Showing posts from March, 2005


It's April Fool's Day an Tomfoolery , one of my favourite books in my childhood came to mind. It collated all sorts of nonce and nonsense, including this old chestnut of a rhyme: One fine day in the middle of the night Two dead men got up to fight Back to back they faced each other Drew their swords and shot each other. ( Full poem here - also includes a discussion of variants and related folk poems) To this day I can still quote that first verse by heart.

Arrested Development

When I was young, it seemed that the big American TV shows would take forever to come to Singapore. I'd have to endure reading all the buzz about "Seinfeld" and other shows in Entertainment Weekly a year or two before the shows flickered onto our TV screens. Right now, the situation's better: we get some of the big reality TV shows ("American Idol", "The Amazing Race") live or within 24 hours, but it's still a bit of a crapshoot as to whether the cult hits will hit these shores. So I was very, very pleased to find out that "Arrested Development" is showing here ( Mondays, 12.30am ). Yeah, late to the party I know - only got into it when I was stuck in a Detroit airport Best Western with nothing to do but watch the telly.

Charlotte Bronte, woman of passion

Tanya Gold inveighs in the Guardian against the way Charlotte Bronte's image has been overly sanitised: As the 150th anniversary of her death on March 31 1855 approaches, it is time to rescue Charlotte Brontë. She has been chained, weeping, to a radiator in the Haworth Parsonage, Yorkshire, for too long. Enough of [Elizabeth] Gaskell's fake miserabilia. Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and tuberculosis. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend. Which made me think: one thing I despise is the need to clean up the lives of great people. Clearly Jane Eyre is rife with sexual undertones. I also hate the reduction of the work of great female novelists. The novels of Jane Austen, for one, seem to have settled into many people's minds as being twee little fantasies of English countryside life, filled with tea parties. Or worse, they are seen as some proto-Oprah confessional form, when really an

Going batty

I think it's funny that an elected official such as Governor Mark Warner of Virginia can issue press releases and responses in limericks: I took some grief for my nudist park pun. But resist I cannot on this one. I will sign this bill, more or less of free will. But I can't do it without having some fun. ( press release ) Nice to have some humour in unexpected areas. It even inspired Bob Lewis, the AP writer, to kick off the story with a limerick of his own.


I saw this funny livejournal bit from qwantz on putting songs in list format , including the Ghostbusters theme song. So I thought I'd translate the concept into a Powerpoint presentation (please save and open the file from your own hard drive to save my bandwidth).

The Sumatran earthquake

Another earthquake hit western Sumatra early this morning. That region has really suffered. Reports on the earthquake differed initially on its magnitude, from 8.2 on MSNBC to 8.5 ( Today ), but the USGS seems to have it definitely at 8.7 now. That's about half the strength of December's quake, which still means it was pretty big, though fortuitously no tsunami ensued. Tremors were felt over here in Singapore (see Today and Mr Brown for info), but that was the extent of the effects here. Sadly, the residents of Nias Island were not so lucky - MSNBC has the estimated number dead at 1000-2000. The SEA-EAT blog has up-to-date news, as always (proud to have contributed in any small way to that site).

Review: Friday Night Lights

Dir. Peter Berg Based on the book by H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights is set in the oil town of Odessa, Texas, a world in which football is religion. The film is shot to emphasise the flat landscape of Odessa, all heat and dust, the sheer emptiness of a town that has nothing to look for but the Friday night lights of the title. That sense of urgency pervades the game scenes of the film: you can almost feel the crunch as the adolescent bodies slam into each other. With so much riding on each game, each play even, perhaps the best quality of the film is that it is not given to excessive sentimentality, understanding that any football season by itself contains a multitude of moving moments, a plethora of great storylines: the season-ending injury to a star player, the emergence of a rookie. Of course, every good film about high school sports has a mentor coach figure, and leading the boys here is Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines. Gaines coaches with urgency but has the ability

Street art on cellphones

Lima Originally uploaded by Barrybar . Interesting - the Wooster Collective is trying to get people to download street art onto their cellphones , as a means of supporting artists. The Collective's site has a lot of good pics, including some sightings of De La Vega's chalk drawings (those make me nostalgic), and a link to Patrick Barry Barr's Flickr collection of street art photos .


