February, 2009

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R S P

blog-2009-family-DSC_8572-dad-birthday For $180, I can buy…

Two premium-priced PS3 games that’ll last me at least a week of play time; or

A Seagate external 1 TB hard drive to backup all my photos and classical music MP3s which will be enough for a year; or

Four pairs of shoes for Ling: which will last her at least a year; or…

Five polo-shirts for me: which I’ll wear for at least 2-3 years; or…

A B+W 77mm CPL: which has great resale value; or…

Microsoft Office 2007 (even if it’s the academic version) with spare change; or…

Pay six months of my M1 phone bill; or…

One Roast Suckling Pig which takes you 10 minutes to finish, but takes off (maybe) at a week of your life-span!

We were at Beng Hiang Restaurant on Sunday evening yesterday for a birthday dinner for my dad and this fellow was the opening number. Oh man. The sort of things I could had done with the $180!

More pictures here LOL.

Hong Kong Squatters II

Continued from my previous post!

The NTU hostels themselves in the early 90s varied in age and quality. There were seven hostels, the newest one (VII) built like a swanky hotel resort. The hostel I spent my first two years in was Hall III. And back then, this was the most run-down, HDB 1 room-apartment block like, with small dingy rooms shared often by two students. The floor tiles were coming off. There were just two power points in the room. The cupboards creaked. The bathrooms were communal. In fact, we had a nickname for the hostel: and it was ‘Hong Kong Squatters’.

blog-206hostel1nuclear_bombsite I stayed in a double-occupancy room in my first two years. My first year roomie was studying in the Engineering faculty. He was a pretty nice fellow, but wasn’t very studious preferring instead to spend time with his jam band (he played the bass guitar). I remember if vaguely that he failed a couple of his papers in the first academic year and had to return for supplementary examinations in the semester break.

My second year roomie couldn’t had been more different. He was the vice-president of the NTU Christian Fellowship group. And till today, he still remains one of the most nicest, genial, gentle person I’ve ever met. I never saw him raise his voice against anyone or anything. He kept a meticulous routine of waking up, praying, doing his quiet time, and studying. He used the computer only for work while the rest of us on the floor were staying up late nights for Dune II and XCOM: UFO Defense accompanied by grades on a down-spin. He was the sort of man mothers-in-law would absolutely adore and hope for their daughters to bring home.

In short, he was the most wonderful roommate I had, and also the most scary one! Next to him, I felt like the most wretched sinner who cut lectures, was sloppy in attire, played too many games, and ate maggi mee all day.

In all seriousness though, at times I wonder how he is right now. I’m certain he’s doing well.

I got lucky in my third and final year. Four new hostels were built in time for the start of the academic year, and for the first time, I was given a room with single occupancy.

These days, whenever I’m back in NTU to attend a seminar or some event, I’d take the opportunity to visit the campus grounds. It’s all great memories.:)

Picture here taken with me making a face in my small dingy little room in 1992.:)

Hong Kong Squatters I

One of the big differences between NUS and NTU lies in that the main campus of NUS is in a semi-central location of Singapore. NTU, on the other hand, is located on the western end of the island. To get into NTU, one had to take a train all the way to the furthest-most station in the MRT line, then switch to feeder buses for another 10-15 minute ride into the campus itself.

It’s not all bad of course. NTU has a bigger campus (2 square kilometres compared to NUS’s 1.5), and it’s nicely tucked in a lot of greenery whoops SAF training jungles. It’s not unusual to be on campus and be hearing loud ‘whoooomps’ occasionally: tank live-firing somewhere LOL.

blog-1993 - NTU - Hostel - 01 - with floormates for hall yearbook Now, the semi-remote accessibility of the university also meant that a lot of students wanted accommodation on campus. Unfortunately, in the 90s, hostel accommodation was hugely competitive. To qualify for a room, under-grads had to accrue enough ‘points’, and these points came by way of the activities you were participating in. The levels of activities, appointment bearers, types of events organized and ran… all of these were credited with different points using a system that few back then could make head or tail of.

Still, we took it all on good faith, and at the end of every academic year, hostelites would be sweating over whether they accrued enough points to qualify for a room, what type of room, and which hostel too.

Now, at this point I was staying at my family home in Lentor. Commuting to to NTU was a 1.5 hour journey, and with classes starting at 8 am every day, the thought of having to get up at 6 am just wasn’t appealing then. So, from the get go, I applied for hostel accommodation, and like every other hostelite, was for the next few years caught up in the ‘Point system’.

