Scariest Book I’ve Read So Far

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank only very recently entered my radar. Not that I’d learn all there is to learn about the giants of SF, but given the subject matter of the book I was surprised this did not come to my attention sooner. It’s an apocalyptic book, not post-apocalyptic like The Road by McCarthy, but I think marketed similarly in that neither would appear in any SF lists. But it is by far the scariest book I’ve read, and I’m reading Shining by King at the moment, and even that I’m not feeling too much yet.

I think it’s frightening because it’s so close to home. It’s frightening because it’s so possible, a reality oh so real. A post-apocalyptic world, imagined time and again in various pop-culture tropes like the zombie plague, or far future post-apocalyptic earths like in The Canticle for Leibowitz or The Book of the Long Sun, is something that seems so far away. But reading a story where nuclear destruction actually happens, and an unfolding story which deals with the fears and concerns of citizens after a disaster is truly chilling. I’ve learned about the breakdown of how our transportation systems will be tilted out of balance during a worldwide pandemic, and this one is very close in its estimation of the impact. The financial systems collapsing, the value of the dollar gone overnight, the economic equilibrium thrown out of the window with the rule of supply and demand completely overturned. Then comes the war of attrition, survival instincts kick in, martial law, every man for himself. It exposes the terrible truth of how inadequately prepared we are as a species in this modernized world, indeed how I’m inadequately prepared, to handle such a catastrophe, be it pandemic or nuclear holocaust.

Need to finish it quickly.

Review of The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

 

There is a sense of the mythical about this story. Rereading it after many years, I found the story very simple and direct, without the many-tentacled subplots that plague many other graphic novels that tries a little too hard. It conveniently starts with Batman, arriving in Arkham Asylum, intending to have a heart-to-heart with the Joker in order to reach some form of a closure in their very tenuous relationship. There wasn’t a sense as to why Batman wanted to do this out of the blue, it seems to me. Anyway, instead of the Joker, Batman finds that a decoy has been put in his Arkham cell. Joy.

The Joker wants to corrupt Commissioner Gordon and drive him insane to ‘prove a point’. The point here apparently being that a perfectly good person can on a turn of a hat turn into a bad one by virtue of being prodded in the wrong way ‘on a bad day’. I find this conceit problematic, but then Joker is supposed to be insane, so maybe that’s the point. The problem isn’t just there. In the subsequent pages immediately after it was discovered that the Joker has escaped Akham, it was established that the Joker has escaped from Arkham before.  You’d think they’d do a little more to prevent this from happening more than once, but no. They couldn’t prevent a person who can’t wash off the white off his skin, unlike the decoy, from escaping a prison designed to hold super-criminals.

By far the resonating, rippling effect of this piece of work is not the story itself, but what happens to a pretty major character. [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD – DON’T PROCEED IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF READING THIS]. It seems to me what happened to Barbara Gordon is the main reason why this story is so infamous, and not anything at all with either Joker’s origin story or his tendency to turn crime-fighting heroes insane. The book was originally published in 1988, and I think more than anything the act of violence against Barbara was really unlike anything that was seen in those days, and certainly not to a major character – an irreversible injury to a mainstream superhero. Moore already did his genre-busting turn on The Watchmen two years prior to this, but this one perhaps had some mileage because of Barbara’s goodness, and in a major comics universe to boot.

If you take out the implications of the Barbara scene, the story’s totally average. The chutzpah of the events leading up to the final showdown, however, elevate it just a little more about the average. Certainly the climate of the superheroes comicdom nowadays is so saturated with violence that something like this, a story touted as a major superhero tour-de-force or some blockbuster equivalent, such an event is not only common but expected. How very cynical the audience nowadays have become.

Art is excellent. Very 90s comics-art, but very well done.

Quickie: Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut

One of the best books I’ve read. Fantastic. I had such a hard time trying to pick a book to read in my list of Audible titles after finishing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and I thought I wanted something a little light. I hesitated over Vonnegut because he’s not exactly light, but I eventually chose Bend Sinister by Nabokov. That proved short-lived because I found that I had actually finished Bend Sinister before and *forgot about it*! Gasp!

So I thought since I took up Bend Sinister, I might as well sink into Mother Night. And what a decision that was.

I really like serendipitous reads. Something that I know I want to read, but don’t know what the book’s about, and hoping at the back of my head to be blown away with something magical, something truly amazing. All my exploits with classics are in the same vein. And it’s just a joy to discover this one.

I’m not writing a review for this now. I will on my journal, obviously, but not now. Now my laptop’s due for a reboot, and after that, back to work.

But I cannot resist saying that Mother Night proved to be something that is heart-breaking, morally ambiguous, challenging. Something that will stay with you when it’s done. I prefer this one over Slaughter-house Five, myself.

Currently Reading: Tarnsman of Gor

This book comes with a formidable reputation, it is shrouded in mystique, danger and a slight whiff of naughty things.

Almost done, and it is, uhm, a little over the top. More later. Maybe. Because I write my journals by hand. I don’t retype them here. And when I do type them here, I don’t write them down into my reading journal. It’s like I’m torn between two lovers. Uhm, no, bad analogy. I want to write there, but I also want to write here. I want to exhibit my poor writing here, a medium that encourages me to write a little differently when I’m not constantly experiencing some mild pain through the physical sensation of putting pen on paper. But I want to write there too, because it’s comforting.

So anyway. Gor. More covers, because I think it’s a little saucy.

Big Bad Wolf 2013

Much smaller haul than my previous years. It’s buying fatigue, I suppose, due to my burgeoning library and growing list of Kindle books, Audible and Comixology buys. Can’t keep up with the consumption, so I’m limiting myself to just the ones I really like.

Another Webmail service: Outlook.com

I like the fact that there are so many implementations of email, as companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook all trying to rethink email and how we communicate. Emailing has always been important, and it’s interesting how these companies try to make it easier and more intuitive for us.

Outlook.com from Microsoft is yet another implementation of the staple of our internet activities. It’s a clear move away from the negatively-perceived Hotmail brand which, like Yahoo Mail, seems to have lost its sheen of innocence simply by being around for too long.  Outlook.com takes Gmail’s threaded conversation view, mixed it with the new Metro look to come up with a visually different mail client. Like a squarish and less busy Gmail interface. Let’s see how long this lasts, but Outlook.com do look like a better bet than Yahoo’s Ymail rebranding effort. So go ahead and get yourself some prime email real estate before the crowds come in.

I must say, however, that the one company that really changed the game for email is Google with Gmail. From the non-prank launch date of 1GB storage space for email when everyone else is offering  a supremely miserly 4MB, to really the game-changing layout of a threaded-conversation view for email, Gmail is in my opinion still the front runner in terms of clear innovation.

Review of Herzog, by Saul Bellow

This isn’t an easy book to read, and it isn’t easy to write about. This is usually the sort of book that I stay away from in the best of days, as it didn’t exactly promise to be an exciting ride. The subject matter is dire like heck. But its reputation as one of the best books ever written precedes it. When the opportunity presented itself I thought it too good a deal to pass up, so I may as well learn what the fuss is about.

The story revolves around one Moses E Herzog, who at the point of the story has come out from his second marriage. The divorce ended badly, and his now ex-wife, Madeleine, shacked up with his supposedly best buddy Valentine, and he’s pissed. Also, amidst this emotional turmoil he’s suddenly consumed with remorse over the fact that his second child Junie will be growing up without him. All this culminates in a scene where he attempts to confront Maddy when he learned that Junie was apparently mistreated during an argument with Valentine. The manner of his attempted confrontation and subsequent fallout from that forms the climax of the novel.

The unique component of this novel is Herzog’s imaginary letter writing – missives he composes to people living or dead covering all manner of things, from his emotions to politics, all revolving around his crumbling life. Sort of the novel’s way of revealing Herzog’s character growth.

So it’s a botched marriage by a has-been, and a plot to regain his self-esteem and child. What’s so hard about that? The thing is Bellow’s writing is quite precise when it comes to the emotions. The thoughts that run through his mind, especially during the first quarter of the novel, are raw emotions, complete with self-rationalization of what has happened. Anger at Madeleine and how he felt he was unfairly treated in the lead-up to the divorce were quite believable. There were parts in the prose where I thought Herzog described what I personally felt during various stages of disharmony in my own marriage. I’m still married, and nothing in the story even closely reflected what happened in my own life, so no, this didn’t feel autobiographical. But there are times when husband and wife are fighting (as all marriages will do) thoughts of who’s right and wrong cannot be suppressed, and I felt Bellow captured that accurately. Not that that’s very surprising, considering that Bellow himself divorced his second wife, who had an affair with Bellow’s long-time friend.

So really the resonance I felt early in the book carried me along. The story plodded in places, and the writing, while excellent, tended to ramble. Still, this wasn’t utter boredom ala Bridesheads Revisited, and for that I was thankful.

This is one book that I will probably revisit later on, which is more than I can say for the majority of the books I read, good or bad.

Review of Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi

I learned about Battle Royale many years ago, but was in a sense put off by the premise of having schoolchildren kidnapped and isolated on an island somewhere, and forced to kill each other to survive. Sounded interesting, but didn’t really like the idea of bloodbaths with children.

A quick exchange elsewhere in a book forum made me turn my eye on the work again, and decided I will take the plunge after all, although I cheated in a sense. Instead of turning to the novel, I turned to the manga adaptation. I was intrigued, and it was literally a quick series of taps away on my iPad.

The story is set in an alternative timeline where a totalitarian regime gripped Japan. As a means to control the population, and as an outlet of entertainment, the military conceived what is known as the Program, where every season a group of 42 kids are kidnapped at random, placed in an island, and whatever, I said it already at the top. And it’s broadcasted nationally on a state-sponsored TV channel. It’s kinda reminds me of the gladiator battles in ancient Rome – violent spectator sport.

The story follows the current season’s group of kids, and we watch as the dynamic of the different individuals play out in a violent fashion. The violence you’d expect are present, but what surprised me is the detailed backgrounds for some of the kids, and you get a sense of their motivation when faced with such odds and situation. There’s a kid though whose idealism started to grate after the first 20 pages, The word tinderbox was playing on my mind as the story developed, especially in scenes where groups of students who’ve taken to an alliance, and that was well done.The diverse cast and the genuinely different outlooks that each of the characters brought to the table showed the many facets of the human condition, not just in the immediacy of the situation but a reflection of the totalitarian society as a whole. Fight the system and face the potential consequences in the face of overwhelming odds, or fly high and reap the rewards of conforming and playing to the rules of the game? Not a completely mindless bloodbath, this.

Overall it was enjoyable.

There’s this series of books by Suzanne Collins called the Hunger Games which is apparently quite popular nowadays. I don’t know much about it, but the plot involves young children being isolated and they have to fight each other to survive. And apparently Collins denies ever knowing about the Battle Royale until after she submitted her manuscript. Uh.

Sherlock, the new-ish BBC TV Series

Just watched the first season of Sherlock (all of 3 episodes, albeit they are 1.5 hours long each).

As a fan, I’m always wary of remakes or retcons, and the most visible recent effort is the Downey Jr/Guy Ritchie movies. I have to say I was not impressed.

However, Sherlock, the 2010 TV series from BBC was not what I expected at all. In that it was actually good. Hah.

Sherlock is set in modern day London, and our eponymous hero is a 30-something, blackberry-toting consulting detective, and trusty Watson is a medical doctor/soldier most recently returned from Afghanistan. Holmes is characteristically arrogant, acerbic but technically more savvy – often doing searches on his mobile while analysing the crime scenes. John is loyal and trusty, able companion, as he should be.

The stories has its roots in the canonical stories from Doyle, but of course the writers put twists and mashes things up. Those familiar with the original stories, though, will find plenty of references and cheeky little nods to the original material. There are also fine touches which highlight the contrast of the solving cases in the 1890s with the modern era. So if you’ve always wondered how Holmes would solve a case in the world of instantaneous communications, camera phones and wildly liberal social norms, instead of telegrams and gender stereotypes, your prayers have been answered.

The main problem I have with the show is somehow making me believe Sherlock has all the understanding of the criminal world, be able to establish a
network of contacts among the urban homeless, on-the-fly access to medical labs/mortuaries, able to hold up in a fight, have innate understanding of the human condition, all while being what appears to be a mere 30-something year old man, seems a little bit of stretch.

Putting that aside, however, I find the stories fascinating, the acting well done (mostly), and funny. Way better than Downey Jr.

Conclusion: Watch it.

Trivia: I was reading up on the upcoming The Hobbit, and found that the actor who plays Watson here is the Bilbo Baggins (lead!), and Holmes is Smaug. What a coincidence.

Review of Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

My word, this book is dull. I had high hopes for this one, seeing that it appears in so many best-of lists. Even a Jeremy Irons performance on the audiobook (who was pretty awesome, I must say) could not detract from the extremely plodding storyline.

In summary, there’s this chap, Charles Ryder, who whilst studying in Oxford, befriended Sebastian Flyte, and then spends the novel basking in his friendship with Sebastian, meeting Sebastian’s rich, upperclass and staunchly Roman Catholic family and the goings in and out of the Flyte family mansion, Brideshead. The novel recounts Charles life as it revolves around Sebastian’s family, a story of reflection on family ties, expectations, religion and memories. In fact, the whole book is a retrospection of Ryder’s earlier life, as the novel starts with him, a middle-aged military man who in the course of his duties with his tour came across Brideshead almost inadvertently.

The writing is crisp, and the dialogue can be pretty funny in parts. The best part I have to say is the dry wit of Charles’s father, who spends some effort in tormenting Charles when he returns home to stay with father when he exhausted his funds during his study break.

Of course I’m simplifying the novel. There are parts of the novel that are complex, the relationships that are explored are complex, the sentimentality that’s evident throughout the book and the motivations of the characters, particularly between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia, are complex. But the story doesn’t move me in a way that generates excitement or urgency. This reminds me of a sequence in Robin Hobbs’s Farseer Trilogy, where in the second book, Royal Assassin, the bloody book seemed to roll along *but nothing bloody hell happens*!

(There, try to find another review that compares Waugh with a fantasy trilogy!)

If I’m pressed to find something to say about the book that’s intriguing, it’s the ambiguity in the exact nature of the relations between the main characters, Charles and Sebastian. This isn’t something that I considered while reading the book – in fact this because interesting after I was looking at reviews of the novels after I finished it. There were some odd (misplaced, I thought) passages where I raised an eyebrow, but nothing that explicitly said they were more than platonic. There was a scene where Charles was spending the summer in Brideshead with Sebastian, but their frolicking involved some stage of undress. At one point Sebastian calls out to Cordelia, his younger sister, to refrain from entering the area of the house where they were apparently lazing about without their shirts on. Like I said, I did not think much about this during the reading, but I was surprised and fascinated that this was so much in the front and centre in discussions of the book.

I considered for a time whether knowing if they really were physically getting it on affected my feelings about the book, and I decided in the end that this does not change anything at all. The book was still dull, the story did not burst forth in new understanding for me. The physical relationship between them, even if it were true, evidently wasn’t something Waugh wanted to dwell on, since Sebastian pretty much all but disappears from the story somewhere in the middle of the novel, and flitting in and out as Charles began to be described and defined by his relationship with first his wife, then with Julia.

Here’s another perspective from an Asian reader – the name Evelyn normally has been more associated with the fairer sex for the longest time. I’ve heard of Waugh for a long time, of course, but I’ve only within the last few years realized that Waugh was actually a man. I was just watching an episode of Downton Abbey where the love interest of the eldest daughter of the patriarch in the drama is named Evelyn, and I thought ‘how very English this name is’.

Haul from Big Bad Wolf

Ok, so here’s what I got at the Big Bad Wolf Books sale today (click image for a larger view):

  • Air, Geoff Ryman
  • Money, Martin Amis
  • Kraken, China Mieville
  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
  • Chronicles of the Black Company, Glen Cook
  • Market Forces, Richard Morgan
  • The World Inside, Robert Silverberg
  • Lowboy, John Wray
  • Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon
  • All The King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
  • Grey, Jon Armstrong
  • Neuropath, R. Scott Bakker
  • The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles 1-10, Roger Zelazny

 

Scenes from Big Bad Wolf Books Sale

Today was a preview-pass access only, and while I expected a lot of people, I did not expect quite so many. Only those who won the passes through the contests via their website (and perhaps some generous handouts to lucky, privileged people) were allowed to enter today. The actual day is tomorrow, and if today was any indication, tomorrow onwards would be insane.

The selection was good, and more varied that your usual warehouse sales. Some warehouse book sales were varied, but the selection was thin. Boasting 1.5 million books, I suppose you couldn’t accuse it of lacking.

I like these sales (and BBW’s in particular) because of the kind of gems you can uncover – the kinds that were either too expensive in normal bookstores, or you just couldn’t find elsewhere. It’s kinda like a treasure hunt.

This year there weren’t any gasps of astonishment or whoops of joy at finding a gem, but there were a few that I didn’t mind having. I suppose I did find one that I’m pretty pleased with – John Wray’s highly regarded Lowboy. I had the privilege of talking to him in Bookbabble last year (at least for a short while), and from all accounts his books come highly recommended. Looking forward to it.

My haul’s in the next post, so go check there for what I got. Here are some pics I took of the event. I have to say it’s incredibly poor representation of what’s there (I stood just a little back from the half-way line of the showfloor). I was busy browsing, and with Max on my arms and the clock ticking down I sort of took these as a quick snapshot of the moment.

Review of The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have long loved the Sherlock Holmes stories, since I was introduced to them when I was pretty young. I was so enamoured by the stories that it played a big part in my deciding to go to UK for my tertiary studies, just so I can steal a trip down to London to visit 221B Baker Street (I was a little bit of a let-down, looking back after so many years, but it was a dream come true nonetheless).

As big a fan as I was, however, I have never yet managed to completely read the canon of stories from Doyle, despite owning multiple editions of the stories, including my absolute treasure: The Original Illustrated ‘Strand’ Sherlock Holmes, which is a compendium of all of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle, reproduced with all the original illustrations from the pages of the Strand magazine as they first appeared!

I was pleased to find not to long ago that Audible held a sale and I saw The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Volumes 1 and 2 being sold at a very tempting price, and seeing that I’m getting a lot of reading done on the road, and relishing the chance to rekindle my love for the detective, I got them both.

Volume 1 consists of two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, followed by a collection of short stories entitled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

What can I say, aside from the fact that if you haven’t yet sampled Sherlock Holmes, what the heck are you doing reading my silly reviews than to head down to your nearest bookstore (or online store), buy the darn books and start reading? The short stories are in an easily digestible format, and leads you on to a great adventure in detection. Delightful stories that will have you thinking long after you’ve finished them. Classics such as A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, The Adventure of the Speckled Band are all here.

What struck me was the quality of the stories of those that aren’t so famous in this collection, and I’ve always wondered about the fact that some of these stories must be of variable quality to be excluded from the general mindset (unlike say Speckled Band, which I think most English readers would have heard of at one time or another being associated with Sherlock Holmes). On a whole, however, I found the stories to be more or less pretty good.

Because I’m listening to them one after another in a continuous fashion, and maybe due to a most excellent reader in Charlton Griffin, I’m picking up some very distinctive Doyle mannerisms in the stories. Sherlock Holmes has a tendency to say ‘pray continue your most interesting statement’, or some variation of this when a client starts to tell their conundrums. And the word ‘singular’ comes up in almost every story – a most ‘singular occurrence’ or most ‘singular event’. And the deductions – sometimes to my jaded mind that some of the deductions seem far fetched. But not nearly as much as the ones from the latter stories.

In all, my favourite stories from this collection include:

  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery
  • The Adventure of the Speckled Band (this is a classic, and rightly so!)
  • The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
  • The Adventure of the Red-Headed League

More from the succeeding collections, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

The Razer BlackWidow Keyboard – and incredibly satisfying tappity-tap-tap!

Over the years I have been hankering for a mechanical keyboard, ever since I saw the Das Keyboard. It wasn’t the look of the keyboard so much (although a completely label-less keyboard does project a not-undesirable l33t factor), but the promise of a durable, comfortable, and most importantly, the promise of a very audible keyboard click as you tap.

I don’t know when I had this idea that the sound a keyboard makes somehow would influence my joy in typing on a keyboard, but it does. There’s a very satisfying assurance and some unspeakable pleasure that emanates from typing on such a keyboard. Since I type reasonably fast, and I type *a lot*, I was looking forward to getting one of these babies.

So fast forward to the present. I have long believed that Malaysia doesn’t stock mechanical keyboards.  Imagine my surprise that about a month ago, I found out that Razer has recently created a mechanical keyboard called the BlackWidow. After dilly-dallying for a while, I sunk the cash and carried my new toy home.

The one I got was the BlackWidow, not the Ultimate edition (which sports USB and audio jacks, along with backlit keys).

My first impression after I unpacked it was that it was heavy. I love the weight, and it certainly wouldn’t be sliding around your desk. My second impression was that the keys were a little cramped. I was used to the standard Microsoft/Logitech full-sized keyboard (not the compact design crap where they rearrange the keys to make the whole keyboard smaller, which forces you to take a few days to get used to it, and then screws up all your bearings when you use an actual keyboard on another machine). The BlackWidow does seem smaller somehow, and my first few sentences on it came out as gibberish. However, it’s still a full-sized keyboard, and after getting used to the orientation, the speed came back pretty quickly.

It has a row of special macro keys on the furthest left of the keyboard, which caused some irritation when I reached for the left-hand SHIFT and CTRL.

However. However. The keys are magnificent to type. The clicks and taps sound full and very satisfying, and they key-presses triggers a tactile switch that makes it a pleasure as my fingers dance through the keyboard. I found out pretty quickly that not all my colleagues were fans of the noise. I wasn’t going to leave it in the office, so lucky them.

Since I’ve never yet tried any other mechanical keyboards, I don’t really know how this compares with something like the Das Keyboard, or the SteelSeries7G/6G. One thing they do have going for them is the fact that they are not really so out-and-out gaming centric, a looks a little more subtle, but that’s not exactly a big problem for the BlackWidow (at least for me).

Looking forward the many millions of key-presses on this baby.

Review of 2666, by Roberto Bolano

Really, I don’t know why I persist in calling these posts ‘reviews’. They are more like thoughts. Anyway.

Unlike most people, I did not have problems reading the book, in fact I rather enjoyed it. That’s because I didn’t *read* it, but rather listened to it as an audiobook. Facetious, I know, but hey, I got through the book. And the experience was generally positive. I can imagine that as a book 2666 would present a huge challenge to me, because it’s very testing in places. But it was very easy to digest this monster of a book during my daily commute, as the story was being read out by supremely talented actors. Even as an audiobook there are sections of the novel that was hard to get through, but I did manage to get the complete 40 hours it required. But a little more on that later.

A bookish background then. My previous Bolano was By Night in Chile, which was the first 100-odd-page novel to defeat me completely. It was laced with so many South American literary, historical and cultural references that was just too much for your average Malaysian Chinese reader to truly relate to, not to mention the fact the book was narrated by a character who would fit right in with the Mad Hatter (if Bolano was an eccentric, slightly crazy Englishman). The psychedelic experience didn’t stop me from leaping at the chance to try 2666, though, as the waves of good reviews for the book meant that it was something that I had to sample. But I braced myself for a wild, barely coherent, ride.

Imagine my surprise that I actually could understand the novel this time. Not that it was easy, mind you.

There are 5 interlinked stories within this huge tome, each pretty much an own book in it’s own right. These stories are very varied and loosely tied together by a few commonalities. But the largest character in the story isn’t even a person; it’s the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa, which is Bolano’s version of Cuidad Juarez, a place infamous for its rapid industrial growth and high crime rate. There’s a singular chain of violent events in Juarez that clearly inspired the backdrop for 2666.

The first story is about 4 literary critics of an obscure German author named Benno von Archimboldi (and after a quick wiki search, I ascertained that Archimboldi was also fictional. Hey, Bolano sprinkled names of actual authors in there, ok?). They travel to Santa Teresa in hopes of finding this elusive author, and in the course of the story learns something of their journey and of themselves. The second, a story centered around a supporting character in the first story. The third is of an American journalist, who arrives in Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match but ends up working towards a story about the violent events in the city.

By far the most striking feature of the novel was the contents of the fourth book, which is made up almost entirely of a catalogue of murders that occurred in Santa Teresa. Clearly inspired by the real life events, in the book Santa Teresa is the setting where hundreds of women were killed in a short period of a few years, and Bolano took to listing out, almost hypnotically, how each of the murder was carried out.  How the body was found, how old the victim was (most were young), at what state the body was in, whether the victim was sexually assaulted or not, and so on and so forth (probably not every murder, but by the fiftieth killing you kind of lose track). The result was a hugely bleak and depressing novel. A lot of the victims were young teens barely out of their childhood, and this did not make easy listening. This section of the novel served, as a friend commented, to numb the reader to the violence, and by jolly did it succeed brilliantly. By the end of the section you have a sense of complete and utter helplessness, a silent fury at the authorities who seem impotent at addressing the issue. At parts the book even hinted at those in power being complicit in these crimes.

To tie it all up, the fifth story centres around a young German soldier called Hans Richter, who eventually grows into an author of some stature, and later in life discover ties that sends him to Santa Teresa.

The story is sprawling, with lots of jaunts to places that you aren’t always entirely sure whether it belongs to the larger narrative. In the first book, there’s an underlying history about a fatalistic artist who chopped off his own hand, had it embalmed and set it as a centrepiece of a huge work of art. The text goes some way into explaining the backstory of this fascinating individual, but there’s nothing there to indicate he’s directly involved in the main plot, besides serving as an allegory or as a metaphorical symbol that I cannot grasp.  And the dreams. Everyone dreams here, and the dreams are strange, haunting, frightening.

The writing is pretty interesting. There’s a languid, not quite plodding quality. At times rambling when describing the most mundane of coffeeshops, other times sparse like the desert surrounding the maquiladora in Santa Teresa. Bolano took his time with the words, and the one thing that I realized was how much more effort it would have taken to digest the work when actually read, as opposed to it having performed for you.

Speaking of performance, a word on the voice actors. Each of the 5 books were narrated by different male actors, and they did a magnificent job. The characters had at turns German, French, Italian, Spanish, American and English English accents, and the actors did a fabulous job on them.

The novel doesn’t have an ending in the traditional sense, as Bolano actually originally planned to have these five books to stand individually. Still, the novel attempts to bring the events in all the books to a full circle, and seemed to me managed it to some extent. I’m a stickler for a very tidy summation, and I have to say the story doesn’t answer all the questions, but still it made many people deliriously happy at this monument of a novel.

I cannot say I loved the novel, as it lays a little beyond my literary comprehension capabilities at present. It was surely enjoyable and incredibly educational journey.

And one last thing. The fifth book was about Archimboldi’s early life, his start into writing and his emergence as a prominent writing. Early part of his career his publisher asked a critic what he thought of Archimboldi’s work. The critic thought his work was reminiscent of a Malaysian writer! I’m not kidding – I almost fell off my chair when I heard this (except I was driving, and falling off my seat in the car would… nevermind). A couple of things crossed my mind: First, Bolano mentioned Malaysia, how cool is that! Second, Bolano almost certainly pulled that out of his ass, because there were no Malaysian authors of prominence that I could think of that would warrant a comparison (even to a fictional author!) at the time, unless he read Malay, which I’m willing to bet that he did not. Even then it seems unlikely.

Current Reflections on Badminton from All England 1990

Watching Joko Suprianto v Zhao Jian Hua at the All-England 1990 Mens Singles Finals at present. As the match wore on, it became clear the little differences between the game played in those days and the games played now. In an earlier blog post I had wondered how you could compare the greats of yesteryears against those of today, given that so much has changed since then. But the video was very illustrative – the players from before were slower, were more inclined to lift the shuttles, the footwork comprised of seemingly more steps, net shots were nowhere as tidy and close to the net cord as they are today. Every time a net shot was played I kept expected the opponent to pounce on it.

Plus they didn’t ask for shuttle changes all that often too.

Dead-Tree Book to the Rescue

I was reading Bujold’s Cetaganda from my cache of the Vorkosigan ebooks (as I detailed here), when my son decided it was his turn on the iPad or he’ll not want to take an afternoon nap.  I was in the middle of a very interesting development in the book, but my son insisted.  So as I was fully prepared to get down from the high I got from the story, I scanned my shelves and voilà !  I have a copy of Cetaganda, after all. 

The evening was enjoyable once again.

The Beginning of Something Much Larger: The Motorola Atrix 4G

I mentioned in my last post about a future where all our computing needs will be encapsulated in our mobile superphones, where these portable devices will be powerful enough to meet all our computing needs for work and play.  When I started writing the post, I didn’t know of a newly announced device that actually meets one of what I mentioned as a key feature for such a superphone – the ability to dock to a terminal complete with a keyboard and monitor.  I was quite excited at the time to find that I was such a gifted clairvoyant, but seeing that I had the original post in draft instead of published form, it was hard to claim any sort of credit.  Still, I was quite excited to find out a little more.

The Motorola Atrix 4G, announced at the recent CES 2011, has plenty of writeups on the web on its capabilities as a next generation Android device, and I’ll leave it to you to search the landscape if you want to find out more.  The part that I want to talk about, and has interested me the most is its ability to turn into a laptop.  The Atrix is a super-spec’ed smartphone (at the time of writing anyway, when you read this in a year’s time you’ll probably cringe at the specs) in its own right, but Motorola designed this phone to be extended to be used like a regular netbook.  The Atrix has a laptop dock, which when paired with the Atrix, provides ‘webtop’ experience.  Here’s what Motorola says about the dock:

MOTOROLA ATRIX 4G accessories redefine just how smart a smartphone can be. The revolutionary Lapdock™ looks like a slim laptop but only comes to life when you dock your ATRIX 4G. That’s when the webtop app fires up, giving you a big screen look at your phone’s content, access to the web with a standard browser and more. Plus, all docks for ATRIX 4G remember your preferences for a customized experience.

 

This is very close to the vision of the future I would like to see very soon.  Imagine the dock being available everywhere – be it a laptop dock, or a computer terminal dock, or what AT&T is currently selling as an optional package: the Entertainment Access Kit, which includes the Motorola HD Multimedia Dock and remote control, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a wireless mouse – all to connect to the device.

 

I’ll summarize the reviews for you – the Atrix is an awesome phone, but as a webtop it has some way to go to reach the sort of performance levels we’re used to seeing in a dedicated netbook or laptop.  Also, the price is forbidding – the laptop dock itself costs as much as an actual netbook.

As technology is wont to do, future iterations of similar devices would bring the costs down while improving the device capabilities and raw power.  As I’ve said before, the next few years would be quite exciting to watch.

(Images from CNET and TechNews.org)

Soon Everything You Need Will Be In Your Pocket

Two days ago I bought an app for my iPad that not only teaches me how to do the crunch properly, but also detects whether I’m reaching the appropriate height, and tells me to slow down when I’m doing it too fast.  I use another app to catalogue the books in my library (still many shelves to go!) and am extremely thrilled to be able to browse what I have in the palm of my hand.  I manage my fantasy football and do quick lookups on the internet pretty much on the fly. 

I really love my iPad.  Not for the obvious reasons only (i.e. gaming, reading, etc), but the realization of the potential of such a powerful device.  This got me thinking about the personal devices in our lives.

Not everyone realizes that for most of us, we’re lugging around a device that is more powerful than the supercomputers of yesteryears.  The amount of firepower in our pockets nowadays beggars belief.  The smartphones nowadays, augmented with apps, are practically doing most of what we need do on a daily basis previously only possible on a desktop machine. 

