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Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 in review

If I could pick one entry a month to represent my blog in 2005, they would be:

January: Who's the hero?
February: Culture of fear
March: Filipino babies for Singapore
April: On the casino
May: The problem with Tomorrow.sg (and similar blogs)
June: So you wanna be a filmmaker in Singapore
July: What to do in a "zhao geng" situation?
August: Sharing and keeping durians
September: Harmony and sedition
October: State of Chinese
November: Printer companies, market share and competition
December: The Greatest Story Never Told

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"King Kong"

King Kong
I was supposed to watch "King Kong" with my parents, but in the end, I went with a friend. To prepare myself for a three-hour movie at 4:10pm and knowing how my bladder works, I did not drink anything after lunch. But I wasn't dehydrated.

I'd only seen bits and pieces of the original version, but I knew what the story was about: the basic "beauty and the misunderstood beast". And then it ended with the other universal story theme: tragic love story. Sigh, such is fictional love.

As expected after reading the reviews, the monkey didn't appear until one hour into the movie. Meanwhile, the audience had to be content with seeing the comedian Jack Black try to be serious and driven and all that. And Adrien Brody's sad-looking face.

Luckily, Naomi Watts was there to light up the screen. I liked the way her facial expressions captured her feelings perfectly. Her performance was outstanding, even when all she was doing was screaming her lungs out. I noticed that there were a lot of dialogue-less moments (since a monkey can't talk), but the silent bits were very touching.

Unfortunately, other parts of the show were just too long-winded. Peter Jackson seemed to enjoy squeezing every last drop of emotion frome very scene. So, I felt that most scenes could've worked as well if they had been shortened by half. Heck, the whole film could've fit in two hours if a lot of fluff had been left out.

Like the first officer and his young sailor. I think they're supposed to be the characters that the audience can relate to, i.e. see the whole event through their eyes, but to me, they were expendable fluff. Same went for the second rescue attempt (when the captain and his crew saved the adventurers from giant bugs) that was almost a blow-for-blow repetition of the first rescue (when the filmmakers were saved from the savages by the captain and his crewmen).

Also, when King Kong was fighting the dinosaurs, I thought that it would be funny if Kong just decided that Naomi Watts' character was just too much trouble for his worth and bounded away into the trees. Ah, but then it wouldn't be a love story, because, you know, the damsel must always be rescued.

I liked two scenes: the first when Naomi Watts' character slept in Kong's arm, and when Kong slid around on a frozen pond while clutching a laughing Naomi Watts. No surprise that those scenes featured the monkey and his love interest.

I'd watch the show again, especially if all of the fluff was taken out. Otherwise, well, it was fun to watch the first time. Naomi Watts should be recognised in some way for her performance.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Note to self: Corrinne May in Concert

"Strings and Serenades -- Corrinne May in Concert"
Sunday February 12, 2006, 7:30pm
NUS University Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Tickets on sale from SISTIC in Jan 06. $30, $40, $50.

Update (Sat Jan 7): Got 'em. $50 tickets, row V.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Cycling at East Coast Park

Sugar cane drinks
Wow, I must be the most obiang young Singaporean ever! Today marks my first time:
  • taking public transport to East Coast Park
  • at East Coast Park in more than 20 years (excluding the times I went there just to eat at the food centre)
  • seeing the new shophouse facade housing new eateries near good ol' McDonald's
  • cycling in almost 15 years
  • cycling at East Coast Park
We arranged to meet at City Hall MRT at 10:30am, but she turned up at 11am. We thought of going straight away, but there was a light drizzle, so we decided to wait and see if it would turn into a downpour. In the meantime, we had brunch at Starbucks.

At about 12pm, when it still hadn't rained, we decided to risk it and just go. We took the wrong bus (14) and ended up in Bedok. So we did the next best thing: took a taxi to McDonald's at East Coast Park. Wow, that area has changed soooo much! Where there used to be just McD's and a smattering of restaurants, there is now this huge faux shophouse facade housing several eateries, including a coffee joint. The place has become so commercial. Yucks.

We had planned to kayak, but given the time, we decided to just cycle. $6 for a male bike, $5 for female, for 1.5 hours. We headed straight to the jetty. The park was crowded, which was to be expected for a public holiday, so I had to be careful not to hit any errant cyclists or rollerbladers. Couple that with my lack of cycling for more than 10 years, and it took me about 5 minutes before I remembered how to cycle without wobbling or swerving unnecessarily.

The jetty was filled with people, but we still managed to find an empty beach. The sun was out, but the clouds were dark, so it wasn't too hot. A breeze cooled us down.

Nearby, a preteen boy said to his parents (in Chinese): "The water here isn't as dirty as near the beach!" I explained to no one in particular in a soft voice: "Because people litter at the beach!"

After a while, we went to the food centre to drink sugar cane. We sat and chatted until I realised that it was 2:05pm, 15 minutes before it was time to return our bikes. So we cycled back to the bicycle shop, and just in time too.

After a brief wash-up, we headed back to town. And this time, we knew how to go there because we found the correct tunnel leading to the correct bus stop where the correct bus (16) stopped. We were feeling hungry, so had a late lunch (at 3pm!) at Daddy-O's Diner at Wisma Atria's Food Republic. I had chilli cheese dog, yum!

We headed to Ngee Ann City, making a brief pit stop at Mos Burger to pick up ice tea. Then it was to Books Kinokuniya. I'd never been to this branch, but was amazed at the size of it! I was enthralled by the huge comics section. Then while wondering around, I got lost momentarily at the other end of the shop. Everything looks the same in that store.

And then it was home sweet home.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

The Greatest Story Never Told

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ has been told countless times. This is my take at retelling the story, but from a different person's point of view, i.e. not Jesus, nor the parents, but from another character whom I think has been forgotten over the years.

I was inspired to write this story after watching a Christmas musical. In it, the character, who is my main hero, was portrayed in a somewhat lighter tone, perhaps to counterbalance the weighty story.

Who is this person? Read the script to find out.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas light-up walkabout

I've never walked down Orchard Road to see the lights and decorations. At this time of the year, Orchard Road is always a crazy mess of human and vehicular traffic. This year, though, I decided to make an exception.

Too bad it wasn't as impressive as I had expected. In years past, buildings would be decorated to the nines, with fanciful themes and what-nots. There were even contests to see which building the public thought was the best decorated. I'm not sure if there is such a contest this year. If there is, my vote would be "None of the above". I wouldn't even vote for previous winner, Centrepoint, only because it "sold out" with an M&M-themed "Melt in your mouth Christmas" decoration. *pfft*

Yes, it was that big of a let-down. As mentioned, those buildings that had decorations were only sparsely done. Beyond Centrepoint, decorations dwindled to a minimum. Even the bright spot at Raffles City consisted of a huge tree and little else.

Is 2005 the year of Christmas decorations cutbacks? I didn't know the local economy was still in a recession.

The road decorations, though, were a different story. A tad too red (to save resources for the Chinese New Year decorations next?), but at least they were bright and cheery and light on cheesy messages. New this year: speakers that blared Christmas carols all night long. Entertaining for the casual passer-by.

Podcast

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Drinks with Terina

Drinks
Terina, who had returned to her home for a holiday, stopped by Singapore for a few days of... shopping! What else? Since we hadn't seen each other for almost... two years (wow, it's been that long!), we decided to meet up.