Went to church for Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and apparently someone had set fire to the nearby public carpark where we park our cars. As you can see, the darkness and soot made it near-nigh impossible to get a good shot with my Palm (no proper digital camera on hand), but it was quite shocking to see the hulls of burnt motorcycles and to smell the lingering acrid odor of charred rubber.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone! Easter here in Singapore isn't the chocolate festival it was in America, where the local Target had aisles upon aisles of Peeps, as well as Reese's Pieces, M&Ms, and other assorted sweets shaped like eggs. But I'm still looking forward to picking up a chocolate rabbit once Easter is over and the stores have to clear stock. Since we're on the topic of candy, here's a query: is it one Mento, or one Mentos ? And I just discovered that there's a device that lets you make your own marshmallow Peeps . That's almost as cool as personalised M&Ms .

Photos of Coconut in Chicago

Lots more new photos of Coconut , world's cutest dog, from when we took him to stay at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. His first road trip!

Celebrity bloggers

David Duchovny now has a blog . Started to promote House of D , the new film he's directing ("here comes the push part. i want to impart to you all a sense of urgency about house of d. this is the kind of movie that hollywood doesn't really make any more---it's a movie with a story and a red blood beating heart, not a spectacle of explosions with a heart composed of story structure software and green green money (that's not too bad) it needs you to need it", and yes he does write like that without any capitalisation and with run-on sentences yes), but hopefully it'll take on a life of its own like Zach Braff's . Unfortunately the film seems to have Robin Williams in a serious acting role, which often makes me shudder.

Fischer free

Bobby Fischer freed from jail and moves to the Fortress of Solitude. Okay, Iceland. Same difference. I still think (as I said before ) that it's funny that his major crime was playing chess in Yugoslavia.

USB siew mai

Okay, so they cost 68-75 euros each for 128 MB of space, but oh man do these flash drives ever look good. There're tempura and takoyaki flash drives too. (From Akihabara News , via yjblog )

Time machine for sale

Time machine for sale on eBay . Actually, all you have to do to afford it is buy it, go back in time 100 years, and buy stock in Coca-Cola or just put money in a bank and let it compound (idea stolen from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe , natch). Easy peasy.

Linksfest: Sonic Death Monkey edition

Why does Yahoo! think I live in a time zone called "CST"? China Standard Time? Do they not know that there's few things Singaporeans get annoyed by more than to be thought of as being part of China? Anyway, on to the things that caught my eye: The Solar Death Ray . Singaporean falls for the Nigerian 419 scheme, loses house . Ignoring the opposing political points of view on the Schiavo case, what would sending kids to bring water to a woman who was on a feeding tube achieve? I loved the Geico commercial for "Tiny House" , a fake reality TV show that seems to have a better premise than many real ones. The New Scientist has a list of 13 things that don't make sense , including the placebo effect, variable constants, and cold fusion, which has been in the news a bit lately Did you know you shouldn't clean a claypot using detergent ? The New York Times on hypomanics i.e. those with a milder form of bipolar disorder featuring hypoma

Blogging and endorsements

Looks like fellow Singaporean blogger Xiaxue's endorsement deal with LocalBrand T-shirts has made worldwide blogging news. Even Biz Stone has a post on it on Blogger's own blog . Maybe I should take a leaf from this. Advertise on! I'm the #1 hit in Google for the following searches! world's cutest dog internet timewasters i hate Chicago (it was a font reference, but heck, I also have no fondness for the sappy AOR band) don't buy iPod "the office" mockumentary Ah, the wonders of checking one's site stats and finding out how people reach my blog. for people who want to waste time, don't want to buy an iPod to waste it with, hate Chicago, and like cute dogs and " The Office ". The funny thing is, 2 days ago there was a story in Today about StoresOnline , a firm that was charging $100 for workshops for people to learn to "get their websites listed on the second page of search engines such as Google" (and th

