Sunday, May 29, 2005

Space Opera

Question: What do you call those things fitted onto a car bonnet, making it look kind of out of shape, so that it can stabilise a speeding car by countering Bernoulli's effect?


I saw Revenge of the Sith (ROTS) yesterday night and never felt better that the saga is finally over. Most fans were disappointed with the earlier prequels; I think things were wrapped up nicely in this very last instalment of the space opera (big fan I am not; know story I do though).

Anyway, I just thought I do a 'Did you spot that?', just for the heck of it. I have this knack for keeping a whole load of movie moments in my head and Lucas leaves blatant references in ROTS which screams for your attention. Here goes:

Did you spot...

1. a younger Grand Moff Tarkin? He was supervising the construction of the Death Star, together with Vader and Palpatine at the end of the movie. This is the same bad guy who says that line: 'Leave? In our moment of triumph?' moments before the Death Star is blown to bits in A New Hope. Strange - even in the Star Wars space age, should it take the time for Luke to grow up for that Death Star to be fully built?

2. the father of Wedge Antilles? Wedge is this hot shot rebel figher pilot instrumental in blowing up the second Death Star. You see him leading the Rogue squadron in Return of the Jedi. His father (I think, not sure) is the guy who got handed C3PO by Senator Organa, and was told to erase the droid's memory (wrap up plot device - C3PO is to become comic relief fodder in subsequent epis).

3. the same diplomatic ship that Leia was captured in? That will be the fist shaped ship Bail Organa travelled in, right down to the spick span white corridors. Hmm... it appears that they haven't gotten their crew round to wearing those aerodynamic helmets yet. When I first saw those helmets as a kid, I remember asking why fellas in a space ship needed to protect their heads with that ridiculous headgear.

4. Obi-Wan picking up Anakin's light saber? Crucial plot device, cos Obi-Wan will later give that same light saber to Luke. Not so subtle, of course, but without that scene, fans will be baying for Lucas's blood.

5. really lame explanation for why Obi-Wan and Yoda can come back in 'ghostly' forms in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? This comes from that secret training to gain immortality bit. I kind of just like the mystery the way it is - when you try to explain a mystery, it comes off kind of cheesy if you do a half baked explanation (such as that midichlorian thing).

In any case, I enjoyed watching the movie. The title should really be: Emperor kicks Jedi butt (its not my movie alas). My favourite Star Wars movie in the entire franchise remains Epi 5: The Empire Strikes Back - nothing in whole story beats seeing Darth Vader saying 'Luke, I am your father'. Its like, suddenly, a swashbuckling romp through space is turned into a family drama of galactic proportions.

A space opera indeed.


The answer to the earlier question? Spoilers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sweet dreams are made of these

I think I'll start with my conclusion (kinda like that movie Memento): We're a generation that stores memories in bits and bytes. We're not the same anymore - we're digital.


Imagine this: our photographs are digital images. They've been manipulated, shrunk / blown up, enhanced, and generally tweaked with. Photos can be altered, distorted and they no longer speak the thousand words they used to. We cannot believe what an image tells us anymore (hence that thousand words might lie). Online, pictures you see of good looking people lie - Photoshop has made us equally beautiful (or equally ugly - if everyone were beautiful, ugly ceases definition).

Take a step back (favourite consultant phrase): in our parents' generation, memories are hardware - diaries are written in a book (well, they take another form now, and are not strictly diaries anymore - mr brown presses this point mercilessly) and photographs are solid (some of them have that glossy feeling). Memories are made of hard stuff - real stuff. Not bits and bytes. Not pixels. Not magnetic media.


The speed of change is extraordinary (ok, this isn't news, but bear with my $0.02). In the short space of a generation, we've moved from the real world to a 2-D screen. Photographs were touchy feely things - I can hold it, lament the age of a faded photo, look at the rawness of it (badly taken photos if you're the kind in my family... with those old wind up compacts).

What do we have now? We now interact with an image through a mouse - point, click and drag. Well of course you can always get it printed out on that glossy paper and stuff, but the whole point is that, like those clones in the Star Wars universe, it doesn't quite have the same soul.

