Thursday, December 31, 2009

Unnecessary ventilation

So much for the lovely 'marshmallow' sofa, as B-lo called it. Now officially the cats' scratching post, the damage has gone beyond tolerance. This part of the sofa is Maui territory.

Welcome to Kaiser-ville. Rhumba trembles in his dock (background).
The cats will have to enjoy their little nests while they last. After more than a year's gritting of teeth, we finally shelled out for a replacement sofa. A cheap fabric one. From Seahorse.

Cats. Can't have nice things in the house if you must live with them.

Edit 01:
We're a bit short of turkey and pumpkin this festive season. In desperation, we went to Mustafa Centre after dinner to see if there were any left there. In Little India we braved traffic, walking crowds, and very nearly got broadsided by a mad speeding taxi, but still came away bereft of our quest items. What turkeys were available were too small for their price, according to June, and what pumpkins they had were not of the butternut variety. But we did load up on biryani spices, rice and baking supplies -- stuff that wasn't on our shopping list. Such is the nature of shopping at Mustafa's.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The mountains shall crumble

Nothing like going back to the office and cleaning out the ol' desk for the new year. It was a two day job, but progress has been quite satisfactory.

Stuff I've been accumulating since c. aught-four(!) has been stratifying and petrifying into an entire mountain range spanning the whole of my work surface. It's been so bad that when I really need some space I've had to squat at other people's desks if they've been left temporarily vacant (you have to time it right with their timetables). Or flee into the library -- but that's not always possible 'cos kids are always hangin' about out there. Blech.

My great levelling project has seriously undermined the foundations of the once-mighty geological feature on my desk. I admit, it's not completely flatland yet. It still looks like a diorama of natural features that William could use to teach his Geography classes with, but the view just isn't as impressive as it once was.

It feels so good to have reclaimed some territory for myself. And if the ants want to go skiing next winter, they can go to Aspen. I don't care. Send me a postcard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A little cash back

So what happened to the old LG 1710 that was sitting all mopey in the corner of the study, having been replaced by the new 2250?

I've been looking around for places that recycle or accept donations of old computer peripherals -- but not many organizations around here do this sort of thing. There's the Salvation Army drop box, but because the 1710 is a sensitive and functioning electrical appliance I didn't want to just drop it off and not know if it'll be mistaken for junk and trashed after all. Same with other charitable organizations because there's no proper facility for handing over such donations.

Thankfully, I discovered Ca$h Converters. The person I spoke to on the phone insisted I speak in Mandarin, which involved a lot of hard thinking to make the necessary translations between us. The best I came up with was, "ni2 you3 mei2 you3 mai4 [wrong intonation!] dian4 nao3 de4 dian4 si4 ji1", at which he said "oh... mo-ni-tor, ah?" It turns out they don't accept ancient CRT monitors, but LCD ones are ok.

After the formal assessment (conducted in English) at the premises, my four-year-old 17" LCD VGA monitor fetched a grand total of $35 because of it's tip-top condition. A fair enough price, I guess, considering how relatively cheap brand new monitors are these days. And that means that because of my generous friends, and my long-service incentive, and the cash I got back, I hardly paid anything for my new monitor. And the old 1710 can still find a good home. For me, that was the most important priority since electronics are actually too environmentally toxic to just trash.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Finally gone digital

After holding back for several months, I finally decided it was time to use the birthday vouchers from my colleagues. Combining those with my long-service incentive, they amounted to a fantastic subsidy towards an new Samsung 2250 22" wide-screen monitor to replace my ageing LG 1710.

With the new monitor, I'm operating in full DV-I mode, having spent the last four years in analog VGA. At 1920x1080 resolution it's like having new eyes when playing games like DA:O. Sharp, clean, clear graphics and text... and skin textures I had never noticed before -- a close-up Wynn shows her wrinkles and a couple of age-related blemishes over her left eye, for example. Such details were washed out at lower resolutions. How ever did I live before digital?

Met said colleagues for dinner followed by "Sherlock Holmes". Followed by dessert at Haagen Dazs to help Amy use up her 1-for-1 coupon. It's good to be back with the company again. Work looms just up ahead, but for the moment we're re-establishing our ties after vacationing separately during this break period.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Avatar" same but different

Despite the hype, "Avatar" follows a very familiar movie formula: A member of an invading force learns the defenders' ways, culture and [ahem!] mating rituals; decides to "go native" and instigates an uprising against the invaders -- his own people. We've seen the same story in "Dances with Wolves" and "The Last Samurai" with little variation, and it's a little disappointing that plotwise, "Avatar" puts nothing new on the table.

But the plot isn't really the point of this particular movie. What truly amazes is the leap in movie-making technology that raises the level of immersion into the viewing experience. Viewed in 3D, the effects are truly astounding. Instead of seeing an image that looks composited from several 2D layers superimposed on each other, "Avatar" manages to create a 3D effect that actually looks like depth, or at least a finer gradation of depth such that transitions between different layers are not only possible but look natural too.

And with this new level of immersive reality, the thrills of falling from great heights or being pursued by things with sharp teeth are greatly heightened. At one point, the guy beside me gasped and jumped, and I was lucky not to get a faceful of melted cheese from the nachos he was munching on.

The story isn't the biggest thing for me. I think of "Avatar" as a just a preview of the new kinds of movies that Hollywood will soon be grinding out. Anyway, there's little choice in the matter. There's no way, with current technology, that movie pirates will be able to offer the same kind of viewing experience on our home screens. Take that, Jolly Rogers!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Doin' bidness with the Thai

Thai vendors, especially the ones at the night market in CMX have a simple sales philosophy: never chase away potential income. Having learned from our experiences in Bali, June was out to drive the hardest bargains she could. She picked on quality, colour choice, she even offered to purchase multiple items for a "bulk" purchase rate. At a little stall that sold silver trinkets, she mixed and matched pendants with neck and wrist bands, even though they had to be un-made and re-fitted on the spot. At the next stall she came to, she got an even lower price and asked for a instant custom job which was carried out quite happily.

June's biggest triumph was at a fabrics store where she inquired about a batik sarong and for a demonstration as to how to tie it in a halter-neck fashion. No problem, the sales staff obligingly and painstakingly showed her step-by-step until she got it. When June quoted her price, the sales staff unleashed a torrent of foreign-sounding curses, punctuated by the word, "stingy" a couple of times. We simply walked off to find a tuk-tuk to get us back to our hotel. Just as we were about to negotiate the fare, from afar we heard an exasperated, "ok, lah!" We turned around and saw our batik sales staff waving at us to come back. Score!

This isn't, however, about a people desperate and grovelling for a pittance. We all know there is a game we're playing. We're not there to screw each other over, we're simply negotiating a price both buyer and seller can accept. The process in no way diminishes the pride the vendors have in themselves and their wares. There's nothing to be gained by chasing customers away with displays of attitude. If the customer requires a little more work in order to be satisfied, then just be obliging, smile and do that little more for a win-win.

Their service culture is just something more to admire about the Thai.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Driving in Thailand

To get around Thailand, I've ridden in taxis, tour buses, tuk-tuks, and songtaew (public transport converted from pick-up trucks). Regardless, the driving philosophy is consistent. Unlike drivers on S'porean roads who are fixated on their right-of-way and what "should" or "is supposed to be" and drive so grumpily because road conditions seldom suit them, Thai drivers deal with what's in front of them -- they deal with the "is".

If someone is slow in front, change lane. If lane changing is impossible for the moment, brake. If lane changing requires a bust of ridiculous acceleration and an immediate course correction, hit the gas and manoeuvre accordingly. There is no ill-tempered driving nor curses, raised fists or fingers. The horn if sounded is more for information, "careful, I'm here," rather than imperious, petulant demands to "get out of the way".