I’m envisioning a very near future where all we ever need to communicate, work, entertain ourselves and others and generally get things done will be encapsulated in our mobile superphones (which in all probability will have to adopt a newer moniker than a ‘smartphone’).  This all-in-one device would be powerful enough to run all our applications for work and play, enough storage to keep everything we would need on the go, and of course, the communication infrastructure to keep in touch with people we need to.  The iPads and tablets of the world, while also able to fulfill these requirements, are still too big to be truly mobile.  They serve their purposes in certain scenarios, sure, but we’re talking about the dream of being truly mobile – not needing to lug anything other than your superphone device.

Even today, a lot this is already possible.  The only problem yet to be solved comprehensively is in the domain of the mobile device user interface.  Anyone who’ve attempted to actually work on a smartphone for any length of time will be able to tell you – the current form factor does not make for a conducive and productive environment.  It’s simply too small.  Either it’s the screen size, or tactile feedback when typing, or multitasking, it’s simply not the right form factor.  Even the iPad isn’t the answer to portable computing for exactly the same reasons.  Try writing long email or creating presentations for extended periods of time on it, and you’ll soon start to look for a computer where you can actually sit down and finish the work.

However, this can potentially be solved with the addition of external connections to more traditional input and output interfaces like a monitor or a keyboard.  Imagine a future where terminals exists where all you need to do is to plug in your mobile device to turn it into a mobile workstation, complete with keyboards, monitors and mice and other peripherals.  Imagine projectors with docks where you plug in your mobile phone to access your presentations.  When this happens, then it’ll become simply a matter of infrastructure.  These ‘terminals’ would then be part of public infrastructure the same way you’re expected to be provided with a corporate phone extension in a new company, or public phone booths.

Already the kind of apps that’s being developed for the smartphones of today, what with the equipped cameras and gyros, accelerometers, compasses, GPSes and other sensors really make the device extremely capable. 

I’m really excited to see what happens in the next few years.  I’m hoping that I will soon only need to bring my mobile phone with me when I go to work.  Goodbye, laptop bag!

(I’m aware that as of this writing the Motorola Atrix 4G already some of what I’ve talked about, but I wrote the bulk of this post before the Atrix was announced, so instead of rewriting, I will say my piece, then talk about the Atrix in a separate post).

One Format to Rule Them All…

A daily routine conundrum, which leads to my wishful thinking but technically possible “big idea.”

Ok.  I’m listening to a non-fiction audiobook at the moment, and the details as it’s dictated to me sometimes flies by at such a pace that it becomes impossible to digest at first try.  More than once I mentioned to myself that it would be extremely useful to crosscheck the audio I’m hearing to the text of the actual source material.  I would buy the book separately just so I can revisit some of the text that was read to me.  Obviously in an audiobook you need to note the time signature of the section you want to revisit, but that is a little difficult when you have both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

It would be so much easier if I can somehow marry the audiobook and the ebook version of this piece of work, and allow me to manipulate either format and have that synced with the corresponding format. 

Let me illustrate: I’m listening to the narrator saying something about the fall of the caliphate in Egypt and the uprising of the Young Turks a few chapters back and I want to revisit it.  Instead of blindly jumping back and forth on the audiobook timeline, I do a search of the text I want on the ebook version, skim through to the section I want, and click play audiobook from there.  Or alternately continue reading it from the ebook version itself.

This marries two fiercely independent pieces of work in terms of copyright, even though they are from the same source.  There are legal precedents that strictly divides these two disparate artforms, and traditionally they don’t (and can’t, legally) mix.

But let say this marriage between the forms is possible.  Why stop there? 

I have this very vague idea of a new industry standard digital file format to encompass a singular piece of work in all its myriad digital incarnations.  For example, a single digital file that holds the full text of Les Miserables, the unabridged audiobook that is synced with the text, the official (insofar as dictated by the publisher) abridged version of the same work, its accompanying audiobook, a graphic novel adaptation of the work, screenplay, songs with synced text of the lyrics, even movies or graphic novel adaptations.

This file format is not just an audiobook, or an ebook.  It’s a universal container.  A new metadata digital file. 

All media players or ebook readers will read this one format, but can only playback the parts of the work that the device is designed to work with (i.e. the iPod is only able to playback the audiobook or songs portion of Les Mis work, while the Kindle only displays the ebook text.  A computer is able to access all available formats included in this metafile).

Now I know how it crisscrosses across so many legal boundaries relating to the copyrights of each of these individual pieces of work.  This is a high-level idea for now, and the legalities will have to be dealt with later. 

The idea is crystalizing slowly, and I’m thinking that it will only give me rest if I give it a little more form.  Areas of concern include how to include more formats of the work in the same file, who owns the overarching metadata of this meta file?  How to add pieces of work to the same file, as and when it becomes available?

I’ll probably write more later.

Reading: A Concise History of the Middle East

Despite the rather tepid reviews in Amazon, I’ve settled down to the first hour of listening to the audiobook version of this baby, and am thoroughly enjoying it.  It assumes that I’m a Western reader, which is rather off-putting, but the gentle treatment of the material so far has been fascinating.  Of course, it could just be me being overly and unreasonably enamored over the trivial beginnings of the book.

History is fascinating.  This was certainly not true when I was younger, but I’m finding as I’m growing older that the world is not only complex in nature, but endlessly interesting.  Why did things happen they way they did, and does it explain why things are what they are now? 

I find myself thrust into history because of my interest in politics, and surprised at finding out just how tightly intertwined the two subjects really are.

MyBookFeeds Development Progress

Have been mucking around with MyBookFeeds.com today to try to get it working. So here’s what’s been happening:

1. Set up lylina. The problem is this hasn’t been in active development for some years now, but as a basis for an aggregator it should still hold it’s own. Unfortunately, lylina’s own aggregated feed threw out some deprecated function errors, and that would require me to delve into some PHP to fix. Nope, this isn’t good.

2. Looked up SimplePie plugin for WordPress. Now this is very interesting. Setting up WordPress sites now has become a very trivial matter with my new webhost, and after a few minutes of setup I was ready to rock. Then I found out that the plugin simply facilitated the use of SimplePie within WordPress, and it still required some programming in PHP! The plugin provided nothing in the way of a lylina-like admin console that allowed me to add feeds and customize the look. This is meant more for those who would like to add feed reading capabilities onto an existing WordPress blog, and is less a tool to create a brand new aggregator site. I figured if I were to code in PHP using SimplePie, I might as well do it from scratch, and have full control over what I needed the site to do.

3. Spent a quick hour looking at the SimplePie library. Already skirting around the possibility of diving straight into PHP. All the sample codes and tutorials were wonderful to look at, but to get it to what I want MyBookFeeds to do would still require heavy coding. Something definitely to consider in the future to do. Right now, though, I’m still looking for a quicker kill.

4. Relooked at lilina. I missed it the first time yesterday, but lilina surprisingly is still being worked on, the latest being in sept 2010! The reason lylina was chosen (and this was something brought forward from my research from several years ago when I first looked at doing MyBookFeeds) was because lilina behaves like Google Reader – it retrieves data from feeds when you visit. Lylina caches the feeds and will display static pages to visitors instead, which is a much better design choice for what i want MyBookFeeds to do. Well, it looks like lilina has gained this ability as recently as early this year, and a cron job can now be set up to refresh the content of lilina sources. Now we’re talking.

5. I started with the nightly build of lilina, and tried to set that up. I thought better to use the latest and greatest, what the author of lilina calls ‘bleeding’. However, the bleeding part was true for the wrong aspect – I spent almost 2 hours grappling with the install. There were invalid PHP calls when I attempted to set it up, and i was bleeding from my ears troubleshooting this. Then I remembered that I could fall back on the beta build, which is supposedly the last stable version. Thankfully that worked.

So now MyBookFeeds is up and running again, this time with lilina, and looking much better with a working rss feed.

Next up: interface tweaking!

MyBookFeeds–Alpha release

Ok, I have these wildly fluctuating bursts of pure manic energy to do crazy projects at highly inopportune times (like in the middle of a highly delayed work project, or when I’m behind in post-prod work for podcasts).

So I’ve always wanted to do an aggregated feed site for Malaysian book or literature blogs.  This stemmed from an exchange I had with Sharon Bakar over Facebook a couple of years ago, where she rather offhandedly mentioned this, and the prospect of starting such a site stuck with me since.  I was aware of other such aggregators at the time, but had never thought of starting one. 

So I tried to start it, thinking it couldn’t be *that* difficult.  After research, however, while it wasn’t *that* difficult, it was no walk in the park either.  I tried fiddling with tools: lilina, lylina, WordPress with the SimplePie Plugin, but after sinking in hours of research, I came to a conclusion – to have it work as I have envisioned it, I need to learn up PHP and do it using SimplePie.  However, this requires time, and time isn’t something I have in abundance right now.

The recent move to Dreamhost actually kick-started this for me (another burst of energy) and I relooked at this again.  I came back to the same conclusion I reached before pretty quickly, but I see that lilina has actually improved from the last time I saw it, and it may not be too bad an idea to quickly start up MyBookFeeds and see where it goes from there.

So, MyBookFeeds is currently running in alpha, so if you want to see it go to http://www.mybookfeeds.com/.

Book Haul from Big Bad Wolf

It’s starting to get silly for me to go to bookshops when the warehouse sales offer such a delectable selection of books at a price that simply cannot be denied.

A regular paperback is approximately RM35.  I get these at RM8 each.  Some a little more, but nothing more than RM12 or RM15.

This haul was from Oct this year.

  • The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick Cave
  • Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon
  • Busted Flush, George RR Martin, et al.
  • Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber
  • The Centauri Device, M John Harrison
  • The Boat, Nam Le
  • River of Gods, Ian M McDonald
  • The Dream Archipelago, Christopher Priest
  • Gateway, Frederick Pohl
  • Man in the Dark, Paul Auster

  • Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
  • Once on a Moonless Night, Dai Sijie
  • A Colossal Failure of Common Sense, Larry McDonald
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A Heinlein
  • The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
  • Beijing Coma, Ma Jian
  • King Rat, China Mieville
  • Scar Night, Alan Campbell
  • The Sorrows of an American, Siri Hustvedt
  • Cowboy Angels, Paul McAuley

Rambleville is back – now powered by WordPress!

After about a year of inactivity, I’ve finally managed to get something going here.

Rambleville has now been moved from Movable Type to WordPress, and changed web hosts too.  This is after a year of being locked out of my Movable Type install for Rambleville, which made it impossible for me to do anything with the blog.  I still don’t know what happened that made it impossible to access, and I don’t rule out the fact that it may have been compromised by script kiddies.

Nevertheless, the posts are intact, and I knuckled down for a couple of hours yesterday to put in the latest version of MT4, regained access to the database, upgraded it to MT5, and then promptly moved it over to WordPress.

And here we are.

So I’ll try to explain a little about my adventures in Movable Type, and how after approximately 15 mins I abandoned the idea of actually leaving Rambleville running in MT5.  Later. If you’re lucky it may even be soon.

Musing on rambleville, book blog

There are a couple of things I’m thinking of lately.  Firstly, I want to upgrade the look of this site.  It’s been a while, and I think it’s time to make sure that the look is upgraded to reflect the seriousness of all the objections that I usually make in this place.  WordPress has premium themes all over the place, and I was shocked to discover that Movable Types doesn’t really have a comparable marketplace.  As I’ve said elsewhere (read: Twitter), if you don’t have people selling stuff on your platform, you’re pretty much toast.  I’ll still keep a look around, but not being incredibly optimistic.

The other thing is I’m thinking of starting a book blog – a site where I’ll chronicle my reading journey.  It’s not a high-falutin review site; it’s not like I’m a thoughtful and prolific reader.  The genesis of this site has more to do with the fact that I’m forgetting things at an alarming rate, particularly on the things that I’ve read, what I felt before, during and after I’ve read them.  The fact that I can only recall one or two scenes from the entire book of Raymond Feist’s Magician (which I did not enjoy), makes it very difficult for me to formulate coherent points to defend my position, not just on this book, or any other that I’ve read.  And no, I don’t think that forgetting the majority of the book is really a point in and of itself.

I dislike the fact that we spend so much time reading, and only a sliver of the knowledge contained from the effort is retained.  I recently read Daniel Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, which is a fabulous book about how we make decisions, why our supposedly random decisions are in effect pretty predictable after all.  The book is endlessly fascinating, but I can’t remember most of what I’ve read, and it’s distressing!  The same with Freakonomics, and will undoubtedly be the same when I read Outliers, or Lolita, or whatever.

So the book blog is primarily a personal journal of what I’ve read, along with stuff that has to do with my reading adventure.  It’s not going to be regularly updated, but that’s ok, since it’s primarily a tool for me to remember stuff.

We’ll see how it goes as the days roll along.  I’ve had this in my head a couple of weeks now, and the task of coming up with a name for the blog is messing with my sleep.  This is an itch I desperately need to scratch soon.

Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Infrastructure Makes Me Pull My Hair Out

Not a terribly interesting title, I know, but what can I say? I believe Microsoft mangled out an Enterprise Project Management ecosystem based on Project, and doing a fantastically bad job of it.  Project is a great tool, but whoever came up with the idea of using Project as a frontend to a time reporting infrastructure was really desperate to cobble things up together.  Doubtless it’s a move towards the adage “users are familiar with the interface, so that helps lower the learning curve”, but boy did they make a mistake with this one.

I think reuse is overrated, especially if you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  Creating projects in EPM is nothing like creating real activities and task for real projects that you need to show to clients.  Using EPM forces the PM to do the work twice – once for EPM, and the other for the one that you really use in your day-to-day.

This is, how do I put it, insane.

On paper it makes sense.  Truly.  An integrated approach to having the Project Manager’s plan be tied to billing and time reporting.  In fact, it’s the only clean way.  The problem lies in execution.  If Microsoft wanted to pursue this area, why can’t EPM read the project plans that *I* create, rather than forcing me to create an abstract plan just to fulfill the requirements of tying milestones to billing and invoicing, and to time reporting?

Did I mention that the interface is monstrously complex?  There are so many things to remember about creating project plans for EPM.  Part of the power of Project is its flexibility in allowing a PM to create a plan in the manner that best suits the project.  I create milestone tasks for EPM!

I understand that it’s possible that my organization may not be using EPM ‘properly’, in that there exists the possibility for EPM to do everything I’ve just complained that it should do.  Still, the mechanics of implementing a project in this interface seems too much liked a tacked-on approach. It’s like retrofitting a car with jet engines to make it fly, simply because the pilot ‘knows how to drive a car’,

Oh, and the web interface to enter clocking?  Let me just say that AJAX has existed since Gmail came on the scene in 2004. It’s 2009 now and EPM Web has no AJAX.  Why? 

Online Stores + DRM = Convenience + General Nervousness

I’ve recently purchased a couple of games from Valve Software’s Steam service.  The service is enormously convenient – a good selection of games, constant stream of special offers, and they make it ridiculously easy to spend.  All well and good.

After a while I started to think about the fact that should the day come when Steam goes out of business, my purchased games go Poof! – as if I had never owned them.  This is because the purchased games themselves are contained within the Steam infrastructure – they are DRM-protected content that I will not be able to access without Steam.

This isn’t new, and we can see this all around us.  Kindle books are tied to Amazon’s device, and can’t be retrieved should Amazon goes out of business.  There are lots of ebooks sold today that are also encrypted in one of the many available DRM-enabled ebook formats (i.e. Microsoft Reader’s LIT, Mobipocket’s .mobi, encrypted .pdf files, etc).  In fact, my ebooks encrypted in the MS Reader format cannot be opened as there’s a problem with the activation process on my Windows Mobile smartphone.  Until recently, music purchased via iTunes cannot be played without the iPod (Apple has not too long ago made the majority of their music files unencumbered with DRM).

This makes me a little nervous.  One could argue I wouldn’t care about the games I’ve purchased by the time Valve goes out of business.  But if they were items which I owned, then at least I had the option to give it to someone, or archive it.

This brings to memory an XKCD strip that struck a chord with me: it’s meaningless to purchase a complete collection of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series on the Kindle.

The only thing that doesn’t come with DRM are actual physical commodities, e.g. dead-tree version of books.  I’ve not sunk in money in this area yet, but the pull is quite irresistible.  Especially for that perpetually-absent-from-storefronts copy of Hemann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game.

Ok, rambling over.

Oh, my. Tucker Carlson is so not doing himself a favour.

I understand what he’s saying. He’s got a point to put across.  So why did I feel the way Tucker Carlson did it was so blatantly evocative of a simple ‘revenge’ act out towards another who humiliated him?

Summary: Years ago during the 2004 campaign trail, Jon Stewart appeared in CNN’s Crossfire where Carlson was a co-host, and basically told off Carlson that Crossfire was not doing enough to ‘hold politician’s feet to the fire’ and ‘hurting America’.  The clip of Stewart’s attack became an Internet sensation.  Two weeks ago, Stewart had Jim Cramer, a CNBC financial pundit, on the Daily Show and proceeded to rip Cramer up for what Stewart considered to be Cramer’s ‘responsibility’ to the American people to expose the warning signs within the financial industry that is the precursor to today’s financial meltdown. Carlson appeared in CNN after the Cramer-Stewart interview and, uhm, ranted.

Here’s a link to The Huffington Post where Carlson rips into Jon Stewart on CNN’s Reliable Sources.

And here are the clips of Jim Cramer’s interview in the Daily Show which prompted the tirade by Carlson.

Now this is what I call reality TV. 

See for yourselves.

What, he doesn’t use pepper spray for his steaks???

Sure, this is old news already, but hey, it’s still appearing in Reuters’s list of most popular articles.

Chuck Norris has sued Penguin, the publisher of the book "The Truth About Chuck Norris: 400 facts about the World’s Greatest Human", which lists previously unknown gems such as:

  • A cobra once bit Chuck Norris’s leg. After five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.
  • Chuck Norris can charge a cell phone by rubbing it against his beard.
  • When an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” aired in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris just to be on the safe side.
  • Chuck Norris was the first person to tame a dinosaur.
  • Chuck Norris once visited The Virgin Islands. Afterward, they were renamed The Islands.
  • Every piece of furniture in Chuck Norris’s house is a Total Gym.

Obviously, these are all fake truths made in the name of fun.  I think Norris was widely denounced as a complete dunderhead when he sued, saying he was as funny as wet burlap, and that may be true.  However, it is stated that he believed Penguin and the author of the book of “misappropriated and exploited Mr. Norris’s name and likeness without authorization for their own commercial profit.”

This case reminds me of JK Rowling suing to prevent the publication of the Harry Potter Lexicon.

I’m not saying he should be suing, I’m just saying he may be all fun and smiles while the Chuck Facts is free to float around in the Internet without commercial implications, but he kicks ass when someone compiles all these things and sells it as a book, possibly even without compensation to the original writers of these gems (I don’t know) or to Chuck himself.

Hmm, maybe I should be a badminton commentator

There’s nothing more interesting to the audience of a sport to hear a smart-alec commentator who acts as though he knows everything be proven wrong.  Well, at least it’s interesting to me.  I mean, take a look at the football pundits.  They didn’t take Joe Fanboy off the streets, oh no, they actually have qualified experts who’ve actually kicked a ball in front of live spectators who paid to watch them play the game.  That’s great.  Instant credibility right there.  But that doesn’t stop them from being wrong, and sometimes, horrendously wrong.

I always grin at the guy who goes, “There’s no doubt about it, there’s too much quality in the [insert footie club] side”, or “I can’t see them losing this”, and when the match is lost, they go, “No one could have expected this, [insert the above footie club] played well below par, etc, etc”.

Nothing wrong with experts making mistakes, of course.  I’m just saying it’s entertaining to have them get their faces rubbed in.

So here comes my point (yeah, I belaboured it, so bite me) – if you like this, and if I were a sports commentator, you’d be having some fun at my expense.  I have written off Lee Chong Wei after his not-again loss to Lin Dan at the All-England.  As usual, supporting Chong Wei was an exhausting affair – you kept holding your breath hoping he’d whack Lin Dan, waving your arms and all that only to find that you’ve been doing it the whole match and you get tired. 

So I watched the Swiss Open final warily.  If there’s such a thing as watching a badminton match nonchalantly, I was doing it. And if I was the sports commentator, I would be reiterating the fact that Lin Dan has won the last [insert number] encounters between the two.

But Chong Wei won.  He played the game I was screaming at him to play from my living room during the All-England final last week. 

If I was a sports commentator, I’d be saying, “Lin Dan played well below par, etc, etc.”

Maybe I should be a sports commentator.  Hey, ESPN, want someone to relieve Gillian Clark?

Must FIFA be informed if I receive my training schedules in email, too?

This is absolutely ridiculous.  Ben Foster, the Manchester United goalkeeper used an iPod in training to learn up penalty-taking habits of Tottenham Hotspurs players leading up the the League Cup final last Sunday.  This apparently “had the potential to exploit a loophole in the laws which should be referred to FIFA", according to former Premier League referee Graham Poll.

It was such a game changer in fact that the English FA has had to come up to dispel any notions of wrong-doing in a statement, according to fourfourtwo.com.

It’s amazing to me that this should even be brought up at all.  Should anything and everything related to technology used in conjunction with football training be scrutinized as well?

Another one for WordPress!

The new version of WordPress (version 2.7) has an auto-upgrade feature that allows automatic updating of your WordPress if there is a newer version (in my case, it was 2.7.1).  A quick Tools –> Upgrade –> Automatic Upgrade and voila!  It didn’t even take a minute.

This are the little things that make WordPress so usable and effortless.   Wins many, many points with this this usability freak.

Maybe it’s time to shut up and be graceful about it…

There is always a danger when you start to believe your immortality. Granted, Roger Federer has more cause to believe in his own hype that most, seeing that he is indeed one of the more dominant figures in his sport. However, there comes a time when you have been completely and utterly beaten that maybe it’s better to be gracious about it and let the worthy winner bask in the sunlight for a bit.
Modesty has never been Federer’s forte. Some would say he can pretty much say whatever he wants, and I totally agree. The man is entitled to his opinions. But perhaps he should start looking at the stats and concentrate on bettering his winning ratio against Rafael Nadal than to keep offering up excuses for his defeats.
After a while it becomes tedious to hear him complain about his shortcomings rather than to praise his conqueror. Like in the case of the Aussie Open mens singles final 2009, where he said things like, “In a fifth set, anything can happen. That’s the problem. Not usually the better player always wins. Just a matter of momentum sometimes” just comes across like the musings of a sore loser. And what about the disbelieve when Federer found out that Andy Murray has been installed as the favourite at the start of the Aussie Open?

“He’s playing well and finished well last year. But I’m surprised that the bookies say he’s the favourite. He’s never won a slam, it’s surprising to hear.”
“He’s playing with good confidence. But winning a slam is a different animal, not many guys have been able to do it.”

Murray, of course, beat Federer in their last three encounters, including twice in January alone.
Nadal and Federer have great finals, and both times now Nadal has denied Federer his chance of making his mark in history. This is no fluke – against all odds, Nadal pushed arguably the best player of his generation to another gruelling 5 set epic in a Grand Slam final, and most importantly, winning it. Nadal is only 22, already has 6 Grand Slams and has nowhere to go but up. At that age, Federer only had 2 Grand Slams titles. I won’t be surprised if Rafael Nadal, one of the most gracious, humble and grounded top athletes I have seen, overtakes Federer’s achievements.
I much prefer Federer’s game to Nadal’s – it’s more varied, nuanced, and is simply entertaining in a way that Sampras’s game never was, and much better than Nadal’s constant power play. But Nadal has the better temperament – he shows a maturity that goes way beyond his years. I wish I would be that matured and gracious at 22 (I know I wasn’t, since I can’t play tennis. Aaaanyway…).
Roger, maybe graciously accepting defeat, giving Rafa his due and generally letting Rafa his time in the sun is in the long run a better thing for you than to always point out that the other won because you didn’t play your best. This has the effect of having the media pour their attention to him, moving the pressure off your back, allowing you to improve away from the harsh spotlight that’s constant and distracting. This is a good thing, and it’s something you may need to get things back on track.
Face it, your time at the pinnacle of tennis has past. It’s now up to you to claw your way back, without looking like a prune doing it.

The Malaysian online news cycle for our own sports is getting embarrassing!

I find it utterly unacceptable that none of our 2 major online news channels updated Lee Chong Wei’s win in the Malaysian Open 2008.  We’re talking about a local boy who happens to be World No 1, playing in one of the top international Open tournaments in the world of Badminton, which also happens to be in our freaking backyard!

I understand that TheStar and NST doesn’t have a 24/7 news-cycle, but it’s it about time we did?

The only one that I’m aware of that had this news was Bernama.

When I did a Google search, Bernama wasn’t on the top 10 list.  I had to find out from Channel News Asia, the 24-hour news network from our most beloved of neighbours, Singapore, who had their representatives sent home a long time ago, probably by our players too (I’m out of the country, which is why I had to rely on the net for news).

Google regularly places TheStar as one of the go-to places for badminton news.  I don’t know why, but it regularly appears in Google News.  I would hazard and say that thestar,com.my is far and away the top Malaysian news portal in the world for all things Malaysian.  Why doesn’t it have a 24-hour news cycle, at least for Malaysian-related news?

A search will yield BadmintonCentral forums, rather than a news site.  I don’t have a problem with BadmintonCentral, but I want news immediately, rather than to wade through posts to find what I want.  There’s a time for news articles, and there’s a time for feedback on news.  This is not the time for the latter where I was concerned.

Isn’t it about time that our newspapers start being a little more, how shall I put it, 21st century?  At the very least when our athletes are concerned or for high-profile tournaments held in Malaysia, or (in this case) both, it may project a better image of our ability to provide *our* news at a timely basis if we did something about it.

My Top 10 Badminton Players of All-Time – Epilogue

If you’re just joining in, I’ve written a short series of posts related to my top badminton players of all-time, an entirely personal list of who I think rule the roost in the world of badminton.

If you want to get up to speed, the other posts are as follows:

In writing this series of posts I thought of a few things.

First is the evolution in sports and how it distorts any reasonable attempts at deciding who’s the ‘best’.  Not just in badminton, but in almost any sport you care to name.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I watch athletes today I wonder constantly how the the greats of yesteryears compare to the greats of today.  As time passes, so many things have changed.  The training methods and tools have improved, the diet that top athletes are being put through now is much more carefully planned, replete with supplements the best technology can produce.  Also on technology, the gear that the athletes have available for them now are far and away much better than before.  The Speedo LZR Racer, for instance, is an example – where of the 77 world records broken to date since its introduction in Feb 2008, 72 of them were by swimmers wearing the hi-tech swimsuit.

Consider how these changes affect sports: for football, the technique in controlling a modern ball is surely different than the old one.  Would Pele be able to compete in today’s game?  Consider Navratilova or Evert with someone like Venus or Serena Williams – how could their games compare?  Remember Navratilova has more titles that both of them combined, but I would think that Navratilova’s game in her prime could not match the powerplay of either of the Williams sisters.  Would you still pick Navratilova?  People have pondered how Tiger would have performed with Nicklaus or Palmer in their prime.  Who is ultimately the better tennis player, Federer, or Sampras?

The point is, there really isn’t a satisfactory answer.

When I started compiling this list, I kept thinking about the most quantifiable way to justify my list.  Questions similar to the ones I illustrated above come up again and again.  Turns out that there really isn’t a foolproof way of doing it, and the list remains subjective, emotional and cannot be proved by empirical evidence (pretty much what I said in the prologue).

Having said that, I believe the standards for the sport are being pushed higher and higher as we go along.  The shuttlers train harder, run further, play stronger, jump higher.  It is this believe I think that so many of the modern players dominate my list.

So anyway, I wanted to use this ‘epilogue’, of sorts, to acknowledge some of the players that I left out, some who will elicit screams of rage from badminton fans at large.

1. Morten Frost Hansen

For me, it was a toss-up between Yang Yang and Frost.  Frost had a longer and more decorated career, and was certainly not a pushover as a top singles badminton player.  He won practically everything there is to win during his playing days, with the notable exception of the World Championships.  To top it off, he is a brilliant coach, and did wonders for the teams he tenured with (the same could be said of Yang Yang as well, now that I think of it).

If I were blessed with a better memory, I would remember more of Frost’s battles, but as it is, it’s more Yang Yang than Frost, and to top it off, when he did win a match I remembered, it was against Misbun during the All-England final, breaking my young heart and irrevocably screwed my mental image of him as a bad, bad man.

2. Rudy Hartono

I suppose the only reason he’s not in my list is because I’ve never seen him play.  He dominated All-England for 8 years, and is considered pretty much The Man in Indonesia.  He was also successful in men’s doubles, which something that you don’t see nowadays at all.

He’s in this list because in the course of my research his record pretty much awed me.

3. Zhao Jianhua

Yang Yang is starting to look like a strange choice, doesn’t it?  Not only has he edged out Frost, he was also chosen ahead of this gentlemen.  Zhao Jianhua, for all who remembered him, is widely (and I mean widely) regarded to be the best player of all time.  Even now.  His claim to fame: incredibly tricky player with an arsenal of skills.  He’s fast, deceptive and deadly.  Unfortunately, he is equally as well known for his inconsistency.  This mercurial player is more unpredictable than Dennis Rodman’s hairstyles – you’ll never know when he’s going to lose.  My most vivid memory of him was his match against Rashid Sidek in 1992 as first singles in the Thomas Cup semi-finals, which Zhao lost.  I remember a dodgy line call that settled the first set for the Malaysian (Zhao was very unhappy with the call), but despite Rashid playing a superbly boring game to neutralize Zhao’s attacking, Zhao couldn’t get his act together to win.

(Actually, perhaps I should say Rashid won in spite of playing a superbly boring game.)

Taufik was also tagged as being inconsistent.  But Zhao Jianhua in my mind seemed even more so.

4. Ge Fei/Gu Jun

Women’s doubles pair.  China.  Unbeatable.  Dynamic duo.  Won practically every match I’ve seen them play.  Could be me, but sometimes I see the boredom in both their eyes when playing in finals of international tournaments. “Sigh, Ge Fei, how I wish they’d just give us the medal now.”  “Sigh, look at her, Gu Jun, her hair is in a mess after that body smash I just did.”  “Sigh, I wonder what’s on TV now?”

And it’s so creepy (and weirdly funny) watching Ge Fei, who hardly needs to catch her breath throughout matches.  You’ll never see her huffing and puffing like Bao Chunlai (who looks like he’s run a marathon after just 3 points).  She’s as cool as they come.  “Oh, another point.  Yawn…”

I was most impressed with Ge Fei at the time, as she was the one who could partner a guy in mixed doubles and win loads of trophies too.  She was pretty much installed as my most impressive female player until Gao Ling came along.  But even then, I don’t think even Gao Ling had the unmistakable air of invincibility that Ge Fei and Gu Jun had during those days.

Before I close out this series I want to mention that we’re living very enabled times.  The internet has transformed our daily lives, and will continue to encompass more and more aspects of our lives.  This holds true to the true blue badminton fan as well.  If you’ve ever missed a match you wanted to see, or, more importantly, you want to watch an evergreen player whom you’ve never seen before to see how they used to play the game, the internet is a fantastic resource.  The BadmintonCentral forum holds more ba
dminton freaks in one place than anywhere I know, and Youtube has a great selection of clips of great players.  Badmintontorrents can point you the way to even more downloads of matches.

