Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is your fridge too cold?

... because, if it is, you might find what I just found: your eggs freezing to the container, such that when you open the box, the top half just comes away ...

You have been warned.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wushu


Wushu, originally uploaded by Wahj.

The WuShu performance at the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Windows: Hating every minute of it

Some time back I gave in and bought a PC - a Windows machine - as a gaming platform. This was partly because it was increasingly difficult for my MacBook Pro to serve as an office work station, a repository of all my photos and music, as well as a gaming machine. It was partly also because most games can only be played on a Windows machine.

While I wish I could say the PC is a great gaming machine, I can only say it is a great machine when it works. Using it only reminds of how my Mac "just works": in comparison, using my PC involves running through a list of arcane and semi-mystical actions in the hope of getting something to work properly.

50% of the time, I have to start the computer twice. The first time I push the power button, the lights come on, the fans start spinning, but nothing happens: the computer hangs before it even starts up, which is quite a feat. A restart is required to get the OS going.

EVERY time I start the computer, something goes wrong with the keyboard. While one could point to a lack of coordination between the peripheral maker (Razer) and Windows, the fact is that on a Mac, things just work. On my Windows machine, on the other hand, the keyboard consistently fracks up - certain keys won't work (different ones each time), the keyboard lighting goes haywire, and certain keys key registering long after they have been pressed. You can imagine the havoc this plays with the user experience - imagine not being able to wake your computer from screensaver mode because the key for one of the letters in your password is no longer working - or to be playing Warcraft, in the middle of PVP, and suddenly find a key not working, or your character inexplicably walking backwards without any control. It's galling to lose a PVP fight because your keyboard and your operating system won't see eye to eye. I've found a simple solution - the keyboard has to be unplugged and re-plugged each time - but the point is I shouldn't have to.

Most Windows users get used to this sort of routine, a secret arcane ritual of actions, restarts, unplugs, resets, digging deep into obscure directories for strange dll files, installing drivers - as the norm of the user experience. Mac users know that there is another way - a sensible alternative that is more humane to the user. We shouldn't have to be doing the software equivalent of thumping the computer on the side (though I'm guessing some PC users actually do that as well) in order to get things working properly.

The saddest thing? I still have to use Windows if I want to play my games, so I have to put up with this. Like millions of users out there, I'm going have to re-shape my notion of the "normal" user experience to accept what I can't change. My only consolation is that for work, and for my music and photos, I'll still use my good old MacBook Pro.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Serendipity

Coincidences:

- in the morning, I read this XKCD cartoon, and am completely baffled (discussion thread on the comic here, for those who wish to read more). I make a mental note to myself to figure out what it could possibly be referring to.
- in the afternoon, I stop by Borders and this book catches my eye on the shelf. I buy it from pure curiosity (and because the blurb reminds me of Nabokov's Pale Fire)

It turns out, of course, that the cartoon was a parody (or perhaps homage?) of the book. So.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

More media than you can shake a stick at

I have more books than I have time to read; more DVDs than I have time to sit in front of a TV; more CDs than I have time to savour. I download podcasts from BBC's In Our Time and listen to them on the morning drive; I watch TED talks when I'm waiting around to meet people; I carry a book with me to the canteen when I have my lunch and coffee breaks. I still can't read, listen and watch faster than it piles up.

I used to savour albums one by one, and read and re-read my Sci Fi books till they fell apart (my old Asimovs in particular were read to pieces); now I have a pile of shiny new books that I don't have the time to read through even once, not properly, and CDs where I've not bothered to read the inserts or ponder the album art.

