November, 2008

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Longing during pregnancy

One thing I missed a lot was wholesome home-cooked food when I started going through the first trimester of my pregnancy. I missed my mom’s stir-fried veggies, be it cauliflower, spinach, kailan, kangkong, beansprouts, the list goes on. I used to have heaps of these to go with steamed rice. They were all very good.

Since cooking smells have become nauseating to me, it was a challenge to cook anything at home especially where oil is required. I tried to fry an omelette and stir-fry spinach for lunch today, but I don’t think I can tahan doing it the second time. Sometimes I envy my colleagues who stay close to their parents as they would always hop over to their parents’ place to have dinner. Our place is in the middle between both our parents’ homes, and not very near both ways.

Recently, my in-laws bought me loads of ‘yan wo’ (birdnest; a Chinese delicacy) and ‘pao sheng’ (Chinese herb) for my pregnancy in 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I was very touched. My mother in-law taught me how to prepare this delicacy. She even supplied the crockery for the very purpose!

There have been conflicting reports on the pros and cons of consuming birdnest for pregnant women. On one hand, it is reputed to give smooth complexion and healthy lungs for both the mother and baby. On the other hand, it may cause ailments such as asthma. Some say eat in moderation. So far, birdnest soup has not given me any problems. I hope it will not as it is such a wonderful yummy soup.

A Company of Heroes

I don’t as a rule follow authors, preferring instead to read selected works after having first checked them out first if they’re any good. There’s a few however whose books I’ll pick up without hesitation. There’s Colleen McCullough who wrote seven novels dramatizing the Roman Empire, with several of those volumes 1000+ pages long.

And there’s also the late Stephen Ambrose, a historian who wrote several books based on the oral accounts of men who fought in World War II. Ambrose is best known for three books: Citizen Soldiers, which is one of my most-loved books ever, D-Day, and Band of Brothers. The latter was turned into a 10 part HBO miniseries in 2001. It’s still generally regarded today as one of the best miniseries ever, picking up several Emmy Awards, including the ones for Best miniseries and casting.

The book and TV series should be semi well-known, but here’s the capsule version. The story follows a Company of paratroopers from the US 101st Airborne that fought in several key battles in World War II.

I read the book to which this series is based on some years back in 2001, but didn’t actually watch the TV series adaption itself then. So, as soon as the Region 1 DVD set was released a year or so thereafter, I bought it online and had it shipped to Singapore. It was a beautifully produced set, coming in a specially made metallic box (below left). There were a couple of niggling issues though, specifically that the DVD set didn’t include English subtitles, which made it at times a little hard to follow. I did had the book beside me so I could roughly follow through the story in each episode, but it wouldn’t had been necessary if there were subtitles.

I picked up the blu-ray edition of Band of Brothers as soon as it was released, and Ling and I have been watching the episodes at 2-3 per evening. Like the DVD set, it came in a similar nifty metallic box (above right). There are subtitles this time, and the high definition release really makes one sit up and notice all the little details that was missed in the DVD release years ago.

I don’t know how Ling feels about the show (she at least seems to be able to follow the stories and the main characters). The show is meaningful for me as it demonstrates the heroism from a time and generation past, and the sacrifices they made just so that people today can live the lives they do now. Each episode starts with interview segments from seemingly random veterans of World War II. Ling was asking me were these veterans actually soldiers from the Company. It’s only at the very last episode when it’s finally revealed who are these veterans, and I remembered tears welling up when I finally realized that that the characters portrayed in the 12 hour series was indeed the very same elderly gentlemen recollecting their experiences from 60 years ago.

It’s sad that very few of these veterans are alive, as more have passed on since the interview segments were recorded during the series’ production 7 years ago. But Ambrose’s novel and the series have done some measure of justice to their experiences, and hopefully will introduce to future generations what some have called The Greatest Generation that has ever lived.

