March, 2008

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Pots and Plates

Ling had been eying Corelle dinner ware at the Compass Point Metro outlet for quite a long while now. But we (or maybe me) have put off buying those things because we don’t need much dinner ware when we normally cook just for two persons at home, and we’ve been making do with handme downs and Ikea fare.

blog-corelle-herbs_b.gifSo, it came as quite a surprise for Ling when I had a change of heart quite out of the blue over the weekend, and suggested maybe we should just get one of those sets after all. The set that Ling wanted though was no longer in supply at the Metro outlet, so she had to hunt around a bit at other department stores around Singapore. We finally found one remaining box set, and on Wednesday morning I headed to OG at Orchard Point to pick up a 22 item European Herbs Corelle dinner ware set at $169.

That said, it’s going to take a while to get used to Corelle ware though, as they’re a lot thinner and lighter than the porcelain ware we’re used to. Heck, they’re so light there isn’t much heft or weight to them and whenever I handle these plates, I’m deathly worried about dropping them.:(

'O Sole Mio

Well, Ling came back from her Venice trip chaperoning her choir… and promptly fell sick for the next couple of days from fever, sore throat, and coughing. From what I gather, it was not an easy trip with her girls falling sick, needing hospitalization and the like. In fact, I think the whole experience was so difficult maybe she doesn’t have it in her to blog about the choir’s trip there at all.

Still, I’ve placed a small selection of the very small number of pictures she took on the trip. The album’s right here.

Photo infringement

Here’s an interesting article that was circulated on Clubsnap. It concerns the attempts by a photographer to claim damages against a company who lifted and used his works, then attempt to hide that fact. His web page here contains the chronology of events, and is testimony to his diligence and perseverance. Quite a long read, and if you reach the reader comments at the end of the page, you’ll see the admiration heaped on him by other readers and photographers.

Gregerson v. Vilana Financial, Inc.

Notebooks through the ages

Cameras and HD entertainment aren’t my only two obsessions as a geekboy. I used to have a thing for PDAs, handphones and notebooks. Fortunately, the tech compulsions don’t all occur at the same time (otherwise I’d be in perpetual deficit), but they usually occur as flavor of the month or year-quarter.

In any case, I thought it’d be fun to put together a list of notebooks I’ve used for the last 12 years now. The list goes like this:

Manufacturer Model From To Screen CPU Type OS
1. Toshiba Satellite Pro 1997 2000 12″ Pentium Full-featured Win 95
2. Dell Inspiron 3000 1999 2000 14″ Pentium Full-featured Win 98 SE
3. IBM Thinkpad 240X 2001 2001 10.4″ Pentium III Ultraportable Win 98 SE
4. Toshiba Protege 3000 2001 2002 11.1″ Pentium III Ultraportable Win 98 SE
5. HP Omnibook 500 2002 2004 12.1″ Pentium III Ultraportable Win XP
6. Sager 5650 2003 2005 15″ Pentium IV Full-featured / Gaming Win XP
7. Acer Travelmate 3001 2005 2007 12″ Pentium M Ultraportable Win XP
8. Dell XPS M1210 2007 2008 12″ Core 2 Duo Ultraportable / Gaming Vista
9. IBM Thinkpad T60 2007 14″ Core 2 Duo Full-featured Win XP
10. NEC Versa E6310 2008 14″ Core 2 Duo Full-featured / Gaming Vista

blog-nec-computer.jpgThis sort of table is illuminating because it shows several things:

  • Notebook turnover is about 14 months. I think that has a lot to do with the fast depreciation of notebook value once warranty runs out.
  • I’m about evenly split between ultraportables and full-featured notebooks. Actually, come to think of it, I oscillate between the two.

In general, I’ve had pretty good luck with notebooks with most having served me very well without failure. OK, there’s been two exceptions. The HP Omnibook 500 was a great machine with a very sexy chassis and color scheme, but the docking bay was just horrible with frequent failures to properly recognize the notebook when mounted. I think I had it sent to repair at Hewlett Packard three times within a year, after which I gave up and let it sit and gather dust at home. The Acer Travelmate had a quirky keyboard with a key that my fingernail kept getting stuck under. Moreover, it suffered three hardware failures, which fortunately were still properly covered under warranty. That said, I’ve had fond memories of the machine since I did a large amount of thesis writing on it.