We interact through an interface now, not directly anymore. Its just one small step away from those babies floating in ruby red goo ala the Matrix, their sole interaction being electric impulses to their nervous systems. Oh well, its a stretch of course, but isn't any interaction through a computer really just interaction through an interface?


Our memories are, more often than before, electronic. They reside in your HDD, CD-ROMs, thumbdrives, and in the internet (someone else's HDD, strictly speaking).

We remember less and less - we store more and more.


Our brains are incapable of retaining memories for very long periods of time. We are selective creatures, and we colour our rememberings; we're like a neural network, adaptive and fluid, changing itself to better get the output it is required to. We remember an image of an event, and it changes and morphs over time. We gloss over the details, glorify the victories, portray ourselves in a better light.


The harsh march of time leaves a mark on us and our memories. Our consciousness is a battleground: we cannot be conscious of everything, or rather, we cannot always keep in view things which we've once been conscious of. That fleeting moment of clarity should be treasured, because it isn't coming again.

Write it down. At one point, it was important. At some point later, it will be important again.

It might not be important now, but what is now but the present? A gift of prescience - now is now, and not now later, for later now will be history.


There is nothing of permanence in a digital world - our thoughts are in easily retrievable formats. They are digital media, and are easily carried everywhere; always ready for consumption.

What do we leave for historians of the future then? Our HDDs?


Like all things, it began with good intentions. Revolutions start out that way, and when they become the establishment, the rules change (some say, the rules only appear when revolutions become establishments). We've moved online and it scares me - what do I leave behind?

Bits and bytes.


Sweet dreams

Photo: Bali at sunset (circa Nov 2004)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Tyranny of the Taxis

Why wait in long taxi queues? Sure, that's what taxi stands are for - so that you can stand in line and wait. But why wait? Why not just call for a cab? It's just $3.00, $3.20 (depending on which company you call). Not a lot to ask for the comfort of a cab designated specifically for you. Heave your tired body into the taxi, and take a long hard look at the queueing peasants as your cab speeds by. It wasn't that long ago that you were there, fuming at the 'On Call' signs.

I guess this is something that's been talked to death, but it just irks me. We're being manipulated by the cab cartels. It's economics they say. The consumers are being exploited, I say. The cartel makes money by charging the cabbie a fee for the usage of its booking system. The cabby must therefore take bookings as much as possible - hey, its 3 bucks, 4 bucks more, and he has to pay to use it, so why not? So, to maximise bookings, especially during those peak hours, he should avoid picking up passengers on the street, i.e. those 'flaggers' and 'queuers'.

See, there're a few kinds of cab customers. 'Flaggers' flag cabs down, usually at inconvenient locations such as 1) near a bus-stop; 2) double yellow lined roads; 3) bus lanes. Flaggers sometimes look like they're doing the sport of one-upmanship - the flagger further up the road usually gets the cab (although there's this little known rule among cabbies that the first hand up gets the cab).

Then there are 'Queuers', or what I would call 'the suckers' (especially during peak hours, and at those oh-so-central locations like Raffles City). Some locations are great for queueing - the cabs have no choice but to dutifully line up to take their passengers. My favourite queueing spot is that one near Heeren, round to the side. However, try lining up at Raffles City during peak hour and you'll see why I think queuers have it bad. It's a booking market there - in an hour of queueing there 2 days back, only 3 lucky fellas got into cabs they queued for. Furthermore, it was only because those cabs had to let their customers off there.

The reason? The 'Bookers' of course! The bookers (and I was forced to be one on Friday) are the ones who spoil the queuers market. Bookers look at the queue, look at their watch, and look at the dire lack of taxis (there're plenty available, for sure, but they're not going to those taxi stands). They make the decision that comes so easily with owning a handphone - they call the cab cartel to book a cab. Well listen up, Booker - you're just playing a losing game; the cab company is laughing all the way to the bank; and we have a modernised, connected transportation system that does not reward waiting in line.