Yes, there were hair-raising moments on the winding, often narrow and dark stretches of roads in CMX, but we survived to tell the tale, anyway.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend market

It's Sunday and I've recovered sufficiently to attend the must-see Chatuchak weekend market. Despite my initial apprehension, I really love this place! It's a complete carnival celebrating classical capitalism without crass commercialism. Ever wonder how the "fair" came to be named? It was when traders came together and set up an itinerant market, just like this one, and everyone knew what the best and FAIRest prices were because no trader could price his wares much higher or lower than his competitors. Best place to buy and sell what you needed was at the fair, and that's why fairs are so well loved from way back when. The rides and sideshows that now accompany fairs came much later, hence "funfairs".

The market has everything, including a corner for pets and pet supplies. The merchandise is all well-groomed, fluffy and most importantly, cute! This pix (which I surreptitiously snapped -- "no photos, please!") shows a pup, getting his bath in the process of being preened to perfection. NBS better stay away from this place or she'll be sorely tempted to buy the lot, including the bathwater.



So many sweet treats to eat and beat the heat. June opted for this colourful dessert mostly containing the pink stuff in the middle: some jelly-coated water-chestnut, a staple of most Thai sweets.

Coconut ice-cream served in a young coconut shell cup with tender coconut shavings on the side for me. What a concept!

And after a few more hours mall-pounding MBK, we're on our way home. Bumped into this bunch of crazies at Suvarnabhumi International to pose with for one final pic in Thailand.

Sawadee krup!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Floored

No photos for today. We're back in BKK and have checked into the Paradiso. June's gone shopping. I'm stricken with food poisoning. Maybe raw fish wasn't the best choice for dinner after all. Well, that's the chief suspect, anyway. I ate other crap yesterday too. The Professor who runs the CMX Flora was nice enough to give me two stomach-calming capsules to help me survive the flight back here.

Anyway, of all the hotels we've inhabited so far, the Paradiso has the most comfortable bed to lie in. The mattress is firm, providing excellent back support, while the angle of the wall-mounted LCD TV is perfect for viewing in a supine position. Programmes are terrible, though, but I don't care 'cos they're just on to provide a little background noise while I try to sleep.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shopping spree

Oops. Caught sampling pork floss snacks at this stall in Warorot market. They're made fresh daily here, and the auntie was thrilled to practice a little Teochew dialect with us. Regular customers, we are -- two days in a row.

Today's tour didn't thrill me so much. We were chauffeured to see some "handicraft" stores, a.k.a. expensive souvenir outlets: a Thai silk factory where June bought a lovely black dress for formal occasions; a lacquerware factory we breezed through; and a gemstone centre which we would have escaped from sooner if we didn't meet the same sales staff who sold us soap the previous night at the night market. The people here work two jobs! Kinda' puts us to shame, that.

Above is part of the big temple at Doi Suthep. Everyone who comes to CMX has to visit this landmark temple if not for religious, historical or aesthetic reasons, then...

for this glorious view of the whole of CMX city. Don't know if we're looking through smog, haze or cloud cover, but I'm sure I could spot our hotel down there somewhere, if I knew where to look.

We made a discovery: The airport mall isn't in the airport at all, but a huge mall complex near the airport. This spread is our dinner at Zen, a deviation from the usual tom yum goong, mango salad, steamed rice affair we've been surviving on since we arrived in Thailand.

June discovered this outlet in the mall that sells fair-trade tribal handicrafts. Since the organization was non-profit, and since our money would go towards helping the tribes directly, we bought a number of souvenirs from here. Assisting us was this obliging salesperson whose high-heel shoe size was... unusually large. I will speculate no further.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trails and tribes

A full day tour of the Doi Inthanon National Park kicks off with a couple of waterfall views. This one is the Vachirathan (rainbow) falls, so named because the sun from behind creates a rainbow in the spray from the falls.

... like so.

Not too many people find their way to this spot on the falls 'cos the trail is partially hidden by a snack bar. The trail is clearly marked but once people see snacks, they get distracted.

Once again among tribal scarves...

... made by these (non-long necked) Karen women.



We're at the King's Project, a royally-backed effort to bring sustainable living to these Hmong people. The emphasis on agriculture, handicrafts and tourism seems to have brought some prosperity to them -- without compromising too much on their traditions and culture. Their kids are kinda' cute.

The royal twin pagodas top off this trip. That's the King's pagoda in the background. This shot was taken by a Dutch lady who was among the United Nations that our tour bus comprised. There were the Omani couple, the Israeli couple, the Italian couple, the Singaporean couple (us), the two Dutch ladies, and the two guys: a Dane and a local Thai (a couple of indeterminate status, on which I have no wish to speculate). Throughout the trip, while the rest of us were dosing in the back of the bus, there was a Middle Eastern conference going on in front, presided over by our chatty, often hilarious, tour-guide. Nice to see the Arabs and Jews getting along so well under normal circumstances. Politics just spoils everything.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At the Flora

Moving day again! We've now come downtown and have checked into the Rachamankha Flora House. A very pretty, cosy family-run guest house, so new that the tuk-tuks have no clue where it is unless you tell them the posher BP Hotel immediately across the street. So new that the two PCs in the lobby for guest access is running on Win 7. Proprietors are warm, friendly people. Nice place to hang your hat for a few days.

New daily routine is to take a brisk morning walk to Warorot Market and back. It's a local market and not so touristy here. Lots of colour with these flower stalls this side of the market. Inside, there's fresh food (for cooking) and other daily sundries. I need the walk for the exercise, she needs the shopping.

Ah, Uncle Map makes an appearance! This is his tour office where I've returned to meet June who went for a Thai cooking class earlier in the afternoon. She was a bit disappointed with her lesson, though. The teacher didn't give away too many secrets, insisting that the necessary ingredients can be bought pre-mixed at the supermarket. Teacher wasn't expecting an advanced student, I guess.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Comin' round the mountain on an ATV

This activity we arranged with Away since we were just down the road from ATV-Chiang Mai Tours. We opted for the 3-hour tour and this is the starting point. Here, after the mandatory safety and operational briefing, we took our ATVs around the test track (behind) for some practical experience. It was then decided that June should ride pillion with me.

To be honest, most of the tour was on asphalt up the mountainside, but here's where we got our kicks -- off-roading a couple of these tracks that were dusty and at times narrow enough to peer over the side and contemplate falling over the edge into the green unknown below. Fun!

One of a few rest-stops for a shot of the fantastic view of the mountains and the rural activity going on around us. Wasn't as cold as I had imagined, despite climbing to this elevation. Rest-stops were necessary to alleviate sore butts and to calm our hands and feet that were still feeling the vibrations even after we'd got off our bikes for a while. Think I've chalked up enough experience for the full-day tour by now. Next time.

Like I said, the view is fantastic. Oh, in case you're wondering about the lousy quality of today's shots, it's because some idiot (actually, there's only one suspect) previously tried to take some night shots but forgot to reset the ISO to normal day shots. These shots were taken at ISO1600 in broad daylight! Duh.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On tour: Chiang Rai - Golden Triangle

We had booked the Chiang Rai-Golden Triangle tour from the agent in BKK Domestic. Slightly more expensive than what Uncle Map was offering, but we still got quite a lot out of this one-day adventure. First stop, the White Temple. The design is a fusion of traditional Thai mythology and contemporary pop culture. From a distance, the building is quite impressive -- blindingly white in the daylight. The imagery portrayed in the intricate details are quite head scratching. Visions of hell on the outside, and on the inside the walls are painted with incongruous images of technology and modern pop cultural icons, reminiscent of graffiti art with an Asian influence. And acid. Painting was still being done at this time. Wonder what the finished product will look like.