Agree or disagree with either my train of thoughts, or my choice of players?  Let me know in the comments!

See also:

My Top 10 Badminton Players of All-Time – Part 3

This is a continuation of my previous posts on my Top 10 badminton players of all-time.  My previous posts include the Prelude, Part 1 and Part 2.

To continue:

4. Tony Gunawan

A true doubles specialist, and someone I consider to be pretty much the best doubles player ever.  Yes, I think he’s better than Park Joo Bong, or Li Yongbo, or Kim Dong-moon, or whoever else you care to name.

He has won countless top tier competitions with a variety of partners in both men’s and mixed doubles.  There are players who are just lucky to win titles after just one partner change, but fellow is so gamely he doesn’t seem to mind who he wins titles with.  A testament, of course, to his playing abilities.

Gunawan is my poster boy for thinking doubles play.  His modus operandi seems to be to bewilder opponents.  Supremely experienced and seemingly impervious to pressure, if he weren’t starting to age he’s still be at the top of the world rankings.

And I say this with all due respect to Howard Bach: anyone who can win the World Championships partnering a player not among the world’s elite deserves much adulation, praise and monetary rewards, and of course, a mention in my list.  I saw the World Championship men’s doubles finals 2005, and remember being increasingly incredulous as Gunawan (then playing for the US) masterfully controlled the court while crafting opportunities for his partner Bach to use his only available weapon – his smash.  And this against his current partner Chandra Wijaya, at that time partnering Sigit Budiarto.  Wijaya and Budiarto are no chopped liver, I can assure you.  Gunawan/Bach’s win gave the United States (the United States!) their first ever World Championship gold.  Even Malaysia hasn’t got one of those, and Malaysia is a country where people on the street actually know what badminton is!

(My dearest American friends, I apologize if this seems flippant.  Imagine if you will the Olympics Gold for men’s basketball was won by Malaysia.  You’d be amazed and appreciative, but still incredulous.  And the fact remains that 99% of the American population does not know they have a Badminton World Championship gold medal.  I asked.)

I really liked that he and his best friend Chandra Wijaya have reunited a couple of years ago to tour the circuit entirely on their own (with sponsorship, I understand) to play, completely without pressure and to enjoy the game.

3. Gao Ling

My favourite player to watch, bar none.  Gao Ling’s the most jovial personality I’ve ever seen in my years of watching badminton matches.  She is very good-natured, and always has a self-deprecating smile for a missed shot or a good play.

I really like watching her play.  Every other player on the court puts on a poker face, like going through the motions in another day at the office (Taufik Hidayat comes to mind.  He doesn’t even seem to need to catch his breath).  Gao Ling is refreshingly different, she wears her feelings on her sleeve, and as I’ve mentioned in a very old post of mine, she soothes my soul, and makes badminton so much fun.

After Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the wuxia novels of Jin Yong, Gao Ling is the third most painful reminder of regret that I can’t read Chinese.  Apparently the juiciest badminton gossips can be gleaned from Chinese tabloids, and while Google Translate enables me to read some of the stories, it takes an incredible amount of effort to understand the translation (and to avoid laughing too much).  I learned that she went out for a time with Chen Hong (I don’t know why, he’s always so sour-looking, such an antithesis to her very nature), another top Chinese men’s singles shuttler, and when they broke off, there was a big commotion in the news.  I remember feeling sad, and hoped that this nice girl finds someone equally nice.

No, I’m not insane.  This is probably the closest I’ve got to idol worship.

Oh, did I mention that she was also a winner?  I’m sorry, I just got carried away praising her demeanour that I forgot to mention that she is a brilliant doubles specialist in the mold of the formidable Ge Fei – able to play at the highest level in mixed and women’s doubles.  She is fast, tenacious and has great anticipation.

Considered one of the best woman doubles player of all time, she has stood on the winners podium at the All-England for the last 8 years, either as women’s doubles or mixed doubles champion, and sometimes both.  She was an Olympics gold medal winner in 2000 and 2004 in mixed doubles, 4 time World Championship winner and countless other titles.

See?  Nice fun-loving people don’t always finish last.

As a bonus, check out one of the longest badminton rallies I’ve seen, featuring (who else?) Gao Ling.

2. Taufik Hidayat

The world’s most innately talented badminton player.  On pure talent alone, I think this chap beats all.  A precocious teenager when he burst onto the scene, he is noted for this cool and calm demeanour, and a mastery of the game that is well beyond his years.

I think his reputation has a gifted talent comes from his shot-making ability.  He is not known for his ability to retrieve shots, or his attacking ability (although he has that also).  I think it is his ability to improvise, to create a shot out of nothing, to attack when it seems like he is on the ropes.  Of course, the prime example of this is his world-famous backhand smash.

He is always dangerous.  He is the one player that the Chinese are looking out for.  He is the one that has the Malaysian players shake their heads when they find that he is in their draw.  Even now, when he is supposedly past his prime, he is still winning Super Series tournaments.  People tend to forget that he is only 28 this year, because he has been on the tour so long.

Before Lin Dan came along, he was the bad boy of badminton.  He went head-on against the Indonesian Badminton Federation when they changed his coach, and gave a walkover to Lin Dan in a semifinal match over a disputed line call (that match was less than 10 minutes old when he walked out).

But whatever tantrums he threw, he will still be remembered in my mind as the maestro.

He may not be my top badminton pick, but he is definitely my favourite player of all time.  I know I’m all the more fortunate in my life to have loved badminton, and to have watched Taufik Hidayat play.

1. Lin Dan

It’s possible to quantify a player’s success in sports.  No matter how passionately you believe a
player to be good, you cannot argue with the record.  It’s like how some are adamant that Michael Chang was one of the best and brightest young talents ever to emerge for tennis, but where are his trophies?  It’s irrelevant just how gifted a player is if he doesn’t have anything to show for it.

No matter what your feelings are for Lin Dan, there are a couple of things that cannot be denied:

  1. World No 1 from 2004 for an almost consecutive period of 4 years.  Not an easy feat in the modern game (Chong Wei was very briefly No 1 in 2006 – something like 5 minutes, I think).  I can’t think of anyone who dominated the sport so thoroughly since Rudy Hartono.
  2. Including singles and team events, he won 6 titles in 2004, 4 titles in 2005, 8 titles in 2006, 7 titles in 2007 and 4 titles in 2008 (even though he was resting for almost 4 months after his Olympics gold!).  And that’s not including the times he came second.  Oh, and by titles, I mean Super Series and Grand Prix titles, not domestic or satellite tournament titles, ok?

Who cares if he had a bust-up with his coach, or that he was a sore loser during the awards ceremony after losing the 2006 Malaysian Open final?  So what if Taufik pronounced him as ‘arrogant’?  Lin Dan is virtually unbeatable, and have been for the longest time.  At 26, he still has at least 2 years of top flight badminton in him (Han Jian was still winning titles at 29, Gade at 32).

His domination of the game seems so effortless and total.  After winning the Beijing Olympics gold, he was not playing (I’m tempted to say enjoying his win) for almost 4 months before coming back to the Super Series tour playing in the China Open, and promptly won it.

Apparently he’s good looking too, enough to attract the leggy beauty Xie Xingfang, a former World No 1 Chinese female singles shuttler, and countless screaming, hysterical fans.

I can’t help but draw some parallels between Lin Dan’s achievements with those of Roger Federer’s and Tiger Wood’s, but bearing in mind that badminton is more physically intensive than tennis (I don’t think I want to compare the physical intensity between badminton and golf.  If you have any doubts, please buy a TV).

The fact that Chong Wei dispatched Peter Gade with such authority in the BWF Super Series Masters Finals in Sabah in Dec 2008 seemed to underline the fact: No matter how devastating Chong Wei may seem, the world knows there’s still one other who is even better.

My top badminton player pick is a champion of champions.

p.s. I must say though, that his nickname, ‘Super Dan’, has got to be one of the stupidest nicknames for a top athlete I have ever had the misfortune of hearing.  I mean, come on!  I’m sure it translates well in Chinese, but in English it sounds like a washing detergent.

That’s it!  This is my Top 10 badminton players of all-time.  There’s still an Epilogue to this series, where I pick the ones that almost made it to the list.  That’s coming tomorrow.

See also:

My Top 10 Badminton Players of All-Time – Part 2

This is a continuation of my previous posts on my Top 10 badminton players of all-time.  My previous posts include the Prelude, and Part 1.

To continue:

7. Zhang Ning

China has produced a lot of top women shuttlers, and while Gong Zhichao is pretty damn impressive (I once read an interview where Gong Zhichao described her training – believe you me, I got tired just reading it), it is Zhang Ning that I ended up choosing in my list.  To me, she exemplifies single-minded determination.  “The Miracle” (a moniker given to her by coach Li Yongbo) won her first title at 28, an age that is closer to retirement for than it is for starting on a journey of world dominance.  But start it she did.  A year later she captured the biggest prize in all badminton – the Athens 2004 women’s singles gold.

The quest to capture the Athens gold reads like a really sweet kungfu revenge epic.  The woman she beat in the Athens final was Mia Audina, to whom she lost 10 years before, costing China the Uber Cup.  At the back of my mind I imagine the broken-hearted Zhang Ning running miles of steps up to a badminton training monastery with buckets of water on her back as penance after the loss, vowing to train harder and to come up tops next time both of them crossed swords.

Talk about getting the monkey off your back.

Zhang Ning’s fantastic play and successful defense of her Olympics Women’s singles gold in Beijing 2008 at 33 years of age (setting the record yet again for the oldest women’s singles gold medal winner) was one of badminton’s most magical moments of all-time.  Pure inspiration.

6. Peter Høeg Gade

The great Danish powerhouse, Peter Gade has seemingly played forever.  He is a legend not just in Europe (he won the Copenhagen Masters in his home soil for a staggering 9 times – his ninth was bagged just 4 days ago at the time of writing), but in the world as well, having won international titles since 1994 when he was just 18.  A fantastic talent, he is a very clever and deceptive player.  At 33, he is still World Number 5, which is a testament to his staying power.  Will he be mentioned in the same breath as the great Morten Frost?  Yes.

His playing style is a mixture of offensive play with guileful courtcraft.  Players need to be on their toes with this chap as he can run opponents ragged.  As he gets older his play is more focused on tactics than pure powerplay, but no less interesting to watch.

Not only is Gade a great player, he is a very friendly and gracious fellow, one of the more popular players on the circuit.  This comes through when the media interviews him after the match.

(Which, by the way, is very perplexing to me – players are shepherded to a mic and an interviewer immediately after winning a match, and they are still dripping with sweat, catching their breaths.  Can’t they wait?  Sorry, I digress.)

World badminton is ruled by Asian players nowadays, and the tremendous focus it receives in the East is something the European players are not familiar with in their homelands, as badminton is not in the top echelon of their favourite sports.  Which is a shame, as players like Gade constantly demonstrate – they have fantastic players who dazzle in the world stage.

And Gade has dazzled more than most.

5. Susi Susanti

My all-time favourite woman singles shuttler.  My dad and I used to call her ‘Rubber Band’, as she bounces around the court.  Her court coverage was pretty amazing.

I remember her as an all-conquering badminton femme fatale, who very seldom lost the matches I actually watch her play.  Her closest rival when I was watching her was Ye Zhaoying, and although Zhaoying was pretty mighty herself, it seemed to me Susi always had the upper hand.

Susi has an idiocyncratic tendency –  she tended to do these front splits when she failed to retrieve an out-of-reach shot.  Every time that happened I felt like clapping my hands. (Before you ask, no, the splits are not the reason she’s in this list.)

I have another vivid memory of her announcing her engagement to Alan Budi Kusuma shortly after winning the first ever Olympics badminton women’s singles gold medal.  I remember thinking that while Alan was good, he was not nearly one of the best, and he wasn’t even the best in the Indonesian team at the time.  But strangely he managed to win his men’s singles gold, and I suppose that made them a good pair.  Shrug.

Strange things surface to the fore when you’re digging your memories.

The last 4 in the Top 10 coming up!

See also:

My Top 10 Badminton Players of All-Time – Part 1

As mentioned in my prelude, here is the countdown of my top badminton players of all-time.

To start it off:

10. Yang Yang

One of my first memories of enthralling badminton battles involved this Chinese maestro.  Incredibly skilful, his steady play sustained his grip as the world’s best in the 80s.  His matches with Morten Frost are classics of the game.  And since I’m going completely out on a limb now anyway, I might as well say that his rivalry with Frost pretty much defined that particular period of world badminton.

(If you’re not sure, Yang Yang’s the guy with the shorts.  And yes, he used to be much younger in his playing days).

9. Lee Chong Wei

The best singles shuttler Malaysia has produced thus far.  No doubt the product of decades of cutting-edge badminton training distilled from the countless elite coaches Malaysia has employed over the years, he is still retains the undeniably Malaysian trait: inability to overcome the psychological barrier to victory.

I’ve expounded before on the importance of the mental capacity to actually achieve greatness, and to his credit he has been largely successful when he’s not cowed by more decorated opponents (read: Lin Dan).  But he can do so much more.

Foo Kok Keong, a Malaysian stalwart from the 90s, had that persistence and mental toughness, but he didn’t have the skillset.   Kok Keong has exactly the thing Chong Wei lacks.

Let not my criticism blind you to the fact: I admire the Chong Wei.  I’m a fan, no doubt about that.  But as I said before, I love badminton, I love our players, but they break my heart every time.

Could it be that Malaysians simply expect too much from their players?  Are we unreasonable to expect trophies after trophies?  Are the public simply nuts to want Chong Wei be a name mothers frighten their badminton-playing children into obedience, like the way they do with the boogeyman (and nowadays, Michael Jackson)?

There is nothing immediately characteristic about his play – he’s a excellent all-rounder, a fantastic retriever with great court coverage.  However, he seldom attacks, prefers to run his opponents around rather than to go for the kill.  He sometimes does this to such an extreme that I feel like tearing my hair out.  This is because when he does attack, he is irresistible.

World Number 1 he may be at present, but nobody who watches badminton closely believes he is the true No 1.  Not unless he manages to do justice to his superior fitness and technical ability and stop losing games he should comfortably win.

8. Markis Kido/Hendra Setiawan

Of all the badminton events where the style of play have evolved over the years, the men’s and women’s doubles seems to have been affected the most.  The game used to be characterized with frequent smashes and brilliant defenses.  Now, the game is miles quicker, more drives and the player in front of the net is a more tactical player than ever before.

Of all the ‘new’ pairs out in the world, this young Indonesian pairing is by far the most interesting, lethal and, wait for it, fun to watch.

I don’t care that they are not winning at the moment.  We’re talking about the reigning World Champions and the holders of the Olympics Gold in 2008, a pair that was formidable before 2008, and will continue to hover at the top of the rankings in 2009.

Kido is the standard power player who can actually play at the net.  Setiawan plays sometimes like he’s from another planet – the sort of shots that he can improvise sometimes defy belief.  When I watch Setiawan, I’m reminded of a football freestyler – a skilful ball player who can do things with the ball that you’ve never seen before (go check out Youtube if you don’t know what a freestyler is).

The only other pair that I think can generate such excitement of play is Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong.  There is only one difference between the two pairs: you can believe Kido/Setiawan will win titles, and that’s why they are here.

Coming up tomorrow, more players down the list!

See also:

My Top 10 Badminton Players of All-Time – Prelude

I’ve watched badminton for many years.  I love the sport and like a lot of diehard badminton freaks, lament the lack of exposure and general excitement from the public at large for this seriously entertaining game.  I love to watch other racquet games too, but if you ask me, for the excitement factor, nothing beats badminton.

Of course over the years I developed fondness for more than a few players for a variety of reasons.  Here’s my attempt at recording these feelings down.  This, then, is a list of my favourite badminton players of all time.

Admittedly the ‘All-Time’ tag is a little bit pretentious.  Who’s to say my list wouldn’t change next month?  Or even next week?  Well, I’ll cross the bridge when I come to it.  Consider this as the All-Time list… so far.

A couple of caveats.  I’m 31, so I’m not what you’d say an old hand.  I’ve never really watched Liem Swie King, Rudy Hartono, Eddy Chong.  I can’t even say I remember watching Han Jian or even Misbun Sidek play.  Some may say these evergreens are the true legends, and I agree – anyone who has played the game so many years ago and are still held in high esteem must have done something to achieve this type of immortality.

However, since I cannot include people I can’t remember watching into a list of my favourites, they are not represented here.  I would also argue that the game has evolved since the heydays of the game, when shuttle taps at the net and frenzied drive exchanges are not so common.  The game as it stands now is much more physical, quick and exciting, and as good as they are, I doubt the giants of yesteryear can play with the giants of today.

Please note that this list is completely subjective, irrational and emotional, and is not backed by any scientific or empirical evidence.

This will be a multi-part posting, as I think the whole thing would be too long for a single post.

With that out of the way, let’s begin.

Tomorrow.

See also:

Looking for WordPress Themes can bore you stiff

There is no choice, as I haven’t got the chops to design one of my own.  But I don’t understand why it would be so difficult to find a minimalistic theme that doesn’t have a white background?

Yet again embarking on a personal project on a whim.  I’m not spending 10 hours on this thing.  It’s either up by then, or not. 

An excellent overview of Lois McMaster Bujold

I found this pretty good summary of what makes one of my favourite writers, Lois McMaster Bujold, tick.  I’ve written a review here of A Shard of Honor, but nothing like the breadth Elizabeth (the piece was apparently posted by Jane, but it was actually written by Elizabeth. No, I have no idea who they both are) covers in her post.

There are a couple of points where I’d differ from her, most obviously on the level of humour.  Elizabeth thinks there’s Some humour, whereas I think there’s Shitload-laugh-out-loud moments, especially for the Miles series.  Her humour is thoughtful and witty, not slapstick, and I like that.

Anyway, good coverage of her backlist, and a worth a look see.

Musings on Microsoft Live Writer, Movable Type and WordPress

It has been a while since I’ve written anything here.  Quite honestly, it was almost forgotten.  When time is at a premium, you’re working (almost) endlessly, nurturing a new pet project, plus you have a little kid running about the house demolishing everything in sight, taking the time to update your blog seems like the last thing on my mind.

A short story.  Indulge me.  Or not.

During one of my jaunts through cyberspace earlier this week, I came across this new product called Microsoft Live Writer, which is part of Microsoft’s Live Essentials download package.  It’s a blogging frontend (much like the ones LiveJournal have for the longest time), and most importantly, getting kudos from pretty much everywhere.  It’s meant, as far as I can see, to be a frontend for their own Live Spaces blogging platform, but it comes with functionality to connect all the major blogging platforms.

I have two places on the cyberspace where this might come in handy, so I downloaded it to give it a whirl.  First up was Bookbabble, which is a WordPress blog.  It connected pretty much effortlessly, and I’m starting to like the looks of things. 

Then I tried to configure for rambleville, and I find that I’m no longer able to log into rambleville’s Movable Type administration page.  Nevermind the Live Writer, this means I can’t post anymore even in the normal fashion! 

To cut the long story short, I found the solution here, and finally got my normal Movable Type login working correctly again.  I was also finally able to get Live Writer to connect to rambleville (which is how this post is being written now).

So I want to say two things:

1. I must say Live Writer is pretty impressive.  A much better proposition than writing on the web interface.  Download it here.

2. Movable Type is starting to seem very flaky to me.  I didn’t change anything for the longest time (as you can see for yourself by checking the date on my previous post), and in that time something has happened that screwed up the system.  This isn’t by any means the fault of SixApart (creators of MT), but the impression is MT isn’t all that rock steady.  WordPress, by contrast, appears easier to use than a toothbrush.  I’ve set up about 3 blogs on WordPress, and have never had any problems at all.

I purposely chose MT with the express intention of gaining experience on both these platforms so that I know the pros and cons of each.  At this point, I would say WordPress, especially coupled with Fantastico integration, is pretty hard to beat.

 

What would you use a small notebook for?

You know, the tiny PCs that are smaller than subnotebooks, but larger than the HTC Shift? You know, like the Eee PC.
I think I may have the perfect application – to take notes when you watch Discovery Channel, The History Channel, Discovery Travel and Living and National Geographic Channel. They throw so many facts at you, and while you’re sitting there being awed by the steady stream of revelations, you struggle to decide whether to store this tidbit of information into what’s left of the limited storage space called memory. And as the debate rages on in your brain, more info gets lobbed at you.
“Shit, I didn’t know the Chinese started using crossbows approximately 3000 years before it was invented in the west! Oh, and all 300,000 of the ancient arrowheads found in the tombs are exactly the same? That’s mass production, and it’s 2000 years ahead of it’s time! Ah, and they have the properties of a modern bullet? Oh my, amazing. Let me try to remember thi… what? They are applying modern military formations since the Ching dynasty? Oh wow. Which place… oh, and the concubines are doomed to die in the forbidden city?”
What you can do is to have this little beauty handy, and type away into little documents, which can be readily retrievable when needed.

Android pops its head from behind the curtains, and we caught a glimpse!

Well, actually, we’ve already seen early demos before, but this time a fuller keynote was presented by Google, and Android looks to be coming along just fine. I’m really excited about this new platform, and I hope it has learned from the mistakes of all those that has come before it – including Symbian and Windows Mobile.
I’m looking for application ideas for Android. Anyone want to suggest something I could do? What would you like your mobile phone to be able to do?

Wizard images? What???

Yes, I’m at loss for words as well.
For some strange inexplicable reason, my wandering mind has compelled me to write about my irrational fondness for mages, or more commonly, wizards. I know, I know. It’s past my bedtime, I’ve just consumed a satisfying number of pages from two of current reads, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and I’m delirious.
By mages I mean magic-using characters in fantasy literature. Yes, along the lines of Gandalf. I like paintings or drawings or works of art I can admire, and I like mages. So it stands to reason that I’m particularly fond of paintings of mages.
However, I want to be clear: I don’t love just any kind of mages. In fact, I despise the stereotypical portrayal of mages as propagated by the countless illegitimate spawns of LOTR – pointy hats, long white beard, wizened old man, cloaks with bell sleeves and a long walking staff that also happens to be a mass weapon of destruction. All the Gandalfs and Dumbledores and Raistlins (the ones I see on the Dungeon & Dragons novel covers) are all so…. tired.
My ideal mage was influenced by Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea – young, confident, arrogant, no need to go out of his way to grow a beard longer than is fashionably acceptable.
In recent memory, Karen Miller’s Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology has combined two of my favourite things on its covers: watercolour paintings and mages. It was the first time I remembered buying a book on a whim due solely because I love the covers.


These puny thumbnail images do not do the artist any justice. It’s not mind-blowingly beautiful, but it’s not shabby either. My favourite mage cover art so far. I’ve finished the books earlier this year, and have been meaning to write a mini-review. It’s either I’ve gone completely screwy, or became a hopeless fantasy curmudgeon, or I’ve really honed my expectations: the books were not that great.
I’ve give another example of cover art of a mage, but one that didn’t turn me on:

This is from Gail Martin’s The Summoner, and the art is suitably dark, but the colour’s skewed, the fellow is split in half, and he’s decked out in patterned cowls and cape! I mean come on! Break out of the wizard mold, sure, but don’t overdo it with these Louis Vuitton designer outfits.
Just so you know, I don’t normally critique the fashion sense of imaginary characters. I’m not, you know, weird.

Funniest thing ever (for today, anyway)

It’s been a while since I posted, true. There are a lot of things to do since the launch of my new side-project, Bookbabble, and sometimes finding the time to write what I felt when I finally saw The Forbidden Kingdom, or when I splurged out wads of dough for an unreasonable number of books, can be a little tough.
But, I saw this today, and think it is one of the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
Dinosaur Comics, and xkcd are two of my favourite webcomics. Check them out, please.
Penny Arcade‘s funny too, but these 2 are on a higher level, methinks.

Peanuts meets Watchmen

This just blew my mind – what if Charles Schulz had long unkempt hair, thick beard and thought of writing an anti-hero comic book? Behold!

Please check out the creator of this piece of brilliance here.

The Singularly Best Piece of Technical Exposition On Web Standards I Have Ever Read

I’ve read Joel on Software for a long while now, and while I’ve never read *everything* he has done, I’ve read enough to be quite a fan of his writing, and clear explanations and lucid, pragmatic views. A resource every software developer should read.
But his latest is simply outstanding. In Martian Headsets, he explains about web standards in a way that’s understandable, exact, balanced, and above all, entertaining. Lays out the reason why IE8, the next version of the predominant web browser in the world, is in a unique position to change the world (and I’m only slightly exaggerating), what issues confront the browser development team and why no matter what it does, it may not be able to correct the flaws compounded upon in years and years of web development.
At the heart, it discusses the decision that every developers will face at one point or another in their career: to do the right thing, or to make it work.
It’s fascinating reading, and may be the single best piece of technical exposition I have ever read on any subject in IT, much less web standards. Even if you’re not technically inclined, I’d recommend a read: you’ll learn about web standard, if nothing else.

How notebooks will look like in 2010: A glimpse in the of future personal tech

It’s articles like these that make me really excited about the future. I’m a huge proponent of mobile technology, about how the latest and greatest in the tech world will make us more connected, more enabled, but without the bulk that today’s laptops impose on us.
This article by Computerworld focuses on some concept notebooks, which is touch screen, soft keys, and light. I don’t think there will be a one device that does everything anytime soon, especially if we’re talking about the amalgamation of notebook and mobile phones, for instance, but the convergence continues to happen at a frantic pace. It will soon be silly to own a desktop computer – everything that stays in the house would be more like a server, and connected and controlled via the TV set in a home media setup. Actual computing work? On a laptop, of course!
Very interesting look in the future.

Junking DRM on ebooks now, are you?

Unfortunately, no. Not yet, by any means. But the audiobook is certainly headed that way, I’m happy to report. In this article from the New York Times, audiobook publishers are ditching piracy protection measures, known to you and me as one of the most notorious and feared 3-letter acronyms in the whole of cyberspace: DRM. Which stands for Digital Rights Management, of course.
Apparently they found that DRM doesn’t really work in curbing piracy. I could have told them that.
As I’ve mentioned before, DRM does not solve the problem it has set out to achieve, which is to control rampant piracy. Instead of creating a better, more-foolproof DRM, maybe it needs to be solved in a different manner – with a different mindset. Einstein said (I believe) that problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them. It has been proven many times over that DRM free works distributed on the internet actually helps sales, rather than hinder them, and it’s especially true for new emerging talents or works.
There still needs to be a way for artists and authors to make a living in the Internet age, and have their works protected. It is becoming increasing clear is isn’t going to be DRM.

My Fantasy and Scifi Inspirational Treasure Chest, or Top Books Lists, And What’s Wrong With Them

My friends in the various book forums I frequent already know this, but I thought of sharing this for those who may need some inspiration on what to read for their next fantasy or science fiction fix.
Behold! The Internet Top 100 SF/Fantasy List, as voted by the general public! That link is a Google cache link, as the original doesn’t seem to work anymore. You can also explore an extended list, and the landing page as it appeared here.
Well.
It has not been updated since 2003 (2002 if you look at the extended list), and the ‘general public’ is about a few thousand users with internet access back in the day, and who bothered to take the time to type out their nominations on email, and send it out. So no, it’s not what you’d call a very broad sampling.
Still, I’m immensely indebted to this ancient list primarily because it introduced Guy Gavriel Kay, George RR Martin and Lois McMaster Bujold to me, and they since became some of my most favoured writers. Beyond that, as it also introduced singular works that I’ve not heard of at that time, such as Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller Jr (two of the best scifi books I have ever read).
When I first read it, Malaysia did not stock many of the books, what with the general supply coming from big bookstore chains that tend stick only the safe and proven sellers. Things gradually changed with the appearance of used books sales at first, with a selection of books that cannot be found in any of the normal bookstores. Fast forward to today, and you’d have trouble stemming the tide of titles flooding the market. Good thing, to a point, as now it becomes very important to separate the wheat from the chaff. But I digress.
Now there are those who detest popular lists, saying that it isn’t a balanced view of what’s really good out there. It’s easy to see their point of view when you see Most Popular Titles lists dominated by the ‘it’ author of the day (read: Dan Brown). I’m not suggesting that Dan Brown is crap, but merely saying that sometimes it obscures other interesting (some say more deserving) works.
I agree with that sentiment to a point. It all depends on what you want to get out of these lists. The way I see is there are always two ways to look at them:

  1. I want to know what is the best or the most popular out there.
  2. I want to know what others are reading.

They are two similar but incredibly distinct statements, with a very important difference.
The first statement suggests that people read these lists as a barometer of what’s the best or most popular at that time. I want to know what is the best or the most popular out there. It’s a snapshot. Some of these lists simply pronounce the best of all time, and if you’re not reading any in these lists, then you’re simply not reading the best.
Therein lies the rub. There are literally millions of works out there, each enjoyed by a wide cross section of the reading public. There are no lists in this world that can cover something so subjective as reading tastes in any definite way. So invariably any list will have their detractors.

  • “What kinds of a list is this, to have Philip K Dick sitting down at No 31? He’s a master!”
  • “Any list that has JK Rowling up in the Top Ten of anything cannot be taken seriously. What a joke!”
  • [Bad_Russion_Accent] “Bah! It’s stoopid. Sergei Lukyanenko eez the bezz now!” [/ Bad_Russion_Accent]


(Trust me, I’ve heard all kinds. Except the last one.)
The fact is a lot of people seem to liken these lists to something carved in stone. Some people seem convinced these lists have the power to influence others on what they should read, and seeing that no list is perfect, it perpetuates poor pieces of work unfairly. And there are two reactions to this sentiment:

  1. Those who take pride that the books they read do not appear on such lists.
  2. Those who look down on others who read authors who appear on these lists. These authors are ‘commercial’ in nature, or appealing only to the lowest common denominator. Thus their work is shallow, and the books are fit only to be used as doorstops or dead weights.

Both these reactions can be true, if somewhat of a generalization. But definitely not always.
When you see votes tipping the scales in thousands supporting all seven Harry Potter books, and a few hundred going for Lord of the Rings or Stars My Destination or Foundation or whatever, does that mean than the 7 of the absolute bestest books in the world are the Harry Potters? Really? I mean, even if you’re an extremely rabid a fan (and over 12 years old), surely you’d pause before trumpeting that claim in parties?
At the same time, are Harry Potter books to be derided because they appear on these lists? What, now commercial success means the book must be bad?
Therefore, as with any kind of generalization, there are always exceptions.
Personally, though, I always look at these lists with the second statement in mind. I want to know what others are reading. I know what I love, and I love what I know. But I’m curious – what else is out there? Surely there are works that can potentially excite me, prod me, enlighten me, entertain me? So I devour lists to look for something I might enjoy – to see what others enjoy.
You may find that it’s a treasure chest of inspiration, like I did with the Internet Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantast List.
p.s. For the record, I enjoyed the hell out of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code (geddit? ‘Hell out of’ Angels and Demons?) [hysterical laughter]

Tor Books is giving away free ebooks, starting with new WOT author Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn

A spate of free ebooks being offered around the internet recently. Strange. Something I should know about?
Anyway, this time it’s Tor’s turn, and you’ll be getting Sanderson and Scalzi in the first couple of weeks. Sanderson, as you may recall, was recently announced to complete the final Wheel of Time book, Memory of Light, after Jordan’s untimely passing. Tor is offering his sophomore effort, called Mistborn. If you’ve not sampled his work and curious about how he’d do with MOL, well, isn’t this just want you’d want to land on your lap?
Go and signup at http://www.tor.com/.

