Showing posts from 2004

The earthquake and tsunamis

This entry was time-stamped 31 Dec 2004 to remain at the top of the page until the end of 2004. I have kept the time stamp in order to preserve the permalink URL for anyone linking directly to the post. However, the real time of the last update was at: Sunday, 2 Jan 2005, 2.05am. A terrible, terrible disaster . So many wonderful places wiped out and so many lives lost. ( Straits Times report ) I'm thankful that those of my loved ones that dive were safely home in Singapore rather than exploring the regional waters. Prayers go out to everyone in the region. I will try to link places to donate any aid here for anyone who stumbles onto this site. How to donate The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog has an amazingly comprehensive list of links of places to donate, and places to get data. I'm just putting a quick few below. Most of this is Singapore-specific information, but the online donations apply to anyone. The devastation in the region is terrible and

No escaping

Even escapism - i.e. clicking on the "Next Blog" bar and seeing what pops up - brings up sadness these days. Found a blog dedicated to looking for a missing Thai national (Premnet Senthong), and EVERY blog that came up talked about the tsunamis. Very sad.

Landmines in Sri Lanka

This is terrible. Landmines have been washed out of known minefields in Sri Lanka as a consequence of the tsunami. As if there weren't enough to worry about. I was stunned at 44,000 yesterday. Now it's three times that amount. Complete devastation.

44 000

Everytime I look at the news - and, rightfully, it's all that's in the news - the death toll keeps rising. 44,000 was the last figure I saw. And the poor sanitation and lack of access to medicines will probably keep that count rising further. Between this terrible earthquake and the hurricanes in the Caribbean, it's been an awful year to live in the tropics.

Purifying vodka

How to turn Vladimir into Ketel One, via a Brita filter . Makes sense to me - now to get someone to test if it works.

Calendar days

If you need a 2005 calendar, but are cheap, J-Walk advises that you can use any of the calendars for 1994, 1983, 1977, 1966, 1955, 1949, 1938, 1927, 1921, and 1910... alternatively, you could cancel out the days of the week on your 2003 calendar and rewrite them in the correct order.

Cult of Mac

Ah, this explains some of the traffic I've been getting. A link from the Cult of Mac Blog. Thanks to people who've pointed out that the new 4th generation iPods have changed their font from Chicago to Myriad... the prospect gets more interesting...

Merry Christmas one and all

Merry Christmas! Ding fries are done !

Creative governing

This article from an old issue of the Gazette has been making the rounds: it's on Mayor Antanas Mockus of Bogota and how he turned the city around, partly with the help of mimes. Yup, mimes: Initially 20 professional mimes shadowed pedestrians who didn't follow crossing rules: A pedestrian running across the road would be tracked by a mime who mocked his every move. Mimes also poked fun at reckless drivers. The program was so popular that another 400 people were trained as mimes. I must admit, if a mime followed me whenever I did something antisocial, I would stop doing that toot sweet . Mimes are annoying. Mockus' work is a really interesting example of creative governance, developing "artistically creative strategies that employed the power of individual and community disapproval". And that's the first time I've heard Habermas referenced by an actual official, rather than a college / grad student.

Brand new primate

Hey, they've discovered a new monkey ! The Arunachal macaque. Always cool when a large new species is discovered. (From waterbones .)

Joining the legion of zombies

People will sign anything . Heck - do you even know what you're agreeing to when you click "Agree" while installing software?

Happy Festivus!

Happy Festivus ! Time for the Airing of the Grievances and the Feats of Strength . You're all disappointments to me! Tangential links: Fooey to the World - Festivus is Come (from the New York Times )

School of Rock review

I put a belated review of School of Rock up on my arts blog . For those about to rock - we salute you.

Soda pop

Here's a map of America indicating whether people say "pop", "soda", or "Coke" to reference a soft drink. (In Singapore, we say "soft drink". Or at least I do.) I knew "soda" was an East Coast / Left Coast thing, and that "Coke" was a southern thing (its Atlanta origins presumably contributes to some of that), but there're pockets of "soda"-sayers in St Louis and Wisconsin, which intrigues me. Incidentally, the home page references my old prof and friend Bert Vaux's dialect survey .

Worst Christmas Carol

Why do I keep hearing "Wonderful Christmas Time" (the one that goes "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time") in every shopping centre? Why did Hilary Duff remake what is possibly the worst Paul McCartney song? WHY?


I admit to being enough of a geek to have played with gamebooks as a cub, so stumbling upon Demian's Gamebook Web Page (thanks, Balderdash ) took me back. I played Fighting Fantasy ( Spaceship Traveller was the first I owned), all of Grail Quest, Sagas of the Demonspawn , both Horror Classics, and a smattering of Lone Wolf . Such is a geek's education in an all-boys school. What I didn't know about was Project Aon , which makes the texts of the Lone Wolf books available on line.

New Signature iPods

Since I'm talking about iPods even though I don't own one, I should note that although the U2 iPods have become instantly passe (kind of like trucker hats), you can still get one of these new Apple Signature iPods . Heh.

How to Good-Bye Depression

Via caustic.soda , the funniest book title I've heard all year: How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way? I guess there are positive benefits to being anal-retentive.

Changing the iPod font

Apparently you can hack your iPod and change the font and graphics. At least, that's if I'm reading this Engadget article right - the iPodWizard screenshots seem to imply that it lets you change the fonts. Hmm... time to revisit why I don't own an iPod ? Although seems annoying that hacking the iPod would void its warranty.

Another Kim Jong-Il blog

Obey the Dear Leader ! Actually, that's the third fake Kim Jong-Il blog I've seen. Why do the faux despots flock to Kim and ignore Saparmurad Niyazov ? I mean, Niyazov erects statues of himself that rotate to face the sun and renames the months of the year after himself and his mother. What more does a Turkmen leader need to do to get some attention? "From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old!" - Woody Allen in Bananas

Grace Chow in the Straits Times

I wrote about Grace Chow and her blog a few weeks back, and the Straits Times had a nice long feature (registration required) on her today - you can see that the number of comments on her blog skyrocketed. The Institute of Mental Health's chief of general psychiatry, Dr Adrian Wang, said writing a blog could help the terminally ill 'ventilate their emotions'. This can be healthy, he added. 'Using a blog allowed her to reach a large number of people and there may have been a need to think that people will share and understand what you are going through.' If you haven't read the blog yet, do - it's very moving. (Incidentally, interesting that in the article the ST used the word "blog" without having to explain what a blog is... the mainstreaming of blog culture in Singapore continues.)