The photo here was taken in 1993 for our yearbook; that’s the entire floor of male residents in my hostel. Easy to spot me – I’m the bloke wearing an ACS polo LOL.

Continued in the next post.:)

D300 + MB-D10

Most of the pictures I took when I first had my SLR in the 80s were portrait shots. Now, the right way to take portrait-styled pictures is to use an underhand rather than an overhand grip. Besides that taking portrait pictures with the latter makes you look like a chicken with outstretched wings, the underhand grip allows you to more easily close your elbows to stabilize your shots.

The best way though is to use a battery or vertical grip. So, I finally got round to picking up the MB-D10 grip for the D300 not locally here though, but from an online Malaysian retailer Yamiya. Interestingly, while optical equipment in MY is typically more expensive than here, the MB-D10 was one item that was, surprisingly, cheaper even when compared to Amazon pricings.

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Here’s the D300 + MB-D10 with my Sigma 24-60mm f2.8. The thing weighs quite a bit, but it’s amazingly easier to hold now for vertical shots.:)

That French Guy

blog-richardclaydermanI don’t think there’re many children in Singapore taking piano lessons who haven’t played pieces by Richard Clayderman.

Who’s he? Well, only one of the most successful romantic piano recording artistes ever, what with his 267 Gold and 70 Platinum discs. In the 80s, this guy was really popular. He’s in his 50s now but 20 years ago there were women swooning after him. If I remember correctly he had at least one performance in Singapore, and it was like a sell-out concert months at crazy ticket prices before even actually arriving here.

Like most other persons learning piano at the age of 8 to 15, both my elder brother and myself got hooked on his music, even buying and collecting those expensive scores of his music and learning to play them.

There was one strange thing I never understood back then though. Both of my music teachers (they were sisters – the younger sister took me from Grade I to VI, her elder sister the remaining grades) hated Clayderman’s music. They found it awful, repetitive, and the kind of music that makes hair stand. They steadfastly refused to include his piano pieces as part of our learning repertoire. So, it was Bach Preludes & Fugues, Chopin waltzes, Mozart and Beethoven sonatas for me.

Here’s the funny thing: 20 years later, I can’t stand this guy’s music now too. I find them awful, repetitive, and makes my hair stand LOL. There’s no subtlety, and there’s just so much sanguinity in these music before I feel like puking. It’s the same feeling I get when listening to stuff by Kevin Kern: stuff that I can listen to for maybe for 5 minutes once a year and no more.

The damnest thing is that even now in 2009, there’re still students learning the piano around our apartment block who’re not just playing but practicing Ballade pour Adeline, many, many, many times until they think they’ve got it right. Ling calls them evergreen music, and laughs when she sees my facial reaction: it’s a grotesque and contorted mix of pain as though hot pokers are getting stabbed in my eyes LOL.

Oh the student life

blog-1993 - NUS VCF Ann Con Cameron Highlands - 01 - with Kwek Khee Leng About 16 years ago I was one of three NTU students invited to join the Annual Conference at Cameron Highlands organized by the NUS Varsity Christian Fellowship. It should normally had been a little weird since this was really an NUS event, but I was glad to catch up with my old ACS friends who were there (it was less fashionable to go to NTU in the early 90s).

There were full-time Christian workers attached to the event, and I remembered one particular joke that was cracked when we were in one of our small group discussions and talking about student life in University. The staff worker had long graduated, but she remarked that when she was studying in NUS herself, her plan was to play as much as possible and pass with minimal grades.

Truth to tell, I was uber low key in ACPS, ACS then ACJC. I was only in ‘sedate’ (a word I remember Pam once using to describe CCAs LOL) extra curricular activities: over my four years, I served as librarian in the Nagle Library and also as School Pianist.

Now, the reason why I was incognito was because I was a nervous boy. When I was admitted into NTU though, I resolved to do better. And what better way to conquer fears than to face them squarely in the face by going for exactly those very things you are afraid of?

blog-1992 - NTU - Choir - 02 - at Christmas concert So, on Day 1 in NTU, I made myself sign up the very activities I’d been terrified of. I always wanted to sing but was afraid of being on stage. So, I signed up for the hostel choir, and ended up being its conductor and composed songs for my choir to sing. I was interested in debating but was terrified of speaking in public. So, I joined debating and finished my three years as Captain of the NTU team in my last year. I enjoyed writing but had no clue where to start. I signed up on faith, and ended up as editor for a couple of publications on campus.