Review of Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I think it’s a privilege to be able to revisit a piece of work a second time and have the opportunity to not only enjoy the work again, but to see it and appreciate it in a totally new way. Time grows ever more precious the older we get, and especially when we balance work with our personal responsibilities. So when I get sucked in a book I had already read, I know for a fact it won’t be a damned waste of my time.
On my second rereading of this book, I can reaffirm that Lois McMaster Bujold is a true master of the craft, and Shards of Honor is a shining testament to her humanity and skill. She weaves a brilliant story with effective characterization, thoughtful pacing, intelligent dialogue, intelligent plot, well, intelligent everything.

Okay, some backstory. I finished this book 3 years ago, while I was seconded in Geneva for work. I accidentally started reading it when I got back to my hotel room after dinner the first night. 2 frantic reading days later (after work hours, of course), I came up from one of the most enjoyable reads in recent memory.
It’s hard to explain how I feel about this book to people who don’t normally read science fiction. Oh, I didn’t mention it? Shards of Honor is science fiction. But it’s not all hyperdrives and parsecs, and lightsabers and intergalactic alien war, with plotlines thick and dripping with genre stereotypes.
Shards of Honor tells the story of Cordelia Naismith, a researcher from Beta Colony (which is analogous to a far future Earth) who got mixed up with a complex plot to dispose of a prominent military commander from Barrayar, Captain Aral Vorkosigan in a routine mission. Caught up with the events, Cordelia embarks on an adventure that turns out to not only affect them both personally, but uncover a conspiracy so fiendish and meticulously planned that fates of both their worlds hang in the balance. It’s a love story, but laced with plenty of political intrigue, and a good spread of adventure and action.
See how difficult it is to explain – already the premise sounds very stereotypical of scifi. It’s not helped by my stereotypical summary. The difference is in reading it. If you’re looking for the sort of Star Wars/Star Trek like feel of space opera, look elsewhere. This is intelligent stuff. This is popcorn-like addictive, yet not popcorn-like in substance. You have to pay attention.
Bujold masterfully melds intergalactic politics, with cleverly laid out characters each with their own motives, and spins them together in a stupendous plot. It helps her to have two driven, flawed but ultimately very interesting leads.
A major theme in this book is an exploration of moral and honourable (or lack thereof) actions the various characters have to take in the face of the realities of war. Are responsibilities merely an excuse, or a burden? Is it acceptable to sacrifice lives for the greater good? What sort of circumstances must arise to justify such an action, and at what cost? Cordelia explores her own motivation, and sees the reasons from the host of people she encounters in her adventures.
And the epilogue to Shards of Honor has to be one of the best epilogues I have ever read, period. Go and read the book to get to the epilogue, and tell me it isn’t one of the most amazing moments in reading you have ever experienced.
Shards of Honor is one half of 2 books, the other being Barrayar (both books are being sold in a single volume now called Cordelia’s Honor), and marks the beginning of Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga (oh, and Barrayar won the Nebula and Hugo, and I can tell you that it thoroughly deserved the accolades). These two books are the only ones centered around Cordelia Naismith; the subsequent novels focuses on Cordelia’s and Aral Vorkosigan’s immensely interesting son, Miles Vorkosigan. The Miles Vorkosigan series of books are no less intriguing than the Cordelia books, with a notch or two up in the adventure quotient, and seeing that Miles is not your average son with a normal childhood (I won’t spoil it for you), the Miles stories are high with witticism and humour.

Bujold had written the books in such a manner where it isn’t really necessary to read them in order, but as with anything that has a chronology, it helps if you do. I personally started on Bujold with a Miles Vorkosigan book entitled The Vor Game. Cheesy title, but an awesome reading experience.
So if you’ve not had the pleasure of reading Bujold yet, even if you aren’t a science fiction reader, consider this a hearty recommendation.

Amazon acquires Audible – makes for interesting possibilities?

Don’t know about you, but I think this is huge news. The largest online bookseller (actually, it’s the largest online retailer, not just books, but hey, bear with me) acquires the largest audiobooks provider. This is interesting because it’s another step Amazon is taking towards digital media, and this in light of their recent foray into the ebooks realm with their Kindle.
Amazon is now poised to offer the largest collection of books, be it the dead tree version, or the digital version, and now, the spoken word version. The Kindle now has the potential to become very interesting indeed, with the possibility of now delivering audiobooks off the net, and playing it directly. Well, apparently it doesn’t yet offer direct audiobooks download via their Whispernet (requiring users to download it to a PC first, then transfer it to the Kindle) but you can bet your bottom dollar that’s gonna happen sooner or later. Imagine it – you want a book or even an audiobook? Whip out your Kindle, search the Amazon catalogue, download it immediately and voila! (Near-)Instant gratification.
This is exciting as hell, because this is the future. My ideal digital reading scenario is not here yet, but this is a step in the right direction.
There’s only one thing I’m worried about, which is the potential for blocking the sale of audiobooks to countries outside of the US, like what they are currently doing for their Kindle ebooks. This would be a step backwards, because I have purchased books from Audible before without issues.
Having said that, Audible do have audiobooks with explicit restrictions barring them from being sold to customers from certain countries. The Audible helpdesk once explained to me that this is due to publisher rights, and some publishers have legal restrictions from selling their books outside their jurisdiction, and passes along this restriction to Audible.
Well, as long as not *all* books are restricted, as they are with ebooks…
So. Let’s see what Amazon does with this. I’m curious and in for the ride.

Sci-Fi the Last Bastion of Philosophical Writing? Really?

I guess I can understand the sentiment. Readers of sci-fi almost always have homework while reading – trying to mirror the themes, environments, issues and plotlines to whatever is happening (or has happened) in the Real World. Sci-fi typically doesn’t stand alone, it has its roots in our world, and consciousness. Readers therefore enjoy a great deal more if they are able to recognize what it is about an SF novel that mirrors our world, and ultimately what message it may have.
So reading contemporary fiction removes that layer of abstraction for us. And Clive Thompson’s point in his article Why Sci-Fi Is the Last Bastion of Philosophical Writing simply states that contemporary fiction has run out of ‘juice’ for interesting fruits for thought.
But is it really? Is scifi really the ‘last bastion’, and not merely a common journalistic inclination towards hyperbole?
My thoughts: not by a long shot. Surely ideas are not exclusive to scifi? Scifi takes a philosophical question down one path, while contemporary fiction takes it down another. If you want to show the consequences of global conflict, for example, does a scifi book painting a post-apocalyptic future have more impact than an account of a little girl scrambling for cover in the middle of a shell attack in Lebanon? Take the gender equality for another instance, which is more ‘philosophical’: a scifi book about a utopian society or a story about the insidious machinations of opponents of women’s suffrage?
Just because scifi extrapolates doesn’t mean has a stranglehold on philosophy.
The article is still an interesting read. One thing irks me, though. The writer included Susanna Clarke as a ‘genre-bending’ author. If you’ve not read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, go do it, enjoy it, and come back and tell me what’s so genre-bending about it. Because it’s pretty straightforward to me what it was.

Giveaway of Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing

Eos, the HarperCollins’s imprint for scifi and fantasy is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary, and is giving away a free ebook every 2 months for the rest of 2008. It’s first offering is Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing, which is available for Mobi, Acrobot and Microsoft Reader formats.
This is very similar to a Microsoft Reader initiative many years ago, where they offered two free ebooks of excellent variety every week for a period of time. That time it was to jumpstart the ebook market. This time, Eos is simply content to share the joy.
Not too impressed with Hobb’s Assassin Trilogy, despite George RR Martin’s glowing endorsements, but hey, Shaman’s Crossing is free, so why not? Who knows, I may like this new trilogy, and buy the rest of the books.

Excellent Motivation for Reading: Movie Tie-ins

Of late one thing that crosses my mind whenever I scan the papers for movie screenings – plenty of them are book adaptations. Sure, this isn’t a new phenomenon, but you have to be amazed at the rate beloved books are being translated to the screen lately.
I Am Legend. Atonement. Beowulf. No Country for Old Men. Stardust. The Golden Compass. PS I Love You. Bourne Ultimatum. Love in the Time of Cholera. The Jane Austen Book Club.
Can’t remember the last time such a rash of book adaptations arriving so close to each other.
I love it when books I have an interest in gets Hollywood’s attention. I like the feeling of finding out how others have imagined the same scenes and characters that I have envisioned in my head. I like to be enraptured all over again by the story, to nitpick, to admire, to have the opportunity to experience a great story again in a different form.
I remember my first novel-brought-to-life movie, The Firm, based off of John Grisham’s novel of the same name. It probably wasn’t the first one, really, but that’s as far as my memory takes me. I remember distinctly being disappointed with the movie, as the film took the edge off the ending, and made it reconciliatory. It stank like a skunk in the living room.
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I also remember being quite thrilled at the announcement that The Lord of The Rings was being moved to the big screen, the disappointment when I learnt Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett was cast, the anticipation, and the relief of being proven wrong with the cast, and the satisfied purr at the end result.
So yeah. I love to read the books before going to see the film. That’s why the recent rush has been a great motivator for me to go back and pick up the books before I go and see them.
Here are some of the more interesting ones for me.
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I’ve always been a Neil Gaiman fan, and I have long thought that his works were overdue for the silver screen translation. Stardust boasts an A-list cast, and promises a wonderful story. I’ve the book sitting on my shelf for years now, so this is as good a time as any to pick it up – and it’s a short book too. I loved American Gods, and I think when that gets translated I’ll be excited as a bookworm in the Library of Congress.
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Another fantasy book adaptation, and franchise to boot, The Golden Compass looks all dressed up for success. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has been acclaimed for years, but I’ve still not gotten around to them. Looking forward to reading the first book (I recently completed purchasing the trilogy), and having Nicole Kidman playing the part in my head.
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Ah, a Cormac McCarthy no less. No Country for Old Men has been getting very good reviews from book pals, and I was surprised to learn that it was made into a movie. Of all the movies listed here, I think I’m most curious about this one. My copy of No Country has been sitting on my shelf for close to a year already, so this is as good a time as any to dip in.
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I actually shopped for a copy of Beowulf when I found out it was made into a movie (rather belatedly, I must add, and in the most unusual manner – I saw it in a computer game ad). I remember previously that the prose was too tough to get into, but then found an edition that was more my level (not the book I linked to). A whale of a story – monster terrorizes village, guy whacks monster, monster’s mother gets with the guy (insert loud exclamation here)… it’s a mess! But apparently it’s fodder enough to get Angelina Jolie. I wasn’t sure I could stand watching Jolie pout in an action flick, so I’m doubly unsure if I had to watch a CGI Jolie pout.
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This book just happens to be one of my favourite horror stories of all time, and the only one that I’ve read was able to set my pulse rate slightly higher than I’m normally accustomed to while sitting in a comfortable chair reading. I was overjoyed to hear it was being made into a movie. But my triumphant fist pumping stopped in midair when I next found out that it was helmed by none other than Will Smith! Imagine going to your favourite sushi restaurant and finding out they have substituted the unagi with fish fillets. Sorry, I like Will enough, but I Am Legend is too much of a legend for this chap to handle..

But perhaps I’m wrong, you say! Perhaps my intuition is as crappy as watching Barney rolling around in mud, and perhaps Smith would be as great as Elijah Woods was in LOTR despite my reservations!
Nah.
Another big name translation. Big name for those who follow the literature scene, that is. Atonement is purportedly one of McEwan’s best books. I don’t have Atonement, unfortunately, but I have Saturday. I’ve read neither, and I suppose I will buy and read it first before watching it.
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Cecelia Ahern is an impressive young woman. Most would not be able to nurture a successful writing career behind the shadow of towering parent, especially if the parent in question is the Prime Minister of a nation. But she did, and managed in many respects to become more famous than her father (because you wouldn’t be able to name the Irish Taoiseach if I asked you, but you’d fall over yourself telling me the name of the author for PS I Love You). Now I didn’t read this book, but my wife did, and if I remember correctly she liked it.
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So there, my list. It’s not exhaustive, I know. But already it has motivated me to pick myself up and read. And that’s good.

Why aren’t ebook readers sold here?

I had planned to write a dazzling defense of ebooks for years now, but had never had the chance to really sit down to get it done (I know exactly how long I’ve been meaning to do it because I keep track of almost everything in my organizer).
I’ll get to it, as I’ve picked up the writing again recently, what with the recent surge of interest in debating about ebooks with the release of Amazon’s Kindle. I’ll post my thoughts on ebooks readers later, but a quick sideswipe is I think the Sony Reader looks much better than the Kindle, although feature-wise it does lose out to Amazon’s device. I’ll get to them later.
But most of all, I’m just wondering why ebook readers are not really sold here. Ever since the Rocket e-Book Reader was announced oh-so-long ago, I’ve been pining for one, but being in an out-of-the-way country does hinder shipping and handling. I want to see it in a store. I want to hold it, be impressed, be blown out of the water, be simply mesmerized by the physical presence. I can order it online, but then there’s this agonizing wait, and the hope that the shipping doesn’t shatter the precious cargo. Then of course there’s the issue of being able to buy ebooks for these devices from outside of the States. I’ve not hopped over to Amazon yet, but like iTunes Store, the Sony eBook Store doesn’t cater to us over here.
This is like opening a can of worms, I had intended only to write a little, but here I am being compelled to ensure there’s no confusion on the technologies.
I must clarify that for these dedicated ebook readers, the users are typically forced to go to the respective vendor’s ebook stores to purchase their ebooks, which is in a proprietary format that will only play on that particular device (i.e. Kindle only reads ebooks purchased from Amazon’s ebook store, Sony’s only from their store, and they are *not* interchangeable). For generic ebook reader software, however, such as those which can be installed on devices such as PDAs (for example Microsoft Reader, Palm Reader or Acrobat Reader), then the ebooks may be purchased from any vendor that peddles in these respective formats. This is precisely the reason that if you purchase a Sony Reader here, you’ll have problems getting ebooks because the Sony eBook Store, which is your sole avenue for ebook purchasing, doesn’t sell to those outside of the States.
As it stands right now, I’m pretty satisfied with my current ebook reader, my Dopod 838Pro aka HTC TyTN. It’s small, and I carry dozens of books with me as long as I have my mobile. It’s not ideal, but it’ll do for now.
I’ll be back with the whole ebook mess.

So what does Jane Austen and gamebooks have in common?

Verily, thou suggestest the improbable! Austen, author of immaculately proper prose, indulging in something as trivial as games? Surely thou art pulling mine freaking legs?
But hangest thou on one minute – what are gamebooks?
Well now, that takes me waaay back.
According to gamebooks.org, a gamebook is defined as “as any book in which the reader participates in the story by making choices which affect the course of the narrative.” As you read, you are offered a choice of actions that the central character of the story can take. The different actions unfold in different ways, typically either towards better or worse situations for the character.
During my primary school days, I was fascinated with gamebooks. I have gamebooks that allowed the readers to engage in combat with monsters, complete with hit points and inventory that the reader has to keep track of, even gamebooks that allowed two players to play against each other! I still have all of my gamebooks (naturally!), and they bring a flood of nostalgia now that I think about them. Highly literate novels they are not, immensely fun they definitely were.
So anyway, back to my point. Emma Campbell Webster has whipped up something truly interesting.

The book is called Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure, and it promises the reader a romp through Austen’s famous novels. The blurb for the book is:

Name: Elizabeth Bennet.
Mission: To marry both prudently and for love.
How? It’s entirely up to the reader.
The journey begins in Pride and Prejudice but quickly takes off on a whimsical Austen adventure of the reader’s own creation. A series of choices leads the reader into the plots and romances of Austen’s other works. Choosing to walk home from Netherfield Hall means falling into Sense and Sensibility and the infatuating spell of Mr. Willoughby. Accepting an invitation to Bath leads to Northanger Abbey and the beguiling Henry Tilney. And just where will Emma’s Mr. Knightley fit in to the quest for a worthy husband? It’s all up to the reader.
A labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortunes and marriages, Lost in Austen will delight and challenge any Austen lover.

Now I found this book by chance, and of all the amalgamations I could have thought of, never had I imagined Austen as fodder for gamebooks. After all, gamebooks based off of famous authors’ works have been done before. Some are obvious choices. Sherlock Holmes, for example, was turned into gamebooks, and it was an interesting effort too (I have one of them). But Austen? Way out of the park.
I’m not sure exactly which audience Webster is shooting for. Gamebooks have long been out of vogue, and although there are some still being sold in the bookshops, I hardly think they are flying off the shelves. But even if they were, the target audience for gamebooks have always been the young readers and gamers/role-players (the Sherlock Holmes one was aimed at young readers – it was not incredibly challenging prose-wise). They would be bored to tears helping a chick they can’t visualize do, of all things, get married. Yeah. Wonderful.
So no. Probably aiming for Austen fans. But you’d have to wonder if the regular Austenite would actually entertain the idea of ‘playing’. Some in the reviews have said that certain passages in the book are so highly reminiscent of the originals that fans may feel that they are re-reading the novels again.
Anyway I think it’s a great try, and a fresh idea. I think this book would be a lovely addition to Austen fans anyway. Who know, maybe Austen fans will like it, and like it so much that they start to campaign for Choose Your Own Adventures for Kafka, Nabokov, Doestoevsky (now that would be interesting).
ps. Yes, I know Austen doesn’t talk like that.

Forbidden Kingdom: This had better be good

Ladies and gentlemen, my most anticipated movie of 2008:

This is the much-awaited, highly-anticipated match-up between Jet Li and Jackie Chan, and I’m as excited as a rabbit in a carrot patch. I’ve watched Jackie’s movies since before I learned how to walk (technically, I could say I started watching his movies since before I was born, but that would really be stretching it), and I remember distinctly being blown away with Jet’s Once A Upon A Time in China when I watched him for the first time (it was after a particularly distressing exam, I recall, but I’m certain that has nothing to do with it).
Nobody would dispute that since their move to Hollywood, the quality of their movies went south (in this case, it was south westerly). At any rate, they stank. This fact is definitely not lost on them, because as they continued their affair with Hollywood, they would return to flirt with their patient and loyal fanbase in Asia (Jackie with stuff like The New Police Story, The Myth and the baby caper flick, and Jet with his Hero and Fearless).
So after 15 years of talking and dreaming, J & J finally decided to make good on their plans and Forbidden Kingdom is the result. The good news is the principal filming is completed, and the film is now in post-production. The bad news is it’s not showing next week. Specifically, it will only be shown in April next year, which is not fast enough for me.
There are so many things that can go wrong with this film. Yuen Woo Ping has been drafted in, so that can’t be too bad.
However, an original story that focuses on the Chinese culture but with an eye to the Western audiences has been whipped up. I’m always skeptical about movies helmed by either Jackie or Jet being remade with Western audiences in mind, because the result tends to fall short of the heights of Hongkong cinematic action, which would be too tame for Asian audiences, and the story tends to be pretty half-assed to be taken seriously, which would disappoint anyone. So if the movie craps out, it’ll probably be story-wise.
I’m hoping it won’t be disappointing, because this movie has the potential to be a classic. It’s a foregone conclusion that it will be a commercial success, but will it be a paragon of cinematic action that will finally appeal to both the Eastern and Western audiences, a testimonial highpoint for these two icons?
I’ll grab a box of popcorn and tell you in April.

Shock! Shameful from KKK-TBH!

Readers of this blog know that I’m a huge fan of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, and while I’m critical of their recent performances, I’m proud of their achievements and their potential.
But in my accidental foray into Youtube today, I found this clip:

I quote from the About box of the video:

This is from the 3rd and deciding game of the Mens Doubles QF at the 2007 French Open Badminton.
The clip starts with a long and hard-fought rally.
Finally, Japan’s Tadashi Ohtsuka & Keita Masuda win the point when Malaysia’s Tan Boon Heong’s drop hits the net and falls back into the Malaysian side of the court.
Notice (at 0:35) how Koo Kien Keat (Malaysia) steps forward and pushes the dead shuttle to the Japanese side for the next serve. (Returning the shuttle to the other side is the usual thing to do after losing a point.)
Importantly, it means that the Malaysians knew that the shuttle had failed to cross over to the Japanese side and that being so, they had lost the point and the serve to the Japanese.
Then comes the shocker of a decision by the umpire – he gestures that Malaysia had won the point. The Japanese can’t believe it!
Bizarrely enough, the service judge is the one who contends that the shuttle fell into the Japanese side, although the action happened closer to the umpire.
What follows is simply shameful – and I can’t believe that any Malaysian would actually do this.
Even as the Japanese duo are pleading their case, the Malaysian duo shamelessly walks away, when all they needed to do was acknowledge the wrong call.

If I were told this I simply wouldn’t believe it. But the video clearly shows them guilty of the charge.
Malaysians may not be the best in sports, but if there’s one thing that should define us it’s our sportsmanship. This is not acceptable behaviour! There would be no glory in winning something mired in controversy, and this is the worse kind of controversy – because the replay shows you’re a scam!
Now I know the players have been told never to question the decisions of the match officials, especially if it goes against your opponent and your opponent is objecting the decision until he’s blue in the face. But come on! That rule is for dodgy line calls and misjudged top-of-the-tape shuttle taps. Definitely not for obvious errors like that!
You’re both above that. Right?
No?
Damn I’m embarrassed.

Another rant about the place of fantasy/scifi in literature

This snippet from George RR Martin about The Road encapsulates in its essence what I think is so wrong about how some people feel about genre fiction in general:

I think I speak for virtually all fantasy and science-fiction writers that it’s a constant annoyance for anyone who works in these fields, that whenever a great piece of work is produced, you get reviewers saying, ”Oh, this isn’t science fiction, it’s too good.” Most recently, that’s happened with Cormac McCarthy and The Road. Which is definitely a science-fiction book, and yet it’s winning all these prizes and people are saying, ”No, no, it’s science fiction.” Well, it’s literature and it’s science fiction. It’s a breath mint and a candy mint!

There are those who think I’m being defensive simply because I love genre fiction. I would think that would be too shallow a way to look at it. I’m about experiencing anything and everything you love in reading. To anyone who would come to me for advice, I would never ever say don’t try something just because it happens to be categorized in a certain way. Encouraging the sentiment that a particular genre is somehow ‘beneath’ an arbitrary literary bar frankly reflects poorly on the proponent.
Everybody is partial to their genres when reading (and make no mistake, award-winning novels are a genre by itself). So when someone crosses the genre gaps, that’s great. So I’m just amazed at people who’d tell others, “Oh no, that’s not science fiction. That’s bloody McCarthy, so it can’t be considered science fiction because it’s so well written!” Oh please.
I’ve read as much as (if not more) contemporary fiction and prize winning fiction than the next person, and here’s what I’ve learnt:
The one and only thing that separates the wheat from the chaff in literature is the author, regardless of the subject matter.
Go on. Come and tell me I’m wrong.

I knew this day would come, but not so damn soon!

I realized two things: you blink and a week goes by without you blogging, and I end almost all my blog posts with exclamation points.
This is going to be a departure from my usual highly informed, balanced, opinionated and intellectual articles, people, because I want to raise an alarm.
I’m trying to get into Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on the PS2 and despite countless valiant attempts in three days of playing (albeit in bursts of about 1 hour each day), I have *NOT* been able to win a single match. A SINGLE MATCH. Not one.
I have not been playing video games for a while, I admit, preferring instead to do more mundane things like sterilizing baby bottles and filling up compartmentalized milk powder containers in my spare time. Occasionally I do different things like sending an email or five to various people in a strange place called ‘work’ (who can be quite persistent, I found) or when I decided to pay more attention to my personal projects, or indeed, deciding to (gasp!) read.
Despite all that, I remain, and always have been, a talent in gaming. In my heyday there are no games I could not master in minutes, and start clearing the field with petulant flicks of my wrist (or fingers, depending on what I was using at the time).
True, I may not kick ass in StarCraft, and some may recall with glee the occasional thumping I received at the hands of people who do nothing but play these games, but computer AI has never got me down for long.
Imagine my tension at being beaten repeatedly in PES2008. I simply cannot understand how a team whose name I can barely pronounce much less recognize can beat Barcelona (which has been renamed to something else due to licensing concerns, I imagine) by the ludicrous scoreline of 4-0. It came to a point where I didn’t know what the hell to do with the ball at my player’s feet! So I stand there, hands inert, player motionless, while I wait for a spark of inspiration. Which quickly turned into a spark of panic as the opposition nipped the ball from my player’s feet and going for goal.
This is crazy.
Mark my words: There is never a truer gauge for aging than your inability to play video games competently.
I will beat this game, if that’s the last thing I do. All while juggling PoP, baby, reading and learning in the spare time I have not working or sleeping. You know, piece of cake.
I seldom let my hair down and write about something as inconsequential as this how-my-day-went post, and I assure you that at least 5 blinks will go by before I succumb to such an impulse again.
I will return to regularly scheduled programming (I’m not a screenplay writer in Hollywood, so something as silly as union strikes will not hinder my writing, so you may relax, gentle readers), and serious thoughtful posts (for me, at least) will resume shortly.
And no I did not forget to write about books. Like George RR Martin, I too have indulgences in sport that I must, well, indulge in.

Android Development Challenge – greenfield environment for some really cool technology!

By no means breaking news, but Google’s foray into the mobile platform is as exciting as opening a pack of potato chips and finding out there are more than 6 chips inside (okay, more exciting than that).
Android has the backing of a gigantic brand name that has the potential of bringing solidarity to the industry that even Windows Mobile, Symbian and Blackberry couldn’t achieve. Add to that that the carrot that Google has devised – a 10 million bucks developer challenge to develop exciting new applications for Android.
This is level opportunity for anyone with brilliant ideas to step forward and stake a claim in the mobile arena. That’s what I really love about the Internet, those who can see the opportunities can seize them and make of them what they will, regardless of where in the world they might be.
So, an opportunity to develop for Android, and to win large doughs of cash. I have ideas, but do not have the primary resource for the endeavor, the most precious commodity of them all: time. I’m eager to learn up the platform, and I think it’s an extremely interesting opportunity. This is akin to the new beginnings of the Web, where people can build the anything remotely useful (and doesn’t suck), and pretty much gain a huge chunk of the market share simply by virtue of being the first.
Microsoft has an exciting development environment and platform in Windows Mobile. But Microsoft doesn’t have the same sort of clout (for the lack of a better word) to generate the same excitement that Google can. The notion that Google can do no wrong and their tendency to open up previously closed platforms makes Android look like a double-layered chocolate moist cake with caramel top – extremely tempting.
Personally, even evaluating the platform against other mobile platforms would be educational – sometimes even ten millions dollars cannot guarantee mass migration of developers from established players.
So I’m excited, and although my chances of winning the $10M is as remote as Michael Jackson turning black again, I think the journey would be interesting. Do you think a calculator with coloured keys be a $10M-winning candidate?

You want consolidated news on badminton? Write them yourself!

We need a nicely produced, daily updated website that focuses primarily on badminton content. Something that has BBC Sports (or whatever online sports daily you prefer)-like quality that immediately exudes an air of quality, timeliness, accuracy and opinions that you can rely on and trust.
It’s so difficult to get a nice roundup of badminton tournament updates. We can get live scores, tournament match-up and draws, results, but they are lifeless stats. There is a very vibrant forum community in Badminton Central, but while it is informative and (generally) friendly, it’s not the proper place to get results, and match analysis. It’s also prone to partisan support from member majority (typically vocal Malaysians, I understand).
There are no other dedicated websites of note. Badzine.info is updated, but doesn’t have a lot of news content. I suspect the Chinese daily has a lot of info, but those of us who don’t read Chinese is screwed. Google Translate makes the badminton stories featured in the dailies make me laugh so hard!
So, we don’t have BBC Sports-like coverage of badminton. Anyone want to band together to create a badminton web-zine/blog style content that aims to consolidate all this information in a single, easy-to-use site, with a focus on a country-neutral, English language content for the world’s consumption? A group of opinionated, and passionate fans with a strong command of English, preferably experienced players at national/international levels, ought to do it as we start out.

So what if you don’t speak the language? Learn the bloody names!

Sports commentators, in my opinion, occupy a very important position in the hierarchy of the full sports broadcasting spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are the sporting personality themselves, the athletes we plonk ourselves in front of our TV sets to watch. At the other end are the viewers, who do not have the luxury of time or place to be at the scene of the action. So sports commentators bridge this gap.
Normally the commentators simply vocalize the action we are seeing on the TV. The better ones backfill the viewers with information pertinent to the matches being run at the time of the broadcast. The elite few make the whole proceeding interesting by peppering commentary with interesting anecdotes of incidences that occurred on the floor outside of the cameras, and providing insight that maybe even the live audience members do not know.
So I was watching the Hongkong Open 2007 Badminton Super Series event (the website is crap, btw) for the first time since the tournament started, and had the pleasure of two gentlemen (native English speakers, I gather, and I didn’t really concentrate so I couldn’t place their accent. One of them may be Danish – I’ll explain why later) for live commentary. I don’t know their names and, since they never bothered to really introduce themselves semi-regularly for the duration, I didn’t care.
What I did care, though, was the quality of the commentary. From the onset it was clear these two were no Gillian Clark (the best badminton commentator, period). Before every match, when the players are moving onto the court and warming up, there was no witty repartee, no background on previous matches played (today was the semis), no nothing. Fine, I thought. I don’t need idle banter if prematch analysis isn’t available.
The real surprise was during the Lee Chong Wei and Kenneth Jonassen match. One of the chaps, who clearly didn’t come prepared, repeatedly called Chong Wei ‘Chong Chee Wei.’
“What makes Chong Chee Wei so deadly is the speed of his play.”
“Great point for Chong Chee Wei.”
“Chong Chee Wei is so handsome.” (No, I made that one up).
The point was, it was such an outward display of disrespect to the player on the court, and a disservice to all the viewers everywhere. If you’re going to be a commentator, and representing the action on court, you have the responsibility to know your stuff. You’re not a native Malaysian? Then spend the time to learn up the names at least! If you couldn’t pronounce the names accurately to the perfect pitch required that’s okay, but to mangle a name like that really shows how poor some commentators could be.
Hell, I’m neither a native English speaker nor a commentator, but I take the time to learn up the nuances of pronouncing names of Western players. Why shouldn’t you, as a commentator, take the trouble?
The irony is, they took the time to talk about how to pronounce Jonassen’s name! One of them (the one I presumed to be Danish, as the other commentator specifically asked this one how to pronounce Kenneth’s name) did clear up a long standing question on whether it was Peter-Gayd or Peter Ga-der (it’s Ga-der), and noted that the Danes do not pronounce the ‘h’ in Kenneth (therefore it’s Ken-net).
How conscientious of them.
See, the difference is, these commentators are *there* at the scene of the action. As journalists, they have access to the players, coaches, other members of the media. Why couldn’t they get a list of matches they will be commentating, walk up to the respective teams’ camps, talk to them and ask them to pronounce the names they couldn’t? Learn up phonetics notation (the ones you see in dictionaries), and make the effort! Gillian Clark is English, and never too proud to put in the effort to learn up the names – even the tough Chinese ones that give even me the creeps. That’s professionalism, boys.
If ever I become a sports commentator (that is to say, when I dream tonight), I vow to pronounce any name properly, and will not have any smartass blogger complain about my pronunciation in some silly blog somewhere.

Book Meme tagged!