Of the two current notebooks I’ve got, one is the always reliable IBM Thinkpad given by the school. The other personal one is a pretty recent acquisition: an NEC Versa E6310 which has a pretty OK graphics chipset to let me run game demonstrations for my lecture groups. Hopefully this one will last for a bit – or at least longer than the current average of 14 months. :)

Up up and away

blog-comics-2.jpgI was checking through the blog archives here and I realized something quite strange; I’ve not written an entry on comic books even though at one point in my life, I was a big fan of these things. It’s not quite a hobby either, as I think I’ve been more interested in the story-telling than the form itself, otherwise I’d have to include ‘reading’ as a hobby too haha.:)

OK; how does this start? My first exposure to comics came in the form of strips that I followed on the daily newspapers. Yep, up till the late 90s, my parents subscribed to The Straits Times even though they read the Chinese dailies. The English papers were for the three sons at home, and I remembered as a primary school boy religiously following, then cutting the titles I liked (Garfield was one of them) and pasting them into art books. At about the same time I was introduced to Tintin and Asterix comics by way of my cousin.

Up till that point, comic book collection was still pretty limited, since at that point there were only about two dozen Tintin and Asterix titles each. However, in the mid 80s, I got involved with a small group of collectors that started off a local sort of comic book craze in Singapore. DC Comics and Marvel Comics were the two leading publishers of the English-based comic titles. The first shop was a comic / game hobbyist shop called Leisure Craft run by a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Wong (IIRC), and it was first located at a very small corner on the third level of the old MPH near Fort Canning. I think the amount of money a lot of us pumped into her business from that year onwards – 1985 I think – by buying so may titles encouraged her enough to move to a bigger location at Midpoint Orchard’s basement, and shortly after other shops followed, including Comics Mart at Serene Centre, which surprisingly is still around today after 20 years.

My heyday was when I was in JC1 and 2 at Anglo-Chinese Junior College, and a lot of afternoons each day was spent at a shop called Pan Comics Galleries at Thomson Plaza. All my excess pocket money went to buying comic book titles to supplement the other books I was buying, so much so that my parents were torn between happy (that I was reading) and worried (that I was doing nothing but reading). Pan Comics Galleries holds a lot of great memories since I was an assistant of sorts there, helping to inventorize and on occasion voluntarily manning the cash counter too. I got my first comic book signing there too when Mike Grell came to Singapore in 1987; he autographed my copy of his best selling title “The Longbow Hunters“. I wonder how much that’s worth now. All three of us were collectors, though by far I think I outspent both my brothers in this. Over a period of perhaps 5 years, I think we easily chalked up at least several thousand books, with a number of priceless gems in them too.

blog-comics-1.jpgblog-comics-3.jpgThe hobby took a substantial winding down when I enlisted for National Service, and surprisingly, so did comic collection in Singapore at large too. A number of shops closed, shifted to more ulu locations to lower operating costs, or downsized their floorspace. For the next nearly 15 years, the hobby was in near dormancy kept alive with just a small handful of collectors who were still buying and collecting. That’s changed at the turn of the century though, when big book store chains like Kinokuniya started stocking huge collections of titles in compilation form. I suspect many of the old collectors still prefer to following the ongoing adventures of their favorite superheroes in monthly fashion and scorn at compilations, but I’ve moved on. I prefer to read these things in compiled form since its a lot more convenient and at lower cost too.

It’s also interesting to see how comic books have evolved over the last 23 years. Specifically, they’ve diversified with so many becoming representations of social issues and dilemmas faced in the modern world. In other words, comic books aren’t always escapisms anymore, although they’re certainly still fantastic with their inclusion of heroes larger than life in contemporary settings. Writing has substantially improved too, with heroes no longer the immortal giants and gods perfect in personalities they once were in the 60s, but very fallible and even whimsical at times. Many comic books easily rival the best fictional classics in paperback form in story telling and complexity. There’re perennial favorites like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, and more recent ones like Identity Crisis. Yeah, I’m a DC Comics person; only because most of what I read in the last 23 years have been from this publisher, and I can only handle one publisher’s gallery of characters.:)

All that said, there’re still books I read as a primary school boy that I still return to as an adult – and it’s Asterix. The humor and satire from the band of Gaulish villlages holding out against Roman occupation centres a great deal on Euro-politics from the mid to late 20th century. There’s still a lot of little inside jokes that I only get as I advance in years and become more familiar with world history. The title is like good wine; the older it gets, the more enjoyable it becomes.:)

Do not slap the person who brings you your food

Here’s an interesting news article in the papers over the last few days:

Stewardess suing Venture Corp CEO’s wife for allegedly slapping her

By Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 12 February 2008

SINGAPORE: A Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight attendant is taking the wife of one of Singapore’s richest men, Mr Wong Ngit Liong, to court for allegedly slapping her on a flight from Singapore to Tokyo last year.

