special space, and always demands to be let in. Once in, she's content to curl up in one corner and watch you do whatever it you're doing in the toilet.

But Twinkle.

Twinkle, on the other hand, will crack open one eye, stare at you grumpily, and snuggle her head deeper into the blanket. For Twinkle, you see, is serious about naptime.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

iMac Aquarium


iMac Aquarium, originally uploaded by Wahj.

This is my first Macintosh computer, an iMac DV from the year 2001. I still have fond memories of it. A few years ago, it broke down – not irrepairably, but I had moved on to a second-hand Titanium Powerbook, and thence to my current iBook.

It's been sitting in the storeroom for a few years, and instead of throwing it out, my wife and I decided to make an aquarium out of it, as we'd seen reported many times on various websites (check this page out to see a host of iMac aquaria).

It's taken a few weeks – gutting the internal components, getting an acrylic tank custom-made to the internal dimensions, sealing the tank, and printing the taskbar, dock, icons and (if you look really carefully) the mouse cursor to decorate the screen, but the iMac aquarium is finally complete.

Now we just have to buy a fish ...

We're taking suggestions from anybody who has a better knowledge of piscean husbandry than we do. Bear in mind that the last fish we owned (5 guppies) died terribly (in a mixture of tragedy and farce: one committed suicide by jumping out of the tank, two died slowly of disease, and the last two mysteriously disappeared after we adopted our first cat. Patch won't talk about it of course, but she still gets that vaguely guilty look in her eye whenever we mention fish ...). Bear in mind also that whichever fish we buy will live in a house with 3 very, very inquisitive, determined, and intelligent cats (the good thing about the iMac aquarium is that the tank sits in the shell of the iMac, protected, in theory, from all intrusions).

So, any suggestions which fish(es) should go in the iMac-quarium?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pseudo Mediterranean


Pseudo Mediterranean, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Our apartment block used to be painted a pleasant mix of green, white, and a dark russet red-slash-brown. It was one of the reasons why we chose to buy a flat in this block.

hieroglyphs

This is why the wife and I were quite unhappy when they repainted everything earlier this year. It's not even really "white" now: it's just a shade of Bland that a contractor probably needed to get rid of.

There's beauty in everything though. I got out of bed on a sunny morning a few days ago and, with that clear bottomless blue sky in the back, the tops of the neighbouring blocks looked like those "Greek Islands" calendars with their stunning blue skies and whiter that white mediterranean houses. I'm glad I stumbled out of bed to take this photo while it lasted: the clouds moved in soon after, and the scene became unmistakeably tropical.

Error-gon

I've finished reading Eragon. I never thought I'd say this, but I've finally read a book that uses more stereotypes and stock characters than the Belgariad. (To be fair, I quite enjoyed the Belgariad when I read it as a teenager: it must be an age thing. Also, Eddings is at least entertaining and funny, in a sitcom-ish way, whereas Eragon takes itself far too seriously for something that falls so flat).

I felt so bad after Eragon that I went out, bought, and read Neuromancer in one day, just to remind myself what good scifi actually is. I've moved on to Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, and I've got Snow Crash waiting in the wings for after that (guided by the gaps in my Sci Fi Book Meme list). Looks like it'll take the combined effort of the best cyberpunk writers of my generation to make up for the bad taste Eragon left in my mouth.

Just to update all those people who suggested more tropes to look for in Eragon:
- Yes there are dragons.
- No, there was no R2D2, nor were there Ewoks or Gungans (he may be trite, but he's no George Lucas: it takes real genius of the Colonel Kurtz persuasion to foist those on your audience)
- No, there were no tentacled creatures. Would that there were. It might have been more interesting.

My predictions were quite accurate. Yes, there is a princess, and though they do not marry (an event saved, no doubt, for Book 3, because these things come in trilogies now), they do fall in love. In an awkward, adolescent way.
- Yes, there is a climatic battle, which is indeed won by the simple expedient of killing one villain. (Why, oh why, do these armies of evil all melt away when you kill their leader? Don't they have any resilience in their chains of command? And how come each and every soldier, down to the lowliest grunt, always knows the instant Mr Big Bad is vanquished?)
- The mentor does indeed die. Whether he returns as a ghostly blue transparent figure, we will see.
- And a Prophecy? Yup: our hero's fortune is told, and great things are presaged for him.

The sad thing is, since I bought the set, I now have an unread copy of the sequel, Eldest. And, knowing me, I will eventually force myself to read it, because I am a completist. Which might be another word for masochist, in this case.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Reading Eragon

I picked up Eragon from the bookstore yesterday because I was intrigued by the movie tie-in. For some reason, I'd assumed it was going to be different from your standard fantasy stereotypes, but disappointingly, it seems to be sticking firmly to the conventions so far.

