Monday, December 31, 2007

"This was a triumph"





I stumbled across this song on YouTube the other day, and was so taken by it's quirky and offbeat humour that I went and bought the game the next day (the video is of the end-credits of Portal). This may be the first time I bought a video game just because of the theme song. Portal is one of the most inventive, original, and genuinely entertaining games to come out recently, not the least because of the attention paid to the characterisation. Most video games are made, but the best ones are written: they're stories with full-fledged and multi-dimensional characters and a real plot. That's why video game makers make such awful games, while video game writers are creating stories - whether epic, comedic, tragic, or elegaic - that add to the narrative backbone of this age.

Of course, one of the dangers of an education in Literature is the tendency to analyse any piece of text before you. I offer this small piece of analysis for those of you interested in such things: an observation that one of the reasons why this song is so compelling (for me anyway) is how phrase "Still Alive", the song title, is used in three very different ways in the same song.

"Still alive" can be hopeful - as in a sentence such as "despite the force of the explosion, they were still alive" as well as a call to action, as in "we have to help those who are still alive".
That would be the sense in which it is used in the second verse: "Think of all the thing's we've learned / for the people who are still alive"

"Still alive" can also carry a defiant note - "they threw everything they had at me, but I'm still alive!". That would be the end of the song: "While you're dying I'll be still alive / and when you're dead I will be still alive"

Finally, "still alive" can be ominous and sinister - as in "they carried out gruesome experiments on the rats while they were still alive" - and that is definitely the sense you get in the third stanza: "I've experiments to run / There is research to be done / on the people who are still alive"

Taken altogether, and sung in the childish sing-song voice of GLaDOS, this makes this song a little more thought provoking than your normal theme song. But most of all, it's fun.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Green spot


The relentless grind of the holiday season has kept me from blogging about the dive trip to Phuket, but here's a little observation from the trip.

2 years ago when I first spotted these green laser pointers for sale online, their prices were in the hundreds.  Two weeks ago, I saw these in Phuket, being used by street hawkers to get the attention of tourists like me - they would fling a green laser spot on the ground, and once they'd got your attention, proceed to try and sell you various trinkets.  They weren't even really selling these, but after bargaining, I got one for 1000 baht - which is less than SGD$50.  I was struck by how fast technology moves from being "cutting-edge" to mainstream - how something can be state of the art one year, and be in the hands of the poorest denizens the next, how rarefied hi-tech becomes a simple tool for daily use so quickly. 

Let's see how fast these new blue laser pointers drop in price then.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Our poor feline friends

I came across these two articles today:



Follow the first link to see a cat that glows red in the dark.  That's RED.  RED.

Why in the name of all that's good and holy anyone would do that is beyond me.

Follow the second link to see how a company is marketing their line (yes: these are products) of hypoallergenic cats.  What struck me was the very first line from the article:

"Millions of people worldwide are allergic to cats. 
One third of these ignore medical advice and keep at least one cat in their home"

There's a reason why one-third of these millions keep a cat despite allergies.  BECAUSE WE LOVE OUR CATS.  It really disturbs me to see a living being rendered a product.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Craning up


craning up, originally uploaded by Wahj.

It seems we're always building. Progess is construction, progress is under construction, progress is never getting there but always trying. We're a nation that wants to arrive but doesn't feel it has yet, and in some ways is deeply insecure. We see that tension in the way we have begun to worry about the tearing down of old historic buildings - even when they aren't that old or historic. I loved the old National Library as much as any other person who spent his youth buried in the Reference section, but I'll be the first to admit that it was never a particularly imposing building. In many ways its successor is a much better edifice - but that's not the point, as we're beginning to discover. It's not the bricks and mortar, the loss of mere concrete or stone that we're bemoaning, but the fear that we're moving too fast and leaving nothing permanent to remember the past by. Where are our monuments to our own past? Books and narratives aside, history needs sites, monuments, buildings. How are we to build a history when we keep building over things?

In this case, "all" we're losing an empty field at the Orchard/Scotts intersection - but then again I've always been a big fan of empty fields. We don't quite have enough of them.

On the photograph: I was particularly taken by the upward reach of the cranes in the centre. By the way, this is one of the few photographs I've digitally altered: I normally restrict myself to adjusting exposure and sharpness, but in this case there were some branches that got into the way of a clean image, so I cloned them out.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Gandhi memorial


gandhi memorial, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Spotted in a recent jaunt through Little India: a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. As far as I know, this memorial isn't mentioned in any history, tourist brochure, or any text about our City.