Visited a "Karen village". Actually more like a village facade where the Karen and other hill tribespeople bring their handicrafts to a tourist-accessible location and display some of the more photogenic aspects of their culture.

We watched some young Karen women weave similar scarves on looms attached to their booths. The scarves were fine and colourful, and we couldn't resist buying a couple at 200B apiece.

A boat ride up the mighty Mekong to take a closer look at the Golden Triangle area. No poppy products to take home as souvenirs, unfortunately. Somehow, the authorities seem to take a dim view of people trafficking in such produce. The place looks to be being developed for tourism in place of illegal agriculture. Sadly, development still seems a long way off yet.

We land on the Laotian border: Done Xao, a little village set up to receive Golden Triangle visitors like us. Lots of little shops selling touristy junk which we can already get from the Thai side. And a handful of little urchins like this one begging for a handout. We quietly gave this one 20B. Five minutes later, this same urchin was still holding out his cup to other tourists with just one hand. In his other hand was a chocolate coated ice-cream from which he was taking bites. Ahh, the simple pleasures of life.

The Burmese border. Only 500B to cross over and look at exactly the same market set-up run by Burmese instead of Thai vendors. We remain on the Thai side because there are lots of bedroom socks and preserved fruit to buy for friends and family; fresh fruit and roasted chestnuts to take back for dinner later.

We didn't really need this stop other than just to break the monotony of the long ride back to CMX. A hot geyser around which has sprung a yet another tourist trap. One last photo op for the day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Street walking

Flew out first thing in the morning to Chiang Mai (CMX). Checked in at the Away Suansawan, Maerim. As the name suggests, the resort hotel is far, far away from downtown CMX. Nice hotel with very friendly, accommodating staff and plush, comfortable rooms, but the distance from town led to... consequences for us later. It's a great place if you want to get away from it all and not bother with the outside world, but if you're an urbanite needing the buzz of city life and shopping, better choose accommodation closer to the city centre.

Downtown CMX: Walking Street, a gigantic pasar malam only open on Sunday nights. From the many street food vendors, we finally pluck up the courage to sample... a mango salad! Spicy and sour, but despite our apprehensions (we live in too clean a city) it didn't kill us.

When the sun goes down, Walking Street erupts into a frenzy of activity. Vendors selling art and handicrafts or cheap souvenirs, itinerant buskers (disabled or otherwise), street food featuring things on sticks all on offer to an ever-growing mob of tourists and locals looking for the best deals.

The distance from our hotel led to consequences, like I said. We (actually, there was only one possible suspect) lost the directions back to Away, so we stopped to make inquiries at Chiang Mai Five Star Tours, a local tour office that said "Tourist Information" on the frontage. Uncle "Map" provided such friendly and helpful information that we purchased a few of his tours around CMX and the surrounding locales. Reasonably priced, too -- better than the tours offered at the BKK Domestic terminal, anyway. Good consequences.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A wedding in Bangkok

First night in BKK was to attend June's colleague's wedding in BKK at the Novotel Airport Hotel's ballroom.

It was an evening of hobnobbing with the Thai personnel, many of whom June contacts by email. Now they finally meet in person.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Win already

Who knew my Windows 7 upgrade would still cost me some mo' money? I did some research, see? I didn't want all the drivers, settings and programs I'm already comfortably running on Vista to be completely wiped out by installing the new OS. It's such a pain to reload everything back the way it was. My research turned up 'PC Mover', a useful little app that saves the old configurations and re-uploads the whole thing onto the fresh install. Quite a lifesaver, that. Only cost US$19.99 to download and use.

Not that the transition was perfectly smooth though. I had to reinstall my Norton anti-virus because it didn't understand how to function in this new environment (PC Mover already warned me about this, so it wasn't a surprise). But my Belkin wireless G USB adapter proved too primitive for the new OS to handle -- even in Win XP compatibility mode. With no Win 7 drivers forthcoming from Belkin, I had to go out to buy a more contemporary Linksys replacement at $59. And now i'm back online again.

So, the benefits of having a fully functional Win 7? Um... programs load marginally faster than in Vista. But other than that, I haven't really tested it yet. Too busy getting my configs customized back to my taste before I go exploring through the new frontier.

In case anyone's interested, my back's mostly recovered. Now there's only a twinge where there was once agony, and it only hurts again when I hyperextend -- not that there's any good reason for one to hyperextend their backs. I just want to see how far I can push myself before the pain returns. Yes, I'll continue to be careful. I'm still in no condition to play hero.

Leaving for Chiang Mai in a few hours time. In-laws will have the run of our place in return for pet sitting duties. Wonder if there are any reputable Internet cafes up there? If not, this could be my last entry until I return.

Xmac is... ON VACATION!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Progressively recovering

Thankfully, my back doesn't hurt as much now. And as the pain is receding, I can flex and bend further... well, enough for me to vacuum the floor with my horrendously expensive vacuum cleaner -- no, not the Roomba, the manually operated one. I've still got a little over 24 hours to recover before I head north for a few days. Will try as far as possible not to do any heavy lifting so as not to aggravate the injury, but luggage inevitably tends to get heavy. Have to see how there.

Anyway, today I had an important decision to make. I haven't yet made use of the $400 our benefactor (who shall remain anonymous) had left for me this year. I needed to make a purchase fast, before the accounts close. Yes, it's a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. I narrowed my choices down to a) an iPhone 3GS or b) a Windows 7 upgrade package. Neither item would I purchase on my own, but since the cost was going to be credited to someone else's account, they became viable choices to drool over. Guess which I picked?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Still mobile

Thankfully, I haven't been incapacitated. I am still mobile, just inconvenienced. Am learning to rely on my knees more and am supporting my weight against sturdy objects like tables and walls if I need to go off-balance, say for changing clothes, or standing up or sitting down. The worst pain comes from standing from a lying-down position, like when I wake up from bed. That now requires some thought to minimize the strain.

The worst case scenario would be that I had slipped a disc. But in the doctor's professional opinion, my back injury is not that serious. More likely to be a sprain because the pain is not directly in the centre of my spine, and because I wasn't doing any heavy lifting when it happened. I got a prescription for a muscle relaxant, painkillers and anti-gastric pills to counter the painkiller's side effects. Need lots of home rest and fortunately (or unfortunately?) it's the December hols when I can rest up without guilt.

Speaking of injuries, it seems more kids are getting injured at play these days. How in the world can that be possible? As far as I have observed, our kids don't play. They aren't allowed to play because they have to be doing homework or 'mug' all the time. Our playgrounds are foam padded, the equipment plasticized with no sharp corners or hard edges. Toy safety regulations are paranoid, to say the least. Hmm... there may be one explanation: more parents are taking their kids for medical treatment over minor scrapes and bruises that in the past we kids just ignored and let heal on their own. These days, any abrasion would warrant an anti-tetanus jab. Parents.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sore back

I promised myself it would never happen. I was always conscious to take care of myself, always being sure to bend at the knees when lifting heavy objects. Nevertheless, somehow I've thrown my back out. And I wasn't lifting anything.

It probably happened because of some uncomfortable sleeping or sitting position, causing a strain in my lower back which I felt as of yesterday. Didn't think much of it at the time, but today when I bent over to pick up Momo (I hadn't even touched her yet), I felt something give and I had to spend some minutes flat out on the floor hoping to straighten out my spine again.