Standard human/elven/dwarven/orc racial mix - check
(though taking the place of Orcs are "Urgals". They're nasty, brutish, and have horns. Aside from the horns: Orcs)

Naive farmboy - check
... with mysterious birthright/ancestry/lineage - check
... who discovers mysterious object of power - check
... who is catapulted (unwillingly) from bucolic rural life to the centre of political intrigue in his world – check
Bonus: adoptive parents/family killed by evil minions of Dark Lord, providing impetus for beginning of epic journey (aka "Uncle Ben and Aunt Beru Buy the Farm")

Old man - check
... who guides, teaches and mentors the boy - check
... who knows magic/is a wizard - check
... who gives the boy a magical sword - check

Journey of growth and self-discovery, from adolescence into manhood – check
Evil Dark Lord – check (in this case, a King – but he knows magic! Dark magic, of course)
... with an army of Darkness – check (aforementioned Urgals, plus other nasties)
Rebel Army of Freedom Fighters opposed to Evil Dark Lord – check

I'm only at page 256 now (where The Tavern Where Many Important Meetings Will Occur, aka The Prancing Pony/Mos Eisley Cantina, has just made its appearance) but I'm sure the other usual suspects will appear:
- The Princess (who marries Boy eventually)
- The Sidekicks/Companions to the Boy (one of whom will die, heroically, thus providing another Learning Experience on his path to adulthood)
- Death of Mentor (aka "Obi Wan Kenobi Becomes More Powerful Than You Could Possibly Imagine")
- A Prophecy (of which the Boy is the fulfillment)
- Climatic Battle Between Forces of Good and Evil (of which the deciding factor will be some coup de grace/deus ex machina, rather than, say, actual hard work, or sensible strategy)

Any more tropes I missed?

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Let's see if we can enhance that ..."

Iffy's Eyes

A regular staple of movies and tv shows that involve technology in some way is the moment where someone looks at a photograph and says "What's that in the corner? Let's see if we can enhance that ...", and (after a few mouse clicks from a suitably geeky looking person) some hitherto hidden element of the photograph is miraculously revealed. The first time I remember seeing this trope was on Blade Runner, when Deckard discovers the snake scale, but you see it all the time on CSI.

It was this I had in mind when I suddenly realised that you could see my reflection in Iffy's eyes in this photograph. You can see it clearly in the close-up below, which I cropped and enhanced (ahem). You can see my forehead, the camera, and the papasan chair, as well as a bit of the room behind me.

Reflection in Iffy's Eyes

So yes. Gratuitous geek moment over.

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Watching the shadow puppets


watching the shadow puppets, originally uploaded by Wahj.

When I was in primary school, we made shadow puppets for art class, wayang kulit style. Last week, I had the opportunity to watch a shadow puppet show by some primary school kids, put up as part of a puppetry workshop they were attending.

dismembered puppet

There was some very creative work on display, all the more impressive because the kids had done everything (script to set to rehearsal to making and moving the puppets) in 3 days flat.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sci Fi Book Meme

At last, a meme I can answer quickly. A few complaints though: why isn't Iain Banks on this list? And if Tolkien counts as "Science Fiction", then what about Tad Williams, George R.R. Martin, and China Mieville?

But anyway.

Science Fiction Book Club Meme:

Instructions:

Below is a Science Fiction Book Club list of the most significant SF novels between 1953-2006. The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star* next to the ones you love.”

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien *
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov *
3. Dune, Frank Herbert *
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein *
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick *
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury *
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov *
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card *
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams *
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick *
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut *
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein *
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Papasan Chair

patch in the papasan chair 1


I first got acquainted with papasan chairs in university. They're round shallow bowls, and you sink right into them fall asleep. I finally bought one for the house last week.

Of course you know what happens next. The cats claimed it. Patch in particular has staked it out as her own special spot. I wouldn't mind so much (Patch has shown herself willing to share the chair when it comes to it) but I wish she wouldn't puke in it.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ceiling Lights


Ceiling Lights, originally uploaded by Wahj.

I looked up at the ceiling in the hotel ballroom and saw constellations and stars.

The image was processed in GIMP to bring out what I saw. I interleaved the original and the altered to show the contrast between what the eye and the mind's eye saw.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bleeding


bleeding sign, originally uploaded by Wahj.

One of the rules I'm trying to stick to is not to post unless I have a picture.

I have a picture, but nothing much to post about, except to say hop on over to Tym's and read this.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Strange things on a beach

'But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.'


strange things on a beach, originally uploaded by Wahj.

I saw this and was reminded immediately of a poem by Robert Graves, "Welsh Incident" (you can read a copy here).

Things washed up on a beach are always so repulsive, in a slimy, or crusty, or tentacularly way. Alive, and underwater, they can look quite beautiful, but dead and washed up on a beach ... well, you look back on your footsteps in the sand and see wide detours.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We own the bed


we own the bed, originally uploaded by Wahj.

They do, you know.

This is the reception we come home to everyday – our cats giving us the stare. It used to be just Twinkle (left) but now Iffy (right) and Patch (centre, with the arch stare) have decided that the bed rightfully belongs to the felines in the house. Us humans are grudgingly allowed the bed after the cats have had their afternoon naps.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Oh Frabjous Day!