My under-grad grades took a massive hit from the time I was spending in JCRC, Student Union and the whole bunch of activities to accrue enough credit to retain hostel accommodation. In fact, few of my students in the last 12 years believe I was an underachieving C and D scorer in my under-grad days!

My academic performance only picked up a little in my final year as an under-grad, then improved dramatically in my first post-grad, which in turn opened the opportunity for the Ph.D.

It’s all funny to think of it now though, because the best time I had ever was as a student in NTU. No, not of the lectures, the slogging or the mugging. But those extra curricular activities as a student!

The first photo was taken in 1993 with Khee Leng who was reading Com Science, and the other photo in 1992 with my choir during a Christmas concert. I’ll blog about hostel life soon too.:)

Work? It’s never ending

blog-2004 - Ling - Nature Walk - DSCN0323 One of those little things I really appreciate of Ling is that she tries to make sure we go to and come back home from work together every day. Throughout the day too we keep in touch with MSN messages and SMSes. Yep, all those cute ‘kissie’, ‘pokie’ messages that you normally akin to courtship LOL.

It’s one of those little ‘couple-time’ things. In the morning trips to work, we’ll brief each other on what will be happening on our respective days at work, and on our return trips home, we’ll debrief, and she’ll also get my capsule versions of news from The Straits Times.

One thing I ask her often on our return home journeys though is whether she’s got work to do tonight, and she’ll usually reply with a heavy sigh “Ya… work is like never ending.”

This is one of those things which I’m adamant about though: work should not be brought home. For me, answering urgent work emails from home is ok, but not things like marking or lesson preparation materials outside exceptional circumstances. There’s a reason why the Ministry of Manpower has a statutory maximum of 44 working hours per week (breaks roughly down to 9 hours a day): it’s work-life harmony, a.k.a. maintaining your sanity, physical and mental well-being, and not getting exploited by your work place.

OK, so the economy isn’t doing so great now and we all have to work harder to keep our jobs. But if you’re going to work yourself to death, burn-out, go postal because you’ve not had any time to yourself, it’s not worth it then.

The earlier years of marriage were tough in this respect. I was upset to see Ling bring home tons of scripts, lesson preparation, and text-books every night. After dinner and her quick shower, she’ll be at it from 7:30 pm to 11 pm, often later, and every night.

Then there was that chain of letters and articles to the forum and mainstream media last year about how difficult being a teacher in Singapore these days, and especially in terms of workload and student discipline and administration.

What was even funnier was that those letters were invariably written not by the teachers themselves, but by their husbands and if I remember rightly, in one instance by the teacher’s parents even. Were the teachers themselves all suffering in silence, or were they under embargo not to comment? Either way, I couldn’t agree more with those letters, especially looking at what Ling has to go through.

What I remark to Ling is that if equilibrium can’t be reached between her mountain of work and a 44 hour / week cycle, then something’s deficient. Period. Either the rate of processing work is too slow or inefficient (e.g. spending too much time agonizing over an answer), or the work is excessive vis-à-vis the 44 hour cycle. If it’s the latter and it’s persistently happening, then it’s a systemic problem that the work place must address.

Still, there’s been small improvements. About a year ago Ling was at a low point trying to finish her work, and turning in at 1 am just trying to finish marking; that was the juncture when I finally got her to making resolutions to at least put aside some time on evenings for us to do things together, and leave whatever she can’t finish in school aside and save it for the next day.

So, about half the evenings in a week these days, I’ll make her put aside her work and we’ll watch TV (Star Trek Voyager which she’s addicted now to), or play a PS3 game to unwind. Not perfect yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Morning routines

As we grow older, our sleeping patterns and morning routines change quite a bit. It’s dependent on your morning programs of course i.e. do you have to go to work. But just as another entry on recollection:

1992 – 1995 Undergraduate at NTU staying in the hostel Slept at 4 am
Woke up at 8 am
1996 – 2003 Lecturer Morning classes:
– Slept at 1 am
– Woke up at 7 am

Afternoon / evening classes:
– Slept at 4 am
– Woke up at 10 am

2003 – 2006 Postgraduate at Curtin Slept at 10 pm
Woke up at 3 am
2006 + Lecturer Sleep at 10:30 pm
Wake up at 4:30 am

blog-2008-06-02-dsc_0299-hougangIf the table is indicative of anything, it’s that I’ve turned into an unearthly morning creature! I think it’s a habit that carried forward from my postgrad days. Most activity in MMORPGs occur during evening hours in the States – early to late morning for those of us in the eastern hemisphere – so I had to be typically up very early each morning.