I met her after her dinner, and we walked down to Ice Cold Beer at Orchard Emerald (because that's all I really know!). Along the way, we also admired the Christmas light-up. At ICB itself, I was hoping for a table outside, but the place was packed, so we had to settle for the noisy interior. I ordered a gin tonic, while she ordered a light beer.

We talked about stuff, like her work, my work, mutual friends in the U.S., life in Singapore vs. Malaysia vs. USA, etc. And... in between, there were awkward pauses. I'm not sure if she realised them. No offence to the company, but I realised that it didn't seem so easy to "catch up". Maybe I was tired from the day's work.

We stayed at ICB for about an hour, then headed out to the streets again. We walked down to Plaza Singapura, again to admire the lights. It was quite late by then and she suggested walking back to her hotel. The Sheraton. At Newton Road.

Horrors!

So I introduced her to the MRT system. She needed to buy her ticket, and while I was familiar with the system, I didn't know the nuances of it, since I don't ever need to buy a single trip ticket. She didn't have small change, so I footed the $1.90 bill ($0.90 for fare, $1 for deposit). In the train, she asked why there was a $1 deposit. I jokingly remarked that single-trip tickets are so "high-tech" that it can't be afforded to be lost, so the deposit is to ensure that commuters return their tickets.

What could've been a half hour or longer walk became a fifteen-minute (or so) walk-and-MRT trip. At the hotel lobby, we said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch, hugged, then went our seperate ways.

See you online, Teri!

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas musical

Angela invted me to Barker Road Methodist Church's Christmas musical, so I went to see what it was about. It was held over three nights this past weekend, i.e. Friday to Sunday nights. And staged in Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road)'s drama theatre.

Since I had arrived early (the musical was scheduled to start at 7:30pm, but I arrived at 6:30pm), I spent the free time touring the rebuilt campus. Where there used to be the familiar Lee, Middle and Lower Blocks and auditorium and small sloping field where Scout meetings were held, there are now three main buildings connected by a labyrinth of staircases and corridors. Where there used to be a large field is now the sports complex. Where there used to be a swimming pool is now a basketball court. Big change.

After my walkabout, I found a seat in the theatre and waited for the musical to begin. The story was simple: when the MRT train is stuck, which delays everyone's shopping plans, a girl tells her unbelieving best friend the birth of Jesus Christ. The nativity story is then reenacted with modern songs.

The story is given a few twists, e.g.
  • the angel Gabriel dressed as a glittery John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever",
  • three (female) village gossipers, and
  • an Italian-sounding innkeeper (Innkeeper: "Cash or credit?" Joseph: (picking up fishing net) "Do you accept Nets?")
It ended with a few seconds from "The Passion of the Christ". (Ever since that show came out, churches seem to use it freely to tug at heartstrings. Enough already!)

And I met an old friend too. Back in secondary school, we went to a Scout Jamboree (camp) in Jakarta, Indonesia. Tonight, he played Joseph. We talked a bit, and then he had to help with packing up. After that, I talked with Angela, remarking about her hidden acting talent, which surprised me because she's quite a quiet, private person.

She was joining her cast and crew members for dinner, so I headed home.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Housewarming-cum-Christmas party

Christmas jelly cake
A colleague had just bought a new house, so she invited a few of us there to join her in a housewarming-cum-Christmas party. It was at a new condominium in the Bukit Batok area, so it was quite easy to make our way there after work. There was also a gift exchange (max. $15 per gift), and I dug up two metallic photo frames at home to use as my gift.

The party started at 7pm with a poolside Thai buffet. The pool-cum-clubhouse area looks really posh. There was even an old Egyptian-style royalty bed near the pool! And fountains in the pool! Wow, I've never seen those before. We were marvelling at how new and modern and nice the place was.

Her apartment looked cosy too. When I walked in, I was surprised to see the kitchen to my right. Not because of its location, but because she had installed glass walls to seperate it from the rest of the air-conditioned house. Interesting. She also had a glass wall put in for one of the rooms, which she converted to a room for her dog. In the main hall, I kept discovering cupboards everywhere -- under the seats, under the table, under a mantlepiece. Good hiding spots!

After the gift exchange, and over a dessert of jelly cake (a large slab of jelly shaped like a Christmas tree), she showed her wedding video since most of the others had not attended. And then we played... "Taboo"! Although most of them had never played it before, I thought we got through it pretty well. There were two teams: "Kuniang" and "Kuku". I was on the former team, and we won! Yaay!

We finally left at around 11pm, happy and satisfied.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cosplay!

I attended by first-ever cosplay! Officially called "Anime@Expo", it was the end-of-year cosplay event for 2005, held at Singapore Expo. Yup, my second time venturing to that end of the island in two months. I had heard about such events before, but decided to check this one out when I heard a colleague was participating. It was organised by Shiro Tsubasa Animation Club (forum at SGCafe).

No, I didn't go in costume.

With video camcorder in tow, I went to check out the hundreds of people dressed as anime, manga or other pop culture characters. I could only recognise a handful of characters, but I was more impressed by the details that go into the costumes. Some were tailor-made, others were intricately designed using assorted clothings and stationery. Who says Singaporeans have no passion??

I paid $12 to go into the conference hall, where the real action was. If I was amazed at the number of cosplayers outside, I was even more surprised by the HUGE number inside! Cosplayers here, there, everywhere! According to the programme, there were song and dance items. I had entered just in time to catch a dance performance by a foursome (group name: EP?). It wasn't the best of performances, but I applaud their courage in going up on stage.

I wandered around the various booths and learned a new word: "doujinshi", or fan art. Just as there was passion in the costumes, there was even more in the original works. The art was, to my eye, almost as good as Japanese manga. There were even dolls, badges, trading cards, manga, etc. No hentai (pornography)/yaoi ((male) homosexualism)/yuri (lesbianism), though I saw some trading cards with nude depictions.

Plug: Comix Pandora
Ben and Melissa were manning the booth. I was taken in by their doujinshi. Each picture had a hand-drawn character, while the background were done with computers. Very impressive! It's the first doujinshi group in Singapore and have been around for almost four years. Besides art pieces, it also publishes manga. I bought a set of four books for $12. There was also a poster on sale for -- get this -- $15!!! Cheap but good! No, I didn't buy it, don't know where to hang it.

Other groups: Imaginary Friends, Wings.Symphonia.

I stayed to see two of the best costume finalists, but had to leave due to other commitments. All in all, a very wonderful experience and I look forward to attending another.

Podcast

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Gathering at The Balcony

Cheers!
I met a few folks for dinner and drinks. It had been a while since we'd met altogether, so Stephanie suggested it. And since there was a new watering hole in town, she thought that we should check it out too.

We met for dinner at Food Republic at Wisma Atria. Food Republic, in spite of its name, is just another food court in a shopping mall. Therefore, it is crowded and noisy. There were lots of people waiting for a table. Haha, good luck. Fortunately, Chin had arrived early and managed to snag a table for us. I was the second-last to arrive at about 7:30pm.

Aside: I could've been slightly earlier but took a quick detour to see the new Apple Centre at Orchard. Two-second verdict: more on-hand testing of computers and iPods, pretty much the same in everything else.

One interesting thing about Food Republic: there are waitstaff pushing push-carts around the area, selling drinks and snacks. Very 1950-ish. But I imagine that it's quite tiring to jostle with the crowds.