Fund-raising Anniversary Concert

Last night’s anniversary celebration was a success – with the host of VIPs, ex-principals, alumni, current students, ex-teachers and current teachers all attending the occasion. I’m glad that we finally pulled it through after months of preparation and rehearsals.

The choir put up a good show and though the songs performed were not technically demanding, they were crowd-pleasers as such occasions require. I felt that the new choir gown is lovely but some of my girls would tell you that it looks very gay. Well, its the overall stage effect that matters at the end of the day. This purple fabric has a electric blue tinge at a certain angle and has that royal feel which in my opinion is uncommon and attractive as compared to other school choirs’ gowns. I admit that the design is nothing to shout about though … we were constrained by time and budget.

Anyway, I’m happy that the headache of sourcing for the tailor, gown design, fabrics and budget is all behind me now. :) It was quite an undertaking.

Army and Women

This couple of weeks—or 18 days to be exact—I’ll be in camp for my yearly Incamp Training (ICT) stint. Yeah, they’re still calling back 37 year old ah peks back. I’m like one of the oldest guys around in my company.

But funnily, the other day a couple of guys with me were surprised to learn I was 37. One remarked that I look maybe 30, 31 at most.

The lot were only convinced when I got up the pull-bar bar during the Individual Physical Proficiency Test the other day and the electronic display stated in large lettering I was in “Cat Z”, or personnel who’re 35 years and older.

And the surprises for them didn’t end there. I got up the bar, went up and down 5 times, then let go from the bar sprightly. Someone said the pull-up bar’s the hardest station to clear for reservist personnel. But there I was, going up and down like nothing, and looking as though I could still do a lot more but got down because I was bored. If they only knew that for the other stations, I’m utterly hopeless haha.

In any case, this blog entry isn’t about what I’m doing in this ICT this year. Rather, it’s about a not-often-discussed aspect of serving national service i.e. you do it because it’s your duty to and not (normally) because you want to. It’s about having a girl / lady at home to go back to.

Here’s the thing. Prior to my enlistment as a full-time national serviceman in 1990 to 1992, I was in JC and there was this girl from my class I had a thing for (blogged about several times already, e.g. here). During my JC2 year I went about the school taking portrait pictures of my friends, and hers was one I took. She wrote some very beautiful and encouraging words on the back of it. In the following year when I was a full-time national serviceman, on a couple of occasions I was out of the country on overseas exercises. A lot of nights we’d be out in the field in some rural, dusty area with few signs of civilization. During those NS days, I actually had this picture of this girl in my pocket wherever I went. And during those nights when all was quiet, I’d sometimes take her picture out and gazed at her.

Sounds corny eh? But when you’re in uniform and have naught but the company of unwashed men who smell as bad as you do, all stuck in some rural area or some jungle, having a girl to remember and think about helps. I mean it. It reminds you that there’s a civilian and normal life outside the army, and something to look forward to upon your return home.

In NTU I had this friend who said that if her husband or a boyfriend had to go back for national service every year, on each time he leaves for the stint she wouldn’t feel sorry. Rather, she’d feel very protected by his discharging of his duty and sacrifice of his time. She’d feel safe.

She was a very dear friend of mine, and someone I wrote music for too. And this friend of mine wasn’t Singaporean but Malaysian. Which made what she said even the more special.

These days, I don’t know if there are still army men who carry around photos of their girls in their pockets. These days, you chuck an entire JPG album into a non-camera phone or PDA, or maybe even a PSP that I see so many young fellows carry around in camp. And when you miss your girl, you just SMS.

Times have certainly changed. But while the technology to carry those memories around has improved, that men in uniform still need their supportive girls or women behind them haven’t changed; nor do I think it’s likely to, ever.:)

Red Dates, Longans and Ginger Tea

The name of the drink is quite a misnomer for there’s no tea content at all.

Boon Yee, my dear ex-colleague, shared with me this antedote to ‘morning sickness’. Her mother in-law made it for her during her difficult first trimester and it was effective in toning down the nauseous sensation. It is the ginger that does the job. The rest of the ingredients make the drink really palatable.