I’ve just been tagged (if you could call being a few days late ‘just’), and I’m as excited as a bunny in a carrot farm. Dear pal Ell has sent me a comment that I only got to while I was housekeeping my spam comments (all good comments get slushed up in the spam queue, while the bad ones keep showing up in my normal queue here in rambleville).
Not too late! It is a book meme tag, and here were my instructions:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fourth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.
  6. State the book title and author

So, here it is:

In many areas only weak values are available and you have to work with these. It is no use hoping for strong values or even sound values if these are hard to come by. A weak value on its own is weak.

The book is Edward de Bono’s The Six Value Medals. It’s on the bed here right next to me.
Not having read the book yet (my wife was reading it and left it here), reading those 3 sentences really doesn’t make any sense.
I’m fascinated with the work that de Bono has done with what I call meta-thinking – his thinking about thinking. He pretty much made thinking into as close a science as you can get, with tools such as Lateral Thinking and the 6 Thinking Hats (the training which I went to for the 6 Thinking Hats was pretty damn cool, and is extremely useful for categorically organizing your thinking).
Lateral Thinking is a method that is used to stimulate the brain to be creative consistently. Think about that for a minute – consistently generating creative ideas!
The Value Medals I know nothing about, but given the usefulness of 6 Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking, learning up the Medals shouldn’t be any less interesting.
I’ll probably write something about thinking tools someday.
Ell, thanks for the tag! 😀

GRRM Answers! (but don’t expect to be satisfied)

George RR Martin has a penchant for making his fans want to rip their hair off. His procrastination and tendency to be distracted with other things is not new, definitely human, and something we all can subscribe to.
In this interview by EW, he gets a chance to reply some of the more pressing questions from his fanbase, and covers a fair bit of ground.
I’ve written about this before on two separate occasions, but one year on, nothing seems to have changed as far as I can tell.
So read on for his excuses, and don’t expect to be happy about them either. Between his miniatures, American football, comics, conventions, editing Wild Cards, collaborations with other authors on other books, RRRetrospective/Dreamsongs, and his role-playing publishing shenanigans, fans should start to count their blessings that A Dance of Dragons is still in his radar at all.
The more popular an author becomes, the avenues of expansion stretches further into the skyline, the more temptations made available, and ever more distractions present themselves. I hope, as I always do, that the quality of the books do not suffer.
As an aside, it has been a while since I posted, but it’s not because I didn’t have anything to write about. The general feeling right now is there is simply not enough time in a day to do all the things I definitely want to, and these past couple of weeks haven’t helped much.
Here’s hoping I’m back with some semblance of consistency.

Don’t reprint my paragraph!

Recently Le Guin made a huge fuss over the reproduction of a piece she originally wrote in Ansible on Boingboing. The bust-up with Cory Doctorow wasn’t pretty, and I was about to write a piece about how she didn’t ‘get it.’ How she doesn’t understand that in this day and age, publicity such as what Boingboing can give gets more than a few eyeballs your way, and generally translating that to attention and fans (and sales).
No, I don’t care if she wrote the singular piece of fiction that got me hooked on reading in the first place. No, I don’t care if she’s one of my favourite authors. It was only a paragraph, for goodnesssakes!
As I sat down to write, I re-read the whole saga carefully. Then things weren’t so straightforward anymore. If you are at all interested in the story, I fully advise you to read the whole story (by following the links) and evaluate the situation yourself.
A very brief summary is as follows: It started with Doctorow posting on Boingboing about Le Guin’s piece on Ansible. Le Guin’s piece was a response to a statement by a Slate reviewer about how Michael Chabon “spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.” The piece was funny and tongue-in-cheek. Doctorow thought it was cleverly done, came up a great blog title and posted it.
Le Guin found out, and wasn’t happy. She had proxies contact Doctorow to take it down, which he did, eventually, but not before attempting to laboriously explain his intentions, why it was in Fair Use, and in his opinion wasn’t wrong, etc, etc. Le Guin explained on her site why she was unimpressed. Doctorow followed-up with an apology almost immediately after.
What made it interesting is Jerry Pournelle’s unimpressed stance on Doctorow’s explanations. I followed the links to understand further, and found this.
Refreshing to hear from both sides of the story on a single issue. I have tremendous respect for Doctorow, but having heard Pournelle’s point of view, there does seem to be a little bit of irony in Doctorow’s case. My initial assessment definitely changed, and I have a little more sympathy now for Le Guin, regardless of whether it was a paragraph or not.
Having said that, I think all Le Guin had to do was to prod Doctorow, and he’d have taken it down with a minimum of fuss. In his apology, he made it very clear he wasn’t out to cause problems, merely to point people to her work.
So I share the concluding sentiment she expressed in her followup on 14 October 2007. As the dust settles, it simply goes on to prove that copyright is definitely not an easy problem to solve, and is getting harder than ever. Whatever it is that solves it (or as close as it gets) and makes everyone happy, it sure as hell won’t be DRM, I’m sure of that much.
As an aside, I once had someone comment that she’ll boycott Le Guin’s work after reading Le Guin’s Ansible piece because she feels Le Guin is jealous of Cormac McCarthy’s success, saying there ‘not a word out of place’ in The Road. I thought it was interesting reaction to a disagreement in opinions.
The other day John Mayer said Heroes sucked because it didn’t feature people with skin-tight costumes. I therefore boycott all his music because although his music’s good, I resent that he holds the opinion costumes were required in a show like Heroes. Clearly, anything skin-tight, costumes or not, was sufficient.

Unwarranted distraction by slim, shiny thing

I wanted to write about the little episode concerning Ursula Le Guin’s little outburst on the internet over her little piece in Ansible. Unfortunately, a little jaunt to an Apple store after dinner brought my attention to a tiny little thing called iPod Touch.
If you don’t really follow the endless rollouts of consumer electronics and geeky gadgets, you may not have heard that Apple released a phone called iPhone. This little thing has been greeted by the general gadget/techy public as the best thing since someone dared to split open and tasted durians However, due to partner deals and other business shenanigans, this baby is not available outside of the US (for now).
However, Apple has seen fit to revamp its generation of iPods, and have introduced what is really the iPhone without the phone – called the iPod Touch. And this had no trouble reaching our shores.
And I got to play with it today.
Initial impression: breathtaking! I won’t show you any pictures (I didn’t take any, and I didn’t feel like pissing people off by image linking them here), but I will direct you to Apple’s home page and the pictures in Engadget here to see for yourself what I’m talking about.
Slimmer than a catwalk model who eats once a week, more stylish than Gwen Stefani ever could be, sexier than [insert whatever turns you on], it’s a lovely lovely piece of technology.
However, I’ve always stated that I will not buy iPods, and this guy does nothing to sway me (although it came pretty damn close). It’s still too expensive. We can’t use iTunes here, which takes away a lot of the functionality that it otherwise will give to iPod owners. I can get similarly spec’ed media players for a much lesser price. There are more than a couple of things that I can nitpick about this device – it’s not perfect!
However, there is nothing out there like its user interface, which is beautiful. it is more than the sum of its parts. I suppose for a fellow with loads of cash to spare, and is looking for something that will literally turn people’s heads, you cannot go wrong with the iPod Touch.

Retrospective Book Purchases

Many a day has passed since I recorded my book purchases. Unfortunately for me, it doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten a rein in my spending habits, alas! It simply means I’ve been lazier than normal in actually putting it up. Here then are my hauls on two separate occasions last month.
I’ve got some spectacular stuff, as follows:

I bought this set more than a month ago, when I wandered into Atria by mistake. I was driving, and the car was moving on its own accord, and [mutter mutter mutter]….
Anyway, the haul was satisfying:

  • Rabbit, Run – John Updike
    My third Updike, and a pleasant find.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond
    Ooo, I wanted this one a looong time ago. Very highly recommended. Dr Diamond is an acknowledged expert in the field, and his take on mankind’s journey throughout history is an interesting proposition. It is also a book where the typeface was very obviously irritating to me. It’s printed in a old style serif font, which reminded me of an old novel, and it lacks the smooth easy reading of typefaces used in more recently published books. This book isn’t new, granted, but I’ve never had a book’s font bother me before, and I’ve read my fair share of old books.
  • Seeing – Jose Saramago
    I frightened nearby shoppers when I saw this, as I started violently and let out a bloodcurdling yell. No, not really. But my eyes did open a little wider when I found it. Saramago’s sequel to the enjoyable Blindness has been on my list for sometime, but I didn’t want to get it at its current price on the bookshelves. Here in the warehouse sale bookstore, it cost me only RM8.
  • Confessions of an Economic Hit Man – John Perkins
    Devious machinations of rich countries as they manipulate economic, political and social events in third world countries to make even more money? I love to read about the realities of business and politics. It’s stuff like these that make me feel that sometimes all the goodwill crap you get in the media is all spin.
  • The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
    Finally! The missing book in the trilogy! The thrill of the hunt, this one. Check out my previous book haul blog post for some context here.
  • The Accidental – Ali Smith
    There were so many Ali Smiths laying around! I have given this book a miss every single time I was in Atria. And now I bought it. Have the book stare at your face long enough and the buyers will cave. To be fair, I know Ali Smith and the general acclaim surrounding her work, so I didn’t necessarily think I was wasting cash. And it sounded vaguely futuristic (but not scifi – oh no, someone like Smith would never commit something as sacrilegious as writing genre!), so what the heck.

Next, a watercolour extravaganza! A separate trip to MPH a week after I bought the above haul.

  • Kuala Lumpur: A Sketchbook
    I like looking at art. I don’t necessary enjoy them on a scholarly level, for sure, but I like to simply look at them, admire the workmanship of the piece, and appreciate the beauty and the feeling it evokes. Of all the types of paintings, I’m partial to oil, and strangely, watercolour. There is something calming about watercolours. So anyway, this book is by a local artist on my hometown of Kuala Lumpur. The Sketchbook series has done many cities, and the interesting places in each of these cities are given the same treatment – watercolour sketches and a brief description of the place. This particular book brings back a lot of memories for me, as a lot of the places depicted were places that were close to my heart.
  • The Innocent Mage, Karen Miller
    An almost impulse buy. I loved the cover – a watercolour drawing of a mage, not Gandalf-y. Struck me as how a mage should be drawn. I’ll talk a little about this book in another post.

As a really weird aside, I have recently gotten confused over two very similar words, retroactive and retrospective. Both at first glance allude to events past, but when does one use the former, and when the latter? I’ve always used retrospective, but apparently it isn’t appropriate when it comes to contractual legalese. I might be wrong here, but it certainly is in my experience. I don’t even use the word retroactive – it sounds like expired radioactivity, and anything to do with radioactivity, especially in innocent blog posts like this, is bad.

Badminton: Make no mistake, being No. 1 is a journey, not a destination

So Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong are at the pinnacle of their sport. Wonderful. I hope they remember the legacy of being World No. 1 in Malaysia. The legacy of underachievement. I hope they realize it, and aim to break the rot.

Rashid was for a short time World No. 1. So was Roslin. Lee Chong Wei. None of them held onto the top spot for very long. It’s as though they thought that achieving the No. 1 position was a goal, like someone passing the tape at a marathon finish line. Their standard of badminton at the point of reaching No. 1 took a dive, and none of them made it back up. It was also telling that none of them held to the No. 1 spot for very long either.
Will KKK-TBH follow in their footsteps? Malaysian badminton players have notoriously weak mental strength. Can they take the heat of being the pair everyone wants to scalp?
Not reading the newspapers regularly does have its disadvantages. I didn’t know about the rift between the pair when the story broke – someone mentioned it to me. I was surprised, but it was not unexpected. When you get poor results.
I’m a very vocal critic of our badminton team. But I believe that KKK is probably the world’s most potent doubles player at present, second only to the incomparable Tony Gunawan. KKK is a better player than TBH. But so what? The pair is only as good as the pairing forged, not on the individual player. KKK has to be matured about the nature of their pairing, and put in the work required to make it work, just like anyone would have to put in the work to make any relationship work.
That’s not to say TBH has nothing to do. KKK has a right to expect a higher standard of play from him, and the way to show he is serious is to improve his game. He’s not that shabby, but to be demanded to be even better speaks volumes about their ability.
It’s good they got over the supposed ‘rift’ quickly, and won the Macau Open (though I must say they won it by the skin of their teeth).
So. World No. 1. What next? They have to stay there.
Here’s what they have to do. Remember their hunger when they first came onto the scene. Hungry and with a point to prove. To play without pressure and with the intense desire to win, and the willingness to work together to do it.
They’ve proven it and now risen to the top. Remember that they have another point to prove now – that they are here to stay. Perched at the summit.

Goodness, is that all there is to Facebook?

I’m very seldom at these social-networking sites. I love Web 2.0, but who really has time for sites that requires you to get friends to add you to their lists?
I have a Friendster page setup some years back, but I barely used it. I have less than 10 friends, and most of them aren’t even friends – they are family. Admittedly it was fun – for a couple of days. Then I left it to fester.
A couple of days ago I joined Facebook – a good pal of mine dropped me an invite. Having heard so many good things about it on TWiT, and reading so much news lately on it in the tech world (its rich API and supposed ‘openness’), I decided to take the plunge and add yet another login-password combo to remember.
The interface – fabulous. Then I got bitten. And dropped-kicked. And had things thrown at me. And werewolves and slayers came to get me. And there suddenly there was a room for me to decorate. There were walls and mini-feeds and notifications and pokes and stuff.
Interesting. A platform for custom applications, with an emphasis on spreading like viruses in a packed disco hall. I installed this and that, and added and found friends.
Three days now, and I realize that I’ve been doing the same thing for different people. Now hang on a minute. That’s it?
Isn’t there a way for you to say something about yourself? Some form of self-expression? Is it all just fighting and beer-drinking?
I must be missing something. I’m pretty new to these social sites, but at this point I’m still wondering about what the fuss is about.
I’m going to stick to Facebook until I figure it out. Otherwise, all these reading of notifications and requests is beginning to remind me of unread email at work, and that’s bad.

Musings – House meets Robert Jordan

I caught about a half-hour of House a couple of days ago, and in this particular episode, the patient of the week was diagnosed with amyloidosis.
You know already where this is going, don’t you?
Normally we watch CSI or House or any of these myriad medical/pseudo-scientific dramas on TV, half the time we don’t have a clue what those cryptic terminologies being used on the shows are. “Oh, it’s a case of hyposysterdemic asphyxiation, coupled with a severe case of lymphomic soupupoludis psychosis.” “You must be kidding me! The killer used a potent mixture of dihydrogen monoxide with durian juice, topped with a sprinkling of salt?”
Okay.
But this time the term used in House (Season 3 I think it is) I am familiar with. And so close to occasion of RJ’s death as well.
Again, just one of those things that are inexplicable.

The Passing of a Dragon – RIP Robert Jordan

It is with sadness that I post this. A gifted author and an all-round nice guy has succumbed to his illness. He faced his condition with aggressive optimism, maintained his goodwill and good humour despite the obvious physical punishment, determined to triumph against the odds.
I remember the first time I read about his affliction. I remember how I felt as he announced on his blog that he has been diagnosed with amyloidosis, and his declaration that he will fight it.
Let me go back a bit before I continue. During a period of idle pursuits many many years ago, I picked up Eye of the World despite the horrendous cover art, and I was struck by its brilliance. I didn’t have any expectations, and it blew me away. This, I thought with pleasure, is how the purest high fantasy should be.
I consumed the series. I literally devoured each subsequent book. I can’t remember how long it lasted. There was a point where I picked up a recently released Path of Daggers hardcover while I was training in the States! Hardcover! The bloody book was so heavy my luggage almost grounded the plane, and it was so expensive (the ringgit is weak against the dollar after all), I starved myself at night.
However, even the most fervent of fans would admit to the declining quality later in the series. And I, a fervent fan, called it quits halfway into Path of Daggers.
By the time I read his announcement on his blog, I had stopped reading the Wheel of Time for some time. Telling people in book forums that his best had come and gone. Woe that such a great piece of work degenerated into its current state, a symbol of crass commercialism (deservedly or not). While I never told anyone to *not* read Wheel of Time, I gave warning of the impending lull, just as you would tell someone if a particular restaurant was worth repeat visits. You know, that sort of thing.
But I remembered as I read his announcement and his resolve, that despite it all, Wheel of Time is only a story, is only a form of entertainment, and here is this man finding out that he has been struck by a disease that’s almost certainly terminal. I find myself thinking how life can really put things into perspective.
So what if the series isn’t finished? So what if the latter books suck? So what if people accuse him of selling out to publishers as he stretched the series as taut as he could to the point of breaking? So what?
I followed his progress with regular visits to his blog. Despite his condition, he updated his fans with news of his treatment, and always he never failed to come across as generous, cheerful, hopeful, encouraging to others who shared his predicament. He talked of completing Wheel of Time for his fans, and of starting another series set in the same world. He set goals for himself. The support he got were not only from fans, but from other human beings who connected and felt touched.
There was this time during his treatment where his progress marker, called the Lambda light chains were well within the normal range, and it was great news. I had thought he’d beat it for sure. His last update was just over a week ago.
But alas. My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.
He has taught me indirectly to cherish life, and I thank him for that, and I thank him for the period of pure pleasure whilst I indulged in his imagined world.
Thank you, Robert Jordan, and may you rest in peace.

Visual Studio is such a hog

I’m feeling a little frustrated right now. Visual Studio 2005 requires such high specs that my old 1.8Ghz Pentium 4 is having problems just clicking along between the various panes. It’s click, wait for the focus, click, click, wait for focus, etc, etc.
I don’t know why I’m complaining now – I’ve done quite a bit of work on my personal project already, but it’s frustrating because the slowness is finally getting to me.
I’m used to fast fast fast. When I code I type fast, I think fast, and when I compile, I expect instantaneous feedback.
Not sure if it is due to the .NET framework (I installed 3.0 sometime back). I intentionally upgraded my memory sometime back to, are you ready for this, 1.25GB of memory, specifically to support my development work! Wow! 1.25GB! And still VS is unsatisfied!
Oh, alright, the memory isn’t as high as I would have liked, but hey, it was 512MB before.
Hark back to the old days when I made do with GCC.
Now with Visual Studio 2008 on the horizon, with full support for the .NET 3.0 technologies, I’m convinced my machine as it stands right now is more likely to make my morning coffee than to be able to even load VS2008.
I’m sorely tempted to just sink in 2K bucks and build myself a screamer of a PC, so I can code in relatively stress-free environment. But no. I will make my next project pay for itself, and pay for the new machine that I’m most definitely going to buy.
But that 19″ LG widescreen monitor is looking very appealing right now. The luscious screen is showing a disembodied finger making a come-hither motion, beckoning me forward, beckoning me to flash my wallet, and I have a feeling I may not be able to withstand the lure for very long…

Book Buying Binge!

I’ve written many posts in the past months, but alas, have not taken the step to actually post them. I won’t trouble the two of you reading this post about what happened offline, but suffice to say my online presence was much limited.
During my online hiatus, my book-buying has continued unabated, which is, of course, bad. Well, not *that* bad. My haul was pretty prolific, as it was over a period of a couple of weeks. Since I’m pretty fanatical (read:crazy obsessive) about continuity, I’ve decided to post everything I’ve bought, in as close to chronological order as possible.

  • Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud
    I’m more than an occasional graphic novel/comics reader. Years of comic book buying has made me more jaded than your average oyster, so I only seek out works that either I’ve heard good things about, or genuinely interest me because of the subject matter. This book has been on my comics wishlist for a long time, but it’s only recently that I’ve put my mind to actually finding it. A trip to Borders and after jostling in the aisle with fashionably dressed teenagers yapping on mobiles more expensive than my monthly mortgage, I found it. My impressions will be in another blog post, naturally.

Shortly after my McCloud, I accidentally made my way to the Big Bookshop Warehouse Bookstore in Atria, and as I have for the last few visits, took out a stack of books. This place is dangerous – I spend almost 100 bucks every time I walk in.

  • Chess, Stefan Zweig
    A book about chess. Thinner than some of the contractual documents I have to read at work. How can I resist? It’s about this chess champion who is aboard a luxury liner, and is challenged by a fellow traveller. While the challenger is having his butt handed to him, someone in the crowd whispers suggestions that is more than a match for the grandmaster. Who is this mysterious person, and what is this potent chess player’s story?. I finished this book, and it was an enjoyable romp, albeit a short one.
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy
    It’s probably as close as I’m ever going to get to a Tolstoy, as I’ve decided I will not read Karenina or War and Peace.
  • Marry Me, John Updike
    Infidelity as told by a modern maestro of literature? The ‘maelstrom’ that is marriage – of 2 couples who are each cheating with the other’s spouse? Are you kidding me? This one went straight to my shopping basket.
  • Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
    I hear this one is gonna make me stay away from McDonald’s and other fast food chains. Already the mere whisper of the suggestions contained in this book is making me wary of 5 minute burgers. Unless I’m incredibly hungry, of course.
  • Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Franz Kafka
    The thought processes of a man who turns into a cockroach. Who wouldn’t be intrigued?
  • The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
    Now it is in one of the forums I frequent that I first heard about this. I had no idea it was a fantasy classic before I then. I’m a jaded fantasy fan, so anything fresh is welcome, and I’m hoping this will whet my appetite. The devil in 1930s Moscow, and a satire of high-renown. There a chick in there somewhere too, and with a name like Margarita, I’m thinking it’s gonna be cool.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    I’m a little worried about this one. Its reputation precedes it like lightning before the boom of thunder, and I’ve heard this literary thunder being alternately praised and booed. For this reason alone I intended to read it and decide for myself.

I had a voucher that I have to use, so I went and bought:

  • The Harmony Silk Factory, Tash Aw
    Up and coming Malaysian author. Won some prizes too. I get such a thrill seeing the word ‘Malaysia’ in published novels, so this one will probably have me doing cartwheels, seeing that it is set in Malaysia.

There another weekend saw me walking unexpectedly to a Borders sale in The Curve! Here, I got:

In another round of shopping, I found this at a great price:

Actually, before I bought the NLP book, I was shopping somewhere, and there was a used bookstore. Under a pretense or other, I sneaked in and came out with 3 books:

  • The Book of Merlyn, T.H. White
    Don’t you hate it when you buy a book and you find that the ‘real’ ending is really in another book. That’s what I found out when I bought The Once and Future King. So I hadn’t started on King Arthur’s adventures until I found this book. Good thing it’s cheap too.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
    A seminal piece of science fiction. So I heard. I’m dying to find out exactly how bad it really is.
  • Grass, Sheri S. Tepper
    Heard good things about this lady. Next to Le Guin and Bujold, probably one of the more acclaimed female sci-fi author out there.

The reason I listed it here instead of above is because I took a picture of them together with my latest stash, which was purchased earlier this week. They are:

  • The Weekend Novelist, Robert J Ray and Bret Norris
    I know I have at least a book in me. Apparently if I follow the directions in this book, I will have a full novel in my hands in 52 weeks. Well, start the clock! Uhm, wait. I didn’t say when.
  • An Introduction to English Poetry, James Fenton

    Continuing my self-education of the intricacies of literature, and this time it is an effort to more deeply understand the murky waters of poetry. Murky for me, that is. I love poems, but can hardly delve beyond the obvious in most works, which I suspect is like admiring the tip of the poetry iceberg. I’m hoping this book will shed some light on the remaining 90% that is hidden from my view.
  • Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
    Found this cheap. Found Book 3 (see below) too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Book 2, which is a bummer. I hate it when I can’t get the complete set, as I tend to wait until I get the full thing before embarking on the series. You know, in case the books are really good, then the waiting to get the missing book will be intolerable.
  • The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
    I hate it when I can’t complete the full set. Oh, I’ve said it already?
  • Blooming Beautiful by Melanie Sykes
    This one was chosen by the wife. She’s apparently some celebrity in either UK (or US). Uhm, I’m not going to read this.

Hmm… didn’t this make up for all the missing blog posts before this?

Stop singling out Boon Heong!

I’m really fed up with what I’m reading these days on the Worlds. We’re all fired up for this meet, and when things don’t go according to plan, all the fingers are drawn up like pistols from holsters in an old western flick. I’m pissed in particular about the roasting the media is giving Boon Heong – articles like this and this really rile me up. I think it’s blatantly unfair to single him out, and here’s why.
Mens doubles, it may surprise some to know, is a team event, and the failure or success of the team is borne by the all the members of the team.
So Boon Heong made some mistakes. So? In the quarters against the Japanese they spent a lot of effort attacking the weaker Ikeda, presumable because he makes a lot of mistakes too. But oh, wait… the Japanese won anyway, didn’t they?
Mens doubles is a *team* event, and should be treated as such. TBH-KKK failed, and they failed as a team.
The badminton team should put up a united front to the public. Not because Boon Heong ‘choked on crucial points’! Take these ‘reasons’ offline! Debate and thresh it out behind the glare of publicity. Everyone knows what happened, we bloody hell watched it. There’s no need to rub his face in – the bloke’s been through enough himself, and he doesn’t need it being plastered all over the freaking media reminding everyone and his dog that the whole country’s disappointed because of him. Which isn’t true at all.
What good do you think this sort of coverage will possible bring to Boon Heong? That he’s inferior to KKK? That he has a lot to learn? Where the hell were the media when KKK was show-ponying in the local circuit tournaments – was KKK dragged through mud in public? Again, what good would come of it? How would TBH feel now that KKK goes on record saying this defeat ‘really hurt’?
KKK-TBH is still a good pairing. All this media attention is focused on the wrong things, and will affect the morale of the team unnecessarily. Or worse, affect their budding relationship and the all important on-court chemistry. We as fans have a right to hope for the stars, but let’s taper with down with some reality checks and good old fashioned sensibility.
TBH, pick yourself up! Your country still needs you.

Developer Personality Test

I just did this test, which is quite funny (not quite hilarious, not quite dull).
Your programmer personality type is:
DLSB
You’re a Doer.
You are very quick at getting tasks done. You believe the outcome is the most important part of a task and the faster you can reach that outcome the better. After all, time is money.
You like coding at a Low level.
You’re from the old school of programming and believe that you should have an intimate relationship with the computer. You don’t mind juggling registers around and spending hours getting a 5% performance increase in an algorithm.
You work best in a Solo situation.
The best way to program is by yourself. There’s no communication problems, you know every part of the code allowing you to write the best programs possible.
You are a liBeral programmer.
Programming is a complex task and you should use white space and comments as freely as possible to help simplify the task. We’re not writing on paper anymore so we can take up as much room as we need.
You can try it yourself here.

Why warehouse sales are good, but not in the way you think

I’d like to throw in my 2 cents with regards to the warehouse sales situation in Malaysia. There has been a couple of places where this has been discussed, and is definitely worth a look see.
For the past couple of years, there has been an increase in warehouse book sales from major bookstore chains in the country. In fact, it has gotten to the point where one can look forward to a warehouse sale every couple of months. This is excellent for the general public, as the prices are low. For booklovers, it’s like heaven.
The issue raised is that of the repercussions stemming from continuous warehouse sales. There is typically a sizeable selection of books on offer in warehouse sales which are also being sold at full price from bookstores around the country. This, of course, affects business as usual, and given time, the book industry here may implode, and especially hurting local distributors and publishers.
At the heart of the discussion is the practice of ‘book dumping’, which is mass importing of remaindered books from neighbouring countries and selling them off cheap here.
I’m of the opinion that books here are expensive. At almost RM40 a pop for a mass-market paperback, it’s a pretty high barrier to entry to a lot of folks who’d simply see a better way to spend the money. For bibliophiles like myself, this is getting to be an incredibly expensive pastime.
I will never forget the feeling when I see books I rushed out to buy from bookstores, only to find them sold under RM10 in warehouse sales.
There are those who believe that books sold in Malaysian bookstores are among the most affordable anywhere in the world. That is utter nonsense. Try telling that to the average wage earner. We have to factor in the exchange rate and the cost of shipping the books over here. Compare that to someone in the States for instance, also an average wage-earner, who gets to buy a mass-market paperback for less than 10 bucks. Anyone will tell you that when you live in the country, you go by the country’s cost of living. Who cares if the book costs less here if we convert the cost of the book from USD to RM?
So from where I’m standing, warehouse sales make a lot of sense to me financially. I get the sort of buying power someone else in another country has. And the books are *new*, by golly! So go to warehouse sales! Buy great books at great prices! You have the power now to *try* new authors, and expand from your comfort zone without feeling the pinch too badly! More exclamation points!!!
Some may accuse me of being short-sighted, that supporting these sales will accelerate the demise of the book industry. The truth is you’re never going to be able to stop people from buying from warehouse sales – that’s just crazy talk. The market will always show you what works and what doesn’t. And warehouse sales are clearly working.
So what needs to happen so that we can enjoy lower-priced books without the danger of an imploding industry? Lower the book prices.
The government has always stated that it wants a learned and well-read society. It has launched the National Reading Campaign, but largely confined that to the National Library. Nothing was done to instigate growth in the general public, nothing done economically as far as I can see beyond increasing the amount for book purchases as tax relief. Let the warehouse sale be a wake-up call to the distributors and publishers to push the government to lower the prices of books in general even further.
If the prices stay as they are, well, the warehouse sales are continuing to cater to the needs of the general public.
I have more books than I can read at present. Almost all are gems that is simply calling out to be read. I’m in no hurry to purchase from regular bookstores unless they are must-have new releases (George RR Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay, HP7 (yes, stop snickering), etc).
The one thing I am worried about where warehouse sales are concerned is the obvious impact to local authors and publishers. I bought my copy of May 13 for RM20, easily the most expensive in the haul that I had. Somehow this strikes me as wrong, and it’s not because Dr Kua hasn’t written something worthy of the 20 bucks.
Preemptive Comment Responses:
Q. If price is the issue, then why not use the library? They are *free*! Or doesn’t Malaysia have libraries?
A. Sadly, libraries are not as commonplace as you’d think around here. I’d agree that having more libraries and making it more accessible is one of the ways to tackle the accessibility to books problem. But it’s not especially good for bookstore sales either, and that’s what we’re talking about.
Also, I hear our libraries are crap. I’ve not been to one in about 15 years, so I can’t really comment without looking like an idiot (if I haven’t already).

Pnin by Nabokov

I accidentally saw this when I was having lunch a couple of days ago – Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov.

I’m beginning to formulate a book buying theory that I believe will work very well in Malaysia, given the propensity for book distributors and book stores to hold warehouse sales. I think I will talk about it in my next post.

Why I hate Lotus Notes

First off, let me say that I hate Microsoft Outlook. I’ve been using Outlook since I entered the workforce, and it has never endeared itself to me… it was bulky, slow, and has a ton of function that I never use such as Calendar and Tasks (don’t ask me – the companies I worked for never saw fit to integrate those functions, so they sit there on my notebook collecting virtual dust).

Then I made a jump to a company that uses Notes.

Lotus Notes is an incredibly powerful piece of software. There’s no denying it – it is simply a titan in the groupware category of software. There has to be a reason a software like this has gained a seemingly unassailable foothold in the groupware industry.

From my point of view however, I can’t for the life of me understand how it has achieved that.

I’m a useability kinda guy. I like smart user interfaces, software that doesn’t require a lot of thinking to figure out, no matter how complicated the software. I’d like to think I’m an intelligent guy, but sitting there figuring out stuff via guesswork, or worse, figuring out stuff that clearly doesn’t work right, isn’t my idea of fun.