We left about an hour later and made our way to The Balcony. Along the way, we stopped by a Motorola stand because Angela wanted to lust at the pink Razr V3.

The Balcony, as the name suggests, is a bar that is designed like a balcony at the side of The Heeren. Like a balcony, it is also open-air, so we were "refreshed" with cigarette smoke and vehicle fumes (it's near Orchard Road). Coupled with Singapore's weather, number of people (I estimate its capacity to be 150), and large pillows, and it is quite a hot place to be ("hot" in the sweaty-and-sticky sense, not the drop-dead gorgeous meaning).

We scored a place that was actually reserved, but if we agreed to leave by 10:30pm, then we could occupy the space. While other customers had to sit on hard chairs surrounding a small table, we had a white cushiony area surrounded by large pillows. I ordered a Bailey's, my first time drinking it, and it really is like chocolate milk!

Yew Jin and his fiance stopped by for a while, long enough for us to take a group photo. He also gave us some chocolate biscuits all the way from Down Under.

Chin treated us to drinks before leaving. Thanks!

I also ran into Inex. What a small world!

Unfortunately, the night ended on a rather downcast note. Angela downed a quarter glass of her Graveyard drink and felt its effects when we got up to leave. For the next hour and a half, we accompanied her as she slowly recovered. On a personal note, I got to talk with Jeff a bit more. While waiting for Angela at a restroom, we talked a bit about religion and philosophy. He raised an interesting argument which I hope I heard correctly:

We all know that the Earth is warmed by the Sun. Suppose a person believes that the Earth is warm because of geothermal heat. Because his belief is wrong, should he be denied the heat as the rest of us?

It was after 12:30am when Stephanie and Jeff sent Angela home while I took another cab back.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Biological clock is ticking

For the past couple of days weeks months, I've found myself staring longingly at parents with babies or toddlers.

And I don't stare at the children in a paedophiliac manner. Choi!

The staring is part envy, part want. Like today. I saw one father carrying and rocking his baby while the mother was doing something else. Later, I saw a mother feeding a baby, then the father took over to care for the child while the mother ate her dinner. Someone can be telling me the answer to life and I'd tune out in preference of watching the parent and baby.

I don't think I'm being naive about this. Sure, there are kids who are devils who irritate the hell out of adults. But I feel that if I and the general population came out on the good side, then history, experience and statistics are on my side of producing good offspring.

Heck, I've already picked out an English name for a daughter. Only one friend (or two) knows what it is.

And no, I'm not feeling this way because the government wants me to have kids. And not for the "baby bonus". No, no, no. It's purely biological and emotional.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

RIP la idler aka Sondra

thesimplelife
Picture by Tinker, Tailor
Idle Days is no more.

I only met her offline three times -- ever. I was a volunteer at Bloggers.SG, and she was in charge of the volunteers. The first time was at the volunteers' meeting/briefing. The second was at Bloggers.SG itself. The third was at Hideout for a volunteers gathering.

So why was I touched by her?

In August 4, 2005, she wrote an open letter to the Tomorrow editors and resigned as an editor herself. (She rejoined a week later.) In her letter, she wrote about how she was fed up with the internal politics some-reason-or-other there and decided to leave rather than subject herself to more trouble.

And I thought, wah, this quiet girl has balls! It's rare to see someone in Singapore take a stand (politicians excluded), especially one so publicly. And her action drew attention to the inner workings in Tomorrow. And maybe things have improved there, I don't know.

And another thing: her age. She was at the prime of her life. Mid-30s, maybe? Still too young.

RIP.

More info here.

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New personal website -- yuhui.info

It has been many moons since the idea first started germinating in my mind. A personal website that is all about me and my passions. A platform to showcase my skills and talents.

yuhui.info
(Not yuhui.com, as I would have preferred, but it makes sense anyway, since I am not a commercial entity (yet?).)

And it's going to be quite a ride, I hope. Now that I've invested some money into this venture, I should keep it updated and relevant, so that I get my money's worth.

If there isn't much to see now, there will be pretty soon. Stay tuned.

It's the new Yuhui's World of Wonder.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dream of death

Last night, I dreamed of death. Horrid, morbid death.

It started like this. Last week, my church sent its first missionary to Timor Leste. Last night, I dreamed that he had been gunned down. In the middle of a gunfight. Which he filmed on video. While brandishing a machine gun. It had a very "Blair Witch-cum-war news correspondent" feel to it.

But later, it wasn't he who had died, but an ex-secondary school classmate-cum-Scout. He had died in a car accident. A huge vehicle (truck?) had smashed into the driver's side and he died instantly.

Now I know these visions couldn't be real because of what happened next. A few people were collecting gifts for the deceased's family -- and these people were my colleagues! Whom I rarely interact with. And who most likely have never interacted with said missionary or ex-classmate.

I have an overactive imagination.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

SITEX

SITEX
I hadn't planned to go to this exhibition because I suffer from "exhibition fatigue". But in the end, I made the hour-long trip to Singapore Expo at Changi (aaaaaaaall the way at the other end of our little red dot of an island) for the annual SITEX exhibition.

And I finally met Sassyjan in person. She is, erm, shorter than I expected. :P

Since I was there, I decided to visit the Microsoft booth to see if they had the recently released XBox 360 on display. As it turns out, Microsoft wasn't even there! But then, the exhibition this year seems less crowded too. For the first time, I even saw this big snack area in the centre of a hall, surrounded by lots of empty space. Whoa.

I stayed for about half an hour, then popped next door to check out Big Boyz Toyz. I peeped in and saw booths for electronics, gadgets and cars. Too bad, no babes in bikinis, or maybe they were in the adults-only "dungeon" area. But it cost $10 to enter, and I had already paid $15 for Sexpo last week, so I gave this a pass. I don't think I missed much.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sexpo

This post is rated M-18. Kids shouldn't read this.

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SITEX
The big news is that I went to Sexpo, Singapore's first sex-related exhibition. Yes, I went there partly for the novelty of it all, and partly out of curiosity to see how racy it could get in clean-cut Singapore.

Firstly, no pictures, because I didn't bring my camera. I wasn't sure if I would be going, until a friend bugged me to go together... and I was the one who had messaged her, along with a couple of friends, about it. Seems like she's the only open-minded friend I have. Oh, and she's married.

No, I'm not a third-party! choi!

It cost $15 to get in, and I thought, well, you only live once. There were two parts to the exhibition: a general public, PG-rated area, and an adult R21-rated (though it could've passed as M18 too) section. Every visitor was given a brochure for a spa treatment at H2 Spa & Tea Boutique, and a sample of pjur deodarant. We headed straight to the adult section since that was more interesting, ha.

We were greeted by the booth for Vicon, which sells a penis ring-condom-vibrator, with scantily-clad models/dancers handing out brochures. Other booths included eClub Libido for lingerie and sex toys (giving out free condoms!), The Mannequin Collection for fake breasts (for bra padding), Mobile Lingerie by Bra Shoppe (I didn't stick around to find out what a "Mobile Lingerie" is), and The House of Condom with its four-booth space of vibrators, pumps, lingerie, lubricants, etc. Oh, and also Action for Aids.

There was another booth for a sperm bank that supposedly had live sperm for viewing through a microscope. But when I passed by, I heard the visitor say that the sperm cells weren't moving. "But they were moving just now!" the lady-in-charge exclaimed. Haha, maybe the sperm cells died from the stress of too many visitors, like animals at the zoo.