See, the cabs do not want to pick up queuers because the booking fee pays more. Thus, they'd rather circle the block, hang on a while, and press that damn beeping machine to take bookings coming through the system. The cabbies win - they get to earn more. The bookers think they win. The queuers lose - it is an injustice, but that is economics for you. If you can pay, you call that damn hotline and listen to muzak for 15 minutes (it gets that long!), while a tinny insincere pre-recorded voice thanks you for waiting.

So why queue? Well, I found out on Friday. Ahead of me was an Indian man, and a Caucasian fella. They were talking animatedly while I looked dejectedly at the stream of 'On Call' cabs that keep coming. The bookers seem embarrassed as they board their cabs - they're acutely aware of the queuers' plight. The Caucasian managed to board a cab that was dropping off a customer. Then the Indian turned to talk to me. He had been waiting for an hour.

It turns out that he's from Mumbai and he's here on business. He was asked by the Caucasian for the use of his handphone, so Mr Caucasian could call a cab. Unfortunately, Mr Indian's handphone was on roaming - making a local call would have been utterly expensive. Effectively speaking, neither Caucasian or Indian could call a cab, because they did not have the resources or means to.

So that's why there're still queuers, I thought. Mr Indian came up with several ideas for the taxi shortage problem (including one where he proclaimed that some taxis should just be disallowed from having the system installed - such is his belief that Singapore can be that tyrannical). His image of Singapore is tarnished from his experiences with taxi cabs that won't pick up queuers. 'An unfair technology, if I may say so. What kind of a place is Singapore if you can't get a cab the proper way?' so he says.

Well, I didn't have much fun queueing that day either. I whipped up my Nokia and called for 2 cabs - insisted that Mr Indian took one of them. He was genuinely happy to actually have met me, enthusiastically waving as the cab sped off. Perhaps, I salvaged something of that tarnished image. I hoped he did not think we're as 'Booker-ish' as he thought we had become.

Why wait in queues? Sighs...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Doggone tired

I thought it would be nice to do a project where I actually understood what I was doing, for once. A project where I finally got to drive, and to have control over. A project where I could truly be a consultant, because I finally knew more about the issue at hand (and didn't look so stupid whenever utterances such as "I'll go check" come rolling out).

Oh noooooooooooo.....

First, the users. They suck. Of all the users I have ever had to work with, they're the worst. They don't know their own processes, tell you in your face that they don't know, then try to bamboozle you with what they think are the processes. Oh, and they do the solutioning as well! I've never had users who give you what THEY think is the solution, and tell you why the system isn't doing it THAT way, as if it has been tried and tested for yonks. Stupid yobs...

Oh, and the IT folks. They suck. IT folks who do not understand the users' processes, and bamboozle the 3rd party vendor with information they have a half baked knowledge of, then turn to you (the eminent consultant) to verify that they did not speak out of line, like you're some stern headmaster ('Um' = nod, yes; 'Uh-uh' = shake head, no). Their saving grace is that they're able to log things down dilligently, and spout lines like 'oh we'll discuss that tomorrow, and eventually get it signed off, somehow, sometime in the eventual future'.

The 3rd party vendor - ah... the only redeeming light, in my opinion. Smart folks, intent on the solution to the exclusion of politics and preferences. At least they have their heads screwed on right. I'm thankful to be working with them, but with the IT folks meddling like Muggles bumbling in a Hogwarts laboratory, there is little hope of a speedy conclusion to this project.

Oh what I would do to have a lightsaber - I can really sever some heads right now. ;)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

In the Public Domain

It always interests me how some things start off with one intention or aim, and ends up something else altogether. When I first started work, I did not intend to work in my current workplace for more than 3 years. Now, I'm near my 4 year mark, and work is still interesting.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make was with regards blogs. I remember how, when blogs were first introduced, they were meant to be online journals, kind of online diaries; an electronic record of your thoughts and deeds. Blogs were introduced to allow people to easily create a site where all they needed to do was to pen their thoughts. Of course, the idea is not new - its just that now, some clever folks have created the engine to do it easily (damn I wished it was me).