As many things aren't. There are unknown nooks and crannies where all sorts of things lie waiting with their histories and mysteries and stories. It's not often that I find something like this, but it's a joy when it happens - a little thrill of the unfamiliar that makes you feel like an explorer in your own hometown, and let's you see it with fresh eyes for a little while,

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The light at the top of the canopy


The light at the top of the canopy, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Hard to believe this is Chinatown: this was behind a block of HDB flats, near the car park and the garbage collection area. If you looked down you'd see the concrete: but if you look up, you see this.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Feeding time


What do you do when it's a been a lousy week at work? You go out and buy a carnivorous plant for your little high-rise garden, that's what. When we first moved into this house, I had a pitcher plant that did quite well, but it died when we got our first cat. It's been 5 years since my last attempt at carnivorous plants, but I now have a Venus Fly Trap. I also bought a nice flowering pot, but I must confess that was merely an adjunct to the Fly Trap - reasoning that the flowers would attract insects, some of which would surely feed my new pet.

Speaking of feeding pets, we bought a new brand of cat food called Serengeti, which claims to be protein-rich and minimal on grains, thus emulating a wild cat's natural diet. They're serious about it: take a look at their feeding instructions at the back, which lists recommended daily intakes from kittens to lions (although it is a bit pointless to list the 2.4kg per day recommendation for lions on a 2kg pack of food). I wonder if Mac feels a little more lion-like after his meal.

Lion doorknocker


lion doorknocker, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Back door, facing the alley, where no one would ever see it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bush


Bush 2, originally uploaded by Wahj.

From our recent jaunt in Chinatown (perhaps I should call it a photowalk? - a term someone introduced to me recently, though it strikes me as being a bit excessive to come up with a separate name for what is basically "walking and taking photos")

This would be a weed of some sort, growing out of the drain - but an awfully impressive one, to have grown so large. Perhaps indicative of the lack of grasscutters in this area?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Red roses, red shoes


red roses red shoes, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Remember those roses I mentioned earlier? Well, this is what they were used for. The play was called 'Ophelia', by my wife's colleague Nick, and it was pretty intense drama.

Ophelia  - 76

It's hard to describe how luminous the roses were on stage during the performance, when they were lit up. It was an incredibly compelling image. The photo above shows two of the performers, Max and Grace, during the rehearsals. It was a shame I couldn't photograph the actual performance - we doubled the number of roses, and it was an even more striking image.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Roses are Infra-Red


Roses are InfraRed, originally uploaded by Wahj.

I never thought red roses would be so IR-reflective as to turn alabaster white. Shot of roses floating in water (see previous post for explanation).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sandpaper and Roses

Monday night was sandpaper and roses.


My wife is helping out as stage manager for a play, and the director wants roses floating (stem down) in a fish tank. The stem-down part is easy: screw in a screw or a nail into the bottom, and it weights the rose enough that it floats straight (getting the right mix of buoyancy and weight does require some experimentation though).

The roses on the other hand ... what you see in the picture above are the roses that we bought from a nursery on Jalan Kayu at $14 for twenty roses. We didn't realise that they came with thorns and all - really nasty thorns - which we had to remove before they could be used as props. After a futile attempt with a knife, I figured the best way to do it was with sand paper. What you see in the photograph above is me sanding down the stems of some the most vicious and thorny roses I've ever encountered. It took a good 45 minutes to sand them all down, and the thorns were no joke: the gardening gloves didn't really offer any protection, and they were tough enough to shred my sandpaper.


The most ironic thing was that I'd bought another set of roses from a florist at the Paragon on Sunday night, at just $10 for twenty - and they were not only cheaper than those from the wholesalers at Jalan Kayu, but they were thorn-free. Just look at that photo above: the foreground stalks are the thorny ones, and the background stalks are the delightfully civilised and thorn-free ones. It turns our that the fancy-smancy roses from the high-street shopping centre are cheaper and better than the bulk purchase from the wholesale centre.

So this is how Monday night was spent: sandpaper and roses.

Friday, September 14, 2007

My most popular photo

This is apparently my most popular photo on flickr: Lone Tree.

Lone Tree 3

Apparently, this image made it to the top 25 of flickr's "explore" pages, which is not bad. This is also the one image which has received requests from various people to use - for posters, in a magazine, and for some book (which it is totally unrelated to). I've mostly told them yes, since I'm not a pro and I don't make money from my photography.

There is one thing that has always irritated me though ... the largish leaves on the right. In the foreground. They don't belong. And I can't crop them out without losing the tree.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Indonesia Rocks Our World

I was sitting in front of my computer when I thought I was feeling dizzy. Then I realised the room was moving - an inch to either side, a gentle but rapid swaying. And then I was running out the door and downstairs as fast as I could.

7.9 scale quake in Indonesia. I couldn't feel it when I got downstairs, but at the 17th floor, the swaying was enough to terrify me.

