January, 2009

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CNY Feasting II

More additional items from the fourth feast at Lentor over the CNY festive period; this one was on the 31st Jan where all the relatives from my maternal side came over to join in the fun.:)

Pictures were taken on the camera phone though so don’t look nearly as good as the food was!

Lou Hei, the traditional tossing of vegetables and raw fish:


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How to survive a sinking car

image One of the most fun things about our being together is that, fundamentally, we’re both from science streams. Ling of course is from the pure sciences Biology and Chemistry; and myself, Physics and Chemistry, and now in information systems and computing.

Now, as both of us are educators, we both continue to think about our subject materials. And in the last few years of marriage, have on occasion had disagreements about a particular application works. Like say for instance: that on a car’s fuel consumption. Ling insisted that fuel consumption is based mainly on distance traveled. The longer the distance you drive, the more fuel you burn. I said fuel consumption is based more on fuel used in acceleration needed to increase velocity, e.g. moving a stationary car to a velocity point. Once constant velocity is achieved, you’re consuming less fuel compared to initial acceleration.

In any case, we continue to have fun exchanges like the one yesterday night while we were enjoying a game of Hakuna Matata. I was driving the safari jeep in the game then looking for Olive Baboons (the mission required us to capture the monkeys’ reaction to a remote-controlled camera LOL). Ling said, thoughtfully:

“You know, dear. I was thinking while driving today… should we keep a big scissors in the car? I mean, what if one day we accidentally drive our car into a river? Or if we drive it down a cliff, and the car is about to explode? If we had a scissors, we can quickly cut the seat belts loose to extricate ourselves right?”

Never mind that there’re no rivers here for the driver to drive into: I mean, you’ll have to consciously be wanting to drive into the Singapore River first. And let’s not even get started on cliffs.

Ling did say a couple of times before that pregnancy affects her brain cells. So, I’ll have to blame it on pregnancy, and indulge her. Next time we go to $1 store at Hougang Mall, I’ll need to buy one of those big scissors and store it in driver’s door compartment.:)

To Boldly Go II

Continued from my previous post.

blog-voyager-01 Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe has been around for a lot longer than Star Wars, and there’s certainly a lot more material too. There’s been six TV series with a couple running for seven seasons each, and ten feature movies with an eleventh about to see theatrical release. When you’ve got that much published material, it must be sheer nuts keeping canon and that stories you’re telling don’t contradict each other too much!

And if that wasn’t enough material for fans to get into, there’re also persistent comparisons between Star Trek and Star Wars. One of the most popular ones is who’d win in a ship to ship fight: Enterprise or a Star Destroyer (people seem to agree though that Picard’s Enterprise will wipe the floor with the Star Destroyer – ignore this note if you’re not a fan of both series LOL). Heck, I even bought editions of those heavy Trek encyclopedias just to make sense of the who, what and where in the 40+ year old universe.

From the late 90s onwards, I started following episodes of Star Trek: TNG and Voyager whenever I could. Unfortunately, many episodes were broadcast late in the night on TV, and at that point I wasn’t watching much of broadcast TV anymore.

However, when DVD compilations of the series started seeing distribution from 2000 onwards, that was my golden opportunity to watch what I’ve been missing in the last 10 years. I started with the early seasons of TNG. This was before the time of computer-generated effects, and ok so some of the stories with Picard’s crew were hokey. But watch them I did, and they did get better.

blog-voyager-03Of the series though, it was Star Trek: Voyager that left the biggest impressions on me. It wasn’t just the whole Borg and “Resistance is futile” thing. At that point in the late 90s, it was the only Trek series with reasonably good visuals (Deep Space 9 was on par).

I followed ST: Voyager piecemeal in Singapore… until I was in Perth from 2003 to 2006 where I watched the series in more consistent fashion as the TV channels were broadcasting rerun episodes every night. This series, alongside The Simpsons, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, and Stargate SG-1 which I’ll blog about sometime, were my constant companions during those years of research and thesis writing. By the time I returned home for good in 2006, I was carrying with me several box sets of ST: Voyager that I’d bought in Australia.