Here’s the recipe…


10 Red Dates (soak for 10 mins. Brush away the dirt trapped in the creases of the skin)

16 Dried Longans (Rinse. I used ‘AA’ quality from Thailand)

Peeled and crushed 2″x 2″ ginger (Old ginger is more potent. If using young ginger, just add more)

Rock sugar (amount according to personal preference)


1) Bring 5 cups of water to a boil.

2) Add all ingredients and simmer in moderate heat for about 15 mins.

3) Serve while hot. Can be drank chilled as well.

I was informed that this drink is commonly prepared for women during their 1-month confinement too. The red dates are supposed to be good for iron supplement to make up for blood loss during delivery.

Oh ya, I booked my confinement lady liao. Hee hee. :)

Tot Naming Part I

One of the things we discussed more than a year ago and while we still weren’t quite decided to start a family (or not) was who would get to decide on baby names. We decided on the arrangement where I’d work out a list of baby girl names, and Ling baby boy names. We’d both have to finally agree on which name of course, but we each get to decide on our list of potentials.

Lots of people I think want special sounding and looking names to be different from the rest. For me though, one thing that was firm in my mind (Ling may be thinking differently) is that the baby girl names in my list would not include any fancy or new-age spellings of a traditional name. For example, it’s Mary and not Mari. Elizabeth and not Elizebeth.

I haven’t spent too much time looking for certain, but from say A to F at least, here’re the ones I passed along to Ling the other day as my list of potential names:

Agnes (Greek) – pure, virginal

Diana (Latin) – lumious, perfect

Anna (Greek / Hebrew?) – gracious, one who gives

Esther (Hebrew) – secret, hidden

Emma (Hebrew) – the female version of Emmanuel

Of the first five, Ling liked Agnes, Diana and Anna. My favorite of the list is Agnes, so we actually had our first consensus. The rest of the alphabet soup to follow, soon enough.:)


Today’s the fifth day of my fever and cough but it feels like I’m trapped in a time-zone. When will my misery be over?

My gynae told me on Tuesday that I have nothing to worry about even with all this cold symptoms. Of course, being a first-timer, I worry anyway. My coughing has become more violent over time and this morning, I vomited part of my breakfast of chee chong fun and bng kweh. Did I also throw up my vitamin pills too? The mess was too disgusting for me to check. I quickly washed the vomit down the sink.

To make matters worse, I’m moving towards the peak of ‘morning sickness’ of the first trimester. Every slight cooking smell makes me nauseous and therefore, impossible to eat at many foodcourts and coffee shops. Sometimes, I won’t be able to determine which foods are turn-offs until I eat it. My current neutralising agent is NTUC’s or Marigold’s soybean milk. Yang bought me claypot toufu dinner the other night and wow, it was truly my tummy pleaser. Last night, he bought egg toufu and it had an opposite effect on me. I think I need pure soybean products.

Although fruits are fine so far, the doctor told me to stay away from pineapples. In fact, I’m craving for the refreshing crunch of guava (no sour plum powder please) and honey sweetness of rock melon now.

Red pill, blue pill

Several months ago I wrote a short entry about the high-definition ‘war’ waged between the two competing standards, HD DVD and blu-ray. Now, one of the battlegrounds between both standards was the support each format had from major movie studios. Basically, enthusiasts were going with the standard which had the movies from the studios they each wanted.

Now, The Matrix was one set of movies in a small corner of such a battle, and for a while was published on HD DVD but not Blu-Ray. But 10 months since that post, it’s been finally released on the latter.

So, I plunked down a not too small sum of money on the blu-ray edition of The Ultimate Matrix Collection. The contents of this set of discs is roughly similar (I think) to the ten disc DVD set released a few years ago, and is stuffed to the brim with around 35 hours of content, with the main trilogy of movies themselves taking up about 7 hours.

Lots has been said about The Matrix movies of course. Many people agree that the sequels extended the story scape and depth substantially but to the point that the story also became convoluted. Who could really make sense of what KFC guy er The Architect was droning on about?

