February, 2008

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Music as a universal language

blog-NYphilharmonic.jpgOK, maybe not – Mathematics should be the only universal language. But it was still delightful to wake up to good news for a change. No, it wasn’t that Bak kwa prices are dropping. Rather, the New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel just did a concert in Pyongyang in what seems to be a small step towards warming of ties between two countries which are still technically at war. To be honest, I don’t have many albums of the NY players. A disproportionate number of my classical CDs are performances by the Academy-of-St.Martin-in-the-Fields, the Wiener and Berlin Philharmonikers. But hey, any news where music is doing a number for world peace and harmony is music to my ears.

The concert was largely attended by the party cadre and elite. But from reading the reports, the concert struck a chord in many of the North Koreans, some even moved to tears during the orchestra’s performance of Arirang, a beloved folk song in Korea. Hooray for music! It was even reported today that famed rock guitarist, Eric Clapton, has just been invited to also perform in Pyongyang. Exactly how much appeal rock music has in the hermit country up North is anyone’s guess, but one report’s suggested that Kim Yong Il’s son is apparently an Eric Clapton fan.

Ironically, the least cheerful reports of the event came from the White House, who cautioned against reading too much into the event. Duh – what party poopers.

Here’s what Chicago Tribune’s report of the event, with the picture in this entry from the link.

"By Your Command"

blog-BG-1.jpgThe line in the title of this post comes from a TV science-fiction series the boys from the Foo clan loved when young. Not all the three boys at home, but just my elder brother and myself. The series was Battlestar Galactica, and concerned a space battleship leading the remnants of human colonies after getting pwned by a nasty robotic race called the Cylons. The series first began as a movie (which my dad brought us to watch on the big screen in 1979), and then as a TV series showed and repeated several times on the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Channel 5 in the early 80s.

How did the Foo boys get into this sort of thing? Well, it sort of started with Star Wars actually, which our dad had also brought us to see at the then Odeon cinema just a few years earlier in 1977. I still have vivid memories of walking along Bras Basah road and getting awed by the huge canvas painting of the cinema poster. Battlestar Galactica was one of the several productions that was created to satisfy the new demand from Star Wars nerds who wanted more of this new space-opera phenomena and spectacle of space fighters darting around their foes with laser beams. OK, so the series wasn’t that great, what with the cheesy acting and the often recycled dogfighting scenes. But I loved it. So much that I even spent my time drawing space fighters during my PSLE exam paper (I remembered my invigilator stopping to look at my doodles!), and even comic strips featuring characters and objects from the series.

blog-BG-2.jpgIt’s funny, because 25 years later when I watch these movies and productions I still feel as giddy as I was a 12 year old boy back then. Oh, the old Battlestar Galactica series hasn’t aged well at all, but the series was ‘reimagined‘ (i.e. remade) for the new generation of sci-fiction movie lovers in 2004. The general plot outlay remains the same – a space battleship leading the remnants of human colonies after getting pwned by a nasty robotic race called the Cylons – but all other sensibilities have been given a 21st century makeover. The visuals have improved with CG, the plot is much thicker with all the shades of grey, and the good guys this time don’t win all the time.

I don’t as a rule watch episodic productions on broadcast since they require the regular time slot commitment that’s difficult when you hold a job. I follow this series, like the other TV dramatic series I adore (X-Files, Star Trek Voyager, The West Wing, Rome, Grey’s Anatomy etc.), almost exclusively on disc. The new Battlestar Galactica series has finished its third year of episodes not too long ago, and will begin its fourth and final season shortly. I figure a part of me will feel the same closure when the series ends since it’s been a journey that has sustained the fascination with fantastic story-telling from young. But there’ll always be new stories that’d be told, and I for one will continue to be the giddy school boy when I follow them.:)

Love Pizza

I’m like many girls and women outta there who love receiving flowers on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day.

blog-pizza.jpgWell, Yang thinks that flowers are superficial and would rather get me practical gifts. For this Valentine, he bought me an excellent Blu-ray documentary series ‘Planet Earth’. We enjoyed watching each and every episode of ‘Planet Earth’. Some of the animal behavior and natural forces and sceneries were an eye-opener for me. It is the best production on nature I’ve seen so far.