Random thoughts as I was putting on clothes and shoes and getting ready to flee in panic:
- Why didn't the cats warn me? I thought they were to supposed to have a 6th sense about these things or something but they just sauntered along like it was nothing. Maybe they only get out of bed for a real quake.
- Should I have brought my Macbook along? (still logged in to World of Warcraft?) In the end, I left it. When I came back, I saw the chat channel where several of my guildmates were also expressing their feelings about the tremors. Like the guy who suddenly typed "wtf. wtf. wtf. wtf. wtf." Kinda says it all about how we were feeling.
- Dammit, I have 4 cats and only 2 cat carriers. And it's not as if they would have cooperated by getting into the carriers anyway. I've gotta train them to run into those things like they're life-rafts or something.

Edit: On the advice of Packrat, I have filled a glass of water and am keeping it beside me - because I'm so paranoid now I can't tell whether I'm dizzy, imagining it, or whether the room is actually moving. Just have to remember not to drink the thing ... =)

Edit: On the way down, I shared the lift, and some conversation (along the lines of "Did you feel that?" "Yeah - did you feel that?" etc) with a neighbour who was also hurrying downstairs. I've lived here for 7 years and I've never seen this woman before: it took an earthquake for me to finally meet my neighbour. How about that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How I Got My First Parking Ticket


I blame World of Warcraft, wikipedia, the Internet, and George Bush.

It all began with Warcraft. After levelling a Hunter to 70, I got bored and started to level a Shaman. I got bored with that and started on a Warrior. And then I saw the Light and decided to level a Paladin (we shall conveniently forget the Druid for the moment). And after rolling female Night Elves and male Draenei, I finally felt ready for a plain old vanilla Human male paladin.

Then came the naming problem. I didn't bother much with the name of the very first character I made: in fact, I asked the people around me for random syllables which I then cobbled together for a name. Bad idea.

Since then, every character I've rolled has gone through an agonizing process of deliberation for naming. I wanted the Hunter to be Artemis (goddess of the hunt), but had to settle for Artem since that was taken (and I didn't want Artemys, Artimis, or another other creative mispelling). The Shaman was named Tostig, after the Earl who inherited his 6 feet of English earth at Stamford Bridge. The Warrior was named Osrik because I was going through a whole Anglo-Saxon naming scheme (I gave up on the whole alternate spelling purist thing: too many people had already taken the obvious, and to my mind correct, spellings).

Now the Paladin, I had the perfect name for: Mjolnir. After all, Paladins are a hammer wielding class, and what better name than the most famous hammer of all: Thor's hammer. And, of course, Mjolnir was taken. As was Mjolner, Mjollnir, and Mjollner etc. Evidently other Paladin players had the same idea as me.

So I turned to Google, and discovered another word of similarly ancient vintage: Vajra. Sanskrit, not Norse. The thunderbolt. The diamond mace. The symbol of knowledge that smashes ignorance. Now THAT was a good name.

So now I had a name for my Paladin. And naturally my mind wandered to the next thing ... that's right: accessories. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great if I could get a miniature vajra symbol, like a pendant, or a handphone dongle.

Another set of Google searches determined that South Bridge Road (Chinatown) held the highest concentration of shops selling buddhist paraphernalia (a category of merchandise I didn't even know existed). A plan was formed: drive down to Chinatown ... park somewhere ... look for a shop ... that sold vajras.

And you know what the parking is like in Chinatown right? Right - horrendous. I ended up parking at the first place I could find a lot, in a large car park next to a big new red building I hadn't noticed before. It wasn't till I got out of the car that I realised I had just parked next to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. And a thought occurred to me: "Do Buddhist temples have gift shops?"

This one does. And lo and behold, amongst the incense, CDs of monks chanting, and fashionable tea-light holders ... yep: vajra handphone dongles (see picture above).

15 minutes later I was out of the temple and back in the car park. To find my first parking ticket. So you see, I blame World of Warcraft, wikipedia, and the internet in general.

And George Bush? Well, we blame him for everything anyway, don't we?

Random iTunes shuffling thoughts on a Monday

(1) I did not know there was a poem called “Why I Take Care Good Care of My Macintosh Computer”, or indeed that I had a recording of it. By Gary Snyder. Nice poem. Link to words and recording here.

"Because I have let it move in with me
right inside the tent
And it goes with me out every morning
We fill up our baskets, get back home,
Feel rich, relax, I throw it a scrap and it hums."


(2) Sylvia Plath's voice sounds too sonorous and deep, too “performed” for the frailty in “Daddy”: you expect something more raw, more primal, for this poem, yet you get this considered, crafted voice. Doubly creepy. In the same way as seeing Christopher Walken dance on that Fatboy Slim video. Brrr.

(3) Tom Waits has all these great songs about sailors - sleazy bars in Asian ports of call, populated with a host of creepy low-life characters etc ... but has he ever been in the navy? A quick wikipedia check shows he was in the Coast Guard ... but the US Coast Guard doesn't go on shore leave in Hong Kong, surely? Still these are great songs ... great imaginings of what shore leave ought to be like:

" ... in a Hong Kong drizzle on Cuban heels
I rolled down the gutter to the Blood Bank
and I'd left all my papers on the Ticonderoga
and was in a bad need of a shave
and so I slopped at the corner on cold chow mein
and shot billards with a midget
until the rain stopped ... "

You also can't fault a guy who wrote a pirate song about Singapore ( “We sail tonight for Singapore / Don't fall asleep when you're ashore” ... yarr!!!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

about those dive photos ...