Been in pain the rest of the day. In-laws were really nice. May brought dinner over 'cos I didn't feel well enough to walk, and Ling brought over a Salonpas muscle relief patch to ease me through my sleep.

Doubt it's the kind of pain that will just go away in a few days. Will seek medical attention in the morning.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

TO alumni meet and feed

A day of catching up with friends from TO. Haven't seen Jon for ages. We missed him the last couple of times he's been back to visit, but couldn't pass up this opportunity to finally meet for lunch at least. Jon probably wasn't one of us who used to sing "Please don't send me to Africa", because that's where he worked as a missionary among the Xhosa for three years. Now that he's done with his adventures in the bush, he's returned to civilization with the lovely lady beside him and the wee bairn in arms. Shoutout to Cat and Sam too! Our schedules have been too crazy to meet properly this year(!) until today.

Dinner at Mary of the Angels. Jen invited us and Adrian to attend the Choice 29th Anniversary D&D. Quite a fun evening, opening with a dance-along to Wondergirls' "Nobody", and lots of great musical performances to keep us entertained through the evening. Plus a few table games too, the good thing being that it didn't matter if we didn't want to participate, but just focus on our food and conversation. We let the competitive ones at our table represent us, no pressure for the rest.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Anne's turn

'Tis the season for weddings. It was Anne's today at the illustrious St Iggy's. Compared to the uncomplicatedness of Lynette's, Anne's was a traditional Catholic mass with the full works, right down to the communion. Traditional has its own charm too.

Because of the time of year, I saw more students than staff in attendance. Shoutouts to Faith and Clara: so happy to see that my ex-Presidents are doing well for themselves. On the other hand, it's quite a downer that apart from Gerald and me, no one else from dNYel could attend. Ha. As soon as we are free from the fetters of the timetable, we're all out of town.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Aggregation, not aggravation

Went for some IT course on campus, not knowing who the instructor was going to be. I was under the impression that it was some vendor making a quick buck running courses for teachers on vacation. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the com lab a little bit tardy and met the Shambles guru himself, Chris Smith, face-to-face. Wow. If I had known earlier, I might have signed up for one or two other modules. This one, as it turned out, I was somewhat familiar with already.

The course was about using Internet apps "to save time", and most of the stuff he was showing us were things I am currently using, like subscribing to RSS via a reader or aggregator. From the the number of blogs I'm following, I always get to read the latest entries on a single page in my Google Reader. I get my fill of the most up-to-date web comics on PageFlakes. Yes, I suppose it would be more convenient to stick with one aggregator, but I find text works better on the former, while graphics stand out more via the more visually impactful layout of the latter. Of course, I didn't know what Chris was up to when he got us to sign up for a Netvibes account, so now I have another PageFlakes-like app with pretty much the same functions to play with.

What that all boils down to is that I don't have to go trawling laboriously through every single blog or other content provider looking for new and interesting stuff every day. All I do is subscribe to each site's RSS feed, and anytime the site gets updated I'll be notified via my Reader. So because stuff comes to me now, I need hunt and gather no longer. I have evolved.

Turning my personal fun and games into something useful for the classroom, RSS is also a great shortcut for monitoring each student's subject blog. Say I have about 70 kids to supervise, I'd go crazy clicking 70 blogs daily looking to see if they have done their homework. Instead, I open my Google Reader and only the blogs that have been updated show up automatically -- while the rest is silence. That's just one small example of what I can do with RSS to make my life easier.

What we are ultimately doing is managing information overload. I'm in the midst of learning how to do exactly that using the tools and the skills that allow me to access all the stuff I like to immerse myself with on the 'net -- that will hopefully aid me on my journey to become a better, smarter person. I'll have to figure it out fast, 'cos that'll be what we'll be teaching our kids from now on, and there's no better subject than GP to do it in.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Media balance

I am so glad the "MDA ensures 3,000 hours of wholesome TV content every year". At least the little kiddies' moral and social well-being has been properly taken care of. Goody for them.

But what about for me? Why is my TV still devoid of the remaining 5,760 hours of unwholesome content that they've promised? Fine, we have programmes like "Cosmo & George", "We are R.E.M.", "First Class" and "Polo Boys" but, please, could I have some quality unwholesome content too? :(

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Revelling in the rot

These past few days have been ill-spent in indolence and self-absorption. Not doing anything to help humanity nor lifting a finger to save the world. The world can take care of itself for a spell, and no one said I was indispensable. So I've just been revelling in the rot, allowing the ol' brain to decay, letting everything go back to tending toward entropy. I'm tired of fighting, tired of thinking that I'm so important. I'm quite obviously so not. What I want is to continue spending the next few days content to nurse an icy umbrella drink in one hand while slumping comatose in a deck chair on a white-sand beach. No responsibilities, no obligations, it's all me-time.

I'm sure there's an off-button to the guilt, though. Don't just stand there -- help me find it!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pole position

This FT debate is getting out of hand. This is surely the beginning of ethnic discrimination policies coming to pass. Look at this headline: "No poles for driving test". What? Anyone whose surname ends with _ski shouldn't drive, is that it?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nice nuptials

Congrats to Lynette on the occasion of her wedding at The Fullerton! The ceremony opened in formal military style with the couple making their entrance under raised sabres. After a smartly efficient common law service, another little Miss of my acquaintance became a Missus. How quickly they grow up.

This is my table. As it turned out, I got to share it with Lynette's jie mei (bridesmaids). Yes, THE most in-demand table of all if I was a Wedding Crasher. Lynette was wise to put me and Josh (and Jenny and Gary) at this table 'cos since we're already married we would have no cause to accost the ladies or otherwise distract them from their MC duties. We did manage some polite small talk, so the table atmosphere was still quite warm and cordial throughout.

A pleasant, polite affair with everything running smoothly, on-time and according to plan. The experience Lynette gained planning this year's TD dinner must have helped her a lot in pulling today's event off without a hitch.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ten years

June and I have been married exactly a decade as of today. We marked the date quietly. No big celebration, no big fuss, just a simple dinner at a restaurant we didn't even have to make reservations for. Dinner for two.

What was disturbing was on our way home, we walked past a couple who were not behaving as couples do, or even should. The girl was seated on the ground, nearly slumped over, back against a wall of a void deck of our neighbouring block. The guy was bent over her, hands at her throat. Clearly, they'd been fighting.

We stopped and made it clear that if anything untoward was to occur, we'd be on hand as witnesses. When they saw us just standing there watching everything, the guy acted like he was helping her stand up. But then she called out, "help me!" instead. So we both marched over to make sure she was all right. We weren't alone. Another fellow joined us, and together we put it in no uncertain terms that the guy's behaviour was unacceptable. June went so far as to make a 999 call, but at the girl's urging we did not press the matter.

After sorting things out between them (apparently alcohol and adrenaline do not a good cocktail make), we let the girl depart in one direction and made sure the guy left in the opposite direction. I doubt that would have been a long-term solution for the two, but at least I hope the guy will think twice about abusing his girlfriend again, knowing that the public will not stand for this sort of nonsense, and is willing to take serious action if he does.

There are things men do not do to women (or children, or animals) and it thoroughly pisses me off when I even hear reports of such things happening. To actually see such abuse with my own eyes, in my own backyard... dammit, we're supposed to be better than that.

Anyway, that was our 10th anniversary. An interesting present, then, from above.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I haven't the words

For the record, when I was in Pri 1 (a long, long time ago) I was asked to choose which language I wanted to take up as a second language. A second language was compulsory, being that a policy came down from on high that everyone should have a bilingual education.