So here is a list of stuff about Notes that bugs me:

  • A basic reply button gives you three functionality – reply, reply with history, reply without attachments. I mean, what the hell? If I reply, of course I want to bloody quote the bugger. If I wanted to send a blank email response to the sender (which is what the default Reply does), then I would have created a new mail with his address! This is not so much of a problem if it wasn’t the default behaviour when I reply a mail. To make it worse, I can’t change the preferences to make it behave the way I think it should.
  • Cannot quickly add recipients into address book. This is a more irritating problem than you’d first expect. Notes somehow assumes that everyone you’re ever going to communicate with are other Notes users in the same organization.
  • Oh, the address book is unusable.
  • To explain the following problem, a scenario is called for. Let’s say Archie has Jughead in his addressbook under the nickname ‘Juggy’. Archie sends an email to a few people, and ‘Juggy’ is one of them One of the recipients (say Veronica) decides to reply all. But lo and behold, Veronica gets an error on delivery because Notes doesn’t know who ‘Juggy’ is, even though she already has Jughead on her address book. This is a crazy problem because Notes isn’t smart enough to stop using other people’s nicknames when someone else decides to reply all. Why oh why can’t it resolve the email properly?
  • Simple selection doesn’t work in the email list view – I must work with its cryptic ‘checkmarks’ system which doesn’t adhere to basic windows SHIFT-select or CTRL select commands. It’s infuriating!
  • The searching is crap. You know you’re in trouble when another company provides a tool (called Google Desktop) to search for content on *your* application, and does it *miles* better than you can.
  • I cannot sort by subject and cannot quick search on the currently sorted column. I can, but it’s useless, because it only searches for the characters in order of appearance (I will find “Bozo the clown”, but not “I’m not a bozo”)
  • Every time you start to open your mailbox, your custom list of folders are all closed – it doesn’t remember your recently open folders. That is irritating as I’ve got emails sent thru filters, and i want to see them.
  • The concept of replication irritates me. You never seem to know whether that mail you sent was *really* sent, because you forgot to replicate. Well, actually, you can find out, but hey, I’m the user, and my impressions count a lot. I know Outlook as a similar concept, but it somehow doesn’t strike me as a chore. If I wanted to really be sure, I can just tap F5 in Outlook instead of Alt-B, 4, Alt-2, Down Arrow, Enter in Notes.
  • Images in the email doesn’t behave like normal objects – I can’t select it, copy and paste it elsewhere (i.e. Word, Paint).
  • The bullet handling and tables in the email is crap
  • On the tool bar, there is a button called ‘Search’. It’s a drop down button, meaning there’s a little arrow by the side that shows other options related to Search. And you know what I find? The following dropdown options under Search: ‘Altavista’, ‘Lycos’, ‘Hotbot’. They are now on the 7th generation of the software, and you still find *this*???
  • The email address lookup is weak – even when you have a local replica of the address book, a lookup takes forever if you (god forbid) ever misspell a recipient’s name, because the system will automatically know it’s not in the loca replica, and will automatically search on the main directory. If you’re an offline user, that’s 1 minute of lost time. Now imagine you misspell 2 people’s name on route to writing a 1 sentence email. Shoot self? Probably. But any software that makes me want to shoot myself should probably be shot first.
  • Now this is incredible. Every email software I’ve used has this ability, but not gargantuan bigshot Notes. You can’t download email! You can’t drag and drop it onto your desktop, and somehow make it store email as separate files. As a consequence, you can’t attach email in another email, so you have to (ready for this?) *copy and paste* the contents of the email you’re attaching into the new email!
  • Cannot multiple undo!
  • Copy and paste in the to, cc, bcc fields are buggy! The highlighting is all wrong, especially if you start selecting from the middle of a to/cc/bcc field that’s very long.
  • Why would i reply to myself if I reply all???
  • Archive – when moving of documents to archive, and the documents deleted from view, you can’t immediately do it again with another docs unless you refresh the view. This only happens for local replicas, but since nobody should be using direct server copies anyway, this should be fixed!

So what’s good about it? Notes has a concept of teamrooms, which has its heart in the right place. However, in Notes there are millions of ways of designing teamrooms, and this of course translates to inconsistencies in user interfaces for different categories of team rooms.

I hate Outlook. But having used Notes, I’d jump back in bed with Outlook any time of the day.

Another booksale, another haul

Here’s another happy outing. Hadn’t even realized there was a sale going on – a quick stop over and voila! Booksale.

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Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Trial, Franz Kafka
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
The Long Good-bye, Raymond Chandler
Saturday, Ian McEwan
May 13, Kua Kia Soong
I’ve always been on the lookout for Raymond Chandler. Having sampled Dashiell Hammett, I wonder how Philip Marlowe can compare to Sam Spade, and I can’t wait to see which one I like more.

Quality Fetish?

I came across this snippet from Sharon Bakar’s blog, which made me pause and reflect. The quote itself came from Joe Keenan from the New York Times:

Most of us are familiar with people who make a fetish out of quality: They read only good books, they see only good movies, they listen only to good music, they discuss politics only with good people, and they’re not shy about letting you know it. They think this makes them smarter and better than everybody else, but it doesn’t. It makes them mean and overly judgmental and miserly, as if taking 15 minutes to flip through “The Da Vinci Code” is a crime so monstrous, an offense in such flagrant violation of the sacred laws of intellectual time-management, that they will be cast out into the darkness by the Keepers of the Cultural Flame. In these people’s view, any time spent reading a bad book can never be recovered. They also act as if the rest of humanity is watching their time sheets.

I’m a frequent forum goer, and this certainly is a perfect-fit description of some of the people I know online.
In fact, I couldn’t have put it better myself (although that is also because I have not the prowess in prose to come up with such a description).
Except I would call it something other than ‘make a fetish out of quality.’ I don’t know what. There must be a word out there.
Not that I have anything against these people, oh no. But sometimes the gimmicky persona does get kinda grating after a while.

My latest book haul

Well, here’s another update of my most recent book haul.
Last weekend, I bought the following:
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The Thousandfold Thought, R Scott Bakker
The Gormenghast Novels, Mervyn Peake
The Little Endless Storybook, Jill Thompson
Then of course yesterday there was the Times Bookstore Warehouse Sale, and that triggered another round of indiscriminate and irresponsible spending.
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PHP 5 Objects, Patterns and Practice, Matt Zandstra
Active Directory for Dummies (the wife is tackling Active Directory at work, so a good find, this one)
Misspent Youth, Peter F Hamilton
DNS & BIND Cookbook (the wife is getting more technical than me! I couldn’t care less about DNS or BIND)
Finance for non-financial Managers
A Collection of Beauties At the Height of Their Popularity, Whitney Otto
Orlando, Woolf
Lud-in-the-Mist, Hope Mirrless
Cosmopolis, Don DeLillo
Oracle Night, Paul Auster
First sounds (for my little one)
FARM (for my little one)
Out of pure coincidence, the dedication page for Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis was made out to… Paul Auster.
Wow.
I will talk more about the books a little later.

Closure! P&G *not* satanic!

I don’t know about you, but there was a point in my life when I was advised about Proctor and Gamble and how they had the temerity to go on air to announce to the world that yes, part of their profits go in support to the church of Satan.
Whoa.
It didn’t matter if you were a christian or not. It was a matter of principle. Satan=bad. Support Satan=bad. So there were many who heard the news suddenly had doubts about their grocery shopping list. Pringles seemed (literally) sinful.
I have to say that throughout the years of my life since that piece of ‘revelation’ (geddit? Revelation? Har har har!) traveled with me, but didn’t stop me from buying their shampoos or chips (stop eating Pringles? That would kill me!)
More than a decade later, I come across this bit of news, where a judge found that P&G are indeed not in a member of the league of the cloven-hooved one.
The P&G thing was like a unresolved strand of information in my mind. Dangling awkwardly out of place in the organized bits of ‘stuff’. Are they or aren’t they, well, so arrogant?
So this one is now filed under ‘Resolved, now forget about it’.

Oh woe! So many books, no bloody time!

Just a short note to of anguish. I’m looking at my library and realized that I have a ton of books that are all so interesting and screaming to be read. However, deep within myself I know I can’t possibly finish reading them all anytime soon.
This isn’t so bad if I knew I’ll get to them sooner or later. However, I know I’m devoting all my free time to a personal project, and that means I’m reluctant to get sucked into a book right now. So it’s later.
But the books on offer! So tempting…
The Once and Future King. The God of Small Things. Pompeii. State of Fear. The Relic. Never Let Me Go. The Little Friend. Deadhouse Gates. City of Saints and Madmen. The Catcher in the Rye. Watership Down. A Clockwork Orange. The Midwich Cuckoos. Moving Pictures. Stardust. Fight Club. Mrs Dalloway. Smiley’s People. Cetaganda. Ghostwritten. Lord of Light. The War Against Cliche. My Life. A Short History of Nearly Everything. The Wizard Knight. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The Liar. Light. Angela’s Ashes.
How the hell does one choose?

Recent Book Purchases

It’s been a while since I updated the books that I have bought. And I have bought a few since the last time I updated. In fact, I think I’ll probably have missed out a couple in today’s roundup.
Yes, I’m doing a roundup of recently purchased book again.
Here we go:
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Ring, Koji Suzuki
Shriek: An Afterword, Jeff Vandermeer
Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
Banewreaker, Jacqueline Carey
Godslayer, Jacqueline Carey
I think I will talk a little above every one of the books above.
Maybe not.
Well, not now.

Jon Stewart’s America (The Book) is @#$% hilarious!

Wow. It was a couple of years ago that I’ve started to be interested in politics, but I’ve finally gotten my hands on America (The Book), A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. No just the original, but I got the Teacher’s Edition, which contains ‘corrections’ from a professor in the form of handwritten notes on the margins of the text. The notes point out inaccuracies in the original text, sometimes with insight and sometimes with the professor’s informed opinion, almost all with hilarious results.
The book is really laugh out loud funny, and there is this picture of all the 9 Supreme Court Justices naked. Hey it’s crude, but when I looked at the page I laughed so hard!

Samsung UpStage: Man, do we love it when they do a pissing contest

Did I mention I was blown away with the iPhone by Apple? The design was astounding, with functionality in a lovely form factor.
Here comes another upstart to the throne: Upstage by Samsung. Dual sided beauty offering similar features to the iPhone, including the form factor. And it comes earlier too.
We do love it when companies keep one-upping each other to seduce the consumers. It is during times like these that I keep thinking how left out we are over here when the big guns over there flaunt their toys while the rest of us here drool.
Ah well. Good things come to those who wait.
Personally, I’m simply waiting for the same wow-like form factor design applied to a useable PDA phone device. I really really like to do whatever I want with a phone, including email and reading ebooks.

A short thought about Guy Gavriel Kay’s Ysabel

I just finished Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay. Forced to read despite by hellish schedule because the weekend maid forced me out of my office at home with a vacuum cleaner. Ended up getting sucked in (sorry!) the book so hard – frenzied reading in 2 days.
Very different book from GGK this time around – not as deep as a regular historical fantasy that he usually writes, but offers a simple plot and an engaging story. GGK’s trademark thoughtful and evocative ending is back after he decided to let it take a vacation in The Last Light of the Sun.
Readers of GGK will be rewarded with something that will make their eyes widen with surprise at some stage in the book (it depends on whether you cheated or how diehard you are).
Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit – he took it in a different direction from The Last Light of the Sun, but I definitely prefer the Ysabel direction better then the Last Light direction. Lions still tops! 🙂
I will expand on this, and give my thoughts on The Last Light of the Sun as well, since I completed it early this year myself, and hadn’t yet a chance to write down my thoughts.

Can it be true? Consistent national badminton players?

Okay, they won again. I’m a little more impressed. I’m sure others will cover the men’s doubles finals in the Swiss Open, so I’ll be content so simply say that I was cheering for Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong the whole way.
I wanted to talk about yesterday, when I turned on the TV to catch the action, and lo and behold I was surprised to see that their opponents were the formidable Indonesian/US pairing of Chandra Wijaya and Tony Gunawan (whom I think has to be one of the best doubles players ever). Now understand that in the papers yesterday morning KKK-TBH was supposed to meet Fu Haifeng and Cai Yun – a prospect I didn’t want to miss. A rematch so quickly after defeating them in the All England? Mouth-watering.
So imagine my surprise at finding that they are not playing the Chinese world champs. TheStar has never let me down before. Hrmph. Just when I thought of settling down to watch this unexpected matchup, Gillian Clark (who is the best badminton commentator at present, although she does repeat herself quite often) said that KKK-TBH had already beaten the Chinese pair enroute to the semi-fnals.
Huh?
I wasn’t expecting this news. What, the Chinese were dispatched without much fanfare? What is this? I’m not used to Malaysians beating world champs like they were qualifiers, especially after Malaysians win major tournaments. Their mental strength was never this dependable.
The last Malaysian to win the All England disappeared from the radar – like Chinese metropolis towns disappearing from satellite views because of air pollution.
So anyway, while I sat there stunned that they’ve whacked the Chinese, the game started. The Indonesians were clearly onto their game. Although Wijaya-Gunawan lost the first game, they came back in the second and completely closed the boys out with vicious attacks. Any shuttles lifted were quickly dealt with, especially by Chandra Wijaya who was simply mesmerizing.
I had thought the Malaysians have clearly ridden their luck for as long as they could have hoped, and would fade out as the Indonesians seemed have figured them out. The third game was a washout, but surprisingly it was the Malaysians who did all the washing. Gillian Clark commented at one point in the third game, “What happened to the Indonesians?” Let me enlighten you, Jill. Rexy Mainaiky happened. Even I could tell you what he told the boys in the third game interval: “Keep the bloody shuttle low.”
If anyone had a recording of the match, the second and the third game the Malaysians played were completely different. Gunawan and Wijaya could not smash at all, and they were clearly unstuck at the speeds the shuttles were being sent back just above the net. That was tactical play at its best.
It was a fantastic semi-final, all told. The boys deserved to go to the finals. After Fu Haifeng-Cai Yun and Wijaya-Gunawan, who else could stand up to them? Only themselves – will their mental strength carry them through?
As I said in a post last week after their win at All England, the boys have to keep their heads low. They are clearly a first in Malaysia in that they can continue winning and show no fear at their opponents, whoever they may be. I’d shake their hands and pat their backs if I see them. But please, let’s hope the media plays it straight and keeps it level. They are still young, have a long way to go. I hope they don’t turn into the Cheah Soon Kit-Soo Beng Kiang or Cheah Soon Kit-Chong Tan Fook partnerships.
Well done, Swiss Open men’s doubles champions. Winning 3 out of the 4 Super Series tournaments and being the Asian Games champions – all within 6 months is nothing to be sneezed at.
But let us not feed their egos too much – they have a job to do, which is to keep us smiling and the flag flying high.

GRRM gone on a rampage!

In George RR Martin’s latest post, he talks about the sorts of licensing deals he’s putting together with different companies, and is honourably trying to ensure that his fans gets the best they could possible get by being involved in the production process to ensure their quality.
All good. However, I can’t help but feel a little dismayed at the way things are going.
I’ve talked about this scenario once before – about GRRM being involved in so many things that it detracts from his primary job role – which is to complete the Song of Ice and Fire.
Again, I do not think it’s a bad thing that he has so many other interests outside of writing the series. The man needs his distractions – he’s not a machine. But understanding the reasons doesn’t mean I have to like it.
The point of the matter is he has mentioned that because the original Feast for Crows he had intended in his mind would be ‘too big’, he chopped it up, served up the first half, while being quite happy that the other half is more than a good bit completed as The Dance with Dragons. But from the way things are going – the Wild Cards anthology, the licensing agreements, the TV series, the stuff that he’s dying to tell us but can’t, etc, etc – all point to the fact that he probably isn’t focusing on advancing the story at present.
I’d not be half-assed if the bloody series wasn’t so good, but it is, and it would be a shame if it degenerated in quality as the author seemingly being more concerned about the quality of his spinoff merchandise than on finishing the book itself. These series of events, of course, are no indication that it will go downhill, but they do point to the obvious – A Dance with Dragons will probably not come out end of this year, as he had mentioned.
Robert Jordan was able to mess up a completely promising series all on his own, and the only spinoffs he had were “The World of” book and the game using the Unreal engine many years back.
GRRM, your loyal fans are anxiously, patiently waiting, and hoping harder and longer than it takes for sand to form into natural diamonds that you don’t screw it up. There is something called momentum – all the TV series and figurines in the world wouldn’t cut it if the series fade from people’s minds because it took too long to complete.

All-England 2007 Mens Doubles Champions!

My rants about Malaysian players have been well documented (here that is). I’ve always complained about the lack of mental strength for all our players when it comes to reaching for the stars.
So Koo Kien Kiet and Tan Boon Heong has won the freaking thing. I’m not about the jump the bandwagon and start singing their praises, oh no. I’ve been bitten too many times in the past to fall for that. I remember the sort of joyous celebratory chants we were all participating in when we won Thomas Cup back in 92, when Hafiz Hashim won All England in 2003, when Chong Tan Fook and Lee Wan Wah reached the finals in 2004, and how Lee Chong Wei is our next saviour, yadda yadda yadda. All the talk about a renaissance since 92 has been nothing but just that: talk.
I’ve heard it all before!
I mean, come on. We’re talking about a nation where the national badminton association let Li Mao, arguably the best thing to happen to Lee Chong Wei, go because of bloody administrative red tape! So now we have to keep an extra eye out for Lee Hyun Il because Li Mao happens to know the whole Malaysian singles setup backwards. Not smart.
I’ve always believed that the Malaysian press has a hand in causing all the problems in Malaysian badminton. When Hafiz won, for instance, there was this disproportionate amount of media coverage on him, exulting him as one of our brightest stars in badminton since the Jurassic period, covering his intent on keeping himself ‘humble’ by enlisting in the local police force, etc, etc. I’d imagine him knowing that the whole nation is simply lapping up his every move may not have done his young mind any good.
So stop the crazy adulation! Yes, give them their due – they are a great pair to watch, and incredibly hungry for success. Yes, tell em to go kick more ass. But let’s not forget there are other badminton players out there.
I will say that this pair is the closest we’ve come to a renaissance – together for 6 months and winning 3 of the 5 tournaments they played so far. Precocious and supremely confident, we’ll see if their winning ways will strengthen their minds and self-believe, or will it feed into their egos and cause their downfall (in which case we just add another pair of names to our list of wanna-be heroes).
And I will also say Rexy is doing a brilliant job. Brilliant.

Netvibes vs Google Personalized Page: Verdict

I know this isn’t a non-tech piece, but hey, I’ve reached a conclusion! Reaching a conclusion of any kind is a monumental achievement for me, so much celebration should ensue.
Anyway, after much consideration, and many hours of relying on both Google Personalized Page and Netvibes, I’ve managed to make my decision. And an easy decision it was too.
First off, let’s look at Google’s page. Simple interface, which is a plus for any system or application. But there is a fine line between simplicity and lack of functionality, and this is where Google fails. Here’s the comparison:

  • Netvibes has the ability to create as many pages (or tabs) as you wish). Google caps it at 6 tabs.
  • Ability to add any RSS feeds to any page in Netvibes. Google only allows you to add ‘stuff’ (which may be feeds from other sites), and if your favourite site doesn’t have a Google ‘stuff’ for the feeds, you’re out of luck. (hey, they call it stuff, so don’t look at me)
  • A preview page when a feed item is clicked, which details the posted data, plus a list of all the posts in a particular feed. Clicking on a link item in Google directly brings you to the external site where the data is. After using it for a bit, I much prefer the preview page in Netvibes. I like being able to control when I go external, and when I don’t I can still check out the content without leaving Netvibes.
  • Netvibes looks so much slicker.
  • Google does appear to be slightly faster.

Winner (by a mile): Netvibes.

Irk

I’ve been rereading my previous posts, and have (with considerable alarm) realized that I’ve been posting nothing but tech pieces for a while.
I must rectify that by posting more nonsensical opinion pieces about stuff that’s decidedly not-tech.
Harry Potter’s last book is coming out – that bears some mention, I think.
There.
I pretty much know what I’m going to read after I finish Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
I’m also behind on short reviews of the books I’ve read recently.

1990s corporate website from… EMI???

This is a short post – and this is so funny. I read over from The Register about this website that has a design so reminiscent of the 1990s. And this isn’t just any website, but the corporate website of the one of the largest major music labels in the world – EMI Group. Check it out.

Netvibes vs Google Personalized Page

When I use the internet, I just launch by browser and off I go to all the sites I need to go on a daily basis. Pretty much automatic. However, recently I laid eyes on Netvibes, and boy was a blown away. Sure it isn’t new, but I’ve not been tempted before to click on a Netvibes RSS button that I keep seeing on a lot of blogs everywhere.
But yesterday I did, and I was stunned by the work and the artistry of the site. It was intuitive, quick, and bloody powerful. Before this I fire up Bloglines for a list of my feeds, but Netvibes is able to put everything on a page for me, and allows me full control over the sort of modules and items I want displayed on my page. And there are also tabs to keep me from being overwhelm, which is useful, since anything longer than 5 sentences overwhelm me easily.
I’m more than impressed also by the look and feel of the site. It doesn’t look shabby, oh no.
So then I immediately turned to Google’s Personalized Page. I’ve known about this page since it was launched (the joy of subscribing to the Google Blog), and to be honest, I wasn’t very impressed. At that time, I wasn’t so much into RSS, so I saw no value in it – I had no problems continuing to getting my news from Google News and my email in a separate pane.
Upon closer look this time around, with Netvibes as a yardstick, It does almost the same thing as Netvibes does, but looks wise it pales in comparison. But I’ve not been been known to only care about looks, so I resolve to dig a little deeper into Google’s page, to see if there’s anything I missed the first time.
One thing I’ll be looking out for in particular would be performance – and this I can only determine after a few days worth of testing.
At present, although interface-wise the functionalities are similar (both drag and drop rearrangements and plenty of modules for each), it remains to be seen which one will eventually win my loyalty.
But hot damn Netvibes is pretty. 🙂

A short on Web 2.0

When we talk about the web, the general public will always think of the information contained within browser windows, and the hypertext links that brings me from Point A to Point B. Seldom do they ponder on the technology behind the pages, and I’d wager that if you ask anyone (non-technical, that is) about the development of the web since the beginning of 1990s, they wouldn’t have noticed.
But changed it has. And the change has a name: Web 2.0.
Okay, okay, you can stop laughing now.
When it was first conceived, Web 2.0 was being blown off as hot air coming out of an elephant’s tough behind. I suppose in retrospect that’s probably because there wasn’t a solid real-world example. In fact, think about that last sentence. *One* solid real-world example? Web 2.0 by its nature requires more than one website with fancy AJAX and client-side interactiveness to be even considered Web 2.0.
That’s because the essense of Web 2.0 was it’s ability to connect people, communities and our shared consciousness. Our combined knowledge leveraged with the speed afforded by the mediums we now have for communication and collaboration. Never before has the web allowed input from the average user, and use that very information as input for other users and uses.
I think it took years for these ‘enabled’ websites to spring up – all tying the other websites together, to bring them up as a coherent ‘whole’, before the term Web 2.0 was revitalized. Suddenly everyone is saying, ‘Oh, so this is what they meant back in the day!’
Bear in mind that prior to the ‘socialization’ of the web, the web behaved very much like any controlled mass media, although admittedly it was easier to get web hosting space for your own homepage than it was to write op-eds in newspapers or appear in TV. But the direction of the information was one way, and that was from the screen to you.
It would be silly to try and pigeonhole the term Web 2.0 into one single definition, but if one attribute can be used to embody the spirit of Web 2.0, it would be the socialization of the web. Everyone being able to contribute to the site, giving others instant access to information regardless of physical location on the planet. Real-time communication, information gathering, parsing and tying everything together in a meaningful fashion, easy sharing of data and resources. Sharing. Community.
I came across this video that claims to explain Web 2.0 in under 5 minutes. It’s does a good job as a summary, because, like I said, defining just one thing for Web 2.0 would be silly, but it is adequate. Check it out here.
For me, Web 2.0 is a state of being on the Internet, rather than an individual website.

VB in Linux via Mono – good thing?

I was about to hit the sack when I came across this article: Mono brings Visual Basic programs to Linux. Although it doesn’t explicitly say which version of VB, it does seem to cover only the .NET version of VB (considering what Mono does, this is very logical).
I mean, when you say VB, there are after all two ‘versions’ , if you will, of VB, and that’s VB6 and VB.NET. Both of these languages, despite their similarities in name, are so different from each other that only the colossally stubborn would insist that they resemble anything like each other. The article could do better in being more explicit.
Anyway, [stiffles yawn], so now I can write VB.NET applications running on Mono. Is it a good idea? It simply means if I’ve existing skills in VB.NET, I could leverage that on a platform I don’t understand. However, since you’re coding in VB, it’s a high probability that you’re going to go through a learning curve getting around in the Linux environment anyway. If you’re going to learn, why not learn a new language and code for Linux the ‘proper’ way? At the very least take this opportunity to use Mono to learn up C#, if you haven’t already in the Windows world!

Damn it SQL CE!!!!

I’m oh so pissed.
I waited damn long for the SQL Server Compact Edition to come out of beta so that I can use it in my application. We’re talking bated breath here, the daily website status check.
I just found that it cannot support byte datatype length beyond 510 bytes! This sucks, of course, as I can’t use it to store the images the application that I’m currently writing depends on!
And I spent hours today porting the database from Access to SQLCE, only to hit this problem.
I’m more than a little angry – time is money, and as it is time is already a premium. This is counterproductive, and I wished this sort of crap wouldn’t always happen when I’m in crunch mode.
I’m not unfamiliar with this sort of tech curve balls, but it’d be nice once in a while to just work with new technology that ‘just works’.
If this was for work, I’d be less angry, but this is for my personal project, which is already behind schedule as it is (and getting later as I write this rant).

Affirmative Action “Not Forever”

I don’t think I talked about my feelings about affirmative action. I feel I’m not properly equipped language-wise to articulate my feelings – it’s complex, but it sure isn’t ambivalent.
Firstly, I think I speak for many of my generation who don’t really care for politics and how it shapes our daily lives. And I think this stems from the fact that during our schooling days, we’ve never been encouraged to talk politics (not that it was incredibly interesting to talk about while you were 12). However I did remember feeling very curious: “why politics?” What was it about politics that was so dangerous that it had to be out-of-bounds, even when none of us at that age knew what it was?
So anyway, here we are. I think I will spend a little time later to talk about politics in general, and why it is one of the most exciting and interesting topics to talk about, and how difficult (if not downright impossible) to be completely objective about politics.
Politics as a whole – it’s very simple for me personally. How does it affect me and mine? Has it a positive effect on my community and the community as a whole? And does whatever happens in politics make me learn about people, and improve me as a person?
One thing about politics I learnt is you should try and clear your thoughts, and find neutral sources of information to feed your mind. In the end, it’s important that you make up *your own mind*, and come to your own conclusions.
I saw this snippet of info, and found it incredibly interesting. I’m not sure about the neutrality of this article, but I think as a companion piece it goes well with the Internationl Herald Tribune article.

Where does the time go, really?

Yeah. Answer me that. Where does all the time go?
Okay, here’s a little spaced out post. I find that the time just zips by like a bullet train. I cannot seem to think of a proper post to put here when suddenly a whole week has passed since my last post.
I will try and keep a closer schedule, but apparently my ideas are travelling faster than my will to type it down. Even my obsessive book purchases have not been up for a while, and I have bought at least 3 rounds of books that hasn’t been updated here.
Btw, I’m claiming this blog for Bloglines.

Cristiano Ronaldo Exit – Is there any doubt?

The fellow is in the best form of his career at present. When he gets the ball, everyone doesn’t really know what he’s going to do, that that’s the epitome of a great dribbler, which, undisputedly, he is. Anyone who doubts what a great player he is is simply deluding himself.
Which is why I say that Cristiano Ronaldo will indeed move on this summer, when the transfer window opens. Whether Fergie wants to or not, this chap will want to leave, and the members of the board, acutely aware of the debts the club has amassed during the takeover by the Glazers, will not turn down a generous offer. I mean, come on… it makes perfect business sense. When you buy someone for less than 20 million, and you can sell him off at 45?
I’m not huge fan of his acting talents, that’s true. Sometimes I wished he’d stay on his feet and tussle with the best of them. But he is what he is. And he is a joy to watch. Something about him when the ball is at his feet keeps me mesmerized.
It’s like watching Ronaldo (the fat one) while he was at Barcelona, and his early days in Inter. He was simply superb. You get a sense that you’d lose the showcase of skills sooner or later, but boy when it was displayed did it rock. It’s the same sense I’m getting with Cristiano now.
Oh well, I’m resigned to losing him to whichever club he wants to go. I preparing right now that my MU matches next season will be decidedly less exciting, and to enjoy his performances while I can.

Heroes… wow.

I had wanted to update the blog with my thoughts on ebook, on forum member dynamics, on my feelings towards several books I’ve read but not had the time to blab about, about what I thought about Mono and being obscenely late in my development work.
However.
I caught an episode of Heroes, after hearing good things about it. Wow. It’s brilliant. Intelligent and engaging, and Ali Larter is hot. 🙂
I noticed that it takes a lot of effort on my end to get involved in a new TV show – so much crappy stuff out there (read: MTV reality shows). But Heroes sucked me in totally.
Looking forward to bullying people I know who has the whole season.

Heinze had better stay put!

Nothing thoughtful, just something I wanted to get out of my chest. Heinze is reportedly considered to be offloaded either during the transfer window or the end of the season. He, to his credit, has stated that he wants to fight for his place.
As far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t need to justify his place in the squad – he’s a terrific player. Evra is getting better, and he’s getting a run because Heinze was out for a while, not because he’s miles better.
I’m feeling the same way I felt when van Nistelrooy was sold – I’m inclined to believe that Fergie is simply rotating his squad and giving Evra a run out than really having any real problems with Heinze. However, if Heinze really leaves, I’ll be unhappy. Very unhappy. So unhappy I may burn all my Man Utd shirts and toss my TV in the bin. I’d even give it a kick or two for good measure.

GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire – now a TV series?

Variety has reported that HBO has bought the rights to make George RR Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire into a TV series, with each book set to be used as fodder for season.
ASOIAF is my ultimate fantasy work – the best fantasy series I’ve read, period. And guess what – a legion of fantasy fans feel the same way. This is sacred stuff, this. If they mess this up like SciFi Channel’s treatment of my beloved Earthsea, I will, well, be unhappy.
My immediate thoughts are:
1. Stop bothering GRRM already! He’s bloody late with the next book as it is.
2. The series is good, of course, considering the source material. But there is always this fear that it will fall short of the books. I’m pretty damn sure it will. I hope I’m wrong, of course, but then I’m so seldom wrong. That’s why I have a blog.
Actually, I’m not a heartless rabid fan. I won’t begrudge him his hobbies and other work, you know, the comics tie-in, Wild Cards anthologies, his NFL fixation. No problems. He is still human, and he needs his distractions to fuel his imagination.
But as a rabid fan nonetheless, I sometimes do wish he’d just get on with it.