Although I didn't take any underwater photos of the dives, at least one person did: Mathieu Meur was on this particular dive trip, and his photos can be seen at his flickr site here. He has some incredible shots. How incredible, you ask? Well, he wrote the PADI manual on underwater digital photography ...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A dive trip post without dive photos

No, no photos this time. I really must get myself one of those waterproof housings, but until I do, we're stuck with wordy descriptions.

Highlights: I'm finally comfortable enough with the diving to stop consciously thinking about the process, and enjoy the diving. Buoyancy is right, gear is ok, so I spent most of the dives indulging my curiosity. Since there weren't many big fish around, I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at these christmas tree worms (found some pictures on someone else's flickr page), wondering if they had eyes/were light-sensitive or whether their defensive reaction (to withdraw into their tubes) was motion-based. Yes, I could Google that. But dive boats don't have internet connections, and anyway, I was curious.

My conclusion? Motion-sensitive: moving a hand over them to block the light causes no reaction, unless it's close, and shining a dive-torch at them at night, and then blocking the light, also causes no reaction - unless the movement is near. It's possible they have both, but the defensive reaction is triggered primarily by movement. You have to be about 20cm from them before they react, and it takes about 1 minute before they extend their feathery gills again. They usually extend them in slow stages, the same way snails would re-extend their eye-stalks after you poke them - a little bit first, then after the presumed predator does not bite anything off, the rest comes out.

Speaking of gear, I managed to repair the dive mask. The first few dives were tentative, with me bringing a spare mask down and having to replace masks halfway through due to continued flooding, but a little tinkering here and there with tightening the screws and the mask worked out fine. I finally figured out that the mask has to be worn really low on the face because the rubber seal is really short under the nose, and that a lot of flooding was happening through that part of the mask.

Low-points: getting seasick after the second last dive, primarily because they sent the dinghy after us, and sitting in that little zodiac was like the worst of all those assault boat rides back in the army. I had to sit out the last dive, but did manage to spend the time taking some video footage of Sea Eagles diving for fish.

On that last dive I made, we also found a moray eel trapped in an abandoned fish trap. We managed to rip a hole in the wire mesh, and tip the trap over, but the eel wouldn't come out. Blind as bats these things are, and it's hard to see wire mesh anyway, so we had to leave it, being low on air (it figures that you'd find these things with only 60 bar of air left), and hoped that it eventually found its way out. (A while later I found myself wondering whether the fish trap might not have been an ideal situation for the moray: fish would regularly get trapped inside and not be able to escape, and the moray did look quite healthy). I almost got to use my dive knife (Christmas present from the wife last year, an excellent thing , titanium and all) when we needed to cut through the rope, but Gary, our dive leader, was quicker on the draw with his handy little knife and had sawed through the rope before I even got my knife out. What we both lamented was that neither of us had wire cutters to open up the fish trap more - but it's hardly common practice for recreational divers to carry wire cutters.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Spider web


spider web, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Towards the end of the dive trip (more about that in a later post), I disassembled my dive knife to clean and dry it, and left it on the table to dry. I hadn't left it for more than an hour when I came back to find a spider web in the middle of one of the pieces. Amazing what that little spider managed to do in so short a time. In such an ill-chosen location.

He ran away shortly after I took this photo, hopefully to build a web somewhere more permanent.

"The peasant river"


clarke quay, originally uploaded by Wahj.

"The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays"
- "In Memory of W.B. Yeats", Auden

When I first read those lines by Auden, the Singapore river came to mind, winding past Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, but brown and muddy all the same. The two quays may have gotten all dressed up and forgotten their humble origins, but the river remembers: it is still the same simple river it was two hundred years ago.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Shooglenifty


shooglenifty 1, originally uploaded by Wahj.

A few days ago I didn't even know who Shooglenifty were. I kept trying to find out what the name of the band was in between songs at WOMAD, but that was hopeless - it was either loud music or loud cheering, so all I heard was "sugarnifty", "sugartweety", "sugalsweety" etc. I had to buy the CD to find out the spelling. When some friends asked us to join them on the top of the hill for Shooglenifty's set, the gist of the description was "Come see them, they're crazy Scotsmen", and that seemed good enough.

Anyway, this shot was taken over the heads of the crowd: that would be Angus Grant, the fiddler, stretching his hands out to the adoring crowd. It really was a good, high energy, performance: I wanted to sit through it but that was impossible since everyone else was on their feet and jumping.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

WOMAD 2007


WOMAD Lion, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Took this photo at WOMAD last night. The styrofoam lion logo was nicely backlit as it stood in the bushes, making a nice shot.