Muzzle Tov!

I like it when dogs are included in cultural rituals - like when they get Christmas presents (yes, I've bought stuff for the dogs already), or when they have bar(k) mitzvahs .

My papers

Testing something out - I figured I wrote all these papers in college that would never see the light of day, so why not put them up on this blog and spark off some ideas? So I've started a papers page where I'll put up some of my previous writing, starting with a paper on Ulysses .

Can't Stop Now

I know Keane are a teenybopper Coldplay, but I can't get these lyrics out of my head: But I can’t stop now I've got troubles of my own Because I'm short on time I'm lonely and I'm too tired to talk Can't stop feeling this way sometimes.

The case of the gay colonel

A real life murder mystery . Where's Hercule Poirot when you need him?

Homer Simpson and tabbed browsing

So, Homer Simpson uses tabbed browsing . Cool.

The Universal

How important is universality as a constituent of a work's greatness? I was thinking about this in the context of Russian Ark . I like the film, but you need at least some passing familiarity with Russian history to begin to even try to grapple with its subject matter. The film uses a fair bit of irony, with the irony dependent on knowing events in Russian history subsequent to the times in which the film is set (that whole Great Nicholas Hall scene is a last hurrah of pre-Soviet opulence, for instance). Is it fair to expect this baseline of knowledge? Hmm. I remember reading Ulysses in college and being told that it was much easier to "get into" the novel if you start from the first Leopold Bloom chapter (4, Calypso), as opposed to the Stephen Daedalus chapters that open the novel, and then work your way back (so you'd read chapters 4 to 6, then head back to 1 to 3). Yet those first 3 chapters are sublime pieces of literature, and once you establish some entry

Sook Ching massacre site

Also in Chinatown, at the junction of South Bridge Road and Cross St, stands this memorial to the Sook Ching massacre of World War II. It was near here, in 1942, that Japanese soldiers rounded Chinese residents of Singapore up to be shot. (My dad says that "Sook Ching" means "searching for Chinese" in the Hokkien dialect - not sure about that. Edit: this site says it means "purification by purging".)

Ape Shall Never Kill Ape

"Flipped the landscape when Nigo made A Bathing Ape I got expensive taste (oh, well) guess I better save up (cho takai)" - "Harajuku Girls", Gwen Stefani (aka " the most extravagant piece of musical Orientalism this side of The Mikado ") A Bathing Ape opens in New York . Some of my friends there will be very, very happy. Just thought it's pretty impressive how Bathing Ape has become such a major street fashion name - even doing designs for Pepsi didn't seem to endanger its street cred: I want one of these bottles. Tangential Links: Adam Greenfield on the distinction between style and design , noting that Nigo is more stylist than designer.

They do not know of that of which we speak

Words fail me, too. Among the many cruel and unexpected ironies of the melting Arctic - and fasten your seat belts, kids, there are plenty more coming! - is the fact that the Inuit people who populate the region are quite literally unable to describe their changing world. As global warming melts the polar ice, plant and animal species advance northward into areas where they have never before been seen. Elk, salmon, barn owl, robin: Many indigenous languages simply lack words for these species. ( Link )

Tweaking Google's searches

Given the amount of information in both American and British English on the Net, I wish Google would allow for searches for words spelled in one dialect to include words spelled in another - e.g. a search for "centre" would return both "centre" and "center", and a search for "colour" would return both "color" and "colour".

Got it just don't get it...

I've been thinking recently about something I've written about before: "Hey Ya!" at its heart is a really, really despondent song. Meanwhile, the lyric in my head's from Franz Ferdinand's " Dark of the Matinee ": Find me and follow me through corridors Refectories and files you must follow Leave this academic factory You will find me in the matinee, the dark of the matinee And a line apropos of nothing: you can call me sad, I'll call you a cab.

The lowest possible SAT score

An old funny bit: Colin Fahey tries to get the absolute lowest possible score on the SATs (you can't leave a lot of questions blank, because blank answers count for more than wrong answers to discourage random guessing). Best part for me was the conclusion: Several months after getting almost the worst possible raw score on the SAT, I was invited to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science at UCI. I remember always being asked in Singapore "what did you get on the SAT?" when people learnt that I went to the US to study. At first I tried to explain that SAT grades were really not relevant, that just because the Singapore education system was so centred around centralised tests didn't mean you could look for a centralised test in the US system and think it was the main criterion for admission. But it really seemed to boggle a few people's minds that universities could make admission decisions based on school grades and participation in extra-curricular activities while

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

More on humour: a Dave Eggers-Matt Dellinger conversation on the brilliant humour of Monty Python . Interesting that Hank Azaria and David Cross made the same point - that Monty Python with its numerous references to history and art and so on made it okay to be an erudite comedian. We want... a shubbery! Well, u-- um, can we come up and have a look? What Monty Python Character are you? brought to you by Quizilla Tangential links: Monty Python and the Holy Grail script .

Why I don't own an iPod

I know I should want an iPod, it's the greatest design since sliced bread, etc. etc., but I really, really don't like the Chicago typeface that it uses . Maybe an iPod Mini, with its more pleasing Espy Sans ? And yes, this is how I make my purchasing decisions. I won't buy things from places that use "shop" as a transitive verb either - as in "shop our store", which I just saw in an e-mail from J. Crew. Ugh.

Remembering Bhopal

From HERstory, a moving excerpt on the Bhopal tragedy .