These days, I’m usually awake at 4:30 am. My sis-in-law says my early up hours will be a big help for Ling after our daughter comes haha. I get an hour and a half to myself to do early morning blogs, some retrospection, answer the urgent work and personal emails, read the overnight MSN messages from Matt.:)

I wake Ling up at 6 am. I nudge and cajole. Occasionally, I’ll just flat out tickle her out of bed. If none of that works, then I’ll do a face wipe on her pillow, and tell her I’ll keep doing it until she wakes up. That always works LOL.

Then it’s the  shower, prepare morning coffee to go, and I’m at work at 0645 am. Where I’ll have nearly another hour and a half alone in the office before my colleagues start arriving.

Yeah, I spend more than 11 hours a day at work. But it’s all well and good; I leave all my work in the office. Ling brings home a lot of work, though I’ve keep discouraging her not to and have been having making small steps in that direction.

Hmm – I should blog on that last bit soon about bring work home. So, more in a follow-up post later.:)

Till death do us part (with asset division)

blog-prenup There was an article in The Sunday Times over the weekend about a Singaporean woman who married a Frenchman aristocrat, and was asked to sign a pre-nuptial agreement by her in-laws.

Until recently, one didn’t see much news or articles about pre-nups here in Singapore though. I remember one conversation years ago though with a colleague in her early 20s. She was a proponent of pre-nups, and declared emphatically that it’s inconceivable for her to marry (one day) without having a pre-nup agreed upon first with her fiancé.

It sure is a tricky issue though. Of course there’s that whole argument about putting the marriage on the wrong footing right before even marrying: you’re already planning for its ending before even getting started.

But then again, when I think about some of my friends and that how some of their marriages haven’t worked out… it’s chilling. In one case, she wanted separation because of her partner’s addiction to gambling. For two other persons, it was infidelity. For another friend, it was communication issues.

When things get that difficult and the probability of separation comes into the picture, the issues of who gets what only exaggerates difficulties in the parting. Under those circumstances, having some of prior agreement would help things at least.

Either way, here’s one letter that argues for pre-nups, and another urging caution.

Operating System Malfunctions

One thing about end user computing that’s taken some getting used to has been the transition from text-based to graphical operating systems. For the first initial years up till Windows 98 at least, I found I could get system-centric tasks done far faster from a DOS prompt than using a GUI.

That’s probably one reason why I never took to the Apple OS in the pre-Win95 days. Heck. The persons around me in the computer engineering faculty… few of them liked the OS even, the hysteric and rabid fandom that Steve Jobs commanded even back then not withstanding. For us, it was always about the platform that offered the most across a range of criteria beyond just aesthetics and ‘ease-of-use’: the criteria included availability of software, accessibility of support, and hardware available to extend the capabilities of the platform. And that stuff in the 90s about the Apple OS being a more stable platform – erm… right, because the Mac workstations in the labs crashed as often as the Windows ones when we subjected it to similar degrees of hardware and driver switcheroos.

This doesn’t mean that Windows is a great operating system. The first release of Windows as a ‘complete’ OS – Win 95 – that didn’t need DOS in the background wrestled with a ton of device driver issues and BSODs. The next 12 years saw incremental improvements in stability and usability, and with the impending Windows 7 later this year, the aesthetics and stability gap between competing OSes have finally narrowed to a negligible point.

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That said though, installing and refreshing a Windows operating system is still always a fun and occasionally exasperating challenge. I picked up a new Seagate 1.5 TB harddrive (alongside a few more sticks of RAM) at Sim Lim over the weekend to replace the most aging of my three hard drives. I had a copy of Windows Vista Ultimate, compliments of Microsoft, sitting on the shelf for some months now, so took the opportunity to try installing the 64 bit version of the OS as well.

Wow, and what an effort it took… if only because I completely overlooked one little thing. The damn thing just refused to boot up initially even though the memory diagnostics showed up no errors. Until I remembered to update the motherboard BIOS. Thereafter installation finally proceed speedily.

I’m tempted to pick up Windows 7 later this year; the beta version that I installed on the MSI Wind has worked amazingly well. Thing is though W7 doesn’t really offer me any real advantages apart from speed and a really nifty UI.

But still… I’ll see. Ling’s using non-Aero version of Vista that came with the Acer PC I bought her 1.5 years ago, and she occasionally looks onto my PC with envy. I could always pass her Vista Home Premium later this year.:)

Picture from Mac vs Windows.