It’s 4 years later now, and I’ve started rewatching the Voyager episodes all again, with Ling in tow. They do look just a mite cheesy and some of the stories are just as turkey as they were. And Ling notices Seven-of-Nine’s amazing, er, figure. Her character was rumored to get introduced by the series writers to continue appealing to that viewer demographic LOL.

But the majority of the episodes are still well and good, and there’s plenty of medical and biological mumbo jumbo that Ling understands (and I don’t!).

And the funniest thing? Even Ling is hooked now LOL.:)


To Boldly Go I

There was an online discussion group in NTU 17 years ago containing fan fiction created in the Star Trek universe. Fans of the series wrote up continuing stories with their own characters and starships, and posted them in text form for others to read, add on and so on.

blog-star-trek-02 At that point that discussion forum didn’t register more than a blip on my radar. I mean, I was aware of the Star Trek original series in 1960 starring William T. Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and I’d watched a couple of the movies that was repeatedly broadcasted ad nauseum on SBC during holidays. And I was aware that there was an ongoing series called Star Trek: The New Generation starring some bald guy as the captain of the starship Enterprise. But I was a big Star Wars fan back then (who wasn’t?), and as a young adult I snorted at Star Trek as the big pretender in sci-fiction.

That perception changed funnily not when I started following a Trek series regularly. Rather, I was an early adopter of Philips’ short-lived CD-i video format in 1994 (this format was the forerunner of the VCD), and one of the video discs I bought, and at a hefty sum of $55, was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Now, you have to keep in mind that watching full motion video at 384×280 resolution on the 14 inch CRT monitor was a very novel experience in 1994, even though these days it’s all Full-HD resolution on 60 inch wide-aspects screens. In fact, I even hosted video parties at my hostel room in NTU, inviting floor mates to watch movies played back very loudly on my room hifi (other hostelmates complained on occasion on the volume!).

I must have watched Star Trek VI at least a dozen times that year. Several terms, characters, technology and the like was new to me. And keeping in mind this was 1994, all before the days of Google and Wikipedia, I started scouring the discussion forums on Usenet for whatever Trek-related notes, literature and material I could find.

Perhaps it was the dearth of Star Wars film material and that George Lucas was holding off planning his big prequel trilogy. And the prequel trilogy that followed was just awful, though the last installment (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) was watchable. Oh, there was a couple of great Star Wars related games around the mid-90s, like X-Wing and the follow-up TIE Fighter on the PC. But something had to fill that sci-fi void, and it was Star Trek from that point onwards till today.:)


More in the next post!

Eyes like an eagle – or not

One of the photographic assignments that came up in Hakuna Matata the other day was to find and take pictures of this lizard called Jackson’s Chameleon. These critters grow up to just 30 cm, and these go, can remain pretty much stationary and well camouflaged when they’re perched up somewhere.

So, there I was looking for the damn thing, and I just could find it after peering my eyes out for 10 minutes! Ling took a look around the area, asked me to pan my viewpoint a bit, and in about 5 seconds, said casually: “There – see it?”

Just to show you what I mean, the critter is this picture:


I went: “Where??? !@#%#@$#$@#$”

She was amused: “Aiyoh darling. It’s right there in the middle. I’ve spent years looking at these plants and animals it’s easy to tell which is which, and what’s out of place.”

And you see, this is the kind of wife that’s worth her weight in gold when it comes to spotting lizards up on trees. The more so as her husband is cock-eyed!

Here’s the actual critter zoomed in.:)

Student feedback v2.0

One of those things I have regrets not doing is keeping better records of student feedback over the 12 years I’ve lectured and taught at institutions. If nothing else, it’s fun to see how one’s teaching methods, styles and approaches have changed over the years. I’ve blogged about the feedback 2 years ago during my first semester at TP, but nothing that’s approached some sort of organized tracking.