I think the nature of blogs have changed somewhat. Sure, people still use it to pen their thoughts and deeds, but these blogs are often not as interesting as that other blog variant - the celebrity blog.

Celebrity blogs write for an audience - its hard to keep penning your private thoughts and deeds when everything you write down is in the public domain (Note to self: there are still private blogs in existence, with restricted access, but few folks are that publicity shy nowadays). Instead, people cater to an audience - they write funny stuff, they write thought provoking stuff, they put up pictures of themselves doing all kinda stuff, they write stuff that do not really belong in a diary. Heck, they write stuff like the kind of stuff I write now.

There is a very strong appetite for ideas propounded by ordinary folk such as you and I - we are the free press of the world. Our commentaries, opinions and thoughts are freely available and largely uncensored and uncensured. Of course, the odd blogger or 2 gets sued (defamation extends to the internet too). But by and large, we get off with writing what we want.

So the written word is cheapened. I guess its the price we pay for the freedom of expression - when everyone can express their opinion, and everyone can have a voice, then no one has a real voice anymore. The cacophony drowns out the voice of reason. A parliament of rooks judge the solitary raven.

Some stand out though. Applauded and celebrated for their insights, witticisms and brazen popularity. We are an indecipherable bunch, comprising many differing viewpoints and styles, expounding different manners and expressions.

The grand aim of providing a voice for everyone has achieved that. And more. As before, we have to compete again - when you open the barriers to expression, new boundaries are drawn. The ones who know the terrain and play their chips right get the headstart, and look the better for it.


Funny how thoughts turn out when you give in and resort to that device known as "stream of consciousness". You can really write rather meaningless stuff with rather zen-like statements this way. I started this post with the intent of saying how blogs were created to be online diaries that morphed into public newsreels. I ended with a whimper of an excuse for my behaviour.

Correction: I end with a punctuation. Some school kids don't even do that.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tragically Yours

I want to be the tragic hero. Well, in truth, I want to be the tragic heroine, but that sounds a little too gay / transexual / girly. It sounds nicer to say "I want to be a tragic heroine" than "I want to be a tragic hero". And aren't tragic heroines much better at emoting pain than tragic heroes?


While on a recent flight I saw this Zhang Yimou wu xia pian - House of Flying Daggers. Actually, a literal translation of the Chinese title is "Ambushed on 10 Sides", but that probably won't market very well in the US. "House of Flying Daggers" give it a more mysterious aura (think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", which was literally translated from its Chinese title).

That movie has a tragic heroine, and 2 tragic heroes! What better way to be a tragic hero than to stand in huge field (pan the camera over the tragic plains), while a blizzard works itself up (zoom in on my tragic face when the snow begins to fall), holding a dripping dagger (I've been stabbed, goddamn!).

Oh yes, I will also have smouldering good looks, wear some Chinese robe thing that must flap wildly in the blizzard. The snow falling around me will add to accentuate my misery as I hug my one true love (who is dying, wilting away).

The plot of the movie needs work - it's based on the premise that people are not who they are. That blind courtesan there is not a blind courtesan, she's the daughter of some pseudo dagger wielding cult. That marshal there is not a marshal, he's a spy sent to infiltrate the government. That movie you're seeing is no movie, its a blatant excuse for some folks to take your money.

Ah, but it is kind of nice to be a tragic hero, if there's a camera there placed aptly to capture that angst and mellow introspection.


Misery always require an audience.

A dredged up remembering of mid-1997

A funny thing, the brain. Other than being a CPU capable of processing information, it is also a hard disk, capable of remembering things.

But like a fragmented hard disk, filled with hidden data, some 'rememberings' are lost in the ether of brain cells, awaiting the right moment to be unearthed.

I was in Jurong East Interchange waiting for my bus when this couple walked by wearing matching T-shirts. In Chinese, this is referred to as the 'qing2 lu3 zhuang1', or couple-wear. I was reminded of this time in 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China - it was sometime in the middle of the year.