Good things have been coming in the mail recently ... = )

Number One: my latest threadless t-shirt arrived yesterday:
Haikus are easy but... - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever
(no: that's not me in the photo, thank God)
When read the slogan on this one, I knew I just had to get it.


Number Two: a nice letter from the Traffic Police. Now, you may be wondering how it's possible to receive a nice letter from the TP, but when that letter begins:

"Dear Sir/Madam,
We here herewith enclose your photocard driving licence"

it's a nice letter = )

So yes, I may be a very late starter with this whole driving licence thing, but it's nice to finally get that out of the way.

Number Three: 3 (not one, not two, but three) DVDs in the mail: Galactica Seasons 2.0 and 2.5, and Sin City.

And all on a long weekend. Woohoo! Time enough to settle down with a nice book (Hibbert's The Great Mutiny: India 1857) and maybe think about watching one of the DVD sets.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Musical genre problems

What is "pop"?

Does the Eurythmic's "Here Comes the Rain" count as "pop"? What about Depeche Mode? Or is that "alternative"? Can you retroactively apply a genre classification that wasn't around when the song was recorded? What about "folk" – how can you tell if a song is "folk" rather than "alternative"? What genre do you assign to a 30 minute recording of eskimo janitors taking over a Canadian radio station during a strike and dj-ing? (honest: here) Or Van Morrison's contractual obligation album – "crap"?

All this is has been occasioned by the purchase of a new iPod nano (since the unfortunate accident with the trusty iPod). The fact that I cannot simply copy over my entire music library (the nano being 4 GB small, and the library being 20+ GB large, and growing) has awakened in me an obsessive need to organise my music, so that I can sort and choose by categories.

I started last night, when I realised that the genre categories assigned to some of my tracks were off, simply because I've been using iTunes' automatic feature to pull down track names and categories from an online database. The quality of the service is patchy at best: typos in track names are common, and the genre assignments are completely off. More importantly, since iTunes allows you to only assign one genre to a song, it's left me struggling with the task of deciding what category a song fits in.

If it's one person on an acoustic guitar (say, Dan Bern or Ani DiFranco), is it folk or acoustic? Does it matter if s/he's a singer songwriter? What about two people on guitars (Lawrence Juber and Preston Reed) – instrumental? folk? acoustic? If you put a new age(ish) musician (Pierre Bensusan) and a jazz(ish) musician (Didier Malherbe) together, what do you categorise their live performance as? Do live versions of the same song take on the same category as the original – and if they're acoustic versions, should I change the category? When some one does a folksy cover of gansta rap, (Nina Gordon, Straight Outta Compton) which category does the song take – the original (rap), or the reinterpretation (... er ... girly folk)?

And for that matter, why is NWA's Straight Outta Compton categorised as classical in my music folder?!? Since when is Leonard Cohen rock? And (to come back to my original question) what the hell is pop anyway? And what does alternative mean when there's no definitive mainstream to be an alternative to?

These are the dilemmas that have occupied me for a night and a morning.

All this, of course, could be easily solved if iTunes used a tag system, in recognition of the fact that few things in this world fall easily and only into one category at a time. A system that assigns tags, each describing a quality (for example "live", "acoustic", "folk" etc) would be more precise and useful. On Fridays I could simply decide to fill my iPod with songs tagged "happy", and on Mondays songs tagged "moody", "bleak" and "instrumental". And possibly "rain".

(and it may be a symptom of this increasing obesssion with taxonomy, but the new nano is now named Ariel, in accordance with the same naming convention that has my two external hard drives named Titania and PuckOberon being reserved for a MacBook Pro somewhere in my future)

(oh, and though I didn't know it, yesterday was 5 years to the day the original iPod was launched, which lends a nice symmetry to the whole affair. Happy Birthday iPod: I couldn't begin to describe how much I've depended on you these 5 years to shelter me from garrulous cab-drivers, unwanted conversations, and the distracting noises of that thing called the Rest of the World)

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Cat Little


tickle cat and cat little, originally uploaded by Wahj.

The story behind this picture:

My wife and I came across these feeding bowls downstairs a few weeks ago. "Tickle Cat" is presumably the mother cat we've seen hanging around, and "Cat Little" must be the kitten. Someone was feeding them, though by the time we saw this, only the kitten could be seen – mottled black, and in many ways resembling our Iffy.

Over the next few days we saw the kitten only, always waiting at the bottom of the staircase, or lounging in one of the shoe racks. One night, we came back and found her mewling piteously, her voice all raspy as if she'd been crying all day. K correctly surmised that she was hungry, and when we brought down a bowl of water, she lapped it almost all up, and then ate half a can of cat food. She must have felt better after that, because she immediately started play-pouncing on us (kittens: irrepressible – one minute after being pulled away from the brink of starvation/dehydration, and they're back to playing).