The Duravit Design Centre

The new Duravit design centre, designed by Philippe Starck. (He's designing toilet bowls for Duravit... cheap at $2195.) Captions for what those two guys standing in the loo are thinking? "Our career's going down the drain..." Here's a pic of the entire design centre, from, of all places, the SC Freiburg (that's Sport-Club, i.e. football club) website... Why SC Freiburg? "Weil der Hornberger Sanitär- und Bäderspezialist engagiert sich seit dieser Saison als einer von vier Premiumsponsoren beim Sport-Club" - because the Hornberg sanitary and bathware specialists are one of the four premium sponsors of the club this season (hey, seems my German hasn't deteriorated that badly). Anyway, I really like the minimal look of the entire building - seems to fit the design ethos of the firm.

Piano's forte

Slate has an article on Renzo Piano , one of my favourite architects, talking about how he's "either the most corporate avant-garde architect in the world or the most avant-garde corporate one" - i.e. he designs buildings that get built. Here's an article I wrote for the Harvard Crimson back in 1998 (that was the year he won the Pritzker - it astounds me that it's been that long) on a speech by Piano.

The Amazon customer service number

If you've ever shopped on Amazon, you'll know one of the most frustrating things is the utter lack of a customer service number on their website. Nothing worse than having some issue with your order, and having to fill out an online form describing your problem instead of talking to someone. Timothy Noah finds the number . 1-800-201-7575.

Trivial Pursuits

Among the trivial facts I learnt today: Bill Cosby helped fund Melvin van Peebles' excellent Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song , which is perhaps my favourite film title of all time. That, and Japanese men like fake laps , apparently.


Bought a pack of cheese biscuits for the family dog at bd dun bite, a new stall in the Holland Village hawker centre that sells freshly baked dog biscuits. Kind of like a Singaporean version of Three Dog Bakery , albeit with an unfathomable name. I thought it was quite enterprising that they set up in a hawker centre instead of a presumably more expensive store. Incidentally, the dog gives the cheese biscuits two paws up. Edit: talking about Three Dog Bakery reminds me, the band Three Dog Night ("Joy to the World") got its name from the Aborigine practice of sleeping alongside their dogs - especially cold nights were "three dog nights", since it took three dogs to keep warm. ( Origins of Band Names )

What I'm flipping through

Just re-reading an old article on the firing of Gregg Easterbrook for what he wrote in his blog... also Trent Reznor helps solve his fans' math problems ... stumbled onto the blog of a 91-year-old man who loves growing tomatoes , showing that bloggers really do cover every wavelength on the spectrum of interests... Chinese American Princess , appealingly designed, plus it informed me of , and chickens clucking crack me up without fail. Singapore 3 Cambodia 0. Yay.

The nominees are...

Apparently you can vote for my blog as "Best Singapore Blog" in the Asia Blog 2004 awards over at Simon World . (Edit: well, you can, once a day, until 31 December.) Thanks for those who nominated me, I'm flattered. As I've admitted before, this blog (and its related subsidiaries ) isn't the best source of life-in-Singapore vignettes, but I'm glad someone's reading. As Academy Award nominees always say, it's an honour just to be nominated. Um, except I really do mean it. There's a lot of insights into Asia throughout the nominees. For one, I learnt from SarongPartyFrens that something I've always wanted to happen already has: craigslist is in Singapore ! Maybe that " Best of Craigslist " link I have in my sidebar will start showing some Singapore posts...

The Old Web

The 100 oldest currently registered domain names includes such luminaries as and, although the oldest is for . Made me reminisce: the first website I visited back in 1994 was (now sadly registered to a holding company), back in the days before Singapore had commercial Internet providers and you had to use a Technet bug to telnet to other sites. It's from those days, I think, that I ended up cited in the Mad About You FAQ . Ah, TV obsession.

Laptops and men's health

"Teenagers and young men should keep their laptops off their laps because they could damage fertility". Dang it! If this were the case, could they not have called it a laptop? The name encourages using it on a lap! Teenagers, Young Men Warned of Laptop Health Risk

The Harvard Weblog project

Just realised from this MSNBC article on the "Alpha Bloggers" in the tech community - usual suspects, including Doc Searls and Dan Gillmor - that Dave Winer has been setting up the Harvard Weblog project for the last year. Where I have been? Oh well. Another possible location for a blog. Tangential links: Start a Winning Blog | The Business of Blogging

Salad days

Salad bar hacking , via Boing Boing. Aka the Beijing art of stacking as much as you can into one salad bowl at Pizza Hut. Kiasu -ism is alive and well all over the world I see.

Take Your Dogs to Work

Allowing dogs to be brought to work can reduce stress , improve productivity, and reduce absenteeism. Duh.

Goodwill Towards Men

I love Christmas carols. Make me all warm and tingly inside. Okay, the warmth is partly due to tropical weather. But really, Nat King Cole's rendition of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" or the longing "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve", or the horndog lasciviousness of "Baby It's Cold Outside" (admittedly a winter rather than Christmas song), or the sultry flirtiness of Eartha Kitt singing "Santa Baby" - mmm.

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

Headed downtown to celebrate the brother's birthday yesterday at Teahouse, and I noticed that the Chinatown MRT (subway) station has tiles with Chinese characters on them. That's a nice touch, and not one I'd noticed before - guess either they're new, or I must've been walking around in a stupor the last time I was at the station (entirely possible).

Place the State

Place the State . I don't know why but I'm fascinated with this silly US geography game. My record after 5 tries was 98% right with an average error of 1 mile (damn Oklahoma! as Maxwell Smart might say... missed it by that much).