But now that I think back to the point when I first saw the movie (on disc as I missed the theatrical release in 1999), I can see why the movie was such a huge hit. No, I don’t for a moment believe we’re really right now living in a computerized virtual world created to pacify human beings who’re in reality each cocooned as some sort of biological battery. But that very premise of machines enslaving humans is interesting in itself, and makes for great story telling. If nothing else, it’s a nice change from machines only keen on exterminating humans like bugs e.g. The Terminator or the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series (up till a point).

That said, I never really understood the back story from the first Matrix movie alone. All Morpheus said, vaguely, is that at some point the humans waged a big war against the machines, with the former blocking out the sky in a desperate attempt to eliminate the machine’s source of power.

That back story was of course fleshed out in a couple of episodes from The Animatrix. And we watched that too the other night after completing the trilogy of movies. Ling remarked that two of the shorts (The Second Renaissance Parts I and II) that told this back story were so depressing.

Still… another set that’s on its way is the blu-ray Band of Brothers. I’ve got this on DVD already, but it remains the best TV limited series I’ve had the pleasure of watching (The Sopranos remained my favorite recurring TV series). So, it’s well-worth the expense for me. And hopefully Ling will be able to enjoy it too.

Year In Review – 2008

It’s coming to the end of the year again. Towards the end of each year, I’d sit back and reflect on some of the key events and decisions made in the past year or so. It’s a pretty interesting exercise as you’ll see the decisions that turned out right, and those that turned out all wrong; all with the benefit of a mite bit of hindsight at the end of the year now.

So, running off my head and in no particuar order:

Going to Phuket first in June then Bali later in September (WIN). Because right smack on the week we were in Bali in September, thousands of travelers in Singapore had to postpone their Phuket trip because the airport had shut down! Too funny for words. Bali posts tagged here, with Phuket ones here.

Having a baby (IN PROGRESS). Well, not saying too much away here, but the decision wasn’t an easy one. There were concerns about health and well-being for example. Funnily, we faced little of the ‘traditional’ sort of pressures. Oh, Ling’s mum asked about it now and then, but there was absolutely no (even polite) queries or pressure exerted on my side of the family. Nor did the announced incentives in August factor into our decisions. First announced here.

Going with a Nissan Latio (WIN). Well, on the upside, the car hasn’t broken down. Moreover, our Latio survived pretty much unscathed compared to the Honda Civic I bumped into nearly a year ago. On the down side, Ling’s been remarking that the car makes funny squeaky noises occasionally, and doesn’t give her the vibes that the Latio is better built than the old Civic we were driving. And we haven’t been getting the 14 km/litre fuel consumption milleage some drivers claimed. But a 12.5 to 12.8 km/litre isn’t too bad. First blogged here, then here.

Red and silver.

Publishing a book (WIN). This, funnily, was the hardest decision I’ve made this year. My work and research has been published in several places prior to this of course, but publishing in academia is quite different from producing a commercial publication. There’s all the legalese in the author’s contract with the publisher, all my liabilities since there’re now new issues of distribution, ownership and copyright. And to top if all off, it’s not as though my book is gonna be selling a million copies allowing me to enter early retirement. The summative royalties I expect are essentially, for lack of a better word, non-existent. First blogged here.

Deciding between a PS3 or an XBox 360 (WIN). No kidding! I had long chats with Matt about the virtues of one console over the other. Moreover, the decision wasn’t as simple as which had the games I was interested in or studying. The decision to go with one of them was made when the high definition standards war was raging, and investment in the PS3 wasn’t a sure decision. It could had turned into a white elephant! First blogged here then here.

Of course I could have bought both, like Matt…

Ling having a go with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Investing in a new camera system (IN PROGRESS). And what a huge investment it turned into. I was determined to get it right this time by doing proper research, and proper accounting to what I was acquiring. So far, so good. Ok, so the photos are still a long way off to progressing from ‘crappy’ to ‘mediocre’, but I’m working on it! First blogged here.