More about WOMAD to follow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sushi bar philosophy

Decided to eat at the sushi bar tonight since I thought dinner would be late, and I was in town anyway. Tried a little experiment: I decided I'd pick a random number (as usual, 7) and simply count that number of plates that went by, and eat whatever it was ... just for the heck of it. It could've been worse - I ended up with egg sushi, and something that looked like chopped fish of some vague sort. Guess it's character building - teaches you to live with what life gives you and just take it as it comes.

In other news: finally got the car washed! Whoopee. Looks twice as new as before =) I'm also close to choosing a name for it, but I have to think about it for a while. If anyone wants to suggest a name, it's a greyblue Toyota Vios (I always tell people that the shade of greyblue is similar to French WW1 Horizon Blue camouflage, but only people like the Napnuts get that).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Really large pencils. And a wall

Friday afternoons strain the limited resources of the imagination as far as inventive post titles go. So this one is stubbornly literal.

The Fort Wall

For all my wanderings round Fort Canning Hill, I'd missed this particular monument. Perhaps it is more accurately described as a non-monument. The plaque at the bottom of the picture reads:

The Fort Wall
This fragment is all that remains of the strong wall which once ran completely around the summit of the hill.

I like the fact that the wall has been completely smothered by the plants - not just prosaically "grown over", but utterly obliterated by plant growth.

really large pencils

The other surprise on the Hill was new piece of installation art/sculpture (well, I'm guessing it's installation art ... either that or a really expensive piece of litter ... though I wonder if any odd thing left lying around in public tends to get assumed to be art ... "ooh look, a corpse! must be an art piece" etc). A really large pencil, and really large crayons. I'm not sure what statement this is making. Something profound about our lost childhoods? about the infantilization of contemporary culture? about how we really need a giant piece of paper to go along with that? And why are they all red? There must be a really, really giant teacher lurking round the corner, probably desperately marking scripts to meet a deadline.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Return to Fort Canning

leaf and darkness

One of the nice things about finally getting a car (more about that in another post) is mobility. When I started this current job almost 2 years ago, I found I no longer had the time for my photography that I used to: the working day would simply end too late for me to get any meaningful photography done.

I took the camera out yesterday, and drove off to Fort Canning Hill after work. The car makes it easier to get to locations like Fort Canning, which offer some spectacular infra-red shots, but only in a small window of time around sunset, when the combination of light and angle makes IR photography easier (a higher proportion of the light is IR at sunrise and sunset, due to the low angle of the sun, which also makes it easier to catch sunlight reflected off the leaves into your camera. At noon time you'd be looking up and catching IR light filtered through the leaves' translucency, plus it's really hard to get the exposure right in that situation).

The first shot was taken in bright sunlight, but with the filter blocking out the visible light, and the flash turned on and exposure dialled down, the leave seemed to float out of the darkness.

ghostly banyan

This second shot was looking up into the canopy. More about the Fort Canning excursion in another post.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Recent Reading

Interviewing a job applicant the other day, I saw on the list of modules she had studied in her Literature course "Sci Fi and Fantasy". If only that option had been available when I did my degree in Lit.

I was just thinking how ironic it was that I completely missed out on the rise of William Gibson and cyberpunk. I started reading fiction seriously in 1984, with Asimov: this was when Gibson published Neuromancer, so as I was lapping up the old, hardcore Sci Fi, cyberpunk was being written right there in the background. While I was still in Primary school getting my head around the Three Laws of Robotics, Gibson was prophesying the Internet and Cyberspace. The late eighties took me through Tolkien, then almost every variant of fantasy based on the Tolkien plot (Brooks, Feist, Eddings, you name it ...) while on the Sci Fi front I kept ploughing through the classics like Heinlein and Bradbury. Then, as cyberpunk took off in the nineties, I spent most of that decade studying Literature in university, which meant anything but Sci Fi and fantasy. It took me till last year to finally read through all the cyberpunk "classics" - in fact, I more or less waited till they became classics before I got to read them.

In that respect, I'm quite pleased to be ahead of the curve for once, at least with respect to the last two writers I have been reading. John Scalzi came to me by way of recommendation from Tym, who lent me Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades. Those two books and The Last Colony, capstone to the trilogy, remind me of Heinlein in more ways than one, especially in his depiction of a simpler world view reminiscent of Starship Troopers. I've just finished reading The Android's Dream, a real gem of a book: "lightweight in the best possible way" is how I'd describe it, and I mean that as a real compliment. It's the kind of book I'd start a fanclub around.