Interestingly, there was also a booth by Private Asia that was looking for distributors for DVD, PayTV, etc. I don't know what to make of this company.

When we arrived, there was also a talk by Esther Teh of Love N Healing Space, describing the different zodiac types of men and women. I forgot what a Piscean man is, ha. She's basically a New Age practitioner who also does sex-related numerology.

The central area was taken up by exhibits from China. They were mostly art pieces (pots, knives, paintings, sculptures) with depictions of sex. Two items caught my eye. One was something called a "finger pincher" (I think) which was used to punish adulterous wives and disobedient female servants. It was basically a bronze lizard and I could not figure out how it was used.

The other was a wall decoration of two fishes. Nothing wrong about that, except that they're positioned in such a way that, together, they look like the female genital. Hmm, wall decoration...

There was also an enclosed seminar room, but it's a seminar, which means boring yak-yak-yak, so we skipped it. There were also consulting rooms in the corner, but I didn't get anywhere near them to see what was going on.

As we were leaving the adult section, I noticed a crowd at the Vicon booth. I realised that one of the dancers was pole-dancing. And some audience members were taking photos and recording video... and no one minded, not even the cops nearby, who were more interested in ensuring that the audience didn't block the entrance. One more reason to bring a camera!

There was another pole-dancing girl, who danced quite stiffly in my opinion, then a third girl took to the small platform. She was holding one of their products (inflated, of course) and proceeded to show how it was used. She didn't strip, of course, but she did simulate pushing it towards her genitals. I think that's as racy as the authorities would allow: a fully-clothed woman (albeit in a short-short skirt that barely concealed her panties) gripping an inflated condom and thrusting her pelvis at it.

After that, it was back to the public section. There was a panel discussion going on, but it was in Chinese, so I didn't bother to stick around for it. There was a bookshop selling sex guides (basically books with pictures of sexual positions (oh ya, with full nudity inside)) and calendars (dogs, cats, Star Wars III (I am not kidding!)), some massage chairs, Two to Tango, a Chinese health tonic booth, and an Australian shop selling bedsheets.

And that was it. My visit to Singapore's first sex exhibition. Not very racy, eye-opening in a way, and quite informative. With sex shops and sex art and New Age sex therapy, Singapore isn't so straight-laced after all.

The crowd: more young people than "dirty old men", and a lot of couples. For the hour or so that I was there, I think there were less than a thousand people, with most of them in the adult section. I don't recall seeing any children, though they were allowed in the public section.

Podcast

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dropped my handphone again!

Gah! Why, why, why????!!! Luckily, I dropped it in the company bus, so it's safe-and-sound, unless the driver goes snooping around... nah.

This is the second time that this has happened to me. I either need a bigger phone or better pockets.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

"Saving Face"

Saving Face
One very important characteristic of Chinese culture that no generation of Chinese has evaded, no matter where in the world they end up in, is the concept of "face". "Face" refers to a person's or family's pride. "Shame" in English literally means "to throw one's face" in Chinese. (For a Star Trek reference, the Chinese's "face" is akin to the Klingon's "honour".)

In this Chinese-American movie, it shows how important "face" is when a family is dishonoured. Joan Chen plays a 48-year-old woman who becomes pregnant, but she refuses to reveal the father's identity. And her daughter, played by Michelle Krusiec, plays a lesbian surgeon whose girlfriend turns out to be the daughter of her (Michelle's) boss.

In the former, the unwanted pregnancy causes the grandfather to kick Joan Chen's character out of the house while rumours swirl among their supposed friends. In the latter, the daughter has to deal with a mother who wants her to marry a good man to produce heirs, preferably of the male gender, and that leads to friction between the two.

Of course, everything ends happily in this fictional story. I think the take-home message is that "face" is less important than family relations and love.

The show started quite well, with enough humour to keep it bouncing along. There's also a generous intermix of Mandarin Chinese and English dialogue. (And they say only Singaporeans can do that!) Michelle Krusiec, who apparently speaks Chinese, probably needs to brush up on her Chinese pronunciation, because there were times when she got the tones wrong. I'm not saying I'm a master in speaking Chinese, but her words sounded very... non-native.

I am, however, disappointed about one part. Not at the filmmakers, but the local censors. I can accept that it's rated R-21 due to the lesbian relationship. What I don't understand is why a portion of the film still had to be cut! And the cut was very, very, very obvious.

It happened while Wil (Michelle Krusiec) and Vivian (Lynn Chen) were in bed. From IMDb's quotes page, Vivan's mother left a voice recording, which I think is important because it shows the mother's open-mindedness. So the only conclusion I can draw is that the cut portion involved some sort of super-erotic scene between the two women in bed. Except that the part after the cut portion just shows Wil lying on Vivian.

I do not understand!

Overall, while it's not in the same league as "Joy Luck Club", it is still a charming little show about what happens when a very important aspect of traditional Chinese culture meets modern (and mostly Western) culture.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Smurfs get bombed

UNICEF and the people behind Smurfs made this advertisement, screened only in Belgium.

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Printer companies, market share and competition

This is somewhat related to work, but detached enough that I feel comfortable talking about publicly.

If you have an inkjet printer and run out of ink, you will buy a new inkjet cartridge from the same printer manufacturer. For example, if you own a HP printer, you will buy HP inkjet cartridges. You won't buy Epson or Canon cartridges.

I've only recently realised how silly this whole notion is. Not because you could save money by refilling your inkjet cartridges (an area that I won't go into publicly), but because you are restricted to buying supplies from the same manufacturer forever and ever, amen.

The silliness arises because in any competitive and capitalistic field, if a company produces goods for a certain class of product, it will produce those goods for as many products in that class as possible.

For example, Verbatim makes CD-R discs that can be used with Pioneer CD writers and Sony CD writers and other brands of CD writers, but not just for one brand of writer alone. Or for something less computer-related, Esso or Mobil won't produce a fuel specifically for Hondas or Fords or BMWs, but for all vehicles.

So why would a printer manufacturer produce ink only for its printers? The simple and only answer that I can think of is because they have to support their own brand. But as most people know or can figure out, the money isn't in printers, but in ink. So a printer manufacturer should more logically support its ink, not its printers.

Aside: Yes, I realise that there are differences between different brands of ink, e.g. water content, droplet size, etc. But I'm sure that the printer manufacturers have more than enough resources to find ways to overcome these issues.

To take a real world example, more than 50% of the world's printers are HP printers. Therefore, 100% of HP's inkjet cartridges can only support 50% of all printers in the world. That leaves another 50% of all printers untouched by HP. But the money is in ink, and 50% of hundreds of thousands of printers is a mind-boggling number. Taken together, that's a lot of untapped revenue.

Now if HP owned 100% of the printer market, then of course it would logically support its printers only. But it doesn't own 100% of the market, and neither does Epson or Canon or any other brand.

What if Epson or Canon came out with inkjet cartridges that can be used in HP printers? Epson has less than 20% of the world's printer market. If it produces HP-compatible inkjet cartridges (containing its own Epson ink, of course), then it could sell to 20+50 = 70% of the world's printer market! That's a lot of money to be made!

So why don't these printer companies do that? It smacks rightly in the face of capitalism and competition. Unless I haven't thought of something, or there's some conspiracy somewhere...

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Optical illusion

In lieu of an update, here's something to ponder over:

Checker shadow

Squares A and B are exactly the same colour!