Trying to fatten Matt up (LOST). As soon as Matt firmed up arrangements to visit and stay with us for a month in June this year, Ling and I drew up a strategy to make sure that this time, he’d leave Singapore weighing heavier than he arrived. And boy, did we try hard! We enlisted everyone’s help. Even my mum, and Doreen. Even our small group was involved. But Matt easily showed that he could beat us all without trying, and he left Singapore weighing less than when he arrived. So we failed miserably again.

He conquered durians even.

But as soon as he’s firmed up plans for a third visit, this time, it’s WAR. If we have to bury him with Banquet pratas or drown him with teh tariks this time, we will!! Ling’s tribute to The Champion here.

There you go. If I can think of any more significant milestones, I’ll append them here later.

Mr. Wang and Software Engineering

No this isn’t an entry about the well-known “Mr. Wang” from blogsphere. Rather, Mr. Wang is a key fictional character in the subject I’m teaching this semester: Software Engineering.

Now how does Mr. Wang fit into this subject? Well, for the last couple of semesters now, this subject has been offered in a comparatively new instructional mode, specifically Problem-Based Learning. There’s at least one IHL in Singapore employing this learning mode en masse. Briefly, this mode of learning involves the use of realistic problems issued to student project groups, and students discover their own solutions and learning with the instructors typically facilitating only their knowledge discovery rather than doing actual teaching. Mr. Wang is a character I created as part of the central story that ties in three large problems that my student groups undertake to solve over the term.

But my entry this time isn’t about the instruction mode  but about the subject itself. It’s pretty funny, because I’ve been teaching Software Engineering for more than 12 years now but this is my first time blogging about it in a personal capacity. This was the very first subject assignment I had when I first started teaching in 1995, and in 2008, I’m still teaching the same thing. Oh, the instruction modes have changed, the institutions I’m at, and (naturally) the students too.

What’s this subject about? Well, in the most simplistic terms, it concerns itself with the study and employment of traditional ‘engineering’ principles in software development. Now that statement may not mean much, but if one tracks the evolution of software development in itself, that statement says a lot. Specifically, one of the analogies I’ve used in every one of my lecture groups over the years is this: if you received your first software programming assignment, then sat on a toilet bowl and starting writing code on your notebook, you’re at some level engaging in software development.

But that isn’t software engineering. You’re only said to be engineering software if you went about developing that software in a specific manner i.e. by using principles, ideas, and best practices that have its roots in engineering that’s developed over hundreds if not thousands of years. Friz Bauer, an exponent of the subject writes that:

Software Engineering is the establishment and use of sound engineering principles in order to obtain economically software that is reliable and works efficiently on real machines.

This definition is included in Roger S. Pressman’s book, one of the key reference books for students anywhere studying the subject.

Some examples of these principles: e.g. the idea that before you create a product, you’d best properly specify what is it you’re creating first. Or when you’ve finished creating the thing, you should evaluate that product against that specification you created at the start.

Now, all these ideas may seem a natural part of software development, but they weren’t always. And more importantly, these ideas didn’t stem from our understanding of software. It’s been with us for ages, long before software first came about.

Unfortunately, the subject isn’t easy to teach. I remember at one point in another institution I was lecturing at, Software Engineering was the most dreaded subject among academic staff. The complaints were usually the same. “The material’s dry and difficult to engage students with.” Naturally that sort of difficulty staff wrestle with occasionally affects student learning i.e. if the instructor finds it dry, how will students not find it the same?

Ironically, I like teaching this subject. It’s a challenge of course. But one advice I’ve given to new staff routinely assigned to my teaching teams is this: the trick is to ground in the real world and common sense every one of these software creation principles. E.g. one analogy I use. Why does it make sense to employ software metrics? Well, the idea isn’t unique in software creation. We use metrics in just about everything else we do, including looking for potential life partners! That always perks my students up.