The Green Mill

In Chicago, we went to the Green Mill in Uptown, perhaps the best jazz bar in the city and probably the oldest jazz bar in the world (found a picture of the place in daylight from here ). The Girlfriend and I had differing opinions on the atmosphere of the place: I like dive bars, and the Green Mill had a sort of dive-y throwback feel to it, perhaps attributable to its speakeasy origins - it was allegedly owned by Al Capone. I wasn't expecting this - the online descriptions made the place sound a bit chi-chi, but it turned out to be the kind of place that sells cheap Pabst and Schlitz. Two Pabsts, one Amstel Light, $10 altogether: great deal. (There was a $6 cover on a Tuesday, admittedly.) Nothing like a good old-fashioned jazz lounge. We did have non-differing opinions on the performers, the Deep Blue Organ Trio , who were a good band with a hell of a funky drummer in Greg Rockingham. The trio's set that night featured an especially fine version of "The Way You Look Ton


Apparently my decision not to get an iPod because I don't like the Chicago font it uses has been featured in Wired 's Japan website , leading to a minor infestation of Japanese tech-geeks on this here blog (assuming, of course, that Wired Japan has the same demographic of readership as its American counterpart). Lord knows what they say about me since I 1) can't read Japanese and 2) don't even have the Asian fonts plug-ins installed. What's "persnickety" and "finicky" in Japanese?

Father and son reunion

Me, and Coconut, and a cat we vanquished.

Doggy homeschooling

Okay, not really, but a cute set of pics from Modern Pooch nonetheless.

Reviews: Robots and Closer

Here are my reviews of two movies that couldn't be more different in tone: Robots and Closer . Excerpts: Robots : A young person off to see a benevolent dictator who meets misfits along the way: how much more like the Wizard of Oz can the plot get? (Indeed, the Tin Man, perhaps the prototypical mechanical actor, makes a cameo in the film.) But as might be expected, the path of true invention never did run smooth: Big Weld has been absent from the helm of his firm, and in his absence, the villainous Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), egged on by his megalomaniacal mother Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent), has taken over the running of Big Weld industries. Ratchet introduces - for shame! - the profit motive, thereby condemning to obsolescence the millions of robots who can't afford upgrades. Rodney thus has to team up with a ragtag bunch of misfit robots to save the day. Robots , inevitably, highlights the overarching importance of a firm's role as corporate citizen over its duty to share

Back to Living in Sin

Back in Singapore after I was bumped off my regularly scheduled flight - got a nice airline voucher and an upgrade to business class for my pains. Note to self: wherever possible, fly business. If only for the ability to sleep lying down, and the in-chair massage function. Movies watched in the last 24 hours: The Incredibles , Ray , Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason , Finding Neverland . Although the in-flight entertainment shut down 10 minutes from the end of Finding Neverland so I guess I've got to figure out a way to find out what happens...

Worst twist endings

David Edelstein summarises his readers' votes for worst twist endings to movies . The Life of David Gale takes first place, unsurprisingly. For me Fight Club (#9) is one of the worst offenders - I think the "split personality" thing struck me as trying too hard to seem deep without really succeeding. But the absolute disappointment was Unbreakable , which had a "surprise" ending that could be figured out in 10 minutes... As for plain bad endings, Signs was extremely underwhelming. Ooh, water. Boy, those aliens really didn't do their homework. On the flip side, one of my favourites is the twist ending of Memento . Or perhaps it should be called a twist middling, given the temporal structure of the film.

The most popular McDonald's

The most popular McDonald's in the world (30,000 customers a day) is in Pushkin Square in Moscow - interesting, I would've guessed Beijing. I know when McDonald's first opened in Singapore in 1979, its Liat Towers branch was the busiest in the world for a year or so... The article notes that the "menu is essentially the same as in the United States, with the addition of cabbage pie among other traditional Russian food items". So - is there a McShashlik?

March 17

Just back from Chicago, city of dyed-green rivers - Happy St Patrick's Day one and all!