So, since I think I’m gonna be in the education service for at least a few more decades, I figured I better start keeping them. There’s certainly no excuse, what with so much of the comments made by my students already in digitized form.

Here’re some of the nicest things my Software Engineering class from Oct last year said. A sample from written surveys:

“Straight to the point, fast, never waste time.”

“Very well-spoken & enthusiastic in teaching. Passionate.”

“Everything is in his head. Raps better than Jay Chou.” – really LOL…?!

“Knows the subject exceptionally well.”

    And their comments for improvement:

    “Talk slowly.”

    “Talk slower.”

    “Talk slower so that students can catch what you are saying.”

    “Might be better if you slow down a bit. But overall, it was OK.”

    “Sometimes too fast.”

      And from the close-door dialog between students and faculty management, summarized by the session recorder:

        “Students commented that Dr. Foo Chek Yang challenged them. He may be of high standard and has high expectation but students understand where he comes from.”

          Talking fast is a sort of fossilized habit. Funnily though since last year I’ve consciously been trying to speak slowly in lectures, and doing my Tasks of the Day slides during each practical class so if students miss what I said, it’s still there on the screen. I wonder if it’s to do with the subject matter though, because the students manage just fine when we’re in idle banter. It was a great first term of the semester from Oct to Dec 2008 though; I had two classes which I liked a lot and enjoyed teaching.

          But still… OK, must… speak… slower…. during lessons!

          CNY Feasting

          If there’s one thing that’s changed over the years over the Chinese New Year, it’s my perceptions of the feasts. When I was younger, I threw myself at all the new year goodies: bak kwa, the many types of Chinese cookies (e.g. egg rolls, pineapple tarts, almond cookies, all sorts and assorted peanuts), and the feasts prepared by relatives and my mum.

          Now that I’m older, I’ve also become a lot more conscious on what’s going in as stomach input! Weight gained is a lot harder to lose at the age of 37+ now compared to when you’re say like 20 and in national service.

          This year it’s a record number of feasts over a short period of time. On the 18 Jan at Lentor (my family home) , there was dinner as my younger brother was leaving for Sydney for a year. On the 24 Jan, there was the traditional reunion CNY-eve dinner with in-laws, arranged one night earlier because the following day on the 25 Jan, there was the same reunion dinner with family at Lentor. On the 27 Jan, there was another feast with Sharon’s parents, and on the 31 Jan, there’ll be one more at Lentor again with relatives.


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          "On your six"

          I blogged about my routinely abysmal abilities in first-person shooters recently here. But one game I’ve been having loads of fun in is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 on the PS3.

          One thing to get right out of the way though: the game hasn’t really got anything much to do with Tom Clancy, the famed author of bestseller thriller novels aside apart from that one of this books concerns the exploits of the similar elite counter-terrorist unit Rainbow Six featured in the game.


          Now Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a little different from your typical first-person shooter game types. Specifically, this one’s a tactical shooter. In other words, if you were to run n’ gun your way through like some of the admittedly as enjoyable shooter games, you’ll get perforated into Swiss cheese pretty quick. No, stealth is key here, and you always try to take down ‘tangos’, or the codeword for terrorists, silently, quietly, and without them noticing if at all possible. At the hardest and ‘realistic’ difficulty levels, all it takes is one bullet with your name on it for you to go under too.

          The story too is worthy of a movie feature, though while actually in the game itself I was too busy sneaking around or dodging bullets to actually let any of the dialog register.

          blog-rainbow6-snakecamThe array of equipment at your disposal in fact underlines the fact that you really shouldn’t be running into corridors and rooms with guns blazing. Like say for instance: the room on the floor below you is occupied with bad guys. So you and your team rappel down, do a 180 degree inversion, then take out the baddies with pistols in a breach-room action.