DRM in the iPod/iPhone, and brief musings on DRM in general

Here is an article that discusses DRM on the iPod and iPhone, and how it locks you into Apple’s solutions. Nothing new here, but more of an issue for people who can buy from iTunes, which doesn’t include people like me.
This article is an interesting refresher on DRM music, and highlighting it against the ongoing backdrop of general cheer and jubilation on the unveiling of the iPhone.
There are people who advocate against DRM totally. I agree with that, but there are also valid points for using DRM solutions. I mean, I don’t agree with DRM, but I can see why there’d be support for it. Blasphemy? Think about it. Suppose for a second that you’re a content creator. You are a singer, for instance. Or an author. You work long and hard at your craft, and distribute it to the masses. You want them to buy you stuff of course. However you realize that your neighbour and your good friends have already got a copy of your work, *without* paying for them. How would you feel?
It’s just that I’m writing a piece of software I intend to sell, and I won’t be too comfortable if it’s available just everywhere. Writing a book is something I would love to do one day, and sure enough, if I’m making money off it, I’m not so sure I’d be happy to have the ebook edition of my book floating around.
The trouble with all this noise about DRM is the majority of the people out there, especially the ones who make the most noise, is they are content consumers, not content providers, not content creators. To really know how DRM came to be, one has to step into these people’s shoes.
Someone might invariably shove a Cory Doctorow to my face. Fair enough. But is everyone as far sighted as Cory? I know they need to be, but in reality, are they? Cory goes out of his way to advocate for freedoms in this regard, and props to him, no question about it.
If there was an affordable avenue for me to buy my music, I’d buy what I want. And I suspect there are plenty of people out there! I already buy my ebooks and audiobooks, when I know if I try hard enough I can get them for free.

iPhone vs PDA Phones

What hasn’t been said about the iPhone?
This is probably going to be the first in a series of posts in which I explore my thoughts since the announcement of this device. I’m not just going to talk about the device itself, but also about mobile devices in general, plus my own digital device needs. I find myself asking if I can indeed fit in the iPhone in my very exacting gadget requirements, which strictly speaking, the iPhone doesn’t meet. I’m also thinking about the nature of a great packaging and can a strong user interface influence buying my decision?
I’ve always told everyone who’d listen not to buy an iPod. Here in Malaysia, where one of the major features for iPod usage, the iTunes store, is not available to us, it takes a way a huge determining factor for purchasing the iPod. What else is there to the iPod without the ability to purchase songs and TV shows on an affordable basis? There are other products out there offering similar (if not better) features than the iPod, similar form factors, and most importantly, at a price that won’t have us all choke on our coffee.
I will get to all these soon.

TIME’s 25 Top Ten Lists

TIME has compiled a list of Top Tens in various categories, appropriately named TIME 25 Top Ten 2006. They have categories such as books, comics, songs, albums, TV shows, podcasts and others (there are 25 of these Top Ten).
What do I think of this book list? I’m a booklover, but I don’t have a pulse in the happenings in the publishing circle for ‘critically acclaimed’ contemporary fiction. However, one of my favs, David Mitchell, is listed for his latest. The list also made me think about how books can be listed as serious fiction when the publisher doesn’t classify it as such, although strictly speaking the nature of the story can actually be considered science fiction.
I think I have to vent on this genre-based bias one of these days.
Other lists such as songs cover people I’ve never heard of. Great place to start searching for new stuff. Arctic Monkeys I’ve heard a lot of, but never got the chance to lay my hands on their albums. Mental note to self on that.

The work of genius that is Contact

Once in a while you get an epiphany so intense, that you either immediately seek someone to talk to about it, or to somehow record it – writing it down, perhaps – just so the moment is captured, is forever remembered, and is shared. Today I have had such a revelation, and I must write it down or I will simply burst into tiny fragments more numerous than all the stars in the galaxy (which, I’ve learned from Stephen Hawking, is pretty damn a lot).
Here, I’m not talking about the time I finally figured out how to work the sensor taps they have installed in all the mall toilets nowadays (which I do). Nor am I talking about finally understanding the importance of including Moral Studies in our universities as a prerequisite module for a degree of any kind (which I don’t).
I’m talking about something most of us deem so trivial and so mundane, that most of you will probably snicker at this curious thing that has made me so eloquent. The epiphany I have is about the a motion picture you may have even seen – Contact.
A little background: Contact is a scifi book written by Carl Sagan, and was adapted for film sometime ago, directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey. The story is about how Dr Eleonor Harroway, a preeminent researcher and astronomist discovers signals emanating from deep space, presumably from intelligent lifeforms seeking to make contact. The signals are deciphered, and what follows is a journey of discovery, of mankind’s hopes and fears, and ultimately, perhaps surprisingly, about faith. The whole film is about faith – about holding on to your beliefs, and discovering just how people from polar opposites in philosophy can come together to understand a universal truth about faith.
I remembered that I loved the movie the first time I saw it, and took away memorable things from it such as Foster’s performance, and the strong story. Watching it the second time, however, allowed me to see it with different eyes – a little more maturity, some background on the celestial bodies thanks to a recent reading of Stephen Hawking’s book A Briefer History of Time, and a more jaded sense of movie appreciation in general.
I take for granted that the movie didn’t butcher the story from the book too much, as Hollywood is wont to do. I’ve not read the book, but I’ve now seen the movie twice, the second viewing just ended as I started writing this. What I got from the movie this time around is simply fantastic. We see Eleanor grapple with early tragedy that fuels her current motivation, her stance as a scientist and her need for proof and her distrust of the concept of faith. The interplay between that principle with the other central character in the film which happens to be the ‘spiritual advisor to the White House’ (hah! A concept of a moral compass! I’m reminded of the phrase ‘Who died and made you the arbiter of truth?’). As Eleanor finally faces the issue of faith heads on, you begin to feel things you’d never feel while watching Star Trek.
The movie also explores the concept of an alien civilization, and how they ways may be completely out of our sphere of comprehension. It forces us to think of the possibility that despite our best efforts, we may not be able to truly understand the intentions and messages that an advanced civilization will tell us. Of course, Sagan uses this as a plot device and turns on its head the direction back to its central theme. The contact sequence really made me think. Suppose we discover that ants have gained sentient consciousness, but they are unaware of the universe of humans. They are sentient enough that they start sending out messages (by way of bread crumbs arranged in gigantic letters on the kitchen floor) seeking confirmation of an existence of a lifeform possibly larger than itself. What would we do as the human race to communicate back to the ants? Reply? Clean up the bloody mess? Will the ants understand?
And Jodie Foster. Aaah, Jodie, Jodie. There are pretty faces, there are talented actresses, there are celluloid thespians par excellence, and there is Jodie Foster. And to think I’ve not seen her in Silence of the Lambs. She is, without a doubt, the best actress of her generation, certainly one of the best actresses alive today. I can’t think of anyone being able to pull off what she has done with her character in Contact. If you’ve seen Contact a long time ago, and pooh-ed and paah-ed my statement – I challenge you to watch it again all the while studying the range of emotions she brings about in the film.
There were so many moments. Some of them: When she made her pitch for funding to restart her project – passion. When she makes her case to the selection committee – vulnerability. When she’s forced to explain herself – helplessness and railing against her disbelief in asking her audience for faith – the very thing that she didn’t believe in. Magic.
Contact is definitely the best science fiction film that I have ever watched – bar none. Yes, against every fiber of my being, I have to admit – it’s better than Star Wars. I put forth the movie’s merits based on the story, the themes, the message, the wonder it evokes, the emotion it brings, and the joy of appreciating a top talent at the peak of her craft. As a story, if this is standard Sagan fare, he’s just got himself a big fan. As a movie, this is masterful direction and a tour de force of entertainment. Zemeckis has made some of the best movies I’ve seen, and today’s viewing simply cements that perspective.
If I’m not wrong, Contact garnered no awards that I’m aware of, and certainly no recognition of the incredible, *incredible* performance Foster put into her character. It simply proves the sort of general bias typically shown towards genre movies. To those who shun this movie on the basis of it being a science fiction story, well, I only have this to say: you probably watch movies for their ability to engage you, to make you think, and to entertain you. This movie does that. What keeps you away? Aliens?
I cry out against the unfairness of it all that this movie isn’t as well known as it deserves to be.
Wait, wait. Any review or reasonable evaluation, epiphany or not, has to have a measure of fair highlights of the subject in question’s shortcomings. To lend an air of respectable balance, you understand. To this I say I wished that they didn’t cast Matthew McConaughey just so he wouldn’t be totally blown away by Foster’s performance. The contrast was almost embarrassing. Okay, okay – there was this part at the end which I thought spoilt the film’s overall theme on faith, and I felt the movie would improve if the 15 second scene was actually out of the story.
Now it’s way past my bedtime, and I know I will pay for it tomorrow. Plus I’m coherent enough to know that this isn’t the way I’d like my objective reviews to be – this is simply too lopsided, maniacal, subtle-less, even fanboy-ish to be taken seriously. But it’s also the way I’m feeling about the movie right now, and I have to capture this moment, have to store it for posterity. You know, just like an epiphany.
Man, what a moment.
p.s. After writing this, I did a little fact checking and found out that the movie did indeed win some awards, so I’m happy to say that my crying out has been assuaged… somewhat.

New Year Book Haul

Hello hello and welcome to the New Year. It hasn’t so far started with a bang, so what else can you do but welcome it with book purchases? Yes, the psychotic book buyer has struck again.
Here then, is my haul yesterday.

The Wizard, Gene Wolfe
City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff Vandermeer
Gifts, Ursula Le Guin
Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days) – Volume 7, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham
Sweet sweet stuff, especially The Wizard. I’ve waited damn long for this one to come out in paperback – I’ve had The Knight for ages, and didn’t start on it because of this missing half.
The completist that I am, I will also show you two other books I bought new year end 2006, in the damn warehouse booksale that somehow pulled me back for the third time.

Death of an Ordinary Man, Glen Duncan
Freaky Green Eyes, Joyce Carol Oates

Which is the disaster: Earthquake or Internet disruption?

I found this quite amusing. As you know, there was an earthquake just off the southern coast of Taiwan a couple of days ago. This one is not a tiny burp – but a huge 7.1 Richter scale monster. Instead of talking about the devastation that is surely affecting the island, I noticed that most of us are really more concerned about the fact that our internet connections are affected by the damage to the underlying communication cables.
This is startling to me in two different ways: how incredibly different our lives have been changed by technology and the Internet, and if this is a signal of our growing apathy towards happenings in our world that doesn’t directly affect our immediate lives.

Another book haul…

Another weekend, another warehouse booksale. This time, the haul is decidedly less genre-based due to the items on offer, and the bookstore chain that’s having the sale, but still, not too much to complain about.

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Here’s a rundown, in case the letters are a little too small to read:
The Gambler – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Lost World – Michael Crichton
The Book of Hope: How Women Can Overcome Depression – Helen A DeRosis, Victoria Y Pellegrino
The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
Your Baby’s First Year – Steven P Shelov, MD
The Rapture of Canaan – Sheri Reynolds
Smiley’s People – John Le Carre
The Pilot’s Wife – Anita Shrieve
So That’s What They’re For!: The Definitive BreastFeeding Guide – Janet Tamaro
After the Baby’s Birth: A Woman’s Way to Wellness – Robin Lim
The Silicon Boys – David A Kaplan
Well, actually, So That’s What They’re For! was actually bought a couple of days ago, but I threw it into the pile anyway.
I noticed a few things about this whole process of putting up this post:
1. When your wife is pregnant, your book haul will invariably be a little more diverse. It’s not all dragons and monsters, anymore!
2. I’m buying way too many books. I notice I said this before. Many times.
3. You have to get to warehouse sales early. I mean on the early hours after opening on the first day of the sale. Reason is simple: the chances of good books staying on the shelves will dwindle the longer it takes for you to get there. Sure they open up new boxes as the days go by, but really, isn’t it a gamble to wait? You don’t even know when they are going to open it!
4. I just realized that point 3 above is the talk of a crazy person.

Another minor haul

Another recent haul… I’ve uploaded what I thought about Masters of Doom in the previous post.

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I was pleasantly surprised I was able to get my grubby hands on Chuck. Fight Club, no less. I hadn’t watched the film, but my money’s on the book being better.

Short Review: David Kushner: Masters of Doom

In a frenzied 2 day book marathon, the most book-reading I’ve done in a two day period in recent memory, is about the lives of the founders of my most admired software games development company out there, id Software.
The book Masters of Doom follows the lives of the two main founders of id, leading up to their development of arguably the best game ever, DOOM, and the events that followed after that.

It was a utterly interesting read – I read about what the development of some of my favourite games was like, the infighting that occurred, the motivation and what drove them both apart. I was very much a part of the scene as it unfolded in an online internet drama – I followed the happenings myself in the events that was described in the second half of the book, so it was interesting to supplement my understanding of the situation with the documented events in the book.
id remains the most impressive games development company for me, and John Carmack remains my most admired technologist. Reading this book made me relate to them all the more, because although I don’t drive a Ferrari, write shareware, have pretty chicks around me or have long hair, we share something in common and that’s a love of games and the feeling of excitement in that early part of growing up. Carmack’s ability to push the technical envelope, his pioneering ways and his bullish attitude is admirable, and inspiring.

Technorati Spiders? Arrrrgh!

I don’t know why I put this under Programming, but hey, I’m adding a link to Technorati in a vain attempt to improve my visibility. I’m trying to tell everyone:
I’M OPINIONATED, AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW!
Of course, those who really make the trek here will find that not only am I not really *that* opinionated. But at least I sound authoritative while trying to be opinionated.
Okay, here goes: Technorati Profile.
Let the spiders cometh.

Big Bookshop Sale Haul

Here is my latest book haul…

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There’s just so many ways of looking at that haul.
Fantasy fan: “Hey, good collection. But who the heck is Joyce Carol Oates?”
Lit-types:”Going the right direction with Oates, but still hung up with sensational fiction with Palahniuk. You’ll get there. Cut down on the bloody genre fiction will you?”
Non-fiction fans:”Explain the string theory when you’re done with Hawking!”

That was over pretty damn quick

Once money is poured into an endeavour especially when it comes to security of any sort, it always falls sort of expectations.
Thinking of course of all the DRMs – the DVD encryption with DeCSS is perhaps the most famous, Audible’s DRM, iPod’s encrypted songs, all sorts of other stuff.
So it comes as no surprise when I read that the new British passport with state-of-the-art biometrics security has been cracked.
This is of an entirely different scale – it actually affects people who don’t watch DVDs or listen to iTunes music.
I’d give a penny for a Briton’s thoughts right now, as she stands in line to collect her passport after reading this article.

Virtual World/Metaverse Realized?

I have just joined Second Life after reading about how IBM actually built something in it and had Sam Palmisano (IBM CEO) join in the game and gave a speech. Sheesh. There’s also a guide on how to join Second Life from within IBM intranet. Go figure.
So I joined, but I’ve not gone in yet.
All this got me thinking about how we spend our time online, either browsing the net or participating in forums, wikis, reading blogs, etc.
However, as envisioned by Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash, we are approaching a future where we will have online avatars and spend our lives online in a virtual world. In Snow Crash that alternate reality is the Metaverse, where people have essentially two lives, one in the physical realm, and one virtual, but both are ‘real’ When you make money in real life, the resource is used to sustain you in real life, to ensure your continued existence.
Nothing less in the virtual world, where you earn money (either by slashing monsters or by some form of commerce), which you then use to sustain the continued existence of your virtual self.
Now it can be argued that you can log off, and pretend that the virtual world isn’t there. But imagine for a second that your actions in the virtual world actually affect your real world. Case in point, let’s take as an example in Second Life, that you’re a bona fide fashion designer, and everyone in SL wants to buy your creations. Now of course money flows into your coffers in the virtual life, allowing you more freedom financially to do things in the virtual world. Now suppose we take the transaction to the real world, there is no reason why you couldn’t see it to a fellow SL gamer in real life for cold hard cash. In fact, Linden dollar, SL’s in-game currency, can actually be converted into US dollars. Cold hard cash, revenue from the virtual environment.
With crossovers like this, how then is virtual reality any less real then real life?
Here, it’s hard not to see the potential of such a world, if fully realized and fleshed out. At present, there’s no compelling reason for a virtual reality presence. These places are still for gamers at large. Online virtual realities are not widespread the way Internet surfing is for most people, and there isn’t a dominant online world with which to support these users – Second Life is one of many, together with other worlds ranging from EverQuest, Worlds of Warcraft, Eve Online…
Of all on offer, I’d say Second Life is moving more closely towards Metaverse than the other incarnations of online realities, simply because Second Life is more like an online real life, rather than a genre based reality. Not everyone will want to be an elf when buying merchandise for your real life – it’s not congruent. Second Life will probably not *be* Metaverse of our future, but you bet your ass one will be, looking at how things are going now. Especially when your company starts writing a guide to join on online virtual community.
In the future our children (or even ourselves) will look back to the mid 90’s to now and see how primitive we all are now – typing at screens which display flat data, rather than roaming in the virtual landscape.

The Ministry of Oswalds

I was working on PoP and entered a keyword search – a name I pulled out of thin air. I do that in my haphazard mind, especially when I have to come up with dummy data for testing. So I picked the word ‘Oswald’.
Before I continue, let me explain. PoP allows you to key in a keyword, and it searches Amazon for related books. And I keyed in ‘Oswald.’
And this is what I got from PoP:

Do you see what I see?

Fascinating insight on Malaysia

A very interesting article has been posted in The Age, a publication in Australia, here. It is an incredibly interesting read. It does seem a little high on emotion, but largely it’s accurate. I didn’t know about Malaysia being a net importer of oil by 2011, but it does raise some concern on my part. As should every Malaysian, should the trend continue.

Some strange comments

I’ve been reading a couple of things that made me think (as you know, is an activity I seldom indulge myself in) for two consecutive days. The first was yesterday.
“Bangsa Malaysia means we do not evaluate someone by his skin colour, race or religion,” Najib said when closing the Johor Umno Convention at Persada Johor here yesterday.
“It does not question the special rights of the Malays, our quota or anything of that sort.”

What?
That’s not the end of it.

“But if we can focus on the concept of Bangsa Malaysia being a state of mind, then we can avoid polemics.
“If we try to define it, this could raise more questions and hot up the debate. If we were to amend the Constitution, the country would be in disorder.”

Uhm… we don’t want specifics in case people would ponder deeply into the status quo?
Did I take it out of context? Read it yourself.
And today it was this:
WHY do some consumers buy pirated copies of Microsoft products?
It is not because they cannot afford genuine software but because they do not think it is worth paying for, said Raveesh Gupta, business group leader of the information worker division at Microsoft Malaysia.

It is not worth paying for because it is too expensive, and there are cheaper alternatives. The fact that it is too expensive *is* a freaking reason. In fact, this will tie in to something I will talk about soon, a lot of things in Malaysia is automatically more expensive because our exchange rate is so weak. There are plenty of incentives for companies and the government to keep it that way, but as a citizen we’re really getting the short end of the stick. Yes, we are getting benefits from the profits the government is making with the exchange rates at it’s current level. But in the long run, the quality of our everyday lives are affected, and that flows back into the economy too.
So yes, the fact that someone in the States can pay USD$289 for Microsoft Office 2003 Pro Edition, while the Malaysian counterpart (who earns the same level of pay, but in RM) pays RM1070 for the same damn thing, does influence the tipping scales a just a wee little bit.
The sooner these companies that target consumers here recognize this pricing disparity the better (I said recognize, not realize, there is a difference).
Microsoft is not the only one guilty of this of course, and I recognize Microsoft’s initiatives in bringing in Malaysia-only versions of Windows in an effort to keep the price down, but really:
1. Who’d really use this, potentially difficult to support edition of the software
2. For those of us who use the ‘normal’ version, it’s still pretty damn high.

Brilliant IT Podcast

I’ve been listening to podcasts since earlier this year, after a lull period of not being able to listen to my audiobooks. Being passionately involved in all things IT (although, I have to stress, that I’m Not A NerdTM), I have taken to listening to TWiT, which is pretty damn high on popular podcasts lists all over the internet. I’m not an incredibly huge fan of Leo Laporte, but have since developed an appreciation on how good a radio personality he is. TWiT isn’t incredibly technical, but has a pretty good coverage of the latest and most popular tech news stories. Plus him knowing a good crowd of influential and important people in the tech business does a lot to make me pay attention.
However, I have, over the months and countless TWiTs, developed a slight overdose of Leo and friends, especially when there are countless spinoffs and even the friends of Leo having their own podcasts, which I must say, talks about basically the same things.
For instance, Leo has his whole TWiT network. His Security Now and This Week in Law are the only other TWiT spinoffs I’m mildly interested in, others are simply a sensory (in this case, auditory) overload. His guests in TWiT itself, such as John Dvorak, Patrick Norton, Robert Heron, and others have their own podcasts or IPTV shows. And what do they talk about? More of the same.
I’ve since sampled a couple of other tech podcasts (not much, admittedly, there’s only so much time in a day when I commute), but I did discover a fabulous podcast, which is very different than TWiT, called IT Conversations. Hosted by Doug Kaye, this show is diverse, sometimes covering interviews with prominent individuals in the IT world, or recordings of talks in seminars or expos that are incredibly interesting. It was TWiT itself that introduced me to Kaye, and for that I’m incredibly grateful
I have recently finished two IT Conversations of note. One was an interview with Joel Spolsky, whose blog, Joel on Software, is one of *the* blogs for programmers, ISVs and a generally good read. This interview was fascinating to say the least, and it was wonderful listening to one of the more successful ISV operators and hear his thoughts on a variety of topics.
Another, I just finished today called What Teens Want from a Web 2.0 conference (something or other). In fact, it was this very podcast that inspired today’s post. It’s a recording of a talk in this conference where 5 teens were interviewed on what they do daily on the online world today, and what they wanted to see from companies on the forefront of Web 2.0 applications development.
The teens were generally talking about how they never buy music anymore, and how ipods, google, myspace and instant messaging are an integral part of their lives. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. It was funny and enlightening (I’m getting conscious of my superlatives now – I really wanted to say *incredibly* enlightening). The gem was probably the part where the host asked one of the teens on stage how he would spend 100 bucks online.
Host: Say you wanted to buy something online. Like a CD player.
Teen (puzzlement): A CD player?
I laughed for a long time driving home. 🙂
I won’t stop listening to TWiT, but it’s good to have an alternative listen. IT Conversations = highly recommended.

Mullings on making rambleville a better blog, plus some Incoherent ramblings

There are a couple of things in my head that is just bubbling under the surface of my brain – just wanting to burst out splattering my work desk, monitor, keyboard, stationery with sticky gooey brain juice.
I’ve been writing up on some articles that I wanted to publish, and it’s currently stored in a Thought in my otak. I’ve not time to finish them up at present because I’m torn between visiting and participating in BAR, spending time with my wife, writing on my blog and finishing up my latest little side project (I can’t tell you as yet). I’m favouring the latter at present, because it will eventually help me earn some (semi)passive income, and therefore gets the bulk of my attention.
But there are some compelling stuff that I wanted to explore, plus some general thoughts about weak teammates, jealous teammates, difficult customers, the importance of well-honed people skills in dealing with everyday situations.
Damn, that did sound like weaseling oneself out of a tight spot, doesn’t it?
The impending arrival of Vista, and why it doesn’t bother the Linux crowd (now this is something that’s incredibly interesting).
I’ve mentioned to friends and family, online and offline, about what makes a good blog. I think I know, but that doesn’t mean that I have executed the formula as well as I would have liked for rambleville. And there are various reasons for that (I wouldn’t get into that), but I think there is a unifying focus in my articles now. A theme.
Just like Dilbert didn’t start out as a satire on tech-vs-business corporate culture right off the bat, rambleville evolves as it finds it’s voice. One thing I have done from the beginning is a conscious decision not to make this into an online diary – reporting on my daily activities. rambleville is not a reflection of my life as I live it, but more of a reflection of my life as I think it, as I’m living it. That is to say, what I think about things as I encounter them in my daily life, whether at work, leisure, pleasure or thoughts.
So. I’ve inadvertently spent more time than I had wanted to on this entry, and I must be back to work. PoP is patiently waiting for me, and is anxiously eager to meet the world.

Finally… Romulan technology is at hand!

What is cooler than watching a Romulan warship cloak in your favourite episode of Star Trek? Why, being able to cloak yourself, of course!
Apparently we’re another step closer to achieving the ability to cloak objects. At this moment the technology is pretty damn hot (literally), but eventually when they get this down to pat I’d think it’s be pretty damn cool.
Of course, if we extrapolate – what the possibility of this actually being available in the hands of the masses is another question. Even if it were available, what would be the sort of legislation and governance that needs to be developed just to keep this thing from going out of control.
More likely when they perfected this technology, we’d never hear about it again. Military uses, I’d imagine.

Virtual economies finally recognized?

This little reading I found is utterly fascinating – Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: Virtual economies attract real-world tax attention.
I remember my attention was first brought to this a long time back, when Slashdot ran a story about how EverQuest’s economy equals that of a small country, with it’s own GDP! This is incredible – the first thing I remember thinking about is the fact that there is this group of people who wrote and distributed an online game, and basically created an economy that crossed the boundaries from virtual to real. If you extrapolate that, these people actually created real jobs for gamers – those who are willing to take it to the extreme, of course.
All someone has to do is invest a significant amount of time online in this virtual world, and in the case of Everquest or Worlds of Warcraft for example, keep leveling up the player character and pick up ever more rare, powerful and special objects. Once accomplished, all this gamer has to do is to find a willing buyer for the items (or even the character itself), and voila! Real world transactions.
Theoretically, someone could actually make a living out of this. Well, probably not at the current scale, no, but a virtual world where people hang out just like they do in real-life, like the Metaverse in Stephenson’s Snow Crash, would make this very viable.
It’s not hard to see why there are fanatical gamers go berserk when their virtual characters are killed online – the time they invested simply vanishes… In fact, I remember there was a case in South Korea (I think it was, anyway – for scary gamer anecdotes, say South Korea and you’re probably not too far wrong) where a gamer killed in real life the person who ‘killed’ his online game character.

Neil Gaiman in CrankyGeeks

One of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman is up on CrankyGgeeks. Neil talks about the usual things, but there were two things that fascinated me:
1. How Neil said that he thinks having books online while concurrently selling it in bookstores are okay, and his response when Farmer asked him why he doesn’t do it himself. I think I could have answered that one, but then I’m not Neil, and obviously I’ve less of a risk of shooting myself in the foot and pissing of millions of fans around the world.
2. That CrankyGeeks is a weak IP show. It’s really more of the same from the TWiT family of personalities. It’s nepotism. They are flooding the internet with the same content from the same points of view, but via different channels. It’s an entirely new topic in itself, one that I will talk about soon.
Damn, that reminds me… I need to talk about Sally Yeh.

Magazine Woes, Part I

Magazines are an anomaly. Books are simple and direct – they are bricks made up of pages, and you store them on the shelves, proudly displaying them for personal gratification (or chuck it under the bed. Whatever).
Newspapers are also simple and direct. They are time sensitive, and when you’re done with them, you’re pretty much certain they are heading for the recyclers (or the bin. Whatever).
Magazines are strange. They are a breed that is a cross between books and newspapers. Magazines have articles in there that are either so good, or so relevant, or so timeless, that they should be stored and saved for posterity. They also have stuff that will expire with time, much like newspaper articles. But, you can’t buy them, read them once and toss them out just like that the way you do with newspapers – they aren’t exactly cheap. So what do you do with them?
At present, this very question is as difficult to answer as the meaning of life.
I’ve just been forced to do some housecleaning (stop sniggering), and found that I have to grapple with something that I have been procrastinating with for some time – what to do with my stacks of magazines. Stacks of them – Hardware Magazine, Men’s Health, Personal Money, various digital photography magazine, PC Gamer, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic Magazine, TIME, Linux Format, plus other countless magazines that were running an item or two of interest – lying on the floor and stored in A4 paper boxes. All screaming for attention.
Sometime back, I told myself no more frivolous magazine buying. I successfully cut it down to only 1 monthly magazine that I buy with regularity: Hardware Magazine. I let my hair down on occassion (TIME magazine specials, various tech magazines), but on the whole, I’ve done well.
My past is staring at me now.
I’ve 4 tall, stout, ebony wood shelves that I’m terribly proud of, but they hold books. Putting magazines on them seem like… travesty. I can’t chuck them onto card boxes either. You can’t see the contents, and the mags are stored there until they rot or the boxes do. Worse, when you finally open the darn things, they are relics from a different era (much like my Internet Magazines from published by Jaring a million years ago. The stuff they talk about is so out of context now, it’s like going back in a time capsule).
What do I do? What do you do?
I’ll shove them off the room at the moment, leaving my comics collection that is still sitting in my library – a brown carton box that is so out of place.
Oh wait, that’s another problem… sigh.

Core 2 Octo

This is exciting times for the computing world. Apparently Intel is harbouring some exciting tech developments for a while, and now in a span of a less than a year, unleashed the Core chips, Core 2 and Core 2 Duo chips and soon, the Core 2 Quad.
I brushed up on the tech specs of these little babies, and most importantly, a jaunt to check out the latest going price for the top of the line Core 2 Extreme (65nm, 2.9Ghz, 2 MB Shared cache, and apparently as silent as a mosquito sneeze). It’s RM3000+. For a processor. Sigh.
Anyway, the point of this post is this: the sexy names Intel is coming up with for the multicore chips. Apparently it as to be technically correct, but not a term that is too technically accurate to put off the masses. Lowest common denominator crap, geddit?
With Intel going Solo for single-core, Duo for dual-core, Quad for quad-core, I’m going to take the leap and guess Intel’s gonna call the 8-core processor the Core 2 Octo. Octal is just too long – sounds silly too. 16-core processor? Easy. Core 2 Hex. I won’t bet against some politically correct groups going up in arms over that one. “I won’t use a machine that implies it’s powered by otherworldly forces! No Sir!”
Do you think they’ll pay me money since I went online with the names first?

Idle (incoherent) musings

It’s amazing. Just when you think you’ve come up with a brilliant idea, there are already a lot of people who’ve thought about, mulled, analyzed, regurgitated, and re-digested again the very idea that you thought was pretty damn bleeding edge.
No. I resent that. I will come up with something that nobody has thought of before. Yes, even though recorded history has gone on long enough to pretty much rule out anything that I may think of, but there must be that obscure idea that nobody even realize could exist.
Without resorting to asinine ideas, I must add.
Why, you ask? I want to do something. I want to contribute to people in some way that’s tangible. Not philanthropy, well not *just* philanthropy. I want to generate useful things for other people, and not just belong to a society that consumes content, spewing them forth with the mistaken assumption that it’s an original idea, without giving something back. I want to create content, not just consume it. Oh, and try to make some money while I’m at it too.
In this day and age, I notice the vast majority of the people just consume content, and consume some more. They read syndicated news, see feeds from global media conglomerates, use software from select number of companies that increasingly gaining control of our lives as our virtual world becomes more real everyday. The Internet is ubiquitous. I want to jump on the bandwagon.
And no, rambleville is not my contribution to society.
Somewhere I read, “leave the world a better place than it was when you came into it.” Somehow that stuck to me. I don’t think of doing something grand that will make me appear in Encyclopedia Brittannica. Something simple, and yet not simple, if that makes sense (don’t answer).

My haul?? You want to see my book haul?