Fallen idols

The Guardian decides to have fun mocking some of the haloed members of the rock pantheon - everyone from the Beatles to the Clash to James Brown to - blasphemy upon blasphemy! - What's Going On . It's snarky and wrong-headed, but gets in some well-written jibes: For all his punk integrity, Elvis Costello is at base a jack-of-all-trades, occupied as much with his facility with music's form as with its heart. [Prince's] failure to apply quality control, and hissy fits when record companies tried to restrict him from his preferred schedule of three albums of experimental funk and interminable guitar solos every month, have corrupted his legacy. I think the article would be offensive if it was one guy writing all the articles, but since it's various persons hating on each "sacred" singer I'm more amused than anything. I'm guessing everyone must dislike at least one performer who's firmly ensconced in the rock pantheon. Me, I can't think o

Top 50 Cover Versions

Thanks to Michelle's blog , I've noticed that the Telegraph has just published a list of its top 50 cover versions of all time. Assuming we're sticking to popular music - jazz has lots of great cover versions, but the aesthetic of originality is different there - Jimi Hendrix at #1 with his version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is a good if safe choice. Aretha's version of "Respect" would be my #1, and yes, that's another safe choice. Missing from the list - Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Thru the Grapevine", perhaps such a dominating performance that the first recorded version (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) and the first released version (Gladys Knight and the Pips) got forgotten along the way. I've blogged about other great cover s - Barry White's "Just the Way You Are" and Sonic Youth's "Superstar" are classics - but to my list of favourite cover versions in 2004 I should add B

Botero and Ju Ming

Just got back from attending a bilingual dialogue with two sculptors I really like, Botero and Ju Ming. They both have pretty good pieces of public art here in Singapore: Botero did the Bird that sits on Boat Quay, Ju Ming the Taichi Boxers that used to be outside the History Museum. One thing I learnt from art history classes back in college is that it's not always reasonable to expect artists to also express their visual concepts verbally, so while the talk was pretty standard I was grateful that both parties were at least fairly lucid rather than pretentious. Some lines I liked - Botero, in response to a question on sculpture and painting, said "sculpture is a painting with no end". Botero kept hammering home the "artists create art for themselves" point - in response to the moderator's question of whether considering the intended audience affects the work, he noted how some artists (Matisse, Henry Moore) speak more to a general audience that others

Syndicating myself

More tech talk - was trying to figure out how to put a list of my most recent posts in the sidebar, given that the sidebar is uploaded in a PHP file separately from Blogger, so Blogger's template tags won't work. Then I realised: hey, I could just syndicate my own Atom feed. Then I realised: wait, I don't know how to do that. So I stumbled around, thinking I might have to program my own syndicator (not hard, some XML knowledge and some Java and there you go, but still, I didn't want to waste a whole evening programming). Fortunately, a bit more stumbling brought up Feed to Javascript , which lets you syndicate any feed and put it on your site via Javascript. Better still, there's a variation that lets you do it via PHP if you have your own server. So voila - there you have it - my most recent posts showing up in the sidebar. (To avoid overloading the server, I've set the refresh rate not to be too fast, so it might miss out the absolute latest posts. But t

Random pleasures

Two obscure pleasures that I was recently reminded of: Mornington Crescent and Nethack . Yeah, geekdom beckons.

The Becker-Posner Blog

As if there needed to be any further proof of blogging as a legitimate medium, Gary Becker and Richard Posner, two of the most preeminent critical thinkers around, have started a joint blog . The fact that you can even respond directly to writing by Becker and Posner through the comments is some sign of the collapsing of hierarchies that blogging can bring.

"Pain in the Neck"

Wow, I stumbled onto Grace Chow's blog , the blog of a 32-year-old woman who chronicled her struggles with a tumour both in the blog and in a book and just passed away... powerful stuff.

MSN Spaces

So I decided to see what the fuss about MSN Spaces , Microsoft's new blogging product, was about, so I visited the blog of Jay Fluegel , lead programming manager of the product. I thought the freaky part was that Fluegel seemed really, really excited about meeting Steve Ballmer ("Best parts of the night besides the Sonics win: 3) Having a conversation with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer!!!") Um - should someone really be that excited to meet the head honcho of one's firm? On to the blogs themselves. What's with the look and feel of the sites? I've looked at the sites for Fluegel and Michael Connolly , another programming manager, and the backgrounds are seriously garish. Note to all intending to use this service: I find black on green immensely hard to read. Also, Connolly notes : So, we need to do what we can to make our platform available for people to use in the way they like, but we want to keep wildly inappropriate stuff outside of public forums. How do we

Turner Prize nominees

The Guardian lists the Turner Prize nominees . I'd go with Langlands and Bell (Jeremy Deller's " The History of the World " reminds me mostly of that scene in School of Rock where Jack Black lectures on rock history ), but really I'm just intrigued and impressed by how an art award can capture so much newspaper acreage. The Brits are good at these elitist awards, non? Did the same with the Booker Prize. Speaking of art, I put in a request to see Botero speak this Thursday. Excited.

Four Cover Versions

Two of my favourite cover versions of 2004: Jimmy Eat World's "Firestarter" (available on iTunes - I guess it's technically a 2001 song since it appeared on the Last Christmas 7" , but this seems to be the year of general release), which directed the screw-the-world aggro of the Prodigy's original inward, turning the tune into a hymn of self-loathing, and Beck's lovely mellow take on the Korgis' "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometimes", from the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack . Two of my favourite cover versions of all time: Sonic Youth's version of the Carpenters' "Superstar" and Barry White's version of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are", the former unleashing the menace lurking within a supposed paean, the latter suturing some cojones onto a wretchedly mawkish song.

Dog pictures

Another cute Westie . But not as cute as Coconut .

Moot point

MooT looks interesting: a whole game on etymology, word origins, and other little English quirks presumably. Anyone played it?

Best Singapore Blog

By the way, in the interests of keeping a manageable sidebar while still giving a shout-out to the various blogs I read, I created an extended blogroll . Meanwhile Simon World has nominations up for Best Singapore Blog - some of those nominated in the comments were new to me, and were quite interesting, including A Gonzo Journal and myrick , who had this funny post on the stupidity of the Australian who (allegedly) smuggled drugs into Bali. What, noone nominated dickchan ? So it's perhaps time to add to the extended blogroll. I've also concluded that I'm not with the programme, since I seem to be the only Singapore blogger not to have any opinion on the relative quality of the pop stylings of the various Singapore Idol participants.