In my own wisdom, I opted for Malay. As a six-year-old, I had it all figured out. I was already quite adept in reading and writing English; and Malay was taught using the exact same alphabet. I would have no trouble with the pronunciation of words and the grammatical structures didn't seem to differ much between the two. Malay was a simple substitution code for English, so learning Malay as a new language should have posed little difficulty for me. As a six-year-old I had a clear strategy: take Malay, ace the exams, no problem.

The Fates had other plans for me, though. I never made it to my first Malay lesson. I was literally Shanghaied off to study Chinese by certain elements that did not agree with my assessment of the situation. By the time I took my 'O's, the only thing I'd learned from Chinese class was that I wasn't as smart as I had once thought I was. I believe I wear those scars still.

The sad thing was that I had a choice, and I made a choice, but there's not much a six-year-old can do when his choice gets overruled by people who think they know better.

Fine. I suppose I was a nightmare to teach just as it was a nightmare language for me to learn. I was a rebel with a closed mind, fearful and suspicious of every teacher I had. I had horrid ones that threatened and actually hit students for whatever reason (I did mention this was a very long time ago, did I not?) but I had nice ones as well.

Regardless of teacher disposition, nothing helped. The most telling incident I can remember was when I scored an impressive near-80% on one test in Sec 3. I had a nice teacher then, and I remember putting full and total effort into memorising everything she wanted me to memorise. I wasn't disappointed with the test results. But I realised that all my efforts went into memorising something I had no recollection, no understanding of as soon as the test was over. The results would not have been duplicable on a retest. To me, that was just too much work for too little gain.

In any case, the way it was taught back then is not how people learn a language. It would probably have been very good practice for people who already knew the language to have a better, more in-depth appreciation of it. But for someone who was barely conversant in the first place... well, I don't quite have the words.

It's important that we can all express ourselves in more than one language, and yes, I do feel somewhat handicapped with my less-than-satisfactory command of Chinese today. But it's not too late to pick it up, even now. Chinese serials on TV with subtitles help with the conversational aspects which I can practice with other people should the need arise. But please, don't send me back to the classroom again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Human road-kill

It's inevitable for people who drive that since they spend so much time on the road, at some point in time they will encounter some form of road-kill. Two legs poking out from under a white plastic sheet was what I saw today while on my way to work. There were cops standing around examining the scene, awaiting the clean-up crew to arrive.

Not hard to speculate what had just occurred: truck and motor-bike attempting to merge into one lane, inadvertently merging into each other instead. The operator of the smaller vehicle apparently did not survive the merger.

Motor-bikes are one of the road's most unpredictable factors. They're small and nimble, and appear and disappear off our scopes seemingly at random because they can get to places drivers don't expect to be looking at because no one in their right mind should be there at all. Often, as soon as I signal to change lane, a motor-bike a safe distance behind will suddenly accelerate to get in front of me and I'm forced back into the lane I attempted to leave. Bikers can be so irrational.

But I'm not here to rail at the idiocy of others; and I'm certainly not saying that that was what happened in this traffic fatality. We can't fix other people so let's just be more proactive about the things we can control. Drivers, signal early and check your blind spots always. And can we, like Canadians, give a car's length respect to the bike in front of us and not force them to squeeze in between cars because that's so dangerous? Yes, the idiots will do it anyway because they can, but teaching them a lesson by getting them killed is not an effective pedagogical strategy. Let's please try something else.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mel's new place

Officially met the kids I'll be inheriting next year. A massive redeployment of staff means I'll remain in the 2nd year team and hence take over these classes from their original tutors whom they will lose in the reshuffle. Personally, I'd prefer to follow a batch through the two-year term; get to know my charges better that way. But I guess spending just one year with this group will have to suffice. In the half-hour allotted for our meeting and intro, we discussed a little theory and a little of my "pedagogical" philosophy. Hope I haven't already confused them too much. We have a whole year to look forward to together.

Pulled an extended duty for my last hall monitor slot. A sole candidate requiring a laptop to type his answers on. And with his splinted and bandaged index finger, he looked like he needed the extra 45 minutes which I couldn't begrudge him.

Dinner was at Mel's new place. A house-warming, of sorts, but mostly it was an opportunity for Mel to try out her new culinary skills on the rest of us. Recipes born in desperation from an imaginative mind to satisfy the need to eat. Been there before but really only learned to prepare eggs in one or two ways -- fry or boil -- and mostly surviving on instant noodles, and acquiring a taste for bagels and lox. For Mel, her experience taught her to cook not just for her own self-preservation but also for others to savour. Tonight's fusion-experimental dishes worked very nicely. My compliments to the chef!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Choice of company

It's been a week of alternating between official duties and exploring Ferelden, chasing every quest and sub-quest via my Warrior and her all-woman party. Freud might have something to say about my choice of adventuring company, but I just think it's more badass to have a bunch of girls kick macho male enemy butt. Besides, the male characters I could opt to play with have boring personalities. Two won't talk to me 'cos they're, like, strong silent types; one's a whiner; one's a sleazebag; and the last is a drunk who prefers to belch then fall down and mumble incoherently rather than have a proper conversation. Typical.

So, tonight's dinner with Jen put a temporary end to a week of partially self-imposed near social isolation from real people. Our dinner programme began at 1500 at her workplace where, in an effort to get ourselves at least contributing to society in some little way, we stuffed envelopes with appeal cards for pledges and donations to the organization she represents. We had lots of help: about 70 kids of mixed nationalities (someone remarked it was like the UN) had descended to tour the place, lend a hand with the mailers; and interact and play games with the residents.

In a sense, the residents were helping the visitors out more because the latter had to have some kind of community involvement as part of their training, and the former were happy to oblige. Anyway, we all worked furiously to prepare as many envelopes as possible for mailing. The kids were boisterous and playful, but still got the job done without too much distraction. And when everyone went outdoors to play, both residents and visitors clearly had great fun with each other. We old-timers stood on the sidelines, nodding sagely at the proceedings while ducking the occasional stray dodge ball carelessly cast in our general direction.

Later at dinner proper, it was finally down to Jen, June and me in serious conversation over nachos, salad and pasta. "Serious", as in the adult, mature sense rather than giggly hee hee ha ha sense. Basically just to catch up and see how we've been faring since we last met, oh... months ago.

I really need to get out more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

So slow!

Network seriously lagging at home. Web pages are taking, like, forever to load -- if at all. Hello...? Testing... testing...!

Edit 01:
Finally couldn't stand the lag and called Starhub's helpline. Very patient service as Technical Assistance talked me through the diagnostic procedure. Despite long pauses in between instructions as I connected and re-connected cables and waited for a test file to download, there was always a calm, reassuring voice at the other end of the line telling me the next step. And this was already close to midnight, mind you. Someone was available even past midnight to entertain my queries.

Didn't get immediate results, but the problem at some point seemed to correct itself. But they promised me they'll still keep looking into my original complaint so that it doesn't happen again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bouncing back and forth

Technically, I have not been compelled on pain of death to appear on campus on a daily basis while on exam duty. Nonetheless, it has been necessary to be on campus anyway because there's still work needing to be done, regardless. The year may be grinding to an end, but it hasn't ended yet; and there's the pre-flight checks and prep for next year as well. What? You think school "just happens"?

It makes a difference, though, when Management removes the "compulsory" label from the usual punch-in punch-out routine. It's a move that shows the value of trust over control; that we're there not because of someone else's say-so, but because we recognise that our responsibilities are indeed ours and so we do what we can to fulfil them.