It isn't the handover which I recall though - it was that my father made the family wear matching T-shirts, the T-shirts emblazoned with a design commemorating the Hong Kong handover. Oh, and this memory by itself isn't what got thrown up in my consciousness. The memory that I refused to dredge up, but came rising up all of its own, is this one: I saw the T-shirt I was supposed to wear, some night before we were supposed to wear it. On that Sunday (it was church going day), I stubbornly refused to wear the T-shirt.

I think my father was hurt, or at least somewhat offended that I refused to participate in a family thing. I was old enough to know that I certainly did not look cool in that T-shirt, but not being a part of it was an affront of sorts to my father. It was a culmination of teenage angst and rebellion (of course, by then, I was no teenager already). It was one in a series of incidents which just show how little control parents have over their children as they grow up. It was the kind of pain that, bit by bit, brings about the realisation that your children aren't children anymore - even if you want to continue treating them like they are.

I'm sorry dad. I have not forgotten, and I don't think you did either, though you never speak of your hurts. Perhaps some day, I will come to truly appreciate what being a father means.

Monday, May 02, 2005

New York City - the Sixth Day

I originally wrote the following, longhand, while sitting in a coffeeshop in Chinatown, New York. It's getting to be a drag trying to piece together some of my terrible handwriting, and this should be the last post in this series. Phew...


Here's a brief recap of these last few days in NYC. After leaving the noodle shop in Chinatown on Wednesday, I found myself wandering into the Museum of Chinese in America. Interesting exhibits there - I learnt that the Chinese first came into the Americas as some kind of indentured labour. They weren't allowed to procreate - there were restrictions on the number of women who could come into the United States. They're very much like the Bangladeshis I see in Singapore now (History does repeat itself).

Playground in Chinatown

I also bought a bao and some kopi at the Mei Lai Wah coffeeshop (which is where I am right now). I liked the bao so much that I'm back here eating the same stuff again, 3 days later. There wasn't much else about Chinatown that I could explore, and later that afternoon, I headed to the Wall Street area of NYC.

The first stop was at the WTC site - there isn't really much to see, besides this big hole in the ground. There were plenty of tourists though, milling around just reading the boards put up which recall the events of 9/11. Makes me wonder what New York intends to do with that big piece of prime real estate - it is in a rather good location, and to leave it as a big hole in the ground as a reminder seems a kind of waste. Then again, there's really nothing one can build there which can truly honour the memory of that occasion. Hence... big hole in the ground.

Folks milling around the big hole.

What serves as a memorial of sorts.

I also saw Wall Street and the surrounding area. Suits fill the streets here, and tourists snap pictures of buildings which look, IMHO, rather dull. There was this bull though, which provided some level of touristy appeal to the place (Every city with a stock exchange should get a bull - I saw one in Chicago too, albeit smaller).

Red flag this.

Needing a breather, I later headed to Battery Park to get a view of the Statue of Liberty (again) from the, well, park. Broke my 67 polariser lens there and felt a twinge of pain at its demise. Sighs, the stupid lens fell out of my hands and broke apart on the park bench (it dropped no more than 50 cm). There goes pictures of blue skies for a long while until I can afford one again.

Wednesday and it's off to Central Park. I started out with buying some lunch to bring along - my head was filled with the romantic notion of lunching on some food while sitting in a lush green park, reading my recently acquired book (Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck - good read). Central Park is one big patch of greenery, a great place to see joggers, wierdos (this guy greeted me enthusiastically in the john), people walking dogs (they don't have jobs???), people sunning (amidst 15 deg Celsius, windchill), people busking (see pic) and photogs haunting the grounds.

Busker in Central Park.

Speaking of photogs, I spoke to this Filipino dude who claims New York is a GREAT place to be living in. He's obviously full of a lot more romantic notions than I am. Oh, and as for my romantic Central Park idea, I did do it for about an hour or so before I couldn't feel my nose nor my ears. Sitting inert in the grass munching and reading was a recipe for growing cold (in Spring). I gave up and decided to walk around instead, armed with my trusty Central Park map.