          Or if you’re behind a door and you hear voices coming from behind it of bored terrorists yakking away to bide their time. Need to know how many of them are in the room? Use a snake cam to peer inside the room, then mark out to your team which one of those fools are priority targets to take out first upon breach. Then situate your team right outside the door, while you sneak to the other side door for you to come in from another side of the room. Then issue an entry order, and you and your team come in on different sides.

          blog-rainbow6-thermal And my favorite: thermal imaging! The terrorists are holed up inside a room with their guns pointing at a couple of hapless hostages. Get your team to the door, note the relative positions of the bad guys and where the hostages are. Then engage thermal vision goggles, then send your team in with a breach order with smoke grenades. The bad guys can’t see you but you can see them just fine.

          Ok the last tactic only really works well when there aren’t too many other heat-emitting sources in the room, but it’s just loads of fun to head shot the bad guy emitting yellow, then as he collapses into a heap watch the heat emission dissipate as he expires.

          The locations are pretty varied too, and include Píc des Pyreneés, Las Vegas Convention Center and Las Vegas Hilton hotel.

          And the best part: you have two minions in your team to command and order around LOL.

          “Hustle!” (i.e. follow me)

          “On your six.” (i.e. right behind you)

          All very therapeutic.:)

          Normal or not?

          It has been a trying period for us after my gynae informed me that my test results showed that our baby may have chromosomal abnormality, especially Down Syndrome.

          At my age, the average probability of conceiving a baby with Down Syndrome is 1 out of 311. But for me, the probability turned out to be 1 in 38. To add to my grief, I was also high risk for two other chromosomal abnormalities. Having taught sexual reproduction in human beings to my biology students for the past 8 years, I know too well of the defects of Down Syndrome and the options that laid ahead of us. I felt like being told that I have a terminal illness and my days were numbered. The difference was that our baby’s days were numbered before she was born.

          I was comforted and thankful that Yang was firm about keeping the baby regardless of his / her health status (we didn’t know the gender then). The trauma and guilt would had been too much for us to bear if we were to opt for abortion so we didn’t consider that option at all. So we committed everything unto Him who is able to keep us from falling and went ahead with amniocentesis to confirm whether the baby has those defects. I’d rather know whether the baby was healthy then than ‘discovering’ it after delivery. Some mental preparation and time for ‘acclimatising’ to the reality is, in my opinion, better than being thrown into the deep end when the baby does arrive with a genetic defect.

          The scenarios of caring for a Down Syndrome child kept coming to mind every day since my gynae broke the news. As much as I want to trust God for His good and perfect will, the future looked bleak and I lacked courage to want to try for a second one. I wasn’t angry at God for our situation. In fact, I was wondering whether He was punishing me for my sins. Whatever reason He had, it must be good because of His nature.

          And I’m thankful for understanding and supportive parents-in-laws.

          blog-human female karyotype 2 During this period of waiting and wondering, I did muse about an abnormal child having greater blessing than a normal person. For example, a normal person can be laden with all sorts of cares and burdens of this world but an abnormal person can be most care-free and content in life. Of course, a mutant is a mutant and often a social stigma. Nevertheless, I’m glad that more and more people are willing to accommodate non-normal individuals as part of society.

          So I went for amniocentesis 2 weeks ago. I was a bit frightened because it involved a small risk of miscarriage. Yang was at the hospital with me then. A doctor inserted a thick needle through my abdominal wall to reach into my amniotic bag (water bag) to withdraw a sample of my amniotic fluid. It contained cells shed from the baby and these were cultured and then screened for any extra chromosome amongst the 23 pairs of chromosomes a normal human being should have. This screening would also reveal the sex chromosomes of the baby, whether XX or XY.

          On Tuesday night, a staff from my gynae’s clinic called me to break the good news that the baby was normal and a girl (XX)! Yang and I were so relieved and also grateful to God. We want to thank everyone who prayed for us and encouraged us (we didn’t share about our struggle with many). We are grateful to God that Pris, our small group friend, reminded us that all children are gifts from God. She and our small group didn’t know our situation then.