Don't feel sorry for us if you see us bouncing back and forth between our campus and the exam venue (which is on some other campus). We're ok with that, really.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The show goes on

Negotiations for a new instructor for NYeDC went well. Met prospectives at Sleek Espresso Bar over tea and cake, and it's great to see a familiar face whom I'll get to work with again. Also, we have been commissioned to work on comedy next year, taking a much needed break from the hyper-emo stuff that Drama Night has come to be identified with.

I think we've got the right people to put together a great show with lots of laughs. We'll be banking on our new instructors' forte in physical theatre, and we'll have still have Tina as overall QC. Now to find a suitable script and get the show on the road in six months.

... no pressure.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The end is here

The old morality conundrum about who deserves to live or die from among a crowd in a lifeboat cast adrift with limited resources plays out in "2012". Out of 6 billion people, only 400k can be saved, so who gets to go on board before the grand extinction event occurs?

When it all comes down to it, humanity is but a representative mix of people of different abilities and talents. The smart, the rich, the artistic, the organizers and planners, and the determined with the chutzpah to match. Framing this cross-section of personalities are cold practicality that makes the toughest of decisions and compassion, yin and yang in perfect balance. It may not be entirely realistic, but it makes for satisfying storytelling anyway.

We also get to see how people will do whatever it takes to ensure the children are the first to be rescued. Self-sacrificial acts abound, though sometimes the choice is only between a rock and a hard place. And often, there is no chance at all. It wouldn't be a disaster movie otherwise, and in this one, there is no stopping the destruction of ol' dependable terra firma itself in its entirety.

The destruction on screen is at a scale never seen before in special effects. The magnitude is truly awesome as the earth's crust breaks apart in city-block sized chunks. It's a jaw-gaping spectacle as a tsunami engulfs the Himalayan mountain range and washes away a whole monastery perched on one of the higher tips. The whole effect plays on our sense of scale such that a whole building or structure that looks imposing close-up is a mere insignificant speck at a great distance away, and that distance is required to view the devastation Armageddon brings.

But placing the camera at this distance would not cause us to care what was happening if we didn't have Jackson and his slightly dysfunctional family to root for. This was the fatal flaw in "The Day after Tomorrow" in which the plot was too tightly focused on the fortunes of just one family group, but thankfully, there are lots more story threads and lots more points of view to observe in 2012. And miraculously, the loose ends do tie up at the end quite neatly so happy ending after all, such as the circumstances allow.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A grand set

I don't mind adding my endorsement of Flamingg Mangos' set lunch deal. Prices range from $11.90 to $16.90 per set. For the $16.90 set, the starter is either a salad or sup du jour and a complementary chunk of garlic bread per set ordered.

June ordered the half-slab pork back ribs and I had the mixed grill comprising lamb, grilled dory coated over with a thick layer of Hollandaise sauce and two chix franks. Both plates were generously loaded with nice, big portions of meat and side salad. Since the main dish already comes with its own salad, it makes sense to order the soup to start.

Dessert was a large brownie square, soft and moist, packed with walnuts, topped with warm fudge AND served a la mode -- choice of choc, vanilla or strawberry.

Free-flow ice-cold water was on the house. Service, as always, was attentive and friendly.

And one more plus point: no discrimination against Q-tip or her species. :)

That was brunch. It's way past dinner time now, but we're still so full I think the next time we see food will be breakfast tomorrow morning.

Oh, in case MDA is reading, I paid in full for both sets. Happy?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hall monitor elite

Going from one week non-stop talking to kids in consults to talking with nobody while on hall monitor duty (and nobody after) is quite a shock to the system. Before: brain furiously active, improvising responses to difficult questions on the spot without skipping a beat. After: Almost total brain shut down, performing the highly essential task of making one's presence felt in the exam hall, while in reality merely functioning as a dispenser of paper and watching the digital clock counting life away. The idle mind is a philosophical mind.

Or keeping tabs on toilet breaks. It's amazing how popular the toilet is during a three-hour paper. There's a constant flow of kids (mostly boys, oddly enough) who need to "get up and go", more this year than in any other I've ever encountered. Guess we'll be instituting some kind of bladder training as an essential exam skill when word gets around.

Anyway, I may be a disgruntled hall monitor this year because I think the rotations could be more even. Yes, I'm sympathetic to the headache that comes with scheduling monitors with papers with venues, and it's a nightmare and all, but sticking one 'elite' group with all the big papers is a little too convenient and presumes that we don't notice -- and even if we did, we don't mind. As one of the 'elite', though I can't speak for the others, I will say for the record, I do and I do.

Two... more... weeks...!

Monday, November 09, 2009

"Dragon Age: Origins" first impressions

Traded up from RPG-lite to full blown RPG with "Dragon Age: Origins". Bioware has put in a massive storyline including different beginning stories to play through depending on which species (human, elf or dwarf) has been picked as the main character.

Did I mention the game is huge? As it is, so much detail and melodrama has gone into the prologue which, as all good RPGs should, is a tutorial of the game mechanics such as inventory-keeping, party combat, and character equipping and building.

No auto-builds here -- each party member is individually customizable to suit the player's preferred play style. A mix of ranged, magic and melee attacks and defences are needed to build a team that can survive the enemy hoards, and though it's necessary to micromanage everything, the multiplicity of decisions you have to make at every level-up can be tedious and frustrating when you realize you've chosen badly with no take-backs.

Combat is tough, especially since I have yet to master tactical control over the party. People tend to get killed off-screen while I'm busy with a swarm of nasties on my end; so now I've gone back to my tried-and-tested technique: position ranged attackers, then draw small groups of enemy into the kill-zone, chipping away at them bit by bit until victory. Wading into the crowd like a tank is suicide, but the game would go a lot faster if that were possible.

My rig is, however, giving a lot of serious lag problems, with the game playing like a slide-show when there's lots of movement on-screen. I have better than recommended specs, so there's something obviously wrong with my config. It's still a problem even on the lowest graphics settings, so how to fix? Grumble, grumble...

Anyway, only played through the prologue and ventured some ways into the main story so far. So interesting to eavesdrop on side-conversations between party members as we run across the map. Depending on their attitudes towards each other, they bicker, gripe or whine at each other on the hoof (yeah, my team has teamwork issues). That's the level of detail I've uncovered so far. And that's not including the downloadable content (DLC) yet. Did I mention this game is huge? And with DLC, it'll just keep growing.

Game bugs? I think I encountered one the first time I encountered an ogre. He was killing my team with ease, until he must have got bored. On my last reload, he just stood there and took all the puny punishment my team could dish out without retaliating, then finally worn out, he keeled over and obligingly died. Was that a bug? Or is there a built-in in-game fail-safe for players who are pathetic losers like me? Must keep playing to see if it happens again.

Edit 01:
Oops... there is indeed an auto-build function for lazy gamers. It's in the Character Records screen.

Edit 02:
I seem to have fixed the lag problem. Updated drivers for my RealTek audio. Should have guessed 'cos the dialogue was stuttery at times. Game works brilliantly, now. :)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

3D magic in Coraline

Watched "Coraline" in 3D. I'd already read the book, so there weren't that many surprises in the movie. Coraline's dad is slightly more fleshed out, perhaps, and there's the addition of Wybie, to whom Coraline can dialogue with otherwise she'll spend most of her on-screen time soliloquizing -- which would be practically the whole movie.

Yes, Coraline is lonely. Nobody pays much attention to her 'cos they're busy with work. Or they're partway off their rockers already. No one listens to her, much less get her name right (it's "Coraline," not "Caroline!"). She's left her friends behind to settle in a house isolated from civilization, and quickly falls prey to ennui. When she discovers an alternate reality in which all her wishes come true, where everything and everyone seems to exist for her pleasure alone, it's almost too good to be true.