The next day, the cleaners came to wash the floors, and we haven't seen her since. That was more than a week ago. We're hoping that some family – perhaps the one that's been feeding them – took her in. Certainly, given the noise and water from the hoses, she would have instinctively ran through one of the open doors for shelter. Still, we don't know for sure. The only consolation, and it is a very minor one, is that at least she had a good meal, a full belly, and was happy the last time we saw her.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

This is just getting ridiculous

My nose has been running non-stop for 2 days. My throat is red from coughing. My eyes are tearing. My dustbin is filling up with wads of tissue paper.

All because of the haze floating over from Sumatra.

Not only is it bad for the health, it's hurting the planet. Deforestation is the second largest contributor to global warming. While we're coughing our lungs out over here, somewhere over there Sumatra is going up in smoke. Rainforest ecosystems a few thousand years old are being burned down in a few days. They won't grow back.

We should just go ahead and paint a giant yellow box* round this country, because breathing in this haze is probably equivalent to smoking a few cigarettes – in fact, these forest fires have made a nation of passive smokers of the lot of us.

I'd write more but I have to go blow my nose again.

(* yellow box: used to indicate smoking areas in army camps. Also where the best conversation can usually be found. And ironically, for the next few weeks at least, possibly where the best quality of air can be found as well. At the very least, it won't be worse than just breathing in this)

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Immovable objects


iffy asleep on my arm, originally uploaded by Wahj.

I am typing this with one hand.

The reason I am typing this with one hand (and very quietly) will be evident from the photo above. You see, any human being that remains still for any length of time in this household very quickly becomes cat furniture. I lazed in bed too long this morning: before I knew it, Iffy had claimed my left arm as her pillow.

There's no moving after that of course - not when the slightest shift in body weight earns you a pointed sleepy stare from a disgruntled cat, as if to say "Look? Do you mind? Some of us are trying to sleep here."

Oh yes, and the claws come out as well. Ouch.

With handphone and iBook within (one) arm's reach though, I've managed to take this photo, bluetooth it over to my iBook, edit it in GIMP, post it to flickr, and blog ... all with one hand pinned down by a cat (whoever wrote that paradox about immovable objects was obviously thinking about sleeping cats).

Right, I'm going to try and persuade my cat that i need my other arm back now ...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

1 less reason to die


1 less reason to die, originally uploaded by Wahj.

... because good coffee is that important.

The poster actually reads "1 less reason to Diet", but I read it as "die" when I first saw it, and decided to photograph it that way.

Of course, the worst coffee I ever had was at a particular army camp. It was the kind of coffee that indeed made you wish you were dead - unlike, apparently, good old Nescafe, which gives you a reason to live. I'm more of a tea person myself, favouring a pot of Earl Grey ("Tea. Earl Grey. Hot", et cetera) on occasion.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pluto (and something completely different)

You have to listen to the latest Mr Brown podcast on Pluto's relegated status, recast as a conversation between a Basic Military Training Platoon Sargeant and a less-than-enthusiastic recruit. Even if you know nothing about Pluto, the characterisation of the Sargeant will be instantly recognisable to anyone who's been through the army...

the mr brown show: pluto not a planet anymore

And, for something completely different ... monty python meets halo.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Book Meme

Here's me responding to a meme tag from tym.

"1. One book you have read more than once"
The list of books I have re-read, re-discovered, and read to pieces (literally) is longer than I can list. My single volume edition of Lord of the Rings, read from Secondary 2 onwards, finally lost it's cover this year. My early Asimovs have split along the spine in two.

Oddly enough, of all the books that I have re-read, the first one that comes to mind is Heinlein's Starship Troopers. I sometimes find myself embarassed, Lit grad and all, to admit that one of my favourite re-reads is a piece of pulp Sci Fi from the '50s, but Starship Troopers has everything - to quote the The Princess Bride: "Are you kidding? Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Revenge. Giants. Monsters. Chases. Escapes. True love. Miracles."

Well, maybe not all that - but certainly a healthy dash of space opera swashbuckling mixed in with an unexpected dose of social commentary and political philosophy makes compelling reading. Just try to forget the Verhoeven version.

"2. One book you would want on a desert island"
The Tempest. Oh-so-appropriate, and an easy read. In fact, I'd have to steal a page from tym here and go for the complete works of Shakespeare.

"3. One book that made you laugh"
Holidays in Hell, by P.J. O'Rourke - and almost everything else from him. The opening story about how he got Vanity Fair magazine to send him to Beirut in the middle of the '80s to write a travel article was hilarious, because when I was growing up, Beirut was a bombed out place I saw on the T.V. every night along with news of fighting and violence - proof that some things don't change all that much, sadly.

"4. One book that made you cry"
Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales.