Don't believe me? Open the picture in a graphics program. Then either use the eyedropper tool on both squares, or cut out everything until you're left with squares A and B.

An explanation.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Wireless encryption/security hassle

It took me over three hours, but I finally got my mum connected to our home's wireless network. Ordinarily, I wouldn't blog about something as mundane as this, but because there were no obvious answers in Google or Yahoo! searches, I thought that I'd do a public service favour and write down the solution.

The main point is this: third-party encryption solutions, e.g. Odyssey, can cause you to be disconnected from a wireless network that uses built-in security features, e.g. WPA. Keep that in mind.

Read more

So there it was: Odyssey + WPA (+ Linksys?) (+ Windows ME?) = no wireless network connection. I don't know if this is limited to Linksys devices or Windows ME or even Odyssey. But that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

"You don't speak English?"

Overheard from a salesman on overseas calls:

Conversation 1:
Salesman: "You don't speak English? But you're speaking English now!"

Conversation 2:
Salesman: "You don't speak English? Chia lat lah, like that how?"

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

StarHub i-mode trial offer

StarHub i-mode trial offer

I've been chosen to participate in StarHub's i-mode offer.

Aside 1: As far as I can tell, for all intents and purposes, i-mode is similar to 3G, except that it could be proprietary. If my guess is correct, then i-mode is to 3G what the old AOL and CompuServe are to the Internet.

So here's the $(188+617.40) question: do I buy an NEC phone (which lacks Bluetooth data transfer!) and sign up for a new two-year contract just to enjoy free i-mode services for two to seven months? My current SingTel subscription runs out in seven months and I've had my mind set on jumping onto the 3G bandwagon just so I can surf the Web on-the-go (e.g. to check the online bus guide or find a map (assuming it works)).

Aside 2: For the life of me, I cannot figure out how 3G costs are calculated by SingTel or StarHub. At least M1 provides some nice tables.

After doing the math, I'm leaning more towards the "forget about it" side.

Thoughts from the peanut gallery?

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Update (3 Nov): In the end, I decided not to get it. I just couldn't justify the two-year contract subscription.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Mobile phone price plan comparison

With competition in a field, you get more choices in that field, and that generally lowers the prices of the goods or services in that field. Right?

28 price plans to choose from.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin"

The 40-Year-Old Virgin
After waiting nearly three weeks since it opened, I finally got around to watching "The 40-Year-Old Virgin". I watched it with Jeff and Angela. It was also my first time at West Mall up in Bukit Batok. It's not one of my common haunts because it's out-of-the-way, not that it's far, but it's in the wrong direction of where I want to go normally.

I was supposed to meet Jeff for dinner at 7:30pm, but he was running late, and the food court was packed (as was to be expected on a weekend), so I wandered around the mall. In the lobby, students from Yusof Ishak Secondary School put up a performance with cultural dances and precision drill (by the National Cadet Corps). I caught bits of it as I took the escalators up the five floors.

On the fifth, I found a favourite haunt, a bookstore, run by a not-so-favourite retailer, Popular. And lo and behold, there on the shelf, was a plastic-wrapped copy of "iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business". I contemplated buying it at a later date from a non-chain bookstore, but finally gave in and bought it.

Met Jeff at 8pm, bought the tickets, ate at the food court, met Angela, then went up to the sixth floor to watch the show. And it was hilarious! Well, at least the first half was, and then the second-half was more of a dramedy (drama+comedy). Overall, it's a typical boy-meets-girl love story. The twist is that he has to be egged on by three sex-crazed colleagues who somehow become his mentors.

Unfortunately, having so many mentors diluted the impact of their teachings. I kept feeling like I had to jump from character to character to figure out who was speaking the truth. And for a comedy, I don't want to be waylaid like that. I just want some mindless entertainment.

On one hand, I can relate to the main character, Andy. He says that he respects women so much that he stays away from them. He lives in his childhood (with his collectible toys) and is very much a geek. And he's quite a straight-arrow kind of guy. Yeah, definitely can relate.

The three of us agreed: the funniest part was the waxing scene. I think every guy in the hall felt the pain. The other little bit I liked: the two foul-mouth Pakistanis who were there mostly for laughs. (No, not because I have something against the Pakistanis, but because the characters are so way out there that it's humorously unbelievable.)

I wonder how much eBay sponsored. The name was mentioned a few times and its logo was plastered across a window. It must be significantly less than Circuit City, on which the fictional "Tech City" was based (the name and logo are similar).

I have got to try the "keep asking questions" trick one day.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Say hello to Aperture

Aperture
So, Apple released a new program, Aperture. It's not meant for mere mortals. Just looking at its screenshot gallery, I'm already overwhelmed by the features. Take note: this is meant for hardcore professional photographers only.

But I read something about it that made me stop and think twice about this program. Apple tells us that the program doesn't affect the original image, but tracks what changes you make to it and applies them. You can then "step back" through the changes to undo them, or you can keep track of multiple versions of the same image, e.g. black-and-white, sepia tone, etc. And all this time, you do not create any intermediate, "backup" files.

How is this revolutionary? Kelly Turner, one of Macworld magazine's editors, wrote an announcement article about Aperture. Buried at the end is a point worth highlighting:

"By the way, there’s no Save command in Aperture. As you make changes, those changes are recorded in a SQL database."

What's so significant? Well, think about it. Consider how work is done in most programs:
  1. Start a new document or open an existing one.
  2. Make changes to it.
  3. Save the file (thus overwriting the previous version).
  4. Make more changes.
  5. Save again.
  6. Repeat a few more times.
  7. Oh drats, you need to undo an earlier change... but you've saved over the previous changes! Those earlier changes are now lost in the ether!
  8. (optional) Curse software developer.
  9. Make the best of what you have, or restart your work.
  10. Repeat the above process over and over and over...
The point is this: saving a document is destructive (to the original). And this doesn't even discuss the situation when you don't save a file that you really should have.

Aside: Incidentally, this problem doesn't apply to computer programs only. Even the humble video cassette recorders and more modern DVD recorders are prone to accidental recording-over's. I should know; I've recorded over shows I wanted because I didn't check the tape beforehand, and then it was too late.

From what i gather, Aperture's saving mechanism is different: it doesn't, or at least not in the normal sense that we're used to. Instead, whenever an edit is applied to an image, Aperture will note that edit in its database. The more edits you make, the more records are added to the database, where each record is an edit. If you need to modify or remove a previous edit, you track it down in the database, and either amend the record (thus amending the edit) or delete it (thus eliminating the edit). And all edits remain whether or not you consciously save them. In fact, Aperture does away with the common "Save" command because the edits are already saved in the database! A "Save" command would be redundant.

This is A Good Thing™ because it does away with the "Oh drats" situation. Imagine if you're typing in, oh, OpenOffice and realise too late that you changed your client's name when you shouldn't have. And horrors! You don't know how it's actually spelled! You can't call the client, because that would be embarrassing.

If OpenOffice had an Aperture-like method of saving documents, you would be able to search through the database of changes, find the record that says "You renamed the client's name to something idiotic" and delete it. Boom! Your client's name is back to what it was, and the rest of your document is as before.

And that is revolutionary. Yes, there is the "Undo" function in most programs, but these destroy the changes that you "step back" through. For example, if your mistake happened at change #10, you'll have to undo the last 10 changes, then reapply the nine changes that come after #10. What happens if you forget what changes you made those nine times? Good luck.