I'm no book purist, so it's wonderful to see Gaiman's text come to life in 3D stop-motion animation. The story I already know. What I marvel at is the storytelling technique which is intricate in detail and so painstaking to put together. The 3D effects are a costly extravagance, but it does add to the magic of the experience.

If there's a moral to this story, I suppose it's that Coraline learns to accept people the way they are in reality, flawed as they may be. She realizes that if they simply conformed to her idealized version of how they "should" be, she might as well be wearing buttons in place of her eyes. And if everyone and everything revolved around just her alone, what a small world it would be to live in.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Smooth delivery

Today's NLB book run took us East when usually we get dispatched West. The first recipient was a congenial, elderly fellow who spoke Mandarin. Fortunately, I had June with me to translate and complete the admin which involved checking the inventory of books received and returned, and signing off in the appropriate space provided.

The second was a nice elderly lady who lived in a huge piece of landed property, beautifully done up resort-style. The help packed in the big guard dog but we got to introduce ourselves to the little pomeranian who lived indoors. Here we had another smooth delivery, and for our pains she gave us some ice-cold chrysanthemum tea, a box of Rocher, and a 'thank you' card. The card we'll forward to the NLB folks in charge of us volunteers, the chocs... well, we'll leave our options open.

Good run today. Lunch at No. 49 Katong Laksa to reward ourselves for a job well done.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Welcome to the next level

We're making serious efforts to get our names immortalized on Sunset's illustrious wall of flame. This evening we brought our secret weapon, Josh, along. Plus, June's been 'training' in BKK the past week, so our little group felt quite ready to tackle... level 10. 10 is significant because it is the last level officially listed on the menu. Anything beyond 10 and, hey, it's your own lookout, buddy.

At level 10, chix wings are no longer to be considered food. It's neither tasty nor pleasant, and unlikely to be nutritious after such treatment. The regular flavour of chicken is all but replaced by the sensation of burning. The only reason to eat anything above 10 is the challenge of enduring pain and only to be undertaken at double dare conditions at least.

The immediate effect is blood, sweat and tears. Sweat and tears mingle on the face like it's been buffeted around in a tropical monsoon. Blood is from internal haemorrhaging, or that's what it feels like, anyway. It's a personal challenge because no one at our table will congratulate such reckless behaviour. No one is impressed by such displays of masochistic tendencies. No one but yourself.

The good thing about the hot sauce Sunset uses is that it doesn't stick to the fingers after a good wash. Contact lens users don't have to worry about experiencing level 10 in the eyes which even you couldn't admire yourself for. The burning sensation around the mouth likewise doesn't last. It'll sting for about 20 minutes after wing consumption and though it may not be forgotten, it's gone. Then you might actually consider reaching for another wing, if your friends haven't eaten them all.

Level 30 looks to be still distant on the horizon, but we're making progress.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hail Godzilla!

Hideki Matsui: 2-run homer, 2-run single, 2-run double; total of 6 RBIs to seal an amazing 27th World Series for the Yanks. I should have taken the day off to watch this historically memorable game 'live' on MLB.com 'cos watching the newsreels and highlights, I got only a hint of the nail-biting excitement over at Yankee Stadium earlier this morning.

Imported directly from Japan, "Godzilla" Matsui doesn't speak English -- he has a translator for his interview on national TV about his MVP award. NY sure knows how to co-opt their foreign talent, not shy to claim victory off the back of a not-born-in-America Japanese.

So why do we have so much hand-wringing over our own FTs? Could it be that despite our cosmopolitan aspirations, we really are a small town at heart?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cutesy heroes

Marvel's got this new animated series, "Super Hero Squad" (sample video here). It's obviously targeted at the much younger set with its cutesy portrayal of our favourite Marvel mainstays rendered in the proportion of children: that is, oversized heads and extremities on tiny bodies. And they have childlike personalities to match. So I should have known better when I picked up the Wii game of the same title that I'd be getting a product that wasn't quite designed for my venerable demographic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm much taken by the premise and the characters. It's reminiscent of how kids would co-opt the superhero concept and play out their own superhero scenarios with their ridiculous and nonsensical storylines, while exaggerating their characters to the nth degree. In the game (as is presumably in the series) the children at play are versatile and talented voice-acting pros like Charlie Adler (Cow & Chicken), Tom Kenny (Mr S Squarepants, esq.), and Tara Strong (PPG's Bubbles, and a vast range of other animated characters). In their SHS incarnation, Thor is pompous and bombastic; Cap Am is more patronizing than patriotic; Silver Surfer is a philosophising surfer dude; and Doc Doom is as inept as he is maniacal. It all makes for a rib-tickling, madcap adventure to play through.

The Wii SHS is a simplistic beat-'em-up with elements of an adventure platformer as well as an arena for a tournament-style punch-up. By playing through the adventure mode (either solo or co-op) we gain points to unlock new characters and arenas for battle mode. Um, that's essentially it.

Adventure mode is a button-mash with the occasional controller flick to pull off special moves. We mash our way through a maze, punching or blasting hoards of goons and navigating annoying jumping puzzles until the end level boss battle which takes place arena style. Battle mode basically plays by sumo wrestling rules: either wear down your opponent or toss his a** out of the ring. In adventure mode, we do either 10 times to beat the boss -- before he does unto you the same. Full battle mode dispenses with all pretence of a story and pits your choice of heroes and villains against each other in team or solo combinations.

The game isn't any more complex than that. I guess I could entertain a certain someone below 10 a whole afternoon with SHS, but there isn't much else there to sustain my interest after the first run-through in adventure mode. It's cute, it's funny, it's another perspective of the Marvel Universe that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's got strong production values, but I found gameplay rather less than satisfactory. I should just have waited for the animated DVD box set to get my SHS fix.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What a frog wants

The good news is that my voice is coming back. I may still be coughing like a nicotine addict on cold turkey, but there is volume when I crank my amps up, and I am able to reach the higher notes once again while bathroom singing.

As for the frog in my throat, I've decided to just give it what it wants until it goes away. It wants water, in much greater quantity than I've ever felt the need. What I didn't realize in the last couple of weeks consulting was that such an unaccustomed increase in free talk-time requires a corresponding increase of fluid intake to sufficiently lubricate the vocal chords. So, I haven't been drinking enough and I dried up, figuratively and literally.

Today, I've been lubing up with unchilled Pink Dolphin, some kind of mineral water with a mild peach flavour that the canteen sells. Oh, I see... it's got added vitamins for a healthier kick too. No wonder the price was a bit steep.

Yes, I know. I would have avoided all this trouble if I had listened to all the "drink more water" advice from friends in the first place. For the rest of this remaining week, me and my Pink Dolphin will be inseparable.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Puppy love

Some days, we just have to admire the tenacity of the bond between dog lovers and their dogs. Q-tip has done a massive purge in the bathroom AND the bedroom. While I was surveying the damage, Mimi, prevented from reaching the tray by the mess, promptly peed in the kitchen.

Pardon me while I go fetch the mop. My tears are forming a little puddle on the laminate floor.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A ball of string looks at another

Everything is string. I spent an afternoon examining plasticized human remains and concluded that we are held together by string, we move through and interact with our environment by precisely manipulating string, and we are entirely composed of string: a sentient winding of bundled knots and fibres. We're essentially a rag-doll puppet moving on its own power.

Of course, there's different kinds of string -- different textures, different elasticities, different compositions even. Nerve fibre is different from tendon, which is different from veins and capillaries, which is different from muscle tissue, which is different from bone matter... but however you look at it, it's all just string.