English words that are borrowed from Cantonese

Since my original post on English words that are borrowed from Malay was so popular, here's a much shorter list, that of English words that are borrowed from Cantonese. I'll exclude words like ginseng , kumquat , and lychee , which refer to unique objects that are clearly Chinese in origin, choosing instead to look at words that are not immediately apparently Cantonese. As can be seen, although the British have had a presence in Hong Kong for a while, the loan words are much fewer: tangram , possibly from Cantonese "t'ang" typhoon , from "tai fung" i.e. large wind, although as notes , the spelling of the English version of this word is strongly influenced by the Greek "tuphon" yen , in the sense of desire As for "ketchup", which was discussed by some commenters in my earlier post, this article makes an interesting point: when "ketchup" was borrowed into English in the 18th century, the English used it

Linksfest: When Saturday Comes

Over the last few days, I've been tapping the wonders of American cable, watching such films as Ella Enchanted (terrible), Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (bearable), and A League of Their Own (quite good, actually - and now that I know a lot more about baseball it makes more sense)... anyway, weekend links: Why blogging is good for your career , by Tim Bray... Old friend PJ Thum is trying to be the first Singaporean to swim solo across the English Channel ... Getting back at e-Bay scammers ... Frequent flyer miles are getting devalued - time to start trading in your miles?...

Number one with a bullet

What song was #1 on the day you were born ? Mine - the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" (US) and Abba's "Take a Chance On Me" (UK). Popularised disco rules!

Dog personalities

Am in Indiana right now, chilling with Coconut . Caught an article in the Economist on how dogs really do have personalities - since that content is subscriber-only, here's an Irish Times article on the same subject. Clearly that's obvious to many of us dog owners, but of course we'd be biased., so it's nice to know it's not just us human owners anthropomorphising. There are four categories of doggy personality, apparently: energy level; affection; calmness/anxiety; and competence (a combination of being dependable and open to new experiences). Interesting...

Linksfest: Wednesday Morning 3a.m.

Going to fly off on holiday in a few hours. Enjoy these links for the next day or so: Yahoo! has a "Netrospective" . And a poet, upon hearing the neologism, has a coronary... The style of said Netrospective reminds me of Ten By Ten ... Time Cube : person claims to have "demonstrated absolute proof of Cubic Creation, through its attributes of 4 simultaneous 24 hour days within a single rotation of Earth". For his next accomplishment, he plans to learn to speak English... Taking on the Nigerian e-Bay scammers ...

Access all areas

O ver at Slate , Ian Ayres argues that single-use toilets should never be gender-marked . (Linguistic aside: I always assumed Americans used "toilet" to refer specifically to the bowl, not the room - this is a rare instance of the latter referent.) This makes perfect sense to me: I understand why toilets with cubicles and (in the men's room) urinals might need to be labeled "male" or "female", but it seems very inefficient to label the single-use ones - we don't do so for handicapped stalls, and, as Ayres points out, airlines don't do it. And doing away with labels prevents the ludicrous situation of women queueing up for the women's loo while the men's one goes blissfully unoccupied. So preventing the possibility of preventing transgendered people from being beaten up leads to efficiency gains (though, strictly speaking, not strongly Pareto optimal as this might increase the waiting time for men) - sounds good to me. Perhaps the Worl


"The landscape value system, and particularly the aesthetic it produces, unfairly condemns whole areas of industrial cityscape, of non-landscape. And as long as the vestiges of landscape endure, partisans of cityscape and great industry must fight a lonely battle, one contrary to the common wisdom of Americans descended from the makers of landscape" - John Stilgoe, Common Landscape of America 1580-1845 . *** One thing you don't see much of in Singapore are old, once-proud buildings in varying states of disrepair. None of the run-down brownstones and Georgian places you get in some New York and London neighbourhoods. Here, places either get restored or torn down and replaced by something modern. So it was nice to look up at this Loke Yew Street building (opposite the Malaysian High Commission) and see those columns - an old attempt at elegance? - and also see that people are clearly still living in the apartments upstairs. I like little touches of the haphazard.