Unfortunately, I don't see something like this becoming more mainstream. Sad to say, a lot of mainstream programs are stuck in an innovation rut. But I hope that Apple will be able to extend this database-saving mechanism to the rest of its programs. Once other developers see how cool it is, then perhaps they'll also implement it.

And then the revolution will be complete.

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Update! (22 Oct 05, 2:34pm) Holy crap! I got picked up by MacDailyNews! Thanks guys! *high five* And welcome, all MDN readers!

Update! (23 Oct 05, 12:36am) And now I've been picked up by Mac1.no, Norway's largest Mac-related website! Thank you! And hello, Mac1.no readers! Unfortunately, I can't read Norwegian, and there is no free online Norwegian-to-English translation tool, so I can't read what Mac1.no had to say.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dead squirrel

There used to be a squirrel that would spend the day within the bushes along the road to my house. In the early morning, it would run down from the nearby forest, across the two-lane road, and into the bushes to feast on the fruits there. In the late afternoon, it would scamper back to its home in the forest. It was the only wild animal in my area and I enjoyed seeing it dart about.

Given a chance, it could have lived a long life.

Given a chance.

This evening, while walking home, I saw a flat, brown, furry mass on the road. Without a doubt, it was the squirrel, run over by a vehicle. While the rest of its body was intact, the area where its head should have been was instead a mass of red flesh and blood. I couldn't find anything that resembled the head anywhere.

Goodbye, dear squirrel. You were a carefree, wild animal, just living day to day. Only to have your life cut short by a mechanical beast of human invention.

Are you morbid?

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

eBay Singapore experience

eBay
eBay, that venerable e-commerce site, has been in Singapore for a while already (more than a year, I think) and over the past month, I sold two items. During these two experiences, I learned that there are differences in the mindset of Singaporean buyers versus American buyers.

Some background: I bought two iPod minis over seperate periods, both times with the intention to keep them.

For the first one, I held onto it for almost a month. Then I noticed that my bank account was pretty low on cash, so I chose to sell the player. But I procrastinated again until the iPod nano was introduced. And since the nano replaces the mini, that meant that the one that I was holding onto may depreciate quickly. So I listed it on eBay quickly.

Aside: I wanted to sell it on sgselltrade, but I need to give my bank account details to the moderators. Now why would I want to do that???

I then bought a used iPod mini, but the bank account still didn't look good. This time, the kicker came from the introduction of the new video iPod. Without a doubt, the mini's price would go down even faster now, so I listed it pronto.

And no, I don't plan to sell another iPod mini.

Back to eBay Singapore. I had sold things before on eBay America, and I thought the procedure would be the same here. Here's how it's done in eBay America:
  1. Seller lists item.
  2. If buyers have any questions about the item not mentioned in the listing, they email the seller, and the seller replies.
  3. Buyers either buy item at the fixed "Buy It Now" price or start bidding.
  4. Auction ends.
  5. Winning buyer pays seller at the auction's final value price.
  6. Buyer sends money to seller.
  7. Seller sends item to buyer.
  8. Both sides leave feedback for each other.
  9. The End.
Easy peasy, right?

Now here's the Singapore version:
  1. Seller lists item.
  2. Buyers email seller, asking either or both of these questions:
    1. "Can I meet you to see the item?"
    2. "Can I buy it from you now?" (with the implication that the seller will cancel the auction)
  3. Seller responds to buyer.
  4. Buyer haggles for a better price
  5. Seller may or may not relent.
  6. Buyer most likely buys item at a price fixed outside of eBay.
  7. Seller and buyer meet to exchange item and money.
  8. Feedback may or may not be left.
  9. The End.
So what's my problem? It's in step 6. According to eBay's policies, the seller is not allowed to make an offsite sale, i.e. a sale on the item outside of eBay. Also, let's say the seller agrees to sell an item to a particular buyer at a certain price. If the auction's price goes above the agreed price due to third-party bidding, then the buyer has to outbid in order to secure the sale (though he won't be bound to it by the seller). This may be viewed as shill bidding, i.e. bidding by parties to push the price higher for the seller's advantage.

If the seller is unscrupulous, he may agree to the buyer's price and ends the auction early. That's in step 2(b). Then eBay does not register a successful auction and both the seller and buyer have no chance to leave feedback for each other. Both parties' reputations do not increase or decrease. This will affect how they are perceived by others at future auctions. It may seem like a minor issue, but in eBay, trust is built through positive feedback. No feedback means you have nothing to show that you are trustworthy.

I would advise eBay Singapore to step up its education efforts for buyers and sellers. For buyers, they should be made to understand that they have to follow whatever is stated in the auction. For sellers, they must be made aware of the negative repercussions of violating eBay's policies.

Likewise, for buyers and sellers, especially those who are new to eBay, they should be aware of the policies and follow them closely. The policies aren't there to take up bandwidth. They protect buyers and sellers from bad transactions. eBay isn't just another pasar malam (night market) where you can haggle over an item.

So that's what I've learned from selling on eBay Singapore. BTW I made a profit from both sales. Where's the money? I gave it to my mum for her birthday. Happy birthday, mum!

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Bad Sony Ericsson salesman!

Sony Ericsson Z520i
Sony Ericsson had a promotion over the weekend for some of its new handphones. One of them was the Sony Ericsson Z520i. I had been thinking of getting a new handphone, and when this model came up, I thought that I'd found the right one.

So I headed over to Suntec City, which was one of two locations of the roadshow. After angling through the crowds, I arrived at the booth. A salesman was standing there, so I approached him. For some reason, he looked vaguely familiar, like I'd seen him at school or selling something else.

Anyway, I asked him about the free DVD player that was bundled with the phone and he told me about it. Then I asked him how much I could get for SEZ, my current phone. He leafed through the folder of prices and I found the price: $100. Not bad, I thought I could only get $50 for it.

Then, just as I was about to ask him another question, he did the SUPREMELY STUPID THING that any sales-and-service person could ever do: he moved on. It's not like there was another customer demanding his attention, and it's not like he was the only SE person there. What was I, invisible??? Maybe because of my T-shirt and shorts, I looked too cheap for his $400+ wares.

Well, screw it. If he didn't want his commission, I didn't want to spend.

Anyway, at the counter, I saw various phones laid out. I picked up the Z520i and it's much smaller and lighter than I preferred. Then again, its target markets are women and teenagers, so I suppose the size makes sense for that. The lady at the counter saw me fiddling with the phone and said something that sounded unintelligible to me. I gave her a puzzled look. She said something unintelligible again. I asked, "Pardon?"

And then she asked, "Can I assist you?" It was then that I realised that she had been asking the same question in Chinese. Haha! But it was a crowded place and the noise was messing with my hearing. By then, I'd decided against the phone, not because of the BAD SALESMAN, but because it didn't fit what I was looking for. So I said my thanks and left.

On the way out, I passed another mobile phone shop and it had the Motorola ROKR on display. I tried it out, listening to the preloaded songs. Not bad, it sounded as clear as on the iPod. But I'm still not interested in it.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"I know how to set up the World Wide Web!"

On the bus home, I was just minding my own business, listening to Pod! while SMSing away. At the stop outside NUS, three undergrads in their early twenties -- two guys and a girl -- boarded and sat near me.