"5. One book you wish you had written"
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

"6. One book you wish had never been written"
In general, a whole set of bad sequels that ruin the first books. Like how Frank Herbert should've stopped at Dune (or at best, Dune Messiah), and David Eddings at the Belgariad (instead of going for the repeat performance that was the Mallorean), and Piers Anthony at somewhere between books 7 to 9 of the neverending Xanth series (here's Book 30), and Orson Scott Card at Ender's Game. All of these were great books whose sequels tag on to them like sad, sad groupies.

"7. One book you are currently reading"
Serendipities by Umberto Eco.

"8. One book you have been meaning to read"
The Kalevala. Keep getting stuck in the first few pages. Also keep getting stuck halfway on the Niebelungenlied.

"9. One book that changed your life"
I'm not going to answer this question because almost every book affects me in some way or another.

10. Now tag five people:
No, thank you: I think my small circle of friends is quite tagged out! = )

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A 20 year appointment

Class Reunion 24 Aug

20 years ago, 3 of my classmates and I made a deal: to meet 20 years later, 12 noon on the same day, at the statue of Raffles by the Singapore River (yes, you've probably guessed which school we were from).

Well, today's the day, and though only two of us turned up, it's still a class reunion. We waited for a while, speculated about where the other 2 were, then adjourned for lunch at Indochine nearby.

A few things about this reunion that I never would've guessed when I was 13 and made the appointment:
- that only 2 of us would make it: I honestly thought all 4 of us would be there
- that, besides the 2 of us and the usual tourists, the only other people there would be a snake charmer and 2 albino pythons. I'm not joking about the pythons.
- that 20 years later I would still be in school ... teaching rather than studying - but I still had to ask permission to leave school early for this = )

We've made a follow-up appointment to meet in another 20 years - so I'm putting August 24th, 2026, right into iCal now.

(cross posted to Metroblogging Singapore)

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shapes and Forms

Some random shots from my flickr stream - various abstract shapes and forms I photographed while walking around.

ramp
Stairs at a HDB estate.

a study in colour and texture
Paint peeling off a void deck wall.

shadowface
Shadows in a stairwell making a grimacing face.

(happy National Day! = )

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Monday, August 07, 2006

big bird, little bird


big bird little bird, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Botero has a nice sculpture on the Singapore River water front. We locals tend to just call it the Fat Bird, but it's officially called Bird.

I was lucky enough to catch a photo of this pigeon posing in front of his fatter cousin = )

Monday, July 31, 2006

Dive Trip

K and I have just come back from our first live-on-board dive trip, aboard the MV White Manta. Despite initial worries, only one of us got seasick (that would be me) and that was a fairly mild case that nevertheless prevented me from eating lunch (which was, like the other meals on board the White Manta, excellent). I deeply regret not being able to sample the green curry, but at that point in time, it was as like to come back up as it went down. An afternoon nap settled me down nicely, and I had dinner with no problems.

One of the we reasons we tried the White Manta was the schedule: leaving on Friday night, we reached Pulau Dayang the next morning and started diving immediately - no long queues at the Causeway, or 4 hour trip along Malaysian roads to get to Mersing. You sleep in a comfortable bed, and arrive rested and ready to dive. And the toilets were actually cleaner and better aboard the White Manta than in the dive centre on Dayang.

I did my Advanced Open Water course on this trip, and the instruction was excellent (as was the instructor to student ratio: we had something like 6 dive instructors/divemasters) so the learning was both easy and safe. Fish life wasn't quite as spectacular as the Maldives, but there was still plenty to see - from cuttlefish and squid, to baby moray eels, to huge bumphead parrotfish. I did my deep dives and night dives (less frightening than I thought: it's hard to be scared of the dark when there's so much light from all these megawatt dive torches. I always remember the poor little baby squid K spotted: the moment she pointed it out, everyone's dive torches transfixed the poor fella until he looked like some WW1 Zeppelin caught in searchlights).

All in all, exceeding expectations. Given a 5-day workweek, this may be the best way to do weekend dives.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Heinlein on Singapore

It's strange to come across a description of your country from 40 years ago, from the pen of one of your favourite sci-fi authors:

"Singapore is like Hong Kong, only flat; one afternoon was enough. I had a drink in the old Raffles, another in the Adelphi, got rained on in the Great World amusement park, walked through Change Alley with a hand on my money ..."
- from Glory Road, Robert A. Heinlein

It goes on, and in much less flattering (but far more interesting) detail: this is Singapore in the '60s after all.

I remember the oddest conversation once in Pembrokeshire, in Wales, with a taxi driver who used to live in Singapore, about how he once found the hubcabs from his car in Change Alley and had to buy them back. This is clearly not the Change Alley of today - not when Heinlein could write (in 1963) "Singapore is one of the Seven Sinful Cities where anything may be had".

"Seven Sinful Cities"? People keep calling us a "nanny state", but it seems this nanny had a bit of a long-haired, wild-child youth before she sobered up and settled down.

(admittedly, Glory Road is a work of fiction, but Heinlein seems to write from personal experience. Great World Amusement Park? I still vaguely remember passing by the shell of the place as a child)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

They grow up so fast

let go of me!