Bed-Stuy brownstones

There's something about how people in really big metropolises can sometimes get very parochial about their neighbourhoods - I guess when the world's at your feet, it's not that tempting to explore the rest of the city. And most New Yorkers I know have never been to Bed-Stuy (too prissy to go? no real reason to go?). But there's some wonderful architecture there, particularly the brownstone buildings. Here's a wonderful set of photos by Tom Fletcher of the architecture of Bedford-Stuyvesant , from which I've taken the above picture. (Via Brownstoner ) mikeyblog on househunting in Bed-Stuy, aka the spread of gentrification

Verbal agreement

From a Grauniad Guardian article on James Dyson , inventor of the dual-cyclone vacuum cleaner: He still has one major ambition. To become a verb, in the same way that Hoover - or, as he puts it, "the alternative" - has done. I suggest to him that people are already using his product but still saying they are "hoovering". He smiles. "I don't think they'll be doing that for long," he says. That struck me as unusual - it's very rare for a firm's leader to say that he wants his product to become a verb. Lots of other companies like TiVo and Google have tried desperately to avoid their name becoming a verb, for fear of the name becoming so generic that the trademark gets diluted. But then, the Languagehat archives seem to show (see comment near the bottom) that Dyson's big on turning his name into a verb. *** Sadly, due to its distinct lack of vowels, the chances of "sng" becoming a verb seem close to zero, regardless of whate

Musical atrocities I heard today

First one, on the video wall as I was waiting for the lift to the cinema: Nitty's "Nasty Girl", which rips off the Archies' "Sugar Sugar". You take a cornball song and add bog-standard booty-obsessed lyrics, what do you expect? Well honey (Whatcha got Mr. Mans) I got a lot of money (I don't see no keys in my hands) Could you be my nasty girl And let me do that dirty dance witchu (If you want just give me money) ( Lyrics ) Mad flow it ain't. When I was DJing there were always songs like this, tunes that were inescapably naff but that others inexplicably found catchy... not worth staking my credibility to play just because someone requested the tune. This writeup has an inadvertently funny quote from Nitty: The song is not about a woman being disrespected, but enjoying being free and letting loose. I want women to know that expressing their sexuality is not only normal, but also appealing. Being Nasty in essence is exploring your inner most privat

Linksfest redux

From A Capital Idea , a piece in the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram on the use of "wife-beater" as a way to describe a white undershirt ... The Bangkok Street Dogs street dogs blog... Prediction: In 2025, an entire cottage industry will exist to recover data from worn-out data/photo CD-ROMs ... If I insert a "c" here as marked, it becomes a rant against smilies: “The danger in free speech does not lie in the menace of ideas, but in the menace of emoti[c]ons. If words were merely logical devices no one would fear them. But when they impinge upon a moron they set off his hormones, and so they are justifiably feared." - H. L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun , Nov. 18, 1929 ... The 4-colour map theorem and Euler's formula are really elegant...

Chingay Parade

Some of the floats on display during the annual Chinese New Year Chingay parade . (Taken on 26 Feb 2005, when the floats were going towards Little India)

Friendster blogging

Friendster now has blogging , provided by SixApart, the MT/Typepad guys. Even the price packages sound like Typepad , with 3 levels of blogging packages: The default option when users sign up for a blog is Friendster Blogs Basic, for $4.95 per month or $49.50 per year. That option boasts extra storage and bandwidth. Friendster Blogs Pro, for $14.95 per month or $149.50 per year, offers "expert control over HTML, archive types and unlimited Web logs. Perfect for advanced users," the company said in a statement. Friendster Blogs Plus, for $8.95 per month or $89.50 per year, lets users create photo albums, keep up to three blogs, and personalize the look of the blog. Presumably this follows MySpace 's lead on mixing blogging and social networks. Given that Friendster fired an employee for blogging not too long ago, their newfound embrace of blogging seems somewhat awkward. Jeremy Zawodny on Joyce Park's firing.

Foreign thoughts

Everyday for exercise I walk the 6 storeys up to my office in the Adelphi at least once. This invariably involves walking by and even stepping over a few foreign workers who're sleeping on the staircase landing, waiting to see this firm (what does it do? law? construction?) that occupies a little nook of the building on the 5th floor. I always wonder, looking at these men on the landings, trying to get sleep in the heat and stale air of the stairwell or idly flipping through old stray pages of Tamil Murasu , what goes through their minds? What do they think about having travelled miles away from home just to end up whiling the day away seemingly waiting for Godot? What do they think about this guy in office attire stepping over them - do they think him ridiculous for choosing to walk?

Bubba the lobster passes on

I have been alerted that Bubba the enormous lobster has passed on . Let us have a moment of silence, and then pass the butter. Pinchy!!!