It is getting more and more challenging to think of a suitable gift to give Yang for Valentine or his birthday. I mean, Yang is really good and personal with his gifts. Tough to match up. So for this Valentine, I decided to hand-make a Hawaiian pizza for him. He’s big on pizzas.

After surfing the Internet for a proven recipes for the pizza crust and tomato sauce, I was eager to try it out on Valentine’s Day. Wah, I found out that kneading the dough by hand was no joke man. I was practically doing a workout while at it. I’ll be smarter next round – use my dough kneading mixer. On the whole, pizza making was an enjoyable experience for me. I get freshly-made pizza crust with home-made tomato sauce and personalised toppings. Yummito!

The baking process is simple – just 15-20 mins in the oven…and presto, your pizza is ready to be served :) Initially, I wanted to shape the pizza into a heart-shape. But it would such a waste of space and food! (I’m sure Yang would prefer more pizza than inedible romance). In my opinion, the pizza was a great success. Yeah, the juices from the pineapple pieces soaked part of the crust but the freshness of bread was unmistakable. The crust was crispy on the outside and soft-chewy on the inside. :)

I would give myself full marks for the first attempt even though Yang rated the finished product only 60 percent.:(

Oh No, it's Kia!

blog-nokia-6300.JPGNokia hasn’t been getting very good press lately at all. In fact, there’s been a spate of letters written to the forum page complaining about the reliability of phones produced by the Finnish phone manufacturer, or the quality of service provided by its service centres. One recent one’s right here in fact.

To be fair, I wonder about these reliability complaints. In reality, once you have a product that sells by large volume, and especially if it’s a technological product, it’s becomes a statistic certainty that a number will fail. The complaints of product reliability are really similar to say the notebooks that Dell sells. While there’re exceptions when a product is (arguably) flawed by design – *koff* Xbox 360 RROD – when you sell so many of the dang thing, there’s bound to be instances where the product just won’t work.

Still, the following story I read off on the Asiaone discussion forum was particularly fun to read. I haven’t owned a Nokia phone for a while now – I’m still waiting for Elina, my co-author of several papers who works in Nokia-Finland, to get me those phone vouchers – I bought Ling a Nokia handphone (and also a new PC, and also a new coffee mug etc.) for her birthday last year. Here’s how it goes:

I won a battle against Nokia Pte Ltd (17 Feb 2008)

The Relations Manager of Nokia, Ms Serene Teo, told me that I won’t be able to win the case and the most I could only get back $388. This was what she believed, but she was wrong.

I finally won the case and was awarded $778 by Small Claim Tribunal in 18 Dec 2007.

Nokia was given 15 days to make the settlement, but they did not respond to me.

I called to check about it on 22 Jan 2008, and Nokia said that they did not receive such notice.

I went to their HQ the next day, after presenting the Order of Tribunal to the Manager, he finally agree to pay. However, Nokia would pay me if only I agreed to sign a conditional letter. They wanted to keep my mouth shut and I was not allowed to disclose this claim to any third party. I refused as they had no right to impose any condition because this was not an out of court settlement.

I then applied for WSS (Writ of Seizure and Sale) the next day. An appointment date was scheduled on 11 Feb 2008.

I accompany the bailiff officer to Nokia HQ. Nokia was then given two options by the bailiff officer. One was to make settlement and the other one was let the bailiff officer to sticker their movable assets.

They finally woke up and agree to make payment. By then, they got to pay $1,018.43 instead of $778.

By sharing this experience, I hope that many have a better idea of what to do if encounter similar situation in the future.