Ok.
Having missed the recent Pay Less Books sale, I was dishearted. My walk was dispirited, my smile felt like a contortion of muscles on my face, devoid of any feelings or pleasure. Many a friend expressed concern over my obvious lack of energy.
But joy! Times Bookshop ran it’s warehouse sale, and I was ready to go. The obvious strain on my wallet is forgotten, I was ready to get some serious books. Here’s what I got:
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The place had a lot of books I wanted to get, but there were simply too many, and I had to sacrifice a few that I had already added to my bag, namely:
Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman
Wild Swans, Jung Chang
Saving a Fish from Drowning (something like that), Amy Tan
A Song for Susannah, Stephen King
A Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde (I had inadvertently lost this – I wanted to get this one)
The Rice Mother, Rani Manicka (written by Malaysian living in UK, based on recommendation from Abecedarian, dear forum mate)
The Harmony Silk Factory, Tash Aw (written by Malaysian living in UK, based on personal personal curiousity)
The Dain Curse, Dashiel Hammett (I put this away, but I went back looking for it. Couldn’t find it. Darn!)
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova.
Imagine if I had bought all of *that*. Shudder.
The trip was also filled with frustrations – mainly the sale of books at rock bottom prices that I bought for the full price *recently*, most notably David Michell’s number9dream (which was RM8! Arrrrrrggggh! I paid RM36 about 1 month ago!)
But I am very happy, especially at the wonderful capture of M John Harrison’s Light, which at every bookstore I found was priced at RM60+, which is exorbitant to say the least. I paid RM8)

Lovely Chess Ladies (re-read that and make sure you got it right)

Sometime ago I actually wrote a piece about lovely chess players who added a touch of glamour to the game, but then the damn thing got buried under the sea of unwritten materials lying around in my brain.
Then something like this comes along and revives my interest in it. The story’s about a British Grandmaster who punched the World No 3 Men’s chess player for dancing with Australia’s No 3 woman chess player. Yeah. When you read someone’s just walloped somebody else over a chess player, you know you wanna check it out.
I’ll spend some time to really write about this, but a quick background – many a moon ago, I was in a chess reacquaintance phase, I actually came across the lovely Alexandra Kosteniuk, the Women’s Chess World No 3. I thought it interesting that it never occurred to me before that beauty and brains (well, chess anyway. I know a lot of idiots who plays good chess) can combine, and in Alexandra, combined well.
I hope Alexandra doesn’t whack me for this, but seeing that there really are only 2 people who read this blog (yes, mom, you too), I think the Russion beauty wouldn’t mind me posting by far my most favouritest picture of her.

Random Book Purchase: The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs

Just a quick update on my uncontrollable book buying habits – I was walking around a bookstore looking at the Politics section when I came across a book with a rather strange title. I picked it up, read the back bllurb and a couple of pages, and I was hooked. The book is The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by J. A. Abrams, and it talks about how this chap, who is the editor of the Esquire magazine, realizes that he knows more about popular culture than hard facts – facts he used to know while studying. To cure himself, he subjects himself to a regiment of reading the ultimate tome of human knowledge – the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The result is this book, and it is hilarious. I usually don’t buy books on a whim, but this one looked very interesting.

What champions are made of

I’ve finally figured it out.
Actually, not true. I’ve known about it for a while now. But there is a palpable sense of ‘knowing’ that hit me recently that tells me the answer to the most pressing question that is plaguing all our minds, messing with our sleep patterns, and generally causing us general discomfort.
The question is, of course, what does it take to make a champion? (See? Doesn’t this question bother you?) By champion I don’t mean some evangelist or something that IT companies nowadays keep tagging their most enthusiastic personnel i.e. Java Evangelist, Microsoft Vista Product Champion, etc. No. I mean the ultimate in sporting excellence. Champion with a capital C.
I mean, take a look around you. Roger Federer is at the top of his game, and nobody comes close within touching distance of what he has achieved. Tiger Woods is another prime example. Now him I’ll talk about a bit later. And in my favourite sport badminton, the top dog happens to be a rather arrogant chap named Lin Dan. Women’s golf – Annika Soremstam. All these people have something in common – they win. And they keep winning.
You see, I’m baffled by the inadequacies of the Malaysian badminton team. The Malaysian hockey team. (I’m tempted to say Malaysian football team, but let’s be honest here – whom are we kidding? I’d sooner pay more attention to MyTeam than to bat an eyelash at what the national team is doing).
I simply do not understand. For years I’ve been puzzled by this weirdness. Take the badminton team. Our players are brilliant. Let’s face it – they are actually pretty damn good technically. They have all the strokes, footwork, wristwork, skills, shots, even the damn t-shirts down to pat. I’m of the opinion that our best players are as good as or even better than the top players of the world. Actually, I believe this to be true of all head-to-head sports – the top players of the world are separated in the skills department by a factor of less than the width of a molecule. They are so close it doesn’t bear mentioning.
HOWEVER. However, there are people like the ones I mentioned above who keep on winning. What is it that keeps tipping the winds in their favour?
The answer: mental toughness. Champions simply think differently. They have a different mindset. They don’t exist on the same plane of consciousness as lesser players (okay, that was stretching it a bit. I’m rambling okay, stick with me).
I believe that the difference between a champion and a wannabe champion is the way they think their way through a match. It can be very simple – the champion focuses on the prize, and blocks everything out except the prize. Like Rand Al-thor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, they focus on the ‘flame’. Or it can be the ability to withstand pressure – especially when matches come down the wire. Or it can be more complicated that that, although I can find no examples for complicated champion thinking because I think simply and I’m not a champion of anything yet. But you get the point.
Tiger said something recently at World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational 2006 that resonated with what I was feeling: “My body took me out of the tournament and my mind will bring me back in it,” he said, when asked what his attitude had been after a very bad second round. “I didn’t hit the ball good and my [putting] speed wasn’t good early, but the mind is powerful enough to tell the body what to do.” He went on to get within 1 shot of the leader the next day, and won it eventually.
And I just (just! The power of the Internet…) found out that he has won his fifth straight golf tournament in the Deusche Bank Championship, bringing his total to 53 career wins thus far.
In fact, I think the very definition of a champion is how he/she can overcome difficult or almost insurmountable resistance to rise above it all and win. I can’t count in my hands how many times I’ve seen Roger Federer dig a whole so deep for himself (or the opponent digs it for him) that he is sure to lose, but somehow he finds strength from deep within to still come back and win it. Lin Dan can surely come from behind for a famous win. He’s done it so many times.
Champions don’t sweat it when they are behind. They *know* they’ll catch up. This is what’s missing from the Malaysian badminton players. They think ‘oh, I’m losing, but it’s okay because the person who’s whipping my ass is better than me, and I’m already in the semi-finals’. That’s not the attitude to have!
Granted, there are those who focus on the flame so intently that it may as well be a freaking bonfire and still not win anything. Now that is the skill of the champion mind. I acknowledge this happens – sometimes not everyone can simply ‘think’ like a champion to be a champion. That is the conundrum of the situation, and a secret I know no answer to. If I knew the answer to that you’d be watching me wipe the smirk of Lin Dan’s face, I kid you not.
But truly the key to greatness is in the mind.
I think there should be fundamental trainings on the mind for all our atheletes, especially our badminton players (because I love the sport and they break my heart everytime. I hate that feeling). They should be trained to think like a champion (yes, even though I said they may still not be champions even after such a training, but training is better than no training). They should learn not to buckle under the pressure.
I’ll talk about Tiger and the power of his mind later. I’m supposed to go to sleep. Champions have to sleep too, you know.

What the hell???

I can’t freaking believe Supernova just sent Dana home! I’m all for the reality TV factor where you keep the obviously weird people on and send some of the more talented people home, but Dana???
I just want to say she is seriously talented, and if she ever goes to American Idol she would win it hands down, especially if she does a rock chick like she does in this show. But I think she has more street cred than to join a show like that.
Okay, let’s be frank and clear minded here. She’s *never* going to win the gig. But sending her home so early means I get to see less of her, and Supernova is less of a show because of that.
Just how I feel.
Whatever she does after the show, she’s gonna do it well. Dana, if you read this (hey, this is the Internet, in the century of limitless possibilities, don’t think it’s impossible for her to find this), all the best!
Okay, *now* I feel weird.

So that’s why…

Finally, an explanation! This little expose reveals exactly why Dave Navarro looks like a freakingly boring piece of potato sitting on the host’s couch in Rockstar: Supernova.
I’ve always thought he was nothing like the likeable Dave Navarro of last season’s Rockstar: INXS – something was very obviously wrong with him. I had thought it’s because of his obnoxious fellow rocker Tommy Lee (whom I detest for his lack of general manners, haha), but this totally feels like a fitting piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
Haven’t I written about why I totally loved Rockstar: INXS, and what I thought of this year’s contestants? Hmm… nothing a little time wouldn’t fix…

One Word

Here’s something I’ve swiped from my pal Ell’s website, and it requires a description for every item listed in a grand total of one word.
Here we go:
Yourself: Ambitious
Your partner: Loving
Your hair: Thin
Your Mother: Deserved
Your Father: Underachieved
Your Favourite Item: Broken
Your dream last night: Bleak
Your Favourite Drink: Unsweetened
Your Dream Home: Convenient
The Room You Are In: Office
Your fear: Complacency
Where you Want to be in Ten Years? Wealthier
Who you hung out with last night: Wife
What You’re Not: Relaxed
Your Best Friends: Faraway
One of Your Wish List Items: Holiday
Your Gender: Male
The Last Thing You Did: Showered
What You Are Wearing: Enough
Your favourite weather: Cool
Your Favourite Book?: Devoured
Last thing you ate?: Chicken
Your Life: Complicated
Your mood: Stressed
The last person you talked to on the phone: Wife
Who are you thinking about right now?: Parents

ADO.NET makes developing for different databases harder

Hmm… I suddenly realized that my focus these days is development. Interesting.
I’m wondering if there is an easier way for a .NET application to natively support different databases in the same code base. For instance, when I do SQL Server, the .NET Data Provider I would use is SqlConnection. If it is OLEDB, then it’s the OleDbConnection namespace.
Now each of these namespaces have their own DataReader object, which is the primary data object I use. How can I write the application such that I can automatically choose which one to use (based on a parameter), without coding different sections for each data provider?
MSDN, here I come!

Listal vs Librarything: No contest

I’ve been evaluating online book cataloging tools recently, and have found just two of real note: Listal and LibraryThing.
Let’s do a quick overview. What I’m looking at is a tool to catalogue my library of books in an easy manner, and make it available online. That’s it really. Delving into the murky depths of the internet, only Listal and LibraryThing managed to come up smelling somewhat like flowers. Although, as you’ll soon discover, one more so than the other.
For comparison, however, I’ll only be looking into Listal’s book cataloguing feature. The cataloguing of other media is very similar to books, so the features aren’t too different to worry about anyway.
A quick list of similarities:

  1. Both allow you to add books to your library by searching Amazon (although LibraryThing allows you to search from more sources). You enter a keyword (author, title, isbn, whatever) and it will return a list of hit results. You select the book you want, and click Add. Simple.
  2. Both allow your online library to be browsed by other people.
  3. Both allow you to add custom information on each book – comments or reviews or some such custom tagging.

Differences:

  1. Listal is free. LibraryThing is free only for the first 200 books. Any more and you’ll have to be a member – a one year subscription is USD$10 while a lifetime membership is USD$25.
  2. LibraryThing supports mobile access. Not important if you’re not a *total* geek, but imagine being able to check your online library via your mobile phone when you’re browsing in a bookshop.
  3. LibraryThing allows you to import and export your list. Listal’s simply sits there – it’s basically stuck in Listal’s server. All the hours you spend inputting your library is basically sucked down the drain if Listal suddenly disappears from the face of the earth. People tend to overlook the importance of import/export, and they shouldn’t.
  4. LibraryThing has a much more matured implementation of social networking. This makes more of a difference than you’d first think.

Both are very nice, however in my opinion, LibraryThing wins hands down. LibraryThing understands the one advantage online lists have over similar functionality offered by offline programs doing the same thing: the social component.
The ability for LibraryThing to help you find like minded readers via its Users with Your Books functionality really allow you to see who shares the most number of books in your library with you. It allows you to see what others have written about the book you own, just to see if others share your thoughts. It even shows you what books people who own your book also own, thereby giving you a wonderfully accurate recommendation of books you’re likely to enjoy.
LibraryThing encourages exposure to new books given what others have recommended or own, and exposure to new and interesting reads is always a good thing.
This social element is sadly lacking in Listal. All Listal does is cataloguing, and little else. And because it lacks many of LibraryThing’s social features, that’s all it really is – a catalogue. One that others can browse, granted, but Listal can be so much more.
I wish I came up with the idea for LibraryThing. It’s brilliant, a true example of a labour of love by a book-loving programmer. Now if only it weren’t so damn pricey for someone outside of the States, I’d be a lifetime member in a flash. 🙂

VB6 Supported in Vista. Joy.

Okay, it’s good to know that Microsoft has committed to VB6 support in Vista. It’s a good thing… Microsoft simply wants old VB6 programs to run out their lifespan so that companies can start to develop in .NET.
Architecturally, VB.NET and VB6 are so different that they really are separate products, rather than a natural progression from old version of a language to the next version.
There has been talk in the VB community (don’t ask me for sources – I can’t remember where I read about that. Plus I’m writing about it so it must be true) that Microsoft should have spun off the VB6 developmental tree so that it will still be developed, or at least sell the VB6 technology to another company who will continue to develop it.
But alas, this is not the be, the juggernaut that is Microsoft is trudging along with .NET with the VB6 community dragged kicking and screaming behind it.
Not necessarily a bad thing, but a poster example of our line of work – evolve or die.

SQL Server 2005 Express is free… from import/export functions!

SQL Server 2005 Express is free, but it isn’t small. Some would argue that 35MB *is* small, but I’d clout them behind their heads and clip their ears. That size is the worst size – it’s not *that* huge to make the power downloader cry, but it isn’t small enough for casual downloaders. Plus fitting that on a CD is just a waste of CD space – especially if the application that you’re shipping with it is only 4MB.
But really, the real problem I have with it is it’s inability to import and export data. That seriously limits the work I want to do with SS2005E.
Yeah, I can think of ways to work around it, but why the hassle for something that’s supposed to be easy in the first place?
Not giving up on it first, though… lemme play with it a little more. Firebird has to wait a little longer – let’s face it, SQL Server learning curve = almost non-existent. Firebird learning curve – a mile-long trudge up a small hill.
Sigh, I’ve also got to work on making catchier blog entry titles.

Paypal doesn’t do Malaysia?

As far as I can tell (or read), Paypal requires Malaysian sellers to have a US bank account for me to writhdraw my funds. They apparently don’t do cheques, so I’d have to::
1. Have someone in US to receive the money for me, then have him/her send it over.
2. Fly over to US, convince them that I’m eligible to have a US bank account, then fly back (since of course I’m not a resident)
3. Find a job there, settle down, move my family over, open a US bank account (this way, of course, is a better way than option 2), say adieu to new co-workers, fly back.
4. Do the above, except I stay and work in US (that sounds easier, actually).
Why don’t they do cheques? Their rates are better than other payment processing sites I’m aware of. However, at least they send the cheque over.
Decisions, decision.

Firebird as a db is looking real good…

I’ve always been faced with a dilemma when evaluating databases for new projects. In otak, I had no issues using Access as I wanted to write up something quickly, and it worked. However I’ve at the back of my mind kept in mind that Access isn’t exactly a fantastic database to use when otak grows up. Also, it isn’t ideal to keep using Access because:
1. It’s fading, and fading fast. Microsoft is preferring MS SQL Express instead.
2. Built in support for Jet is also going away, so one cannot take for granted every machine has Jet support there. This of course takes away Access’s initial attraction in the first place – to enable the developer to whip up an application with Access with minimal installation dependency worries.
3. Since we’re going to need to bundle drivers for Access, we might as well look at other more powerful databases out there.
My journey to find an Access replacement was fraught with many challenges. The first was how the heck to get started in the first place? I knew I wanted a database that is self-contained in a file. I know I wanted it to be free, open source, or whatever, as long as it doesn’t restrict my using it in any applications I choose to write, whether it is freeware or commercial. I don’t need a bigass relational database with boatload of features I don’t use, and I sure as heck don’t want users to have to install it first (ala SQL Server). And most importantly, that I can use it in .NET/Java. More for .NET, really.
It took me damn long to find out that the proper term for the database with these requirements is embedded database. It doesn’t help that Access isn’t exactly an embedded database, it simply could be used as one.
I’ve been evaluating databases for a while now for my personal projects (on and off I must admit), but as I force myself to transition to .NET. I know that I want to start with small projects that have minimal database requirement, for which requiring my users to install SQL Server or even MySQL would be an overkill.
So I’m happy to report that I have found a seemingly perfect solution to my problem: using Firebird as an embedded database. It can be used for .NET, so I’m happy.
I’ll have to play with it awhile first, before I fully give it my endorsement. But from the specs it looks just like what the doctor ordered.
Btw, if ever there was a requirement to use a full fledged database, I’d actually go with SQL Server, or MySQL. I think it makes good business sense to support SQL Server, as many enterprises would have that installed already, and forcing them to use MySQL would not be very attractive.
However, for users who are on a budget, having the option to allow them to use MySQL is perfect.
Anyway, I digress. The application I have in mind will be commercial (but it’ll be cheap), and a quick project. So that’s why Firebird will come in handy.

Technically it isn’t writing, but I’m proud.

Common Misconception

You know, I don’t get it. Why do people presume in such a matter is something I cannot understand.
Why do people say ‘You’re as stupid as a snail’? Or ‘You dumb molusc?’ Just because a snail is slow doesn’t mean it’s not smart. Just because it crawls doesn’t mean it’s unintelligent.
Let me explain.
I believe that the snail isn’t stupid, in fact, it’s a very intelligent creature. It has a highly evolved thought mechanism that goes above and beyond our current understanding of intelligence. It doesn’t rely on something so conspicuous and boring as a brain. It probably solves complex mathematical problems in the time it takes for Maria Sharapova to grunt when she hits a particularly difficult backhand volley.
However, unfortunately nature has dealt the snail with two fatal design flaws, its lack of speed and ability to communicate.
I’ve always wondered at the snails I see attempting to cross roads. What people must understand is it simply isn’t being stupid when it tries to do something that’s so obviously suicidal. When you’re that size, your perspective changes. Maybe it can’t even see the passing tyres on the road simply because they pass too fast for it to see (physical limitation). It may have deduced that making it past the road is far too dangerous and have initiated an attempt to U-turn way before its body actually responds to its wishes, but is crushed under the unforgiving reality when the rubber hits the gravel – with the snail in between.
If it could communicate, we could feed them the problems we are facing in our world, and they could conceivably solve them in their own time, no matter how slow. However, it is not too be. Their eye-stalks either moves in a manner too intelligent for us to decipher, or they are simply moving from laughing at us.
The point of this post is: if you think it’s obvious, but can not be proven to be otherwise, then you don’t really know anything.

My dream machine (at least when it’s bothering me)

I can’t believe it. When I was young I’ve always wished I had this superpower – where I could generate this spherical force field that would suck all the mosquitoes from my house or neighbourhood into it. And I would slowly will the sphere smaller and smaller, killing them all! Ahahahahhaha!
Well, I still don’t have this superpower, but I saw something in Boingboing today that reminded me of it, and that, my friends, is this remarkable device. It’s a mosquito trap that supposedly kills up to 1,200 of these critters a night.
I certainly can appreciate this piece of art, as I’m currently being bitten by mosquitoes as I’m typing this.
Go figure.

My Perfect Library v2

Okay, I screwed up my last post. I’d normally not worry about it, except I also ping a great website called Project Petaling Street, which is a site that collates pings from Malaysian bloggers. It’s a great window from which other Malaysians can view me. In editing my previous post, I sent 4 pings out, and that’s bad.
I guess I shouldn’t really over think it, after all there’s only about 2 people who read this blog, including myself. What can I say, I love the sound of my voice. Uhm, the letters of my voice. Er, the words… ah, screw it!
So here’s the pix of my lovely library again. Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture.
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And this:
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And the following are closeups of my shelves. These are currently on the shelves at the moment:
Left-most bookshelf and corner unit (top view):
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Left-most bookshelf and corner unit (bottom view):
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Bookshelf No. 2 (top view)
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Bookshelf No. 2 (bottom view)
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Bookshelf No. 3 (top view)
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Bookshelf No. 3 (bottom view)
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May I have the money soon to buy a cozy recliner for my library.
The only thing that I wanted for my library that I cannot have no matter what I do at present is a window. It simply isn’t positioned in a place where I can hack in a window. Too bad. I’d have loved listening to the patterings of rain on my windowsill, while I sit next to it, a cup of hot coffee in one hand, a lovely book in the other.

My Perfect Library

Ahhh…. I’ve dreamed since I was younger that I’d have a library I’d be proud of. Not that I want tons of books with huge shelves, but something that’s homely, comfortable, contains a good selection of books that I enjoy reading.
I’m not there yet.
However, since moving into my new house, I did get to build a library that I am proud of, it’s just that it’s not perfect just yet.
Here are some shots of my favourite spot in the house (next to the bedroom, of course).
Here’s the side view:
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And here’s another view:
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Thomas Cup – reprise

I just realized that I didn’t really close out the story. I should have mentioned that China, the near-invincible China, has retained the Thomas Cup by beating Denmark in the Thomas Cup Finals. I saw the third match, which was the second singles, and well, it’s not the typical down-the-wire match that usually happens between Chun Lai and Jonassen, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
It is an expected victory. The Great Wall of China remains unbreached.
I’m excited about the World Championships coming up.

Great Resource for Fantasy Readers

Thanks to TBF, I’ve got a good list of fantasy works right here, listed by Jeff VanderMeer, an author of some renown in the fantasy fiction realm. In fact, in some quarters, he’s lauded as one of the most refreshing voices in contemporary speculative fiction.
I’ve gotten quite jaded from normal fantasy. It takes a helluva lot these days to make me happy, and none of the recent books I’ve read in fantasy seem to fit the bill. Even Fionavar Tapestry from Guy Gavriel Kay, which falls into the category of recently-read, seemed tepid compared to his other works for me.
Even my current read, Celtika by Robert Holdstock, did not turn out to be what I expected, and honestly, I did expect a lot from Holdstock. But somehow his prose and story flow does not seem to flow smoothly enough for me, and frankly, I couldn’t care less about any of characters in the story, least of all Jason.

Who else thinks Formula 1 is a scam?

I don’t know about you, but it seemed to me 2 years ago, after Michael Schumacher kept winning race after race after race, that Formula 1 needed some breath of fresh air.
Once I went on walks in the park and a total stranger on his cellphone said, “What, go to Sepang to watch the race? Why, so that we can see the same bloke win again?” Yes, things in F1 is getting way too predictable.
There were a few things Mr E (too lazy to spell out his full name, and risk getting it wrong) could do to inject some excitement back into Formula 1. Here is a recreation of a checklist that he probably had stapled on his desk at work:
1. Hire more chicks, er, ladies to perform on the tracks as the cars speed by. Hazardous, but what’s entertainment without a little risk?
2. Impose ridiculous rules that restrict engine changes and other technicalities previously allowed in an attempt to level out the playing field (oh, wait, we’ve already done that)
3. Ask everyone to license the Ferarri engines.
4. Tell Schumacher to lay low, swallow his pride for a season or two. For the good of the sport, you understand. So what if you get extend your record for consecutive podium finishes, if nobody turns up to watch you spray champagne? So restrain yourself for a couple of years. Relax. Then turn on the heat again when the prevalent feeling is that there are worthy others aspiring to your throne.
I’m inclined to believe Mr E chose option 4. What else could explain the timely drop in Ferarri’s performance just in time for the new season two years ago? Coincidence? From being totally dominant, and completely out of the competitive picture the next season?
Schumacher says, “Alonso, that upstart, now has two championships!!! It’s time to get mine back!” And promptly wins two races in a row.
I wonder how many think along the same lines?

Finally – a rivalry on the cards?

I don’t know if I wished this would happen, but I certainly didn’t feel too surprised when Nadal beat Federer –
again. This time marks the third time Nadal whacks the No 1 in a final, and what a game it must have been. I didn’t watch it, but I sure wished I did.
You see, I love Federer’s game. He is mentally strong, and his game is almost flawless. Even when he’s hanging by the skin of his teeth, he can claw his way back and win the match. I’ve seen it happen a couple of times already. The other times he just won outright.
Until this Nadal chap. He is the antithesis of a good tennis player for me: total power. Sure he wins matches, but it’s a damn boring way to win. That’s why Federer always gets my view time, while Nadal doesn’t.
So anyway, I wanted to say that it’s great the Federer’s been beat, because despite all his talent, he is getting too arrogant for his own good. Amazingly, if you read the post match interview, he didn’t exactly give credit to Nadal for winning, rather his disappointment at losing to himself. Ah, well, actually that’s not too bad. But I’d rather see him humbled a couple of more times to that he’s a little more down to earth.

Damn

Unfortunately, my greatest fear has come true. Malaysia, yet again, has lost in the semis of the Thomas Cup. I wrote a similar rant exactly two years ago when our team lost then (which was unpublished, so you wouldn’t find the colourful language I used then).
As it were, it did come down to the final match between the 3rd singles. Kuan Beng Hong has been put into the limelight, but failed to take control of this opportunity. And, as I expected, he lost. No only did he lose, he lost to a *lower-ranked* player. I’ve never even heard of his opponent, Joachim Persson. It’s also not because of experience, because Beng Hong is 23 while his opponent is 22.
This is a perfect example of the lack of dependability of our players. It simply does not matter who they play against in a crunch tie – whether it’s against a player who’s ranked lower, or against someone who’s playing with a blindfold. We – expect – to – lose! Mentally, when it comes down the wire, we’re just crap.
Our points came from the most unexpected of sources – our doubles. Our doubles were not expected to win against the Danish doubles – they are more experienced. However, they produced the results we needed to push the tie to the deciding 3rd singles after our 2 singles lost. Lee Chong Wei, of all people, lost in straight games. This I had expected him to win.
Damn. I’m starting to ramble. I’m sitting on the floor with the laptop on the floor as I type this. I’ll gather my thoughts, scream a wordless cry of anguish in the shower, and begin to think happy thoughts.
Like work.
[WAIL!]

Ruptured tendon may wreck our hopes yet

Well, this pretty much confirms it: Choon Hann has suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon after landing awkwardly during his match yesterday. And as expected, Hafiz is now moved up to the second singles with Beng Hong taking his place as third singles.
The doubles have to step up their game if Malaysia is to have any chance to march to the finals.

What a show

Well, I’m excited again. And what else could it be but badminton!!! 🙂
Anyway, I was working the whole time Malaysia played South Korea, but thanks to a nice find, I was able to follow the results of the game while working my brains out in the office.
Early thoughts: Choon Hann retired from his second singles match, conceding when he was leading 10-6 against his Korean opponent, a match I fully expected him to win. However, I don’t really know the cause for his retirement in that game, but it can only really mean one thing: injury. This is purely conjecture on my part, I don’t really know for now, but it does spell bad news. The semi-finals will see them against Denmark, and without Choon Hann we really would bite the dust in the third singles. Beng Hong cannot compare with whomever they have for their third singles, and I fully expect the tie to go down the wire.
You know, as I’m writing this, I keep thinking to myself whether I should really explain the whole thing to my international audience (yeah, the two of you) in case they don’t know what I’m talking about. A quick one then: Thomas Cup competition is a competition that pits the best badminton players from various countries in a tournament. Each tie between countries is played in a best of 5 matches, and the matches are in the order of:
1. First Men’s Singles
2. First Men’s Doubles
3. Second Men’s Singles
4. Second Men’s Doubles
5. Third Men’s Singles.
Before anyone decries “Sexism!!!” let me just say that there is an equivalent tournament that runs side by side with the Thomas Cup, called Uber Cup, and that’s for the ladies.
This year’s Thomas and Uber Cup tournament is held in Sendai Stadium, Japan. Don’t know where exactly Sendai is, but it’s nowhere near a Korean car factory, that’s for sure.
When I came back from work today, I saw a pulsating match between Japan’s 2nd Singles match Kanako Yonekura versus Holland’s Karina De Wit (yes, since it’s the ladies, it’s Uber Cup). The Japanese won the first game purely, to my mind, on the strength of the rapturous support she enjoys in her home turf. De Wit was clearly the stronger player, physically and skillwise, but she still lost. No problem. De Wit bounced back with such a vengeance on the second game that I thought the matchup was all over by the time it came to the final game. Yonekura was visibly tired. I expected a wash-out.
Nope. Yonekura this time played a fantastically tactical game, completely different from the second game. De Wit was outplayed the first half of the 3rd game. That’s when I thought this Japanese girl really has some skill. 🙂 By the end of the game Yonekura could hardly play anymore due to tiredness, but she hung on for a fantastic win. She had me laughing and cheeing for her all the while.
Pure entertainment. 🙂

Stuck in Internet Limbo

I’ll try and limit these types of posts, but I want to highlight the sort of frustration I feel at the moment living without an internet connection. I can’t even blog!
So. I’ve highlighted it. I’m done for now.
I can live without the Internet. Sure, not a problem. I don’t have a ridiculous surfing habit where I wander the cyberverse for no reason. I don’t use instant messaging or IRC to an extent where I cannot live without it.
However, I do miss the people and the commaraderie of the forums I visit. There are some really good people there that I miss reading. 🙂

Freakonomics and Lack of Sleep

Did I mention I got Freakonomics? Well I did. I stole a look at a couple of pages and found it utterly fascinating. I don’t want to be too influenced by the book, else my innocuous bus trips here in Singapore grow more mentally complex due to increased sensitivity to notice things everywhere.
For instance – what does Freakonomics, blogging and sleepiness have in common? Hmmm….
One other thing before I forget – who else thinks that in this our society, we’re literally being fed everyday by the media? We’re basically ‘told’ what we should know and learn. Who else finds this disturbing?
Yeah, yeah, I now. It isn’t new. But I was just reflecting today after a swim and thought about it.
I think I’ll post a picture of my view of the swimming pool after my swimming.
Now how the heck did I go from Freakonomics to swimming?

Suzie McNeil is really, *really* good.

I told myself I’ll write something about Rockstar INXS. But I’m not going to write about just anything – I’m going to share my *feelings* about the show. That’s for another time, though, but it will be soon. I’ll have to write it or it will explode out of me and spill over in everything I do, everything I say!
Ahem. I’m listening to an alumni of the show, Suzie McNeil, performing INXS’s By My Side. I’m listening to it for, well, a couple of thousand times now. She is *bloody* good.

Uplift of rambleville

I am so going to uplift the site with stuff. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I think starting with a little graphics may help lighten up the place.
And the maybe an affiliate ID with Amazon.
Then maybe links to some of my most thought-provoking (and nice) friends.
Then maybe some of my favoured links.
Then maybe my baking recipes.
I’ve got a couple of things I wanted to say, mainly the status of the world today seen through the eyes of not a very clever person (me! me!), as well as some comments on Cyclops/Jean Grey, and Sally Yeh and my close brush with a real-life celebrity and how it has affected my outlook in life.
I might even write a poem.
Hah.

Forum Egos – An Observation

This is a rant. Probably not very coherent, but I don’t give a shit.
I’m very seldom outspoken about people’s choices and opinions, even on those I don’t agree. I disagree and if I choose to tell them why, I never do so disrespectfully. I fully understand different people have different needs and environments, therefore agreeing on everything is impossible. No problem – I try to see your point of view anyhow. I learn. All the time.
But this… the closest word that comes to my mind is pissed. I’m bloody pissed.
I’m talking of some former members of my haunt, TheBookForum.
Now there are (or were) these people who apparently are not content on leaving the forum, but moan and groan wherever the hell they go about the shortcomings of the forum. Yeah, TBF doesn’t moderate all that well. Yeah, the moderators pissed you