How to be good

I like Leo Hickman's column in the Guardian on ethical living : even if you can't follow everything he writes about, it's nice to try. Here's one thing I was thinking about when I took out the recycling last night: I consume vast quantities of Pepsi, and the bag's always bulging with cans when I bring it out once a fortnight. And then I always see these poor old men and women at hawker centres and food courts picking up old cans to make a few cents. Is there any way I can somehow give all my cans to one of these people instead of just having them recycled, given that I now don't really live within walking distance of a hawker centre? Back when I had my own apartment near the river there was this guy who rummaged through the trash can downstairs looking for cans so I'd go down and give him all of my cans, usually made his day. Hmm. Suggestions welcome.

Flattery will get you everywhere

Love your dog? Hate cats? This Ikea cushion may be just the thing for your dog. (From Puptastic )

Coconut in the snow

Great photo, no? Coconut all camouflaged. The spread of social networking means he's even got his own Dogster page , replete with his "own" blog. Leave him a bone, will ya?

The big lobster

Bubba, this big-ass lobster, is saved . Yup, that's him next to your regular ready-for-thermidor scrawny specimen. This bit in the article was funny: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent Wholey a letter asking him to work with the group to release Bubba back in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. Another group calling itself People For Eating Tasty Animals reportedly offered Wholey a hefty price for the lobster. When I was in Louisville we drove by a PETA billboard featuring Pamela Anderson advising people not to eat chicken. Asking someone in Kentucky not to eat chicken? Seems like a lost cause. People For Eating Tasty Animals

Desperate Housewives and Sirk

Here's a line of thought that I'm working on. "Desperate Housewives" is what happens when soap opera collides into Douglas Sirk : older actresses in over-the-top moments, set in lavish surroundings that are disquieting in their seeming perfection. Like Sirk's films, "Desperate Housewives" speaks about the alienation of women and their categorisation into pre-assigned roles: the affair with John the gardener (Jesse Metcalfe) could have been straight from All That Heaven Allows , or Todd Haynes' Sirk homage Far From Heaven . There's melodrama, yes, but it's far from camp. Hmm. Needs some fleshing out.

Public art in Singapore

Continuing my attempts to take pictures of public art in Singapore, here's a sculpture outside the HDB Hub at Toa Payoh, pleasantly made up for Chinese New Year.

Miami's vice

Wow, this sounds really annoying. Miami: City for the Horny.


I love the New Yorker and its polymathic ability to splash any subject across its pages. Case in point: in this week's issue, Sasha Frere-Jones examines the world of ringtones , and notes that the advent of master tones might mean impending nostalgia for polyphonic ringtones. Transitional stages of technology often have their own imperfect charms, memorable in ways that no one could have predicted. Polyphonic-ringtone nostalgia is approximately six months away. It's funny how an increased speed of obsolescence means an increasing speed of nostalgia. The next stage will be for such tones to become "retro"... The master tones, however, do mean many genres sound decent on the phone, whereas now, as Rob Walker pointed out a while back, only hip-hop seems to translate well onto the phone. Right now, I use the version of Satie 's "Gymnopedie No. 1" that came with my Nokia as my ringtone - I needed something that doesn't sound like an urgent call to atten

Frankly, being blasted to bits by Megatron would've been easier to take

Optimus Prime dies of prostate cancer .

Oscar thoughts

Everything that needs to be said about the winners has been said elsewhere - heck, the photos of the law firm of Swank, Eastwood, and Foxx are so oversplashed, I thought I'd put up a pic of Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, who won for Best Documentary . So here's some random minor thoughts from yesterday's ceremony: Nice that they cut to Alan Alda when Robert Richardson (the cinematography winner) was thanking those taking care of his mother in hospital - somehow you knew Alda would have a warm smile. The step of making the "lesser nominees" (sound editing, visual editing, and so on) stand on stage was quite an ingenuous way of cutting back on the time spent on making them walk to stage. Giving out Oscars in the audience was just declasse though. King Kaufman makes a good point, why all the rush? I wonder the same thing about the Oscars that I do when I see people leaving close playoff games in the eighth inning or midway through the fourth quarter: What the heck