I have more media - more information - more data - more stuff than I can consume. Add in the video games (some of which have very rich narratives and story arcs) and this adds up to a huge pile. We live in such a media-rich, information-rich environment that each of us - every single one of us - probably has more data than the Library of Alexandria. That's the Library which was considered the sum of all human knowledge (well, in the West at least ...). That's a mind-boggling thought.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thoughts on the iPhone

Fig 1: Self-referential photo - a photo of a photo of myself taking a photo

(1) Singtel really needs to re-examine their concept of "reserving" an iPhone. I made my reservation a few months ago, and when collection day came around last week, I was told to select a one-hour time slot to collect it in, and I STILL had to queue to collect it. That's ridiculous. Reservations help the supplier: they gauge demand, place an obligation on the customer to commit, and in doing so, make it easier for Singtel to avoid over-stocking or lack of availability. In return for the customer's committment, the usual quid pro quo is to extend some privileges to the reserver - in this case, not having to wait in line for a product expected to have long queues. I've spoken to people who had it worse, who collected on the first day rather than the third as I did, and who feel the same way.

(2) Battery life: this seems to be a main complaint about the iPhone, but if anything, the battery life problems result from the fact that I use my iPhone much more than my Nokia - whereas the Nokia sits in my pocket unless I'm messaging or calling, the iPhone is always out - I'm using the PDA functions, I'm playing games, I'm using the GPS, I'm keeping track of my accounts, I'm posting to my tumblr blog ... As a result, the battery drains dramatically fast. I haven't even used it as an iPod yet, but that would completely kill the battery within a day.

(3) That tiny keyboard. Almost everyone I show my iPhone to asks "is the keyboard really un-usable?" The answer is: it takes getting used to. It'd be nice to have the numeric keypad text entry we're used to on Nokias and other phones, but the text messaging interface is usable. The threading of text messagings more than compensates - to be able to see and scroll through the history of a text conversation is one of those features that you never knew you needed until they gave it to you.

All in all, the iPhone is every bit the phone I wanted. I've started using it for things I never thought I would with a phone - mobile blogging, for example, straight from the phone to tumblr. I should take this opportunity to plug my tumblr blog again, since I expect it'll be seeing much more action. I intended it to be more a photoblog, but now it's morphing into something where I can post quick ideas and pictures as and when they come to mind, all powered by the iPhone.

Omnivore's Hundred

I haven't come across a meme in a long while which interested me, but this one from Tym caught my attention. It's also one of the few memes where I've had to actively use Google to find out what the items were!

The other nice thing about this meme is remembering the first (and in many cases only time ) eating some of the more exotic foods on this list - such as ...

  • The snake, croc and frogs all came courtesy of the "Living Off The Land" course in the Army. All these things (plus monitor lizard and doves) were killed and cooked, by and for us, in the course of one day. After regular dinner was cancelled, it was eat them or go hungry. I can confidently assure you that everything tastes like chicken. Also, given the quality of the food the army was serving then, there was in most cases no difference, and in some a distinct improvement.
  • The hare (well, rabbit really) was courtesy of the Malaysian flatmate of a friend in university, who asked us over for dinner and gleefully challenged us to identify the meat we were eating. After puzzling over the small bones and dimunitive carcass for a while, we got it right.
  • The fresh wild berries were picked off a hedge that bounded a convent I walked by often. One day I noticed there were berries, wondered if they were edible, and confirmed they were. I hope the nuns didn't mind.
  • Almost all the Japanese foods are courtesy of some buffet here or there, including the fugu, which I didn't even know was fugu until I checked the menu after - had I known, I would have paid attention. Fugu deserves your attention. Sea Urchin I had once, and decided I would never again.
  • Krispy Kremes ... ah well. On the subject of fast food, I even remember where my first Big Mac was - the MacDonalds next to Bras Basah Complex. And yes, that Big Mac seemed much, much bigger than they do now.
  • Bagel and Lox came courtesy of a sandwich Seah Street Deli used to make, called Lox Stock and Bagels.

The Omnivore's Hundred
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you've eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (aside: doesn't this one just sound obscene?)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (unfortunately, never both at the same time)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth US$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (as with Tym, I believe kway chap qualifies)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail (to my deepest regret)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Monday, September 01, 2008

Carrot seedlings


Carrot seedlings, originally uploaded by Wahj.

This was a Teachers' Day present this year. I received them on Friday, watered them on Saturday, and was surprised to see them sprout on Monday. I hope they survive ...