The other writer is Charlie Stross, and where Scalzi looks back to the kind of hardboiled Sci Fi of the fifties and sixties, Stross is ... post cyberpunk ... post humanity ... post post anything really. It's the kind of fiction you worry for the longevity of, because it is so current: each novel is like an editorial about the state of the culture - his latest, The Glasshouse, is like looking at gender, domesticity, the family unit, and suburban life through the wrong end of a telescope from a hypothetical future. I've just finished reading The Atrocity Archives, which is demonstrates his range by being completely different - think H.P. Lovecraft meets hacker novel, and you get an idea of what I'm talking about (and you can, in fact read "The Concrete Jungle" online. For free)

Addenda:
For added fun: listen to an excerpt from Scalzi's Old Man's War in Chaucerian English. Why? Because it's there ...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Object Lessons in Cooking

Number 134: Check your spices

Tonight we bring you another installment of "Object Lessons in Cooking".

This one begins with me deciding to cook up some potatoes and bacon. The plan was simple: laboriously chop - nay, dice - 3 potatoes into a heap of fine cubes, then fry in a pan with the bacon bits. 15 minutes of chopping and dicing later, I have said pile of potatoes ready.

Spices. Yes - seasonings. The eye wanders over the spice rack. Ah ... "Cajun Spices". Think spicy, sour, slightly exotic. Excellent.

Except the spice seems to have settled a bit in the bottle. In fact, the bottle itself looks slightly old. Never mind: nothing that should stop the intrepid chef. A few gentle taps on the side and a generous amount of spice seems to have come loose in the bottle.

I sprinkle the spice over the potatoes. It comes out looking like sesame seeds ... another tap, a bit more spice ... funny: don't remember it looking so ... black ... oval ... a few more dashes here and there ... or having such smooth, large seeds ..... carapace smooth .... chitin smooth ....



I stop and let reality sink in.

So. Object Lesson #134. Check that your "Cajun Spices" aren't actually ... well, a colony of bugs that have been born, bred, and eaten themselves to death in the bottle, an entire generation that lived their entire lives in a spice bottle and died before you even knew it. Check, preferably, before you dump half a bottle of beetle corpse into your potatoes.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

D.I.Y. Mask Repair

On our last dive trip, I used a spiffy new HydroOptix mask, bought from the local distributor. I took it down to a max depth of 35m over 6 dives, and it leaked from the first dive onwards.



At first I thought it was a poor seal at the edges, but towards the end, the mask would flood dramatically, especially on ascent. It wasn't till all 6 dives were over that I took a good look at the mask and realised I was diving with a cracked mask. In particular, the mask had cracked near several of the screws that held the front plate to the mask.

I wrote off a warranty claim to HydroOptix, and to their credit, they were prompt and efficient in their response (5 points to Gryffindor, straightaway. In fact, let me say from the start that the customer service was as good as you could want, given the innate problems of internet sales). They indicated that the local distributor (whom I had bought the mask from in the first place) would send me a replacement. Cool.


Today I got the replacement, hand delivered to my doorstep (another 5 points to Gryffindor). A replacement front plate (ummm ....). Which I will have to install myself (ah .....) , following some very detailed instructions that specify to the number of turns each particular screw has to be tightened, for example.

Gulp.

Some weekend in the near future, when I can find a few contiguous hours of uninterrupted time, I'll be sitting down with a Phillips screwdriver and a hopefully steady hand to repair something which I will, in the near future, stick on my face and take down to 30 metres and 4 times surface pressure. And I will be hoping that I didn't do it wrong and have the thing smash itself against my face.

Note to self: bring spare mask down on next few dives.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Perambulations

baby poster

An industrial estate is the last place I'd have expected to find a baby goods emporium, but there it was. And not one, but two megastores full of prams, diapers, and everything else a baby could possibly need. Also full of (I might add) pregnant women; pregnant women with children in tow; pregnant women with husbands, fathers, mothers and mothers-in-law in tow ... you get the idea. Very dangerous maneuvering in those tight corridors - bellies sticking out everywhere, and the horrible potential for a most embarassing bump in the wrong place.

I should mention I was there to help packrat pick out a pram for his imminent twins. In the end we picked out a rather nice sporty looking one (not as sporty as we would've liked - but the double prams were limited in range). Could have had nicer rims though. And the suspension ... still it was quite a nice ride, as prams go.