The girl and one guy were talking about something that sounded like an introduction to tech support or something like that. (Pod!'s volume was turned low enough that I could hear their conversation because I don't want to get any more deaf.) So the girl said she knows how to do this and how to do that. And then she blurted:

"I know how to set up the World Wide Web!"

Instantly, I looked at her with a stupendous expression and mouthed the words, "Set up the World Wide Web?" She saw me but didn't respond. Not that I was looking for one. Anyway, her guy friend figured out that she meant setting up a website, e.g. configuring the web server, hosting pages, etc.

After that, their conversation drifted on to other things, like what she should wear to a party that night, so I just tuned out and focussed on my music and handphone.

To set up the World Wide Web, one would need to set up the underlying network, set up the various servers and routers, and then set up the protocols and rules and other stuff... Not easy.

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Irresponsible career consultant?

Evidently, even with the Straits Times online forum, its server disk space is still quite limited. They can't even publish in both paper and electronic forms the average of 70 letters that they receive every day. Meanwhile, Google and Yahoo! can offer 2GB of email space each for their thousands of subscribers. Go figure.

Luckily, I have my blog. And here's my unpublished letter:
I refer to the article, "Jobs that Singaporeans shun" (The Straits Times, October 9).

It was informative to read about the labour movement's drive to redesign many jobs to be attractive to locals. I applaud its efforts to attract more locals to fill job vacancies.

However, I gathered that the low pay offered for these undesirable jobs continues to be a bone of contention for job seekers. The average starting pay is around $1,200 a month, even for dangerous jobs at shipyards and demanding ones like healthcare provider positions.

Unfortunately, it seems that even career consultants do not understand what such a low pay entails. Ms Salwani Mahadi, an NTUC CareerLink consultant, is quoted as saying that job seekers should be content with earning enough to pay their bills "(e)ven if there's nothing to save for the future". I think that that is the most irresponsible thing for a career consultant to say!

If an employee earns enough to pay for each month's subsistence only, then the logical conclusion is that he will have to work until his death. This is because he will not have any savings to spend from in his old age.

Financial planners advise that everyone needs to build up his own nest egg for a comfortable retirement life. Such an egg can only be achieved through continued savings and, later, investments. Even the interest earned from bank savings alone is insufficient.

Depending solely on one's CPF allowance after retirement is also not viable. It is only enough for him to survive day-to-day. It is not meant to maintain his way of life. Fortunately, job seekers seem enlightened enough to understand this basic fact. No wonder then that they continue to shun these low-paying jobs!

I thus wonder how any career consultant can use such a line as a marketing tactic. She should understand that a job's pay must not only cover today's needs, but provide for tomorrow's expenses as well.
Unfortunately, I cannot provide the original article because
  1. it's very long (about a full page's worth of content)
  2. I'll be sued by SPH and I don't need that.
Maybe they didn't publish my letter because the writing is disjointed (I admit that). Or maybe it's because I slammed the Glorious Labour Movement (but I said I applaud their efforts!). Or maybe it's because I'm just plain wrong (am I?).

Whatever. Now I've published my letter.

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Technorati tags: Straits Times, forum, pay, NTUC

Friday, October 07, 2005

State of Chinese

There've been a couple of students on attachment to the company recently. Currently, I'm working pretty closely with two of them on website matters. They're from a polytechnic (not saying which) and have taken a class in web design. There's also a graphic designer from Malaysia (not a student) who's attached to the company for a while.

The company has a few websites, and two of these are being revamped (so far). The students and the designer were tasked with conceptualising and implementing a new design for each of the two. One website is done by one student, the other is designed by the Malaysian designer and implemented by the other student.

Let me focus on the latter team, because that's the main point of this post. The Malaysian girl cannot speak Chinese, whereas the student is a guy who's more comfortable with Chinese. Therefore, that leaves me as the translator. Me -- the guy who scored C5 in "O" and "AO" Level Chinese. Fortunately, with my smattering of Chinese, I'm able to get her ideas across to him, and vice versa. And if I fail to do so, at least the design is on paper too, so he can refer to that.

But here's my beef: the student is a Singaporean (at least I think he is!) who's studied in Singapore all of this time. And Singapore is a land where English is still the language of business and most day-to-day affairs. So why in the world is his English so bad and his Chinese so "powerful"?

Mind you, the Malaysian designer's use of English is already pretty simple. No, I'm not belittling her, I'm just saying that it's not like she's using four-syllable words in hundred-word sentences. And she doesn't use overly design-technical words. Heck, I didn't study design, but I knew what she's saying. And I imagine that any school child would be able to understand her too.

He was so comfortable in using Chinese that he would use Chinese even in her presence. Meanwhile I would use English when replying to him so that she could at least follow along. But I felt bad for her. It definitely wasn't her fault for her to be excluded from the discussion just because we couldn't stick to one language that we all knew!

Finally, I put my foot down and told him point-blank to use English. He realised his error and used his broken English thereon... except for one moment when his English failed him. But there's nothing wrong there with the occasional lapses. There are times when my Chinese fails me and need someone to back me up.

Oh, it gets better. Later, I found out that he also spells "button" as "b-u-t-t-o-m"! No, it wasn't a typo, because he spelled it that way twice and didn't even know it was wrong until I pointed it out. WTF??? This is below primary school-standard!

On one hand, I shouldn't be surprised by any of this. After (30+?) years of "Speak Mandarin" campaigns, our Chinese youths would rather speak Chinese/Mandarin than English. The trend was already picking up steam when I was in school, which was slightly less than 15 years ago. I had classmates who preferred speaking Chinese over English, and I was from a school where Chinese is treated as a foreign language!

Chinese is so prevalent today that I think it has made Singaporean society the worse for it. Yes, China is a huge market, and will remain a huge market. But one shouldn't discount India too, where -- surprise! -- they speak English. And let's not forget the other powerhouse, the United States of America, which -- surprise! -- will not give a rat's ass about you if you can't speak English.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any general realisation about this language breakdown. If there is, it's been restricted to coffee shop talk, not government dialogues, where it should matter. Something must be done to re-elevate English to its rightful position. I don't care if you have to use Singlish. Chances are, between the local lingo and legitimate English words, any native English speaker will be able to figure out what you're saying. But at least Singlish is closer to English, and from there, Singapore can claw its way back to the predominant use of English.

Note: I'm not an English chauvinist. Is there even such a person? All I'm saying is that, given the nature of the world today and for the foreseeable future, our youths should speak and practise their English. Otherwise, we may end up with a society that is fragmented by the use of different languages. And then it'll be the 1960s all over again.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Return to comics -- Crisis!

Some time back, I lamented the state of comics and local comic shops.

For the time being, I take that back. And the reason can be summed up in one word: Crisis.

Crisis on Infinite Earths
If you're a comic book aficiando, then you know the significance of that word. If you don't, then all you really need to know is that the word "Crisis" has become a tagline for any major comic crossover in DC Comics, usually resulting in some kind of major revamp, retcon or reboot. This began with the landmark 12-issue series, "Crisis on Infinite Earths" (Wikipedia reference), published in 1985.

Identity Crisis Identity Crisis (Turner variant cover)
I've become excited over this C-word because DC Comics is now publishing a series of stories tied to their year-end crossover. It kicked off in the middle of the year with the landmark crossover, "Identity Crisis" (Wikipedia reference). In it, the superheroes were portrayed as less than noble, primarily because they were willing to wipe the minds of villains in order to protect the formers' secret identities. Needless to say, once the villains became aware of these actions, they weren't going to take it lightly.