Remember this fella? I saw him one month ago, when he was still stumbling round a cardboard box with his mother.

A proud mother

Now he's all grown up, and a feisty, naughty little kitten he is as well. Uber-cute. I was so pleased to see that he had been taken care of, and was doing well.

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Decay #4

02-149

Last in this series, which I've decided is quite depressing = )

Stall number 02-149 and table number 357: my last two shots of the hawker centre at the ex-Chinatown complex.

table 357

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Decay #3


topless, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Somehow this one doesn't fit the whole "decay" thing, but I feel more or less obliged to continue the naming of the series = /

These mannequins were still on display, even with one day left until the closure of the place. What struck me was how odd the whole topless (literally) effect is when you line 5 of them in a row.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Decay #2


last day, originally uploaded by Wahj.

I'm going to be putting up the shots from Chinatown complex over the next few posts.

This home-made signboard caught my eye, a simple piece of styrofoam with the words "Last (one) Day", the "one" written on a separate piece of paper (a lottery ticket, ironically).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Decay #1

Terz has already blogged about this, so I won't go into the details. The old Chinatown Complex was being closed down for renovation, and I joined him on one of the many days he was there photographing the slow demise of the place.

fish remains

Decay was the overwhelming sense I took away from the place - not so much felt when I was there as much as realised when I looked at the photographs I had taken. It's funny how you shoot one set of photographs looking through the viewfinder, and encounter another set of images when you review them. What you saw, what you thought you saw, and what you wanted to see, are completely different. God knows what your audience sees when they look at the photograph - bits of what you wanted to see, you hope, and something for themselves, if you're lucky.

The place was going to be torn down the next week when we were there. I found this casual piece of food detritus, fish remains, lying dried up on the table in the hawker centre, and it seemed to embody the sense of decay and neglect. No one was bothering to clean up anymore.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman Returns

The wife and I got to watch Superman Returns tonight, courtesy of free tickets her mom won and passed to us. Apparently everyone at this screening had won free tickets courtesy of Calvin Klein, so we had to sit through every single Calvin Klein ad there was before the movie started - a small price to pay for a free movie!

I have to say it brought back good memories: the original Superman was perhaps the first movie I remember watching (the other one was The Deer Hunter - which I remember being particularly disturbed by, what with the Russian Roulette and all). I would have been 5.

It's not the same, of course - it's now "truth, justice and all those things" rather than the American way, and if this new Superman seems more ... hesitant, and less certain of his heroism than Christopher Reeves', it's because we live in an age that's less certain of heroism.

But it was wonderful to sit in that cinema and hear the triumphant soundtrack again, which surely must be one of the great movie anthems of our time. Come to think of it, both those first movies from my childhood had one thing in common - great music by someone called John Williams, though confusingly it was two different people with the same name.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Supermen

On the one hand, it's good that Superman is finally returning.

On the other hand, it's just not right to see so many people wearing superman t-shirts. Little children wearing superman t-shirts are one thing. Grown up men wearing superman t-shirts are another. Middle-aged balding with a superman t-shirt is a bit much. Old men wearing superman t-shirts are quite ... up, up and way, way away.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Toys

When I pulled out my GPS to mark the dive sites in the Maldives, the dive instructor (nice Swedish lady) took one look at it and mumbled "... toys ...".

But of course, I love my toys - and I can now indulge in toys for my inner geek:

solio and tread case

The latest: the Solio solar-powered charger for my iPod. There's not much else to say about it - it's solar-powered and it charges my iPod, which is two of my favourite things at one go. Once I get the right connector, it'll charge my handphone as well. Too bad it can't charge my iBook as well. Ironically, I have also found that despite the sunniness of Singapore, the fact that I work in a shaded air-conditioned building means that I have to look around for sunny patches to position the thing. It takes quite long to charge, and I suspect it charges slower than an iPod eats batteries - however, since my iPod survives for a few days on a full charge (my rate of use is quite low - just the evening commute really), the Solio should be more than adequate for daily use.

For double the karmic bonus, of course, I had to get the Tread case for the Solio, made from the finest Columbian extruded polyvinyl Columbian car tires. Sorry, ex-tires. Now re-purposed for environmentally friendly duties: all the geeky goodness with half the fat guilt.

Desaru

I'd never been to Desaru till last week. Over the years I've heard it mentioned and talked about, but Desaru remained firmly off my physical and mental map until last week's planning retreat, which was held there, in a hotel that looked as if it had seen distinctly better days.

The Beach at Desaru

The beach is long, deserted, and quiet.

And the World Cup made its presence felt, even here.

the world cup at desaru

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Street Stickers

Graffiti Stickers

Orchard road is full of these stickers now, on lamp-posts, traffic lights, utility boxes. They're like the ones I saw in Birmingham more than 10 years ago - some are posters and bills in miniature, some advertise events and venues, some obviously part of a viral marketing campaign. I remember thinking then that you don't see this sort of thing in Singapore. Well, now you do.