Many of us wouldn’t want to take the trouble to make such claim. Some may have no time, and some may think that Nokia is such a big company and no point goes against them.

Give this man a Tiger (or maybe a Sony-Ericsson phone too haha)! I absolutely have to hand it to this guy for his guts to see his case come to a fair conclusion. The original post can be found here, and the fellow even posted up a copy of his Tribunal order to Nokia.

Early adoption

blog-high-def-war.jpgNo, this isn’t an entry about adopting babies! The phrase early adopter commonly refers to persons who’re enthusiasts buying into technologies that are newly emerging and before they become mainstream. Early adoption has its benefits; you get to play with the newest stuff, mingle with like-minded enthusiasts, and best of all, enjoy the online ‘wars’ when there’s another competing early technology.

The one I’m referring to is none other than the recently-ended high-def format war. What was that about? Well, in a nutshell, for the last 2 years, there’s been two competing formats for the distribution of pre-recorded high-definition entertainment: Blu-ray, and HD DVD. Hollywood studios were divided into both camps or choosing to be aligned to neither, and several changed sides in the 2 years too. There’s been many major ‘events’ and turning points throughout, but the absence of a clear winner was hurting mass consumer adoption of one standard. i.e. who’d like to spend thousands of dollars buying new media for one format only to see the other format eventually become standard?

What’s been especially fun though has been watching the war online. Gamers, movie-lovers and online advocacy groups have all taken sides and gotten involved. In fact, in order to stop the flaming and arguments from spilling into the forums where participants had no desire to bicker, several web sites even have Smackdown forums where folks went specifically to fight. I don’t enjoy bickering and I haven’t flamed since my Usenet days in 1993. But it’s nonetheless fun to watch from a spectator’s point of view. There’s wit, sarcasm, the usual cussing, scrutinization of press-releases and sales data, and Nostradamus-like predictions on who’d win (or lose).

All that said, the format war eventually reached its closure early this week when the HD DVD format capitulated with Toshiba, the forerunner leading the format, announced that in light of recent developments in the war, they’re stopping production of hardware for their format. All that’s good news for consumers, since mass adoption can now properly begin with the format that’s emerged the winner. The Smackdown forums are now slowly winding down in activity too since there isn’t much to smack the other fellow about now. But if you’d like to see what the fuss was about, here’s a good place to start. To get to the most fun stuff though you’d have to backtrack from around the Christmas week from last year.:)


blog-plant-earth.jpgI’ve never been a tree hugger. I mean, my closest encounter with nature was in those Living Planet documentaries my science teachers at ACS made my class sit through in the 1980s. So, one thing that Ling has tried very hard to get me interested during our early dating days was flora. We’d be driving down a road or walking through an area with lots of trees, and she’d often tell me the name and biological characteristics of a flower, plant or tree. Thing is, none of those terms and names she’d introduce to me ever sank in.

In any case, for Valentine’s Day this year, and knowing just how much Ling loved those nature documentaries, I placed an order for the Planet Earth series on blu-ray from Amazon.com. Ling was delighted with the present (I got a home-made pizza in return), and over the last several nights, we’ve been watching an episode or two at a time.

And what a magnificent series it is! Each episode in the 10 hour series takes the viewer through a distinct natural habitat on Earth, e.g. the plains, the shallow seas, mountains, and caves. What’s amazing about this series – apart from that we’ve been watching it on High-Def – is the amount of satellite or overhead imagery used to convey the spectacle. Every one of those scenes are jawdropping, whether it is the Great Barrier Reef viewed from space, or Angel falls as seen from above. Many of the sequences are every cheery, for example one that showed Dolphins off the Western Australian coast hydroplaning in shallow waters to catch a meal.

Funnily, I’ve become so enamored with the series that I’m wondering if I should also buy the DVD equivalent for the other nature-loving person in the Foo clan – my Dad. Or maybe I’ll just borrow the set from my institution’s library and get my dad to watch all 10 hours of the series in a week.:)

A pox on ye!