Countdown to Infinite Crisis Infinite Crisis #1
Hence, "Infinite Crisis" (Wikipedia reference). This six-month journey began with "Prelude to Infinite Crisis" and ends with the seven-issue "Infinite Crisis". In between, lots of things have been happening in the DC Universe, which has shaken the status quo. Government conspiracy. Wonder Woman killed a villain. Superman and Batman are no longer friends. Several superheroes are killed.

It is that exciting!

And to help me along the way, I've discovered a new comic shop. Actually, it's been around for a while, but I stopped by it one day just to check it out and I've returned there a few times over already. It's Comics World at Parklane Shopping Mall. Yes, Parklane is quite a sleazy place, but I don't go to the other parts of the mall, so it's okay.

I get pretty good service, i.e. the staff is helpful even if they seem unsure about what they sell. And the owner seems very familiar, maybe he was a part-time actor? The service is quite unlike my old haunt, Comics Mart. (You know, I was going to put a link to them, but screw it, they don't need my referral.)

The staff there was fine at first, but over the years, I guess success got to their heads. Whenever I enquired about anything, I got this "holier-than-thou" attitude, as if they couldn't be bothered to serve. Maybe because I didn't buy every comic on their rack or participate in their hosted games or drop by every week.

Well, it seems like they're earning enough money, so I'm taking my business elsewhere. And at a good time too, judging by the quality stories that DC Comics is churning out with "Infinite Crisis".

Ah, it's good to be back.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Top 10 songs

Sassyjan wrote about songs that define her mood. She quotes:
music is an ambiguous translation of one's psychological behaviour.
(BTW Sassyjan: you removed me from your link list! WTF???)

Here's my list of songs.

Disclaimer: Unlike her, I'm listing only songs that I own legally, i.e. I bought the CD that contains those tracks, or I bought the tracks from iTunes Music Store (yes, because I still have an American credit card, bwahaha!). And I don't link to any files. RIAS, IPOS, Big Brother -- stay away!

TOP 10 Most Played (Digitally Purchased) Songs on my iTunes
  1. t.A.T.u. - "All the Things She Said"
  2. Liz Phair - "Why Can't I?"
  3. David Foster - "Love Theme From 'St. Elmo's Fire'"
  4. Jann Arden - "Insensitive"
  5. Sixpence None the Richer - "Don't Dream It's Over"
  6. Yanni - "Aria"
  7. Bee Gees - "Alone"
  8. Chantal Kreviazuk - "In This Life"
  9. Dixie Chicks - "Landslide"
  10. REO Speedwagon - "Keep On Loving You"
TOP 5 Most Played CD Albums
  1. Britney Spears - "...Baby One More Time" (okay, I admit it!)
  2. Various Artistes - "Favourites" (1980s and 1990s slow rock)
  3. Corrinne May - "Fly Away"
  4. Corrinne May - "Safe in a Crazy World"
  5. Various Artistes - "The Players" (modern instrumental)
What's my psychological behaviour?

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Review: iMovie HD and iDVD

For this past week, I've been spending my nights working on a video (besides Tuesday and Wednesday nights when I was knocked out by the flu bug). I had been procrastinating on it for almost six weeks and I figured it was high time I got it done. And because of my self-imposed deadline of finishing it on Sunday, that left me with just a few hours for about five days to get it done.

Which meant that I would have to forego using the more pro tools and use something that's more cut-and-paste, i.e. iMovie HD and iDVD. These two programs had been sitting on my hard disk for a few months already, so it was about time they got some use to justify their bytes.

iMovie HD
iMovie HD remains the simple, easy-to-use video-editing program that it was since its version one days. My method of editing is:
  1. Import the video from the camcorder
  2. Lay the unedited clips (with footage that I want) in the timeline
  3. Edit clip by clip, splitting each clip at the point where I want to use the footage
Especially for (2) and (3), my workflow is different from what other people would do. For (2), most people would drag one clip to the timeline, edit it, then go on to the next clip. I guess that since I knew beforehand what clips I wanted, it was easier to find those and add them to the timeline first then do it clip by clip.

And for (3), the common technique as suggested by the manual is that for each clip, you select the portions that you don't want and press "Delete". I find this difficult to do due to the nature of the mouse. For me, it's harder to select something horizontally across about two-thirds of the screen. It's far easier to get to the point in the clip that seperates what I want/don't want and split the clip there. Of course, that means I have tons of subclips, but at least it's also easier to restore an incorrectly removed portion.

I also wanted to have portions where the audio track would continue running but the video would change, like voiceovers in documentaries. iMovie HD has a simple "paste over at playhead" one-menu method to achieve this. It worked... for the most part. I found to my horror that, at the point where the video changes, there would be a very noticeable "pop" sound or an audio break for one frame. One frame, or 1/25th of a second, may not seem like much, but when it comes to sound, you will notice it.

So that was what I really disliked about iMovie HD. According to the discussion boards, this is a known problem. There were several suggested fixes, but I didn't have time to try them on my end. I had already spent four days to trim one-and-a-half hours worth of raw footage to about half an hour of completed video. That left me with one day to prepare the DVD.

iDVD
Switching over to iDVD was easy-peasy. In iMovie HD, it's a one-button affair. iDVD was painless to use for the most part. All i needed to do was select the template that I wanted, type in the titles, and I was done. iDVD had intelligently picked up the chapter markers from iMovie and created a whole menu for chapter selections.

My only stumbling block came about because of my own silliness. iDVD has a panel that lets you control settings. I had used it to do things like selecting a template, choosing photos (I didn't use any photos in the end), etc. But it took me a trip to the manual to figure out that that was also what I should use to change text settings. Well, duh! It's a settings panel! *slap forehead*

The other thing I needed to learn is that, in iDVD, to add a new menu, you "add folder". I guess the assumption is that each menu "contains" other items, whereas a "menu" is something that points you in a certain direction. It's just terminology.

So, one week later, I had burned a pretty slick DVD using these two consumer programs. In future, I think I'll stay away from iMovie HD unless absolutely necessary, but I intend to use iDVD again and again and again...

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Print noview

Hey kiddies,

Is someone accusing you of blogging about something offensive? Is that someone also printing your blog? And is that person using his/her print-out of your blog as evidence of his/her accusation against you?

Well, you can stop that (at least for the second question)!

If you can edit your blog's template, and if you aren't afraid of looking at geeky code, then follow these steps:
  1. Go to your blog's settings page to edit your template. In Blogger, it's the big "Template" tab when you're looking at your blog's settings.
  2. In the template code, look for </head>.
  3. In the line above </head>, insert this little snippet of code: <style type="text/css" media="print"> body {display:none;} </style>
  4. Save your template.
  5. Republish your blog (if the saving doesn't automatically republish).
Ta-da! Now if you (or anyone else) prints your blog, all you'll get is a big empty page!

Of course, that someone could still print your blog, e.g. with a print screen, or saving your blog. But if that someone is technically saavy enough to do any of that, then you really should have kept your blog under tighter wraps.

If you cannot edit your blog's template:
  • If you're using a free account at LiveJournal, then just set all of your blog entries to private. Now no one but you can read (and print) your blog.
  • If you're using some other blogging tool, sorry, I can't help you there.
Ok, kiddies. Now go back to your books and do mama and papa proud.

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