On the theme-park-isation of history

Over in Slate , Timothy Noah writes about " Visitor Center Fever ", i.e. how major Washington D.C. sites such as the Capitol are getting funding to build visitor centres and other informative exhibits. And I'm going to say, bravo for his Grinchy tone. Places such as the Capitol and the Washington Monument have functions, whether for the business of government or simply as a memorial; the construction of a visitor centre and the concomitant hawking of geegaws seems to say that being seen by tourists is their primary function. I guess after a while on the road travelling, I got really tired of these mediating structures - call them visitor centres or whatever you want - that tell you what to think of the sight that you're seeing, instead of letting you experience a place directly. It's almost as though they're embarrassed by the stark nature of the original destination, and need the fig leaf to protect the nakedness. Well, that, and cafes and gift shops make

The Cost of the 12 Days of Christmas

The annual PNC Bank report on the Cost of Christmas Index is out - buying everything in the song would cost you $66.3k in stores, $115.5k online. I guess 10 lords-a-leaping are kind of hard to ship.

An eye for an eye

Just got back from my fifth or so session on Neuro-Vision . It's this new treatment here for low levels of myopia (there's FDA approval, but I don't know if it's being done in the States yet). What I thought was interesting about the whole process was that - unlike Lasik or PRK or even those contact lenses that squeeze your eyeballs at night - it doesn't work by changing the physics of the eye, but by training how your brain perceives images. (You sit in front of a computer screen and look at images. Who'd have thought you could improve your vision by looking at a screen?) I remember learning about vision and brain back in college ( Science B-44, "Vision and Brain" - Prof Ken Nakayama seemed to have a plethora of freaky optical illusions, plus I'll never forget the video on trepanation ) and it's kind of cool to put it into use. It's like a kind of mind hack .

The Political Cartoon Gallery

Hey, London now has a gallery dedicated to political cartoons . Presumably it has a British bent, and I'm glad to hear that Bell is among the names featured. Also: one of the things that distinguishes a truly great city, I think, is the level of specificity of interests that it can cater for. A gallery just for political cartoons. The stores that sell nothing but buttons and zippers in the Garment District of New York.

Buildings that look like things

Buildings that look like things , including Singapore's very own Esplanade, which some says resembles the spiky durian . I quite like the gherkin myself...

Everybody was kung fu fighting...

The Accidental Video Game Porn Archive . Courtesy of Shaolin Spot , a kung fu blog.

What's better than being cool? Ice cold

Continuing my quest to put up my life online, here's photos from my trip to Iceland back in 2000 . Icelandair had nice deals for Boston-London flights, and it was a nice layover. Iceland is like bizarro world - it looks like the moon, and it's dotted with active volcanoes and geysers ("geyser" is one of the few words that I can think of that English borrows from Icelandic - "saga" is the only other one that comes to mind). But nary a tree - the soil's too volcanic. On the tour, they showed us the first few trees ever grown in Iceland, and it was quite funny how trees were considered a sight to behold.

Calatrava wins AIA medal

Congratulations to Santiago Calatrava for winning the 2005 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. A Daily Dose of Architecture has further comments. Me, I can't wait to see his WTC Transportation Hub.

Saturday Afternoon Coming Down

Randomly passing the time. Why am I not surprised by this result? You are a Hippie. Wow. What kind of Sixties Person are you? brought to you by Quizilla

Singaporean Bloggercon?

There's been some buzz in the Singaporean blogosubsphere about the idea of holding a Bloggercon in Singapore... I personally think it's a great idea. There's so much diversity in the blogging community here, which belies the standard cliches of Singaporeans being boring, and it'll be great to see the whole range of them. There are some Singaporean bloggers who blog more about life here ( mrbrown and Xiaxue among the most famous of them), and there are others for whom the fact of geography is more often than not incidental to their specialist topic ( redemption in a blog comes to mind). I think my blog falls under the latter category - certainly my baseball one hardly touches upon life here - but it'll be interesting to see the whole panoply of Singaporean bloggers. One thing I love about blogging is what it gives me - a voice, a chance to speak or write about the things that I love but that my community of friends here don't care much for - language

Our song

Torrez has a list of eponymous songs . Embarrassingly, all I could think of to add to the list was the Monkees' " (Theme From) the Monkees ".

Yeah, I got that

" Staplers of the stars ". $200 for a stapler is expensive, but heck, stationery in America, as I recall, was really expensive. Used to hike up to Staples in Alewife (before it opened in the Square) to pick up binders - I love Bob Slate's but the cost could be prohibitive. Heck, here's a regular stapler and it's $31. Office Space cameos notwithstanding.

Bomb Spam

Hate spam and want to do something more than just install spam filters? As noted in Kottke , Lycos now has a screensaver that launches what's in effect a denial of service attack on spammers . Of course, I'm hoping that they take careful precautions to identify the spammers. Somehow my e-mail address has made Spamhaus 's list, and I'm guessing when I got my new server I was given an IP address once used by a spammer. And bloody Godaddy has been no use at resolving the issue.

Review of Before Sunset

My review of Before Sunset is up on my arts review blog.

Blogger has mother murdered?

A kind of shocking story - this girl allegedly had her mother murdered. Her blogging is incidental to the mother-daughter trauma that precipitated the case, except that she actually blogged about the murder. Freaky. Rachelle Waterman had posted to an online journal dating back to February. In the journals, which she titled "My crappy life, the inside look of an insane person." She says she lives in Hell, Alaska, details conflicts with her mother and writes about a desire to commit violent acts against herself and others, KRBD reported. One of her last entries was posted Nov. 14, hours after troopers say Arrant told her her mother had been killed. In the entry, she writes about her trip to Anchorage and having purchased some new boots, KRBD reported. In a final entry last Thursday, Waterman wrote that her mother had been murdered and that she would not have computer access for a few days because police were confiscating it, KRBD reported. ( Link ) This is her blog , bu

Mod dog

Just checked out brand-new doggie blog Modern Pooch . Cute. Although this pic of a Mini Schnauzer inside a shoebox is just weird.

Mr Picassohead

Here's a rendition from the marvelous Mr Picassohead tool. ( Picassohead gallery ) From Things Above , which has lots of interesting art-related links.