I came home every summer to see trends and fashions from the previous year in the UK appearing on our streets. We were moving one step behind, always following. I don't think much has changed.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Twinkle and the World Cup


twinkle and the world cup, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Yes, it's World Cup fever, and even our cats can't resist joining in.

Here, Twinkle commits blatant handball in the match between the Netherlands and Ivory Coast. She's lucky the ref didn't see her.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Acrobats in the Shopping Mall


blue dancers, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Walking around Orchard Road last Sunday waiting for the wife, I wandered into a shopping mall into the middle of an acrobatics show. The dancers were suspended up in the airspace of the atrium, and I had a rare chance to catch some wonderful shots of them in mid-air by climbing up a few stories.

blue acrobat sequence

The show certainly wow-ed the kids who were sitting on the floor, necks craned upwards to stare at the gympasts.

acrobats 6

There were also more traditional (terrestrial) acrobatics on the stage below. Typically though, as all the former acrobats were female, all the performers here were male - traditional gender stereotypes, with the women all airy, weightless, floating grace, and the men doing sweaty earthbound handstands, vaults and somersaults.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bus Adventures

I took the bus for the first time in a long time yesterday, coming back with my mother from a visit to my aunt. On the last leg of a 3 bus journey, it was crowded enough that both of us had to stand. My mom's fairly elderly. A lady gave up her seat to my mom, despite the fact that she herself was carrying a fair amount of groceries and probably could've used the seat. Her son, sitting opposite, promptly stood up and gave up his seat for his mom.

This is why it's so important for parents to practice more than they preach - because children learn from what you do, not what you say. That young man learned more about what living in a civic society involves from watching his mother than any textbook, lesson, or lecture could ever teach him.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Maldives Part 5: Odds and Ends

As I write this, the rain is pouring down in Singapore with near-apocalyptic fervour. The contrast from the sunny Maldives we left not 24 hours ago could not be greater.

Some "spare change left" over from our Maldives trip:

The Garbage Boat

On such a small island as Kurumba, everything necessary for life has to be imported - including water. The corresponding necessity is that all garbage has to leave the island somehow, and this is how: the garbage boat. Apparently one of the islands is a dedicated landfill/incineration site, and this is where the garbage gets shipped. We may think we live on a small island, but this is really small.

Pruning the Coconut Tree

The word "kurumba" apparently means "coconut", and the island is certainly full of them. The resort staff were pruning them over the past few days (you might have noticed the garbage boat in the previous picture was loaded with a goodly amount of coconut fronds), by climbing up them with a machete and chopping away. Quite dizzying to watch.

Other odds and ends I will remember from this trip:
- the dive instructor on one dive reminding us to swim away from the reef into deeper blue water when we surfaced (so that the boat could reach us), and that we should surface in buddy pairs. She said "Remember: two by two, into the blue". I, of course, immediately heard "two by two, hands of blue".
- waiting in the departure lounge at Malé International Airport, with the Trinidad and Tobagos vs Sweden game on and everyone watching it, and having the ground staff remind us we had to board ... and actually thinking we could maybe finish watching the game before boarding the flight.
- discovering the distinctive tiny incisor marks of rat teeth on our hand soap in the bathroom ... and resolving to keep the bathroom door locked at at times!

Maldives Part 4: The Tropical Island Resort Bit

We didn't go to the Maldives just for diving. There's also the whole "getting away for a week to a tropical island in the sun" thing (although we left what is technically also a tropical island in the sun), and I know most people are probably more interested in this part of the story than the diving.

So here:

On the Beach

The deckchair on the beach just outside our room. Says it all, doesn't it?

And, for extra geeky points, here:



- courtesy of the ever wonderful Google Earth, the exact location of that deckchair.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Maldives Part 3: Diving


Once we decided on the Maldives as a holiday destination, I thought it would be good to try and complete my scuba diver certification while on holiday. A few enquiries showed that I could complete my written theory tests in Singapore, and so I started my dive lessons at Kurumba from the first day.

The picture above (courtesy of Google Earth) maps out an overview of the dive sites I went to. The resort is in the middle, with Euro Divers (the company I dove with) marked out.

Southwest of Kurumba is Gundolhi, where we saw two sea turtles - one who swam away from us twice (we caught up with him: he must have thought we were stalking him or something) and one resting under a little overhang, who gazed at us with haughtily from the corner of his eye. You could almost imagine him sending thoughtwaves at us: "Go away. Go away."