Madam Tan Siew Hoon, the wife of Venture Corp chairman and chief executive Mr Wong, 65, is alleged to have struck Ms Then Jiamin on the cheek sometime during that flight on Sept 20, after she saw her speaking to Mr Wong.

The SIA flight attendant was serving passengers in business class, including the Wongs. According to the writ of summons — which was served on Mdm Tan at her home last Monday evening — immediately after striking the stewardess, Mdm Tan had said loudly: “Why are you talking to my husband!”

Ms Then, 25, is suing for “general damages and damages for consequential loss and emotional and mental distress” she suffered as a result of the “wrongful assault and battery”. She is also claiming damages for defamation.

blog-2007-Cooking-CIMG2845.jpgThe article has a bit more information, but what I’ve posted above is the general gist of it. The thread has been well commented on in blogs and discussion forums, with at least a few posters remarking how fierce Mdm. Tan looks too. Anyway, putting aside the legality of assaulting someone else in public, I must issue a well-intended warning: Do not ever slap a person who brings you your food!! Doing that sort of thing is a very, very, very bad idea.

How’s that? Well, story telling time again. Years ago I was dating this friend (before marriage OK!!!!) who was a flight stewardess for two of the regional airlines. She was quite the quintessential poster-person. Tall, charming, and she played computer games and could assemble her own computer haha. My kind of hobbies. Anyhow, she’d tell me of all these stories of how some flight attendants get their “revenge” on passengers who harass them. Specifically, those select passengers get special, ahem, ingredients into their beverages. Not food because it’s easy to see any sort of additional condiments. But beverages like tea and coffee, you stir and bingo any trace or incriminating evidence of those special ‘additions’ are gone.

Now, how true or widespread were these things going on I have no clue and my friend stated emphatically that she personally would never do such a thing. But it’s a scary thought eh. Heng ar – lucky I’m always very polite to any person who is serving me, whether it’s at the bank, at the faculty canteen, or on an airplane. Otherwise, I’d have more than just my own bodily fluids inside me over all these long years.:)

I wanna new toy

blog-nikon-fg20.jpgMany of us through our live times pick up or drop hobbies. For myself though, my choice of hobbies have remained quite the same. I’ve got four interests / hobbies: debating, music composition, gaming, and photography (the aquarium thing only came into the picture 2 years ago and is still considered a relatively new hobby).

My dad got me my first SLR in 1985 when I was a secondary two boy at ACS. I remembered making the trip down to the Cathay Photo at the old Bras Basah road, and sales uncle showing me how to use the camera. The model was a Nikon FG-20. Photography was a very new thing for me back then, and I remembered pouring over the instruction manual repeatedly, even bringing it to school and on public transportation to read whenever I could. I learnt about aperture control, depth-of-field, centre-weighted exposures and the like.

Not surprisingly too, the photographs I took back then truly sucked, but ironically they’re of immense value today as there aren’t very many pictures of my family at home taken in the 80s. I got more adventurous when I entered ACJC. I remembered bringing the camera to school in my second year, and offering to take portrait shots of all my classmates and friends. I still have all those pictures nicely framed and commented upon in my albums, including a very lovely portrait shot I took for a girl in my class I was interested in (back then OK!!! / *avoids Ling’s death glare*). I remembered saving every penny I could to buy a 70-200 mm Nikkor zoom lens too. The thing cost $400 in 1989. That was a huge sum to me, though as any photo enthusiast will tell you, quality-wise a $400 zoom lens is of the bottom of the barrel variety.