Oh, and the photograph: an old worn out poster hanging outside, next to the car showrooms and workshops (as I said: an industrial estate is the last place I'd have expected to find a maternity goods emporium). I thought it was quite funny how the pram place had a couple of old worn out prams parked right outside, in the same way a car workshop would have a car parked outside as an indicator of their business. Anyway, the poster was really creepy - the mixture of the baby's smile, and the flaking sun-bleached, dilapidated surface of the poster.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Stream of Consciousness: Clipper Tea


  • "1872 Clipper Tea Co." As a child I had one of those picture books that had a picture of the Cutty Sark. For some reason I read that one little factoid over and over again - the Cutty Sark, tea clipper, fastest merchant vessel in the age of sail.
  • I have too many Patrick O'Brien books and not enough time to finish reading the whole 20-book series. The last time I read one was in Cambodia - in between visiting temples at Angkor in the morning and late afternoon, the unbearably hot noon-time was spent sitting reading the adventures of Aubrey and Maturin, about as different from the tropical jungle environment as you could get.
  • Aubrey was based on a real life character - Thomas Cochrane, though his ship was called Speedy, rather than Surprize.
  • Zefrem Cochrane, of course, is the inventor of the warp drive in the Star Trek universe. I was rather disappointed with the way he was portrayed in First Contact: it didn't seem to concord with the way he was depicted in the original series episode where he first appeared.
  • I don't normally drink English Breakfast Tea - I used to drink Darjeeling, but have eventually moved to Earl Grey - inspired in no small part by Patrick Stewart's "Tea - Earl Grey - Hot" from the ST:TNG.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Running along a beach

The photoshoot for our wedding was done on this beach, 6 years ago. I remember how the photographer (wes) made my wife and I run along the beach so he could get a shot of us ... um ... running. Along the beach. Multiple times. It was tiring.

footsteps on a beach

So when I saw these footprints there yesterday, I thought immediately of that time.

All about Mac

There's napping afoot

I have decided that the creature called Macavity has only two operating modes: awake and naughty, and asleep and cute. Here are two more photos of him in inexcusably cute mode.

Mac asleep

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This is how we spent May Day


Macavity ponders, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Actually, this is how our cats spend all their days. And at night, they become hyperactive. Or rather, Macavity becomes hyper. Patch, Iffy and Twinkle are mellow.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Random thoughts


Loom, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Signs you've been reading too much Tolkien:

- you write "one hundred and elven" instead of "one hundred and eleven" on your cheque.

Signs you've really been reading too much Tolkien:

- you had to fight off the impulse to write "eleventy-one"

Monday, April 09, 2007

Macavity at rest


macavity at rest, originally uploaded by Wahj.

For all his kittenish energy, Macavity has to sleep sometime. When he does, he looks like some kind of wind-up toy that's temporarily wound down, or a little steam engine that's run out of steam. One can imagine him mustering his strength for the next great assault, his neverending fight to make the house a little less boring, a little less drab.

But that aside: isn't he just cute as a button?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Macavity Fights


Macavity Fights, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Macavity is like a toddler - except the same boundless energy is packed into the body of a miniature tiger and fuelled by cat food, water, and occasional naps. These past few days he's put out almost too much energy for this small house.

I got only 3 hours of sleep Monday night because he would not go to sleep, but insisted on attacking every cat that tried to curl up in bed with us. Each pounce resulted in a flurry of cat and claws, with me on the losing end. I ended up locking him in the cat carrier to keep the peace, whereupon he pulled a Puss-in-Boots straight out of Shrek 2, piteous mewling at all. When released, he promptly went back to his disruptive ways, with the end result that when I did finally fall asleep, it was with a spray bottle in my hand (we use it to discipline the cats - one good jet of water is usually enough to send the signal that "We Do Not Approve Of Such Behaviour")

Of course, it isn't really his fault. He's a warrior trapped in a kitten's body. Each night Macavity can be seen practising his combat moves on the toy rats we got from Ikea. He'll wrestle with it on the floor, attacking it with his claws, going for the throat with a vicious bite that I'm sure would gain the admiration of his feline cousins from the Serengeti. This can go on for an hour or more. He takes it very seriously.

I would like to think that Macavity is descended from an illustrious line of mousers and back alley brawlers, and his nightly sparring springs from a need to ensure the traditions and honour of his family are upheld. Whereas Iffy, Twinkle and Patch are lapcats, he is a quintessential tomcat. He has shown absolutely no fear of anything so far: his one way of greeting the other cats in our house (all of whom are easily twice his size) is to rise up on his tiny hind legs, spread his tiny front legs wide open with claws extended, and pounce forward to attack the nearest body part. Like the Terminator, he can't be bargained with, he can't be reasoned with, he doesn't know pity, or remorse, or fear, and he absolutely will not stop ... well, perhaps I exaggerate.

But he is such a fighter. I only hope he calms down with age ...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Macavity


macavity, originally uploaded by Wahj.

He's quite the little terror.

The vet had advised us to keep him quarantined for 3 weeks, but he meows every day to be let out of the toilet. We finally let him out last night, and he proceeded to have his run of the house.

We were worried how the other cats would react, but they surprised us all.

Twinkle hissed at him and avoided him - perhaps forgetting that when she first came to us, she was hissed at by the other cats. Iffy perched on the table and looked askance at him with absolute disdain, as if to say "Such a silly little thing, running around and chasing his own tail" - forgetting that when she was a kitten, we thought of naming her Anklebiter because she used to tear around the house at top speed chasing everything.

hiding on the ironing board

Patch retreated to the ironing board to get away from him. All our cats have, in fact, surrendered the low ground to this little kitten, who has de facto run of the floor level - only, I suspect, for as long as he is too small to jump higher. When he grows older ... well, I think he's gonna rule the house ...