Man, I miss cycling.

Check out the following Central Park locales: The Mall, two rows of trees lined up and looking at attention; get lost in the Rambles, and look really stupid emerging from the same place you entered it in; see the ice skating rink featured in that movie Serendipity, which is not as serene as it was in the movie - the rap blasting out the speakers really kill, erm, romantic notions; the Bethesda fountains, where I caught a photo shoot happening. The model was bravely soldiering on in skimpy wear while the entire crew wrapped themselves real warm.

Caught this guy trying to blend in. Central Park.

So, after a while in Central Park (this being near 3pm already) I got bored and decided to watch another musical to kill time in the evening. Headed to the TKTS booth and bought myself tickets for Momma Mia. My day got better - I caught the naked singing cowboy of Times Square!

Okay, he isn't entirely naked, but hey, he's THE tourist attraction there. Gals taking pics with him get to touch his butt (flabby and round as it is). I don't know how he can stand being in the cold like this.

Tired at this point, I found myself a Starbucks to read Grapes for a while and relax. My knees were already hurting badly. I was practically limping into Starbucks, the knees shot from walking too much the last few days. Feeling it might feel better to lose the bag, I headed back to the hostel to dump the equipment and headed out for dinner and the musical. Dinner was at a viet restaurant called Saigon Grill, where I had my most expensive meal in NYC - costed all of USD14.00 with tips.

The service there was great, but the food was really just so-so. It didn't seem remotely viet or even near Indo-Chinese to me. Oh, to make things seem even cheesier, the oriental looking wait staff (to the untrained ang moh eye) spoke to each other in sparkling Cantonese. Ha, Saigon Grill my ass.

Momma Mia! ...was an entertaining show! Folks were literally dancing in the aisles at the end of the musical. The familiar songs were all there (Dancing Queen, Gimme Gimme Gimme, Thank you for the Music). The songs were worked in nicely with the plot and serve to play out the scenes. The only song that did not fit in was Waterloo (which the cast sang at the end, clad in spandex).

Thursday and I woke up late (pig) at 11am. Called my love to hear her sweet sweet voice, missing her even more than ever. I had my bagels for brunch at the Absolute Bagel place (Upper West Side, between 107th and 108th Street, Broadway). I can't say whether the bagels are good cos I have never had bagels prior to eating here. In any case, this place's bagels became my breakfast staple and I ate varieties of it most mornings. It took me a while to get to the East side to see the Metroplitan museum as the metro routes were different.

You see this scene in museums everywhere. I think this is how fakes are done.

Oh, the Met is worth it. I walked around soaking up the culture (haha), the favourite being an exhibition of Max Ernst's paintings. Really abstract stuff which are supposed to be thought provoking. Check out pictures such as "Celebes", "Flower, Woman, Man" and "Fireside Angel". Fireside Angel was meant to denigrate Fascism, reflecting Mr Ernst's distaste for their politics and growth.

This doorway reminds me of a painting. Kind of apt in a museum, doncha think?

Also, it was good taking the Museum Highlights Tour. The guide was informative, giving insights into particular paintings and sculture which were fascinating in their depth. My favourite was seeing this Rembrandt called "Aristotle with bust of Homer". Aristotle holds a gold chain in his left hand, and his right hand rests on the bust. In his left hand is all the wealth and power he has accumulated in his lifetime, spent in instruction of the great Alexander. In his right, his hand rests on knowledge (Homer) and poetry. He mulls over that universal complex - wealth and power, or knowledge and love of the art? Rembrandt probably thought the same things (he picked his art).

Mui Lai Wah is bustling with these old Chinese guys - damn I wish I understood more Cantonese. I should be off now - the Brooklyn Bridge awaits, ready to give my knees a brand new knocking, and my nose and ears a biting cold. Later!

Brooklyn Bridge, a cyclist there almost hit me while I was shooting pictures. Worst curse I ever had upon my soul.

Brooklyn Bridge. I like this shot for the lines in it.