More urban legends

Hey, I never knew had a page specifically dedicated to urban legends . Like proving that the "home computer of the future" picture supposedly taken in 1954 is a fake, and that the whole "Bush states have lower IQs than Kerry states" thing is a hoax too.

A minor key - Singaporean history

A slight little "this day in history" note in The Straits Times pointed out that Singapore's second Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock passed away on this date in 1984 "at his home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia". That intrigued me - why was our former Chief Minister living in Saudi Arabia? There's not much on the web on Singapore's history, though, but the first para of this column seems to indicate the basis of the story: Lim Yew Hock had converted to Islam, and went on to Saudi Arabia to become Assistant Secretary-General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. The whole story made me think about these various minor strands of Singapore's history. We like to think of Singapore's cosmopolitanism meaning a comfort with Western society, but naturally the flux of people in and out of the island means there must be Singaporeans - not just those born into Muslim families - who become equally comfortable with Islamic culture and the Middle East.

Faux irony

My new coinage: faux irony. Or "fauxrony" if you must. For situations where people claim to like something in an ironic manner except that they really do like it genuinely. "Britney Spears' Crossroads was a classic of modern cinema", he said in faux-ironic fashion. Which adds another layer of irony, I suppose.

Blockbuster Drugs

Am I the only one who thinks it strange that pharmaceutical firms make most of their money off just a handful of so-called blockbuster drugs? I used to think they had a whole array of drugs and the profits were spread more evenly among them. Funny how billions can ride on something like Vioxx. Rangel MD has a doctor's perspective on the Vioxx scandal: There is no data and indicates that massive litigation and class action lawsuits for millions (if not billions) of dollars against the drug companies does anything to influence the drug industry to try and improve the safety of their products. All this legal action amounts to is a giant transfer of wealth for every sensationalized drug scandal that comes along without any lasting benefit.

Need an English-English Dictionary?

I'm fascinated by the insidious process of word adoption - while people bemoan awful coined neologisms, some phrases just slip insidiously into the universal English language. Hence "run-up" and "gone missing" are now part and parcel of American English, and I presume some Americans would be shocked to even realise this wasn't the case 20 years ago. Among other British English words I've spotted making the trans-Atlantic leap: " gobsmacked ". On the other hand, I guess "fortnight" doesn't look to be crossing over anytime soon, more's the pity. Which goes to show, if a word is useful or just catchy, people will often adopt it (I still don't quite understand why "fortnight" has not been popular in America) - and then will probably insist that they've used it all their lives. One great thing about blogging I think for linguists is that it'll make it much easier to track informal usage. But it's intere


Origami theory - you can make everything with just one cut? Best. Math. Ever.

PowerPoint in education

I've blogged about my general disdain for PowerPoint before, so I'm glad to see that AmShazam over at MIT has commented on how PowerPoint has been badly used by educators. I remember back in college that almost none of my professors used PowerPoint. I think it was a recognition that there are certain issues with using a business-presentation program as a tool of pedagogy. I remember talking to someone here in Singapore about how great it was that my profs still used chalk, and he acted surprised at how low-tech it seemed. I thought it was pathetic, really, to assume that good teaching must involve the latest technology, without even analysing whether that technology suits the needs of the teacher. I agree, PowerPoint is only a tool, and you can be a great professor/lecturer that uses PowerPoint, but it's a tool that's much easier to use to generate linear presentations than the freewheeling discussions that good classes require. It's just not really designed for

Articles of faith

Over in Verbal Energy, Ruth Walker has an article on the proper use of the definite article - i.e. the "the" (not to be confused with the band The The ). That made me think: one thing I dislike about English usage in Singapore is the tendency to drop the "the" - for instance, in talking about a speech made by the Prime Minister, some people open with "Prime Minister said..." I've heard this may also be the internal style of the British government, so it's not necessarily wrong, but it certainly sounds unidiomatic, and certainly not the style of formal reporting (the BBC, for one, definitely uses " the PM "). The same blog entry also points to , a fascinating site that ranks words in the English language according to their usage in British English, based on the British National Corpus ("the" is #1 with a bullet - no surprises there). It's the tail end that has some weird relative positions: why is "dre

Form follows substance

Been doing some minor tinkering with this blog's design, and I chanced upon a good web design article by Jakob Nielsen - " Mastery, Mystery, and Misery: The Ideologies of Web Design ". Basically makes the point that a good interface should get the hell out of the way so that users can get to content. It made me think about the explosion of blogs: sure, in the 90s everyone used flashy Flash sites, but who ever visited them more than once? As it turned out, what was more popular was the plain text and links of blogs - content.

Bryn Celli Ddu

More pics from my travel-writing days. Here's Bryn Celli Ddu (means "the mound in the dark grove"; best approximation of pronunciation I can muster: bryn keh-HLEE thee) on the island of Anglesey in Wales. It's a henge, aka a burial chamber, that dates back to the Neolithic era. The stone outside is a reconstruction, with the original sitting in a museum, but the thing I love is that this mound just sits there, without any need for garish signs or explanations. (Apparently, there was a sign in Welsh, but I didn't see it.) Which is as it should be, I think - why should the past be only explained in terms of the present? Of course, the cairn (wow, I rarely get to use that word - wonder what the family cairn terrier would do if I brought him here?) is quite off the beaten path so it's not overrun by tourists. To reach it, I hiked from Llanfair P.G. More pics of Bryn Celli Ddu

Review: Blackpool Deluxe

A review of the White Stripes' Blackpool Deluxe download-only 3-song EP is up on Delta Sierra Arts .

New movie reviews

Very belatedly, I sat down and wrote reviews of two films I caught earlier this year: Under a Tuscan Sun and Spider-Man 2 . Both up on Delta Sierra Arts , my reviews site. Will do up my Before Sunset review sometime soon, but until then, you can try The Suburbs Are Killing Us for music from Julie Delpy. Edit: why the hell did I italicise the name of a blog? D'oh. Edit 2: My Before Sunset review is up.