Just northeast of Kurumba is Banana Reef, which was our last dive yesterday. We stepped off the boat into what I thought was black water, or a black bottom: it was a school of fish so dense that they obscured everything. At the end of the dive, we ascended through another school of fish: when they swam over us, they blotted out the sun and made us all look up and wonder what happened. While we made our 3 minute safety stop, the fish slowly got used to us and swam a bit closer, at points almost wrapping around us, like a living curtain

Coral Gardens was a lovely site for (you guessed it) corals. This was our first dive with Nitrox, which felt no different to me from normal air (but I don't exactly have a wide base of experience). K and I both took the Enriched Air Diver course at Euro Divers so we had to make two dives with Enriched Air to qualify. Close by are the Maagiri Caves - deep overhangs really, but packed full with schools of small fish, so it looked like they were spilling out like smoke. Maagiri Thila had a "family" of Lionfish, which I kept my distance from, amazingly beautiful as they were. At Back Faru, we saw 3 sea turtles, and a white-tipped reef shark lying on the bottom. I'm not even mentioning moray eels, because they were so thick on the ground at all sites that we stopped counting.

Post-script: We had our last dive yesterday, to allow for a 24 hour gap between our last dive and the flight. We almost went to Manta Point instead of Banana Reef, but didn't: the dive group that went out this afternoon did go to Manta Point in the end, and saw Manta Rays! Sigh.

Maldives Part 2: Tornadoes and Rainbows


Tornado, originally uploaded by Wahj.

The two things that stand out, meterologically, about this Maldives trip.

The first was a rainbow we saw after one of the afternoon dives (think it was on the 6th). We had a brief shower at 4-ish, and the sun was shining brightly, so I was scanning the sky for a rainbow. The dive instructor asked me what I was looking for, and I explained to him that a rainbow, under these conditions, was inevitable - visible sun low in the sky, and rain had to cause a rainbow I was walking away when he called after me and pointed out the rainbow that did, eventually, appear after all.

The second was this little tornado. It's hard to see it from the photograph - the handphone camera has its limits, and I've enhanced the bit of the photo where the tornado for higher contrast. In real life, the tornado was very clear indeed, hovering over one of the nearby islands. We're more used to seeing waterspouts in this region, but since the twister-bit never touched land or sea, and never drew water up, I suppose "tornado" might be a more accurate descriptor than "waterspout".

Maldives, Part 1: Arrival

Things you don't want to hear from your pilot just before a flight:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. On behalf of the crew, I'd like to welcome you to Singapore Airlines flight ... er .... flight ... SQ ... [rustling sound of paper] ... SQ .... SQ ... 452, flight SQ 452 to the Maldives"

Not the most confidence-inspiring thing when your pilot can't remember the name of his flight. Nevertheless, the flight itself went fine. Arriving at the airport, the wife and I had plenty of time to admire the script used in Maldivian writing ...


...because we stood almost an hour in the queue. Nevertheless, once that was done with, we speedily got on our boat (the first time I've been on a boat transfer where the boat has cushy leather seats in an airconditioned interior) and arrived at Kurumba.


Once we got to Kurumba, we discovered that the next day was World Environment Day, to be marked by tree planting (something very familiar to Singaporeans) and reef cleaning, with resort guests invited to participate. We both signed up for it, with the wife joining the scuba divers and me joining the snorklers cleaning the lagoon, since I only just started my scuba course that very day (more about the diving in another post).

For the first 15 minutes, I despaired of finding any rubbish to clean up at all. That lagoon was clean - and any foreign matter that was there had already been grown-over so much by the marine life that it was better to leave it where it was. I swam round scouring the bottom with my eyes finding nothing except sea cucumbers, and some very irritated fish.

About 20 minutes in, a consolation prize floated right into my face - a small piece of torn plastic. Aha - now I could return to shore with my head held high, with proof that I actually cleaned up something, rather than, say, just snorkling around in a beautiful tropical lagoon having fun.

The real jackpot came a few minutes later though, in the form of a shoe. An entire, whole, heavy-duty workman's shoe drifting along the bottom. Jackpot. Real trash - something worthy to be cleaned-up.

The problem started there: for the snorklers cleaning the lagoon, the single trash bag had been given to a nice German lady in a kayak. She was supposed to roam around the lagoon, and we were supposed to deposit our rubbish with her. I lost track of her while running my search pattern, and once I started looking for her, I realised she was off on the other side of the lagoon. Failing to establish eye contact, I spent the next 5 minutes with a shoe in one hand, a small piece of torn plastic in the other, finning like mad towards a kayak that seemed to be always moving away from me. My quota of exercise for the day.

We got a t-shirt each (picture above), and spiffy certificates (which I'm using as a mousepad right now) with our names on it, proving to the world how environmentally conscious we were.

Report from the Maldives

Maldivian beach

We've been in the Maldives 4 days now. It's as lovely as they say it is. I'll let these two photos, one of the beach and the other of the many ponds around the resort, tell their own stories.

Constellation

The resort is lovely, and the staff are as friendly as the prices are high. If you're wondering why I haven't blogged for so long, it's because Internet access here costs USD$20.

Per day.

Anyway, more to come in while - stories of pilots who forgot their flight numbers, of diving and sea turtles, of tornadoes and rainbows, and snorkling around the lagoon with a shoe in one hand trying to catch up with a German lady in a kayak.