The idea is mildly unsettling. We think of ourselves as more than just cables and wiring all twisted together, but that's all that remains of us when the spark of life has left the body. These bodies have been lovingly and carefully preserved and sculpted by the exhibitors so we, the living, can see ourselves in these frozen, exploded images and marvel at the "piece of work that is a man" -- before walking out the front door looking to stuff ourselves with more junk food, indulge in more bad habits that will undoubtedly hasten our own impending necrosis in the days to come.

I admit, it got to me. Side by side with healthy specimens were also diseased ones to show how their donors probably met their ends. There were aneurysms; cancers; tar-blackened lungs; fatty-smooth, engorged livers; shrunken, overworked kidneys; a heart enlarged by stress and strain; and a couple of genetic abnormalities too. All the time I was wondering if the donors could see themselves inside-out as we can them now, would they have changed their habits, their diets or addictions in exchange for a few more years of life?

Am I going to change mine? This twist of string, yarn, twine, fibre, tubing, wire all compactly woven into the thing that is me could perhaps do with some slightly healthier habits. Starting tomorrow.

Body Worlds is at the Singapore Science Centre until March 2010, in case any other woolly tangle of string is interested to go see.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Careful, she bites!

Happy Halloween! In keeping with tradition, a horror movie was on the cards. And since I've been left to my own devices (wife and in-laws are in BKK), my pick flick was "Jennifer's Body". Might as well be as no one I know would watch it with me.

Megan Fox plays a nasty, evil carnivore looking to spill blood and gore as she feasts on human entrails. But all that's just metaphorical as the movie focuses on her BFF, "Needy", and all the fears and insecurities of a teenage girl growing up.

Best friends are forever, right? But what if your best friend turned into a monster overnight? What if your best friend starts behaving in ways your mother told you never to? What if she makes it a point to steal your boyfriend and other boys that show an interest in you?

For the boys, there's always the fear that if an attractive girl shows interest in you, it must be too good to be true. And many times, it is. At the back of your mind, you know that all she wants is a piece of you -- and in Jennifer's case, lots of pieces. It's the fear of the male black widow spider; the male preying mantis; egged on by the need to fertilize, yet helpless to change his fate.

And remember mother's advice about never getting into a strange van with strange boys? Yep, that's what kicks off this gruesome morality play in the first place. Jennifer is never quite the same after that night.

"Jennifer's Body" is horror in the category of teenager vs monster with superpowers. More thrill than chill, really. What's interesting is that the fears are both common and real, though we don't usually think of them as particularly monstrous. They are fears we eventually outgrow, but to a teenager experiencing them, it sometimes does feel like something's eating away at one's insides. Her name, we know now, is Jennifer.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The tadpole has blossomed

Completed a marathon week of consults with the kids. Never talked so much in all my life. Every consult, whether small group or lone student seems to go by so quickly. Before I know it, the next consult has arrived and awaits my attention. This goes on pretty much the whole day, with a break for some lunch in between.

I'm actually having fun 'cos as I go over questions I keep unearthing new ideas while I practice sharing them with the kids in terms they can understand. It's great when they do, but when they don't, it's an opportunity to try harder and come up with some kind of explanation, even an analogy, that does work.

Like this one consult who wrote a generally decent enough essay including a point on how international cooperation is increasing in the area of environmental conservation. Then he promptly followed up with an example: the failure of the Kyoto Protocol in getting the USA to ratify the agreement. O_o I asked him why he produced this piece of evidence, he said it was an example he recalled from his revision notes. Every claim must have an example and this was an example, was it not?

Indeed, it was an example. But it's like a defence attorney asserting that the defendant did not commit the murder, and here's the bloody dagger with his fingerprints all over the handle to prove it.

That's the danger of blindly applying formula, doing things because one must because it is integral to the formula, rather than for a reason and a purpose towards developing a logical argument. I believe he got my point, and hopefully he won't make the same mistake again.

Anyway, I didn't mean to relate that story. What I did want to say is that after a week of near non-stop talk for hours on end, the tadpole from last week has blossomed into a full-blown bullfrog in my throat. Henceforth I shall be known as the Hoarse Whisperer. I'm taking a vow of silence to last me through the weekend. Maybe the rest will restore my golden honeyed tones once again, allowing me to survive one last (packed) week of consults before (finally) the Finals.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nerdy English teacher

Just kicking back and playing with the Times Online Spelling Bee training games. That's so uncool in a nerdy English teacher kind of way.

Maybe I should recommend the URL to my kids in case they need to take an educational break from their preparations for their finals? Sure,why not? And while I'm at it, I should wipe off the smears on my glasses and replace the pencil that's fallen out of my pocket protector too.

Sorry, what? Oh, A-P-O-G-E-E....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We won? Wha...?

I am in shock. Despite my spectacular FAIL-ed presentation on Monday, we still came up tops in the final vote tally. That'll teach me to think that I alone carried the hopes and dreams of the team, and that my failure amounted to the group's failure. All in all, it was the strength of the team and our collective efforts that carried the vote and earned the recognition, not the flash and splash (and crash) of the presentation that followed.

Though I wouldn't underestimate the power of the sympathy vote, I am truly humbled by this odd turn of events. Thank you, team; and thank you, voters!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Culture of excess

Funny that I was just discussing with the kids the concept of our "culture of excess", and this evening when I watched "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" with the usual bunch of delinquents, there was a movie that embodied the implications of such a culture and its terrible impact on us if we can't find an "off" switch to hit, and quickly too.

Our culture of excess is the result of our success at turning every natural resource available into food or other consumables for our convenience. Like the food making machine in "Meatballs", our own industrial processes have gone into overdrive, cranking out more, bigger, better(?)... things, and as fast as they can crank, we likewise guzzle, utilize and (up)chuck, like we were in a race to see who would break down and give up first.

At first, it's all good. People need food to live and to have a constant supply of food might well be like it all just fell from the sky. But the more people get, the more people want until the whole system is all about providing more than is possible to want, without heed to the consequences. That is, until disaster strikes then we do what we do best -- survive, and learn from the experience.

But instead of being preachy, "Meatballs" provides a such banquet of laughs and gags that the idea and need for social responsibility over indiscriminate consumption is easy to swallow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The goat

Sometimes, you get a crazy idea and you run with it like a baton in the 4x100m. You think that's the innovation that's going to win it for the team and you get carried away with the euphoria of being the hero for once. Then next thing you know, you've tripped over your own feet and you're face-down in the mud. Once again, as always, the goat.

But my friends are the understanding sort. They entertain, even encourage my crazy ideas even though that usually results in a downward-spiralling pyre of disaster. And if I crash and burn, well, it was a high-risk, high-return play that didn't pan out the way we'd hoped. Oh, well.

After so many disappointments, hope they'll still have faith in me and my crazy ideas. Some day, I'm gonna get it right.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

X-species oral interfacing

As a pet owner, do I kiss my pets on the mouth? Some pet owners do, apparently, and Ronnie Lim opens up on his fears that doing so may cause diseases to jump between dog and his best friend as a result. That's just paranoia and sensationalizing his point. There is a much greater likelihood of people passing on diseases to other people through a face-to-face liplock than some exotic new infection blossoming between the species. And even then, we're not going to stop people from snogging each other, are we?

There's a simpler reason for not kissing pets on the mouth. One word answer: Yuck! Two word answer: That's gross! Q-tip's a sweet little thing, but her dogbreath would corrode galvanized sheet metal. And no way I'm kissing my cats on the mouth. I have no desire to go to the hospital and have them surgically removed from my face for no good reason. Not that there is a good reason for that -- ever.

So, Ronnie, as far as I can tell, too few of us are into French-ing our poodles to storm the Bastille over the issue. Thanks for overreacting.