Drama Queen

Flipping through blogs, I found this list: Ten signs you're a drama queen : 1) You say I AM NOT A DRAMA QUEEN! 2) You refer to yourself in the third person. 3) You warn people not to bring drama into your life. 4) The problem is never you -- it's always "them." 5) You leave behind a trail of chaos wherever you go. 6) You like this (#5). 7) You ask people for help with a problem, then you tell every single respondent why they are wrong and how that is not possibly something you could do. You get mad when people get mad at you for this. 8) You keep doing the same things that get the same crappy result, over and over and over. Then you complain to everyone about how unhappy you are about it, but how you are powerless to change it. 9) You make grand declarations about yourself, your life, and your amazing personality, only to completely forget about them and/or reject them within a few weeks, if not a few days. 10) You turn a blind eye to the

Hell is other people

Julian Baggini on modern manners and philosophy : You should not accept or continue a phone call if a shop assistant is serving you. If Jean-Paul Sartre were alive, which he isn't, and he gave advice, which he didn't, he may well have shed light on the correct use of a mobile phone using his distinction between thinking of a person authentically as a being-for-itself (être-pour-soi) with will and consciousness, or inauthentically as being-in-itself (être-en-soi), a mere thing. So when we ignore the presence of someone like a shop assistant, treating them as absent and the absent caller as present, we are doing no less than denying their humanity. Very true. Baggini also points out how rude it is to send text messages to someone else in the middle of a conversation. Come to think of it, I like the idea of Sartre as advice columnist: Sartre's Day Dear Sartre, I know I'm a grown woman and should know better, but I mope endlessly about my boyfriend who

Geek body of work

From boingboing, the world's geekiest tattoo . Perhaps on his ankle he could tat "C:\>Run"...

Fowl tip

Someone on a message board I'm on posted this. Heh. But seriously, it's coming on Thanksgiving, and I really want to eat turkey - or better yet, turducken . Meat! Meat! Meat! Of course, this surfeit of carnivorous cravings might mean I need to call in the Magic Meal Mobile . I don't need a diet, I just like the idea of someone making me all my meals. And since it's already Thursday over here... happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!


Here in Singapore we see abalone and think "oh, high-end special occasion food". This startup in California goes "oh, new biological nano-fabrication processes ". Dr. Belcher has studied the biology of abalones and how the mollusks are able to assemble an extremely hard shell from calcium carbonate and other minerals in an ocean filled with various microbes and contaminants. The result: she and her colleagues have developed proteins that can bind to about 30 different electronic, magnetic, and optical materials, and then assemble the materials into protein structures.

Ah, the weird and wonderful

A disparate collection of links: on being made to pay copyright for the citing of Radiohead lyrics... the bear that poops prime numbers ... Yoshio Taniguchi's extension to MoMA has opened; wish I were there... everyone in a kitchen in New York is Spanish-speaking, as anyone who's read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential knows; clearly the snooty family described here hasn't caught on... after almost a whole year on hiatus, Kim Jong Il's livejournal has new content...

Earl of Sandwich

Following in the footsteps of the auction of the sandwich with the image of the Virgin Mary , here's a sandwich with the image of Hello Kitty . Only US$8.49. Of course, that might have been higher if the seller were here in Kitty-krazed Singapore .

I feel as if I'm in a play

More pictures from my travels through England. This is the famed bus shelter in the middle of a roundabout from " Penny Lane ", now converted, inevitably, into a restaurant living off the fame. Here's the backstory behind "Penny Lane" - as noted in that article, none of the places mentioned in the song are strictly on Penny Lane itself, but rather in the general area known as Penny Lane.

Dropped calls

You know, everyone and her grandfather seem to be obsessed with handphones/mobile phones/cellphones here in li'l Singapore. But very few people I meet have the same main criterion as I do, which is: if I drop the phone out of my pocket (fairly common occurence for me), will it still function? Those danged stores won't let me test the phones that way.

iTunes store

Woohoo! Much as I've derided iTunes, I always wanted the store to work in Singapore, and I figured out that as long as you have a US credit card you can shop for tunes online. Mmm. Quality recordings, proper tags. Well worth $0.99 a song. Plus, by putzing around, I figured out how to make a wishlist - just create a playlist and drag songs from the iTunes store onto it. So I guess I answered this man's question . Of course, it turns out the info's buried in the iTunes website anyway. Worst thing I've learnt from the store: there's a Jennifer Love Hewitt version of "Me and Bobby McGee" ? If there's anything anyone knows about Jennifer Love Hewitt, it's that she's never been busted flat in Baton Rouge... and probably never flat-busted anywhere else. Edit: speaking of wish lists, here's a bunch of cover songs I've been wanting . Of which I only have Jimmy Eat World's cover of the Prodigy's "Firestarter".

Charlie how your angels get down like that

Next on Fox... When Blonde Superstars With Boyfriends Who Have Been Involved in Wardrobe Malfunctions Attack .


So I took a taxi to work today, figuring that if I'm in a cab I can get some shut-eye. Of course, then I realised my cab driver was one of those drivers who insists on accelerating as much as possible, despite being caught in heavy traffic on the ECP 1 . You guessed it: much acceleration followed by sharp braking, followed by an increasingly green-looking face. By the time I dropped off at my office I had a hard time walking straight; had to spend considerable time staring at the porcelain of the office loo. They really should equip some cabs with barf bags. Oh, and I am not watching the remake of Taxi with Jimmy Fallon. Not because it'll remind me of today. Because it looks like it'll be crap. Jimmy Fallon: I would call him colossally overrated, but I don't know anyone who even thinks he's funny. Except with Tina Fey, who probably could be funny doing Weekend Update with a Chia pet. 1 Singaporean expressway 2 2 Also known as a motorway or highway 3 3

Singapore idle

Here's a funny snarky post on Indian Stallion on Singapore Idol 's Indian-themed episode: So how did they go about it you ask? Well they had the Singapore Idol contestants run around trees that they set up on stage. They also talked in strong exaggerated Indian accents. It's amazing how they manage to capture the very essence of what the local Indian community is all about with that little skit. Because that's what we Indians pride ourselves most on - for dancing around trees in our Bollywood movies and talking English in really funny Indian accents. He follows up with a parody of what would be the equivalent for the Chinese population ("instead of dancing around trees, they could have those jumping zombies you see in those Chinese horror movies fighting shaolin pugilists who will use celebrated kungfu styles like the infamous Dragon's Dick style"). Quite sad, really, the lack of cross-cultural understanding that sometimes arises (even if people like

Superman lovers not so super

Here's a really interesting social psych experiment result: people who think of Superman are much less likely to volunteer for community service than people who think of other superheroes. Suppsedly because they think of Supes and go "well, I can't measure up". (From the New Scientist )

Mon dieu!