Not long thereafter, I was enlisted into the army, and somehow ended up also as the battalion photographer after I received my posting. Some of the memorable events included running up and down the column during a 40 km road march to take pictures of my unit’s soldiers marching down East Coast, and also taking mug shots of all 700 persons in the battalion for overseas training trips. Several years thereafter in 1995, I completed my Bachelor degree at NTU, and again, took graduation pictures for the fellows who were graduating with me.

blog-canons10.jpgPhotography remained throughout then a pretty inconvenient if not expensive hobby, what with having to make frequent trips to the studio. I finally got into digital photography in 1999, picking up my first digital camera in 1999 (a Canon S10) for a horrendous price of $1800. The model was a 2 megapixel machine, and quite innovative for its time. The battery life was awful (it could barely do a few dozen shots before the battery kaput-ed), and Memory CF cards were crazily expensive. But wow, the camera sure was convenient. I could take pictures, see their results on the PC almost instantly, and after the painful initial product purchase, taking pictures cost next to nothing and I got instant gratification each time.:)

Well, 10 years later with several more digital cameras in between, my hands have got all itchy over the last few months to replace my current DSLR, a Konica-Minolta Maxxum 5D. The latter’s a great camera for its time: good noise management, body-based image stabilization that actually works, and it’s been reliable for the several years I’ve owned it. But problems with flash-work, no available battery grip, a very loud shutter that goes “ka-PLAK”, and that Konica-Minolta is no longer in existence (they got absorbed into Sony) have been nudging me into looking for a replacement soon. I’ve got my eye on the Canon 40D, but at its current asking price (body alone is $1.8K – ouch!), I think I’ll have to put it aside for the moment until I strike lottery.

All that said, I actually have a friend – an old student of mine from my Software Engineering class of 1997 actually – who’s also into photography, and she steadfastly refuses to get into digital photography. Never mind the convenience and the minimal cost in taking pictures. Rather, for her, that you can easily take hundreds of shots of one subject at no cost and choose the best one spoils photography. She’d rather experience the thrill of taking only singular shots where decisions of subject composition, framing and exposure control must all be made real-time and got right the first time. And that is absolutely of the old-school love of photography that I have nothing but the most admiration for.

Childhood Amnesia

blog-childhood-amnesia.jpgWe were driving home from work a week ago when Ling popped this question: at what age do we start remembering things in our life? Apparently, there’s a girl in her class who claims to be able to remember everything, even her birth as a newborn baby. I chuckled and replied while I imagine that’s possible in theory, it’s also extremely improbable. A one person in a few tens and thousands sort of thing.

Either way, it’s really interesting to think about it. At what age do we retain our childhood memories? There’s actually a term used to describe such retention, but funnily rather than describe our ability to retain those memories, the term references our inability to. That term is Childhood amnesia, and suggests that adults basically cannot remember incidents that happen in their first 3-4 years of age.

What are my earliest memories? Well, the two earliest I’ve got is one where my dad brought my elder brother and myself walking along Bras Basah road after catching Star Wars at the old Odeon cinema in 1978 (or was it in 1977?) when I was 6 years old. The second is during the same year when I was a primary one school boy, and attending Anglo-Chinese Primary School at Fort Canning road near our church now. After school dismissal, I remember running to my late Granddad waiting outside the bookshop. He’d wait for me every evening and then we’d go home together with the school bus.

Ling was musing about this in the context of how our two nephews, Danyel and Issac, will remember us. Especially Danyel actually, since of our three nephews he’s the one I am relatively closest to, what with our discussions of The Transformers, or Command & Conquer whenever we meet. I wonder say 27 years from now when he’s my age and my hair has all turned white will he remember this uncle who used to tell him how GDI Mammoth Tanks can pwn everything on the map in this old antique computer game.

Oh man, I feel so old all of a sudden! :(

This early morning

A student of mine was asking me on her blog how is it that my comments on her tagboard are usually made so early in the morning. Well, my day actually begins very early. I’m usually up by 5:20 a.m. where I’ll head to the study room to check the morning headline news and emails from work, then wake Ling up at just before 6 a.m. before hitting the shower to get prepped, and then make two Starbucks’ mugs of coffee-to-go for Ling and myself.