Oh, and the name is because of the "M" on his forehead - see?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Number 4 (?)


Number 4, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Not a very good shot, but better ones will follow.

My students rescued this kitten after its mother was hit by a car. They told me the other siblings were adopted, and this was the last one, so I took him in. I don't really have room for a 4th cat, so I'm hoping someone can take him in. In the mean time ...

... isn't he cute?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kids say the darndest things

I was watching the Fantastic Four with my nephew the other day, and at the end of it all, he turned to me and (in reference to the Human Torch) said:

"Why does he use fire? Why can't he use pencils?"

Utterly flabbergasted. For once, I had no rejoinder.

He does have a point, you know.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Limited edition toilet rolls


Limited edition toilet rolls, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Some things are almost too ridiculous to be real - yet they are manifestly there before our eyes.

Such as these Limited Edition toilet rolls. I'd wax sarcastic about them, but these things almost make fun of themselves, so there's little else to say. Except w ... t ... f?!?!

Mannequin Murder Mystery


mannequin murder mystery, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Exhibit A: One mannequin, cruelly dismembered, the pieces spread over the shop floor. The Mannequin police are rounding up the usual suspects.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

And then there were 6


missing fish, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Two more of the big(ger) fish died over the weekend. One was spotted looking sickly on Friday, and sank to the bottom on Saturday. The other was found today, jammed headfirst into the shipwreck. That's a 40% mortality rate. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Un Lun Dun


Un Lun Dun is China Mieville's latest novel, his first foray into that increasingly misnamed genre called "young adult", and one of the most intelligent approaches to the well-worn path of adventure and fantasy.

Un Lun Dun is the Un-Eragon and Un-Harry Potter. It takes the tried (tired) and tested cliches of fantasy and subverts them. Yes there is a heroine, and yes she is prophesied, the "Chosen One". Unfortunately, it all goes pear-shaped from there - the Chosen One gets knocked out of action early in the book, the wise sages and guides have no wisdom to offer, and the sidekick (whom the prophecies refer to as the comic relief) suddenly finds herself bearing the burden of the quest. Even the traditional form of the epic quest is stood on its head when our un-Chosen One decides to dispense with the 7 tasks and just skip ahead to the last one.

In other words, Un Lun Dun is a refreshing change. It keeps enough of the old (there is, after all, a happy ending, and un-Chosen or not, our heroine still saves the day) but plays with the conventions in an intelligent and sensitive manner. Like Neverwhere, the city of London also features as a character in its own right, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities, warts and all. Mieville certainly has a way of describing his cities, but whereas Perdido Street Station was grotesque in detail, Un Lun Dun takes a softer focus approach.

All in all, a good read, and definitely recommended. Ignore the "young adult" label: how many of these books are read by young adults anyway?

Where did the PC go?


where did the PC go?, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Like most mac users, I have to contend with a workplace that's locked into a Windows/PC paradigm. I have a work-issued laptop that sees reasonable use when I need to access shared drives that the mac can't.

The rest of the time, however, it serves its most useful purpose as a support for another invaluable piece of equipment.

My razer mousepad.

This more or less sums up my opinion of PCs, Windows, Macs and Razer. See picture above for a graphic representation of my belief system. = )

Monday, January 29, 2007

Still building


still building, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Another shot from that rainy day, taken through the window of a taxi. It would've been nice to have had more than one building in the shot - to have had a skyline instead of just one building - but this was a nice shot anyway.

I post this on a very tired, sleep deprived, caffeine lacking Monday. I hate Mondays.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Life in the rain


cyclist and car in the rain, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Took this photo from a taxi, waiting for the queue to move. I'd been watching this cyclist for a few minutes as he struggled to put on his hood in the rain. It must have been miserable for him, and having every car that went by splash him a bit more would only have made it worse.

"everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you" It's been a miserable few weeks, outside and inside, and I long for some sunshine to take the dullness away and put an edge back on things.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Attrition

Two of the fish in our iMacAquarium were found dead this afternoon. I came home, and there they were, belly up, with fuzzy stuff on their gills.

Sigh. We've never been very good at keeping fishes. At least I didn't have to euthanize them like tscd did hers.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Iffy gets into bonsai


iffy gets into bonsai, originally uploaded by Wahj.

My wife bought me a bonsai plant as an anniversary present. I didn't have the chance to bring it to my office during the hols, so it was at home the past few weeks.

My cat, Iffy, decided (of course) she wanted to get into this whole bonsai thing herself as well, and trimmed a few of the branches, as you can see. Then she puked them out.

It's fun living with cats, isn't it.