One reason why Ling often asks if it’d be better if she drives lies in her belief that driving is a tremendously stressful experience for me. How’s that? Well, I curse when I drive. Not just a bit, but a lot.

blog-browncockroach.jpgI should clarify on that too. The cusses are never vulgar. No expletives, no F words, no no nothing of that sort. I’m not foul-mouthed by character. Rather, it’s usually cusses of the colorful sort whenever I get peeved by something I see on the road.

Say for instance, while turning into the carpark at Compass Point last evening, there was this fellow with punk hair smoking and standing at the driveway with his foot protruding that a car could have run over if it’d been near the ledge. He got a “I hope he chokes on that cigarette!!” Or the taxi-driver who swerved from lane to lane without signaling just to get 2 metres ahead of the other vehicle. For him, “I hope he bangs into a tree!!” Or the bengster who winds down his vehicle window and spits his puddle out: “I hope he gets reincarnated as a cockroach!!!”

Heck, I guess I’m just unforgiving to my fellow drivers when they do rude things on the road. Come to think of it, the only objects that don’t get those cusses are things that aren’t human. Like the occasional dog running along the road around the Little India area when we drive to the early morning services at Wesley. Or the birds that we have to swerve to avoid running over every early morning while maneuvering into my workplace’s carpark. Those little darlings. We’d happily drive around them.

Ling always gets distressed when I cuss. Her usual rejoinder to those cusses would be: “Darling, you shouldn’t return evil for evil, ok?” Thing is, I’m not agitated. Of course I don’t hope for the person to choke on his cigarette, or bang his car into a tree (though I do think on occasion some people really should be reincarnated as cockroaches). Cussing colorfully and like a pirate on the Singapore road, for me at least, is just half therapeutic for the release. The other half, it’s just plain fun to see Ling’s responses.:)

“If you can’t take the heat…”

One of those things that’s fun to think about is how the both of us are very different when it comes to cooking in the kitchen. Ling is the more inventive cook at home. She’s interested in trying out new recipes all the time, whether it’s a Green tea cake (her own version of the Macha cake from Bread Talk?), or some Japanese cuisine. Check out her Chicken Donburi pictured here for instance. Quite a magnificent attempt, and tastes as good as the real thing from a Japanese restaurant.

2007-Rivervale-CIMG2913-chicken-donburi.JPGOn the flip side, our dinner times become variable whenever she’s the chef for the night. When she says dinner’s at 6 we’d be lucky if it gets done at 7 pm sort of thing.

Food planning also takes a hit. The fridge is typically stocked with left over condiments and food items that get neglected all too soon. Too often, I’ll pull an item out from the fridge and the dialog will typically go like this:

“Dear, you know your bottle of milk has expired already right?”

“Er, I was supposed to use it for baking… sorry hor, just throw for me.”

In comparison, I’m less adventurous when it comes to trying out new food items. I’m really more interested in perfecting known recipes. Take for instance my Carbonara that Ling loves. Now, that recipe got perfected over 3 years cooking it in Perth. And I’ve got the cooking time zeroed down to a personal best of 22 minutes from start to finish, everything included – pasta cooking + onion and bacon + prawn shredding + gravy work.

Oh, I do try out a new recipe on the rare occasion, but only when I’m positively certain I can do it without error, with low cost, and with minimal cooking time. And I’m really only interested in Italian and Chinese stir-fry cooking. When I’m doing stir-fry for dinner, Ling will give me that sort of look (i.e. “Stir-fry french beans again…?”).

All that said, I shouldn’t complain too much, since the stuff Ling can put together is always worth the wait and occasional food wastage. So, when she has time and the inclination, there’ll always be something new on the dinner table. When we’re having a busy week with too much work, it’d be stir-fried french beans with carrots, capsicum, baby corn and fish cake, with a start to serving time of 20 minutes – I’m still working on it! :)