The early morning preview of news before I head to the office is actually a pretty critical morning event, since it’ll let me identify the news items of interest for the day so that I can follow up when I get to the campus later. I’m usually in the office at 6:45 a.m., where I’ll spend a bit of time reading news, catch on The Straits Times news and discussion forums, and visit my students’ blogs. It’s usually quite dark and almost spooky so early in the morning, since the next colleague to arrive at work is usually an hour later or so.

blog-threelives.jpgIn any case, this morning’s routine was no different, but there were three items of news today that struck me on how different each circumstance was but yet all three ended in the same way. The first is local news, where at Outram MRT station a Police officer shot dead a fellow who’d just fatally knifed his drinking buddy. It’d happened on an afternoon, and created something of a scare as bystanders attempted to get away after shots were heard. The second involved how a 54 year old Good Samaritan, Roger Kreutz, who gave chase to a pair of thieves who’d just pilfered the tips jar at a Starbucks outlet in St. Louis County was killed when he was run over by the car driven by the escaping thieves. The third news item concerned a 22 year old student, Eve Carson, at the University of North Carolina who’d been recently-elected student president, but was tragically fatally shot several times by a currently unidentified assailant.

The first was the silliest. Why he’d knifed his drinking buddy can only be ascertained after further investigation, but I’m guessing it’s a silly argument that occurs when your brain has been smothered in booze. More nuttier still is that he tried to run after the stabbing, and when cornered by police instead of giving up, chose to charge at officers waving his weapon.

The second story reflects an individual with quick-thinking reflexes to match, despite the tragic outcome. I wonder how if this incident had happened in a local Starbucks outlet, would Singaporeans be gawking, turning away because it’s none of our business, remembering the time to buy 4D for that magic number, or worse still fishing out our handphone cameras to post pictures for posting to Stomp later. The last story is the type that makes you numb with the insanity of the incident, as early reports state that Carson’s murder seemed to be random with no motive. There’s a bunch of Youtube videos with one especially meaningful and poignant: it shows the promise that Eve Carson held for her peers at the UNC, but now cannot be fulfilled.

Four lives lost, three different circumstances, and all three tragic and very sad in their own ways.

Working part-time

There was another article in the local newspapers several days that caught my eye. Here’s the capsule version:

As foreign students face rising costs in Singapore, is part-time work an option?
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY | Posted: 27 February 2008 1014 hrs

In his six months in Singapore, Indian student Nalla Jeevan Reddy has lost 7kg from cutting down on food portions and skipping meals. He’s not trying to lose weight — the 28-year-old hotel management student at a private school has been trying to keep his living expenses in check.

As Singaporeans bemoan the rising cost of living, another segment of society has been hit hard — students from abroad, especially those at private schools who rent accommodation on the open market and take public transport to school.

The full article can be found here courtesy of Channelnewsasia. How’s this article of any interest to me? Well, I empathize with the difficulty foreign students have when they study in their host countries. I mean, it wasn’t so long ago that I was also juggling working and my Ph.D in Perth. In my case, money was a big and persistent issue, which in no small part gave me incentive to finish my thesis without delay. I had to budget my daily expenditures carefully.

In fact, Ling’s often exasperated at my penny-picking when it comes to household expenditure and my need to see expense and income figures balanced on our home financial spreadsheets. It all comes from those years of having to account for every dollar I was spending (the costs of the Ph.D nearly completely exhausted all my savings, and my parents had to help too), and keeping spending rules strictly. E.g. my per meal expense was properly fixed, and if I spent more on a certain meal on one day, the next day I’d go lighter.

Of course, all that’s behind me now; the both of us aren’t well-off but we’re about OK now that both of us are working, even if it feels more like we’re working for DBS bank to pay off our housing loan. This sort of financial accounting was initially all foreign to Ling, who – like at least one other friend in our bible study group who I’m sure will be reading this entry some time haha – believes that as long as she has some savings after a month, all’s well and good. I think my monthly reports on our financial spending unnerved her at the start, but these days she’s gotten used to it.

But coming back to the issue of foreign students working in Singapore, I’m also reminded of my experiences in private schools, who till today continue to draw in many international students. I remember the suspicions my colleagues and I had 10 years ago of a few select students who we were never really certain what they were really in Singapore for. To reveal more than that, well it gets really sensitive and dwells into this very murky area about the issue of student passes back then. What remains true is that some foreign students in private schools sometimes do have it very rough here, what with some of these schools closing down suddenly, or the most recent fiasco where a few teaching staff possess certifications from degree mills. I remember one Bulgarian student, Iordanka Apostolova, in the school I was teaching at 10 years ago who was found brutally murdered. I can’t remember the full details, but if my memory hasn’t failed me, I recall it was over money issues with the accused / guilty (the incident is mentioned briefly here in court documents).

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this increasing awareness that the rising costs of living in Singapore doesn’t only affect the locals, but also long-term visitors here.