          Finally, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

          Showing at a local home cinema

          Follow-up to my post the other day about avoiding local cinema theatres.:)

          The two of us rarely go to the theatres very much anymore aside from the occasional movie that absolutely has to be watched on a large screen. It’s not only because of the possible incessant yakking from cinema-goers. There’s a good chance too that Ling feels nausea watching a movie in a dark, enclosed environment. E.g. we bought tickets for Tropic Thunder several weeks ago, but Ling had to leave the theatre just 10 minutes into the show as she felt sick.

          In any case, home viewing’s just as good. Here’s the list of recent movie flicks we watched in the last 3 months on rental DVD or I bought on blu-ray, each with a ballpark rating over five stars.

          image The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Darker, broodier, and slightly less wooden acting from the four Pevensie children. Trumpkin (the dwarf), and Reepicheep (the talking mouse) were scene stealers.

          Then She Found Me. A drama starring Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Bette Milder and Matthew Broderick, and about a late 30s school teacher (Hunt) going through a midlife crisis, and finding her mother (Milder) who gave her up for adoption as a young child. I enjoy watching Helen Hunt, but she really looks old in this movie. Sleepy movie.

          Hancock. The comedic superhero film starring the always fun to watch Will Smith. The movie review sites gave this film a somewhat thumbs-down, but the both of us enjoyed the show, even if the plot had massive oversights.

          Journey to the Center of the Earth. Produced by and also starring Brandon Fraser, and based on Jules Verne’s famous novel. Started off Ok, but rapidly goes downhill. Hokey CG too including a copycat scene from The Temple of Doom. No good.

          The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. I caught the two movies on the big screen years ago, but recently picked up the blu-ray editions. Ling enjoyed the shows. This third show wasn’t nearly as good though. Not enough Jet Li, and we both preferred Rachel Weisz who starred as Evy in the first two movies. And we cringed whenever Russell Wong spoke his lines in Mandarin.

          image Death Race. Mindless flick but it starred former Olympic swimmer turned action martial arts actor, Jason Statham. Our small group friend Ann caught bits of it at our place, and she remarked at Statham’s amazing 8 pecs even LOL. Enjoyable at a very visual level.

          Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Another superhero film with Ron Perlman in the title role. Well-received and liked by reviewers, but I thought it was just average.

          The X-Files: I want to Believe. Ling isn’t a follower, but I was a big fan both of the series and Gillian Anderson. I mean, which techno-geek in the 90s wasn’t LOL? But this movie looked tired with a tired story and a tired looking cast. Duchovny had little of the dry wit and humor from the series. At least Anderson is still good to watch.

          Get Smart. Steve Carell must had been channeling the late Don Adams in this film adaption of the classic TV series. Anne Hathaway stars opposite him, and the two have some fun and cute lines together, if during the oh-so-sweet moments between the two your hair stands a little because Carell is 46 and Hathaway is, well, 26. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson twitches his eye-brow and gets the best scenes in the movie, including a stapler scene in which I laughed so hard the orange juice I was drinking came back out through my nose! Very enjoyable.

          image Mr. Brooks. You don’t see Kevin Costner in a lot of movies anymore, the leading but now aging man he is. Murder-thriller and Costner playing a pseudo-baddie role. Quite different from the usual roles he’s cast in.

          Wanted. Angelina Jolie as the hot chick with guns – check. James Mcavoy as the new recruit – check. Morgan Freeman as the Head of Assassins – check. Bullets that curve around corners through mind control – all there. Angelina Jolie looks scrawny though.

          Deception. Film starring Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor in a thriller about murder, extortion, sex, and double-crossing. Convoluted mess.

          There was a bunch of others, including two Stargate TV-series films, Futurama, Grey’s Anatomy Season 4, The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 1. I’ll see about blogging about the latter two at least sometime.:)