An old site: Heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio for President .

Bush twins rebuffed

From Gawker: Freemans, tuesday night the 16th of nov. the bush twins, along with 2 massive secret service men, tried to have dinner. they were told by the maitre'd that they were full and would be for the next 4 years. upon hearing, the entire restaurant cheered and did a round of shots... ( Link ) Funny how politics can slide into meals...

Encyclopedia Wiktannica

Is Wikipedia a faith-based encyclopedia ? Robert McHenry, former EIC of the Encyclopædia Britannica (note: love the conjoined "ae"), thinks so.

Is branding dead?

Some think so .

Top 500?

Rolling Stone 's criminal list of the top 500 songs of all time . Sure, nominate "Like a Rolling Stone" as your #1 why don't you? Great song, but there's an all too easy reference to the mag's own name. Plus, "Hey Jude" is not the best Beatles song. Not even close. Edit: Using the sort-by date, here's a rough count. (Definitely miscounted somewhere, since it doesn't add up, but the trend is clear) 50s - 73 songs 60s - 204 songs 70s - 142 songs 80s - 55 songs 90s - 20 songs 00s - 3 songs 'VH1 Divas Live' - 1 song (hey, don't blame me if the sort by date function is weird) That's just wrong. I love the 60s, but you're telling me there were 10 times more great songs written then than in the 90s? Pshaw. Edit: here's a list of songs that should've made it in .

Humour me

Major standup comedy fan here. Quick point. One of my favourite comedians is Steven Wright, so here's some of his jokes . "Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect" Also, here's the list of the 100 Funniest Jokes of All Time (the top 75 formed one of my favourite GQ articles). Some good ones there.

Pennies From Heaven

I thought I was obsessive-compulsive about cataloguing my music , but that's fairly garden-variety obsession. Even the fact that I arrange my dollar notes in my wallet in order of serial number is fairly harmless. Now, collecting 1.4 million pennies and sorting them by year and mint - wow.

Million-dollar blocks

An interesting use of mapping software: finding out " million-dollar blocks " - i.e. where the authorities spend too much on incarceration instead of prevention.

I-69 to be renamed?

She sat back, and awaited the naming of I-69 . If you can't pass by an instance of the number 69 without laughing and you're above 21, you have too much sex on the brain. And yes, it's a fake news article. Although in the strange twisted way that these things work, someone might go "hey, good idea". Edit: kind of how the Onion 's Harry Potter story found its way into anti-Satanist e-mails .

Moral codes

Just discovered Majikthise , a philosophy blog, via trying to find some information on baseball of all things. I thought in particular that this post on the reduction of the idea of morality into sexual morality by commentators such as David Brooks and Tom Wolfe was really good. Snippet: It doesn't seem to occur to them that anyone could have a robust and defensible moral code that made no specific reference to sexual behavior. Such moral codes have implications for sexual behavior, but only because sexual choices are governed by more general principles like keeping promises, or promoting happiness, or acting according to a universalizable maxim. Great blog, and its name being a reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is cool for a H2G2 fan like me.

"I don't want to belong to a club that would accept me as a member"

Speaking of the MRT , they're now running a promotion: "use this [picture of EZ-link stored value card] to win this [picture of car key]". Isn't that weird? It's basically saying "if you use the subway a lot, you increase your chances of not having to use the subway ever again".


A hilarious collection of fake Spidey comics .

Scenes from the MRT

Snippets of a conversation by 3 teenage students on the Singapore subway train. Girl talks about her boyfriend trying to get her to play PS2: "Everytime I play that soccer game I'm so scared I kick the ball away." Boy: "You do realise they're digital characters, right?"

Beatles For Sale

On the release of the Beatles' first four American albums on CD . I think the Capitol albums are a travesty, but I can appreciate that they hold nostalgic value for Americans. And this sentence is especially fun for a singles collector like me: The Beatles took a different view. With only a handful of exceptions, they adhered to a policy of keeping albums and singles separate. For them, why should a fan who bought the single have to buy those songs again on an LP? I guess I've met too many people who think albums are the be-all and end-all of rock. Don't get me wrong, I love them, but I'm also a big fan of singles with their obscure B-sides and the needle spinning deliriously for 3 minutes, and I didn't like the death of the single in favour of albums full of filler tracks (although it seems MP3s have brought the single back to life). If you have 40 minutes of stuff, you make a great album ( Sgt Pepper's , for instance). If you only have 5 minutes, don't co

Bridget? I hardly even know it

I watched Before Sunset yesterday, and it was an exhilarating, life-affirming film. Review to come soon. But anyway: before the movie started, they screened a trailer for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason , and much as I liked the first movie this one looks like it'll be a disappointment. Going by the principle that trailers for rom-coms usually show one of the better jokes, the joke Colin Firth (as Mark Darcy) has to deliver is atrocious: Bridget calls to say naughty things, Darcy is on speakerphone, and the punchline is of course revealing the luminaries with him; but Darcy names way too many names, completely ruining the comic timing of the joke. Edit: my review of Before Sunset is up.

Gene Simmons - strange looking man

This is what Gene Simmons looks like without the KISS makeup . Now you know why he needed the makeup.

Clowns aren't sexy

Sexing up Ronald McDonald is just freaky. Brr.

Apologies Accepted

Apologies Accepted - the international response to Sorry Everybody .

iTunes 4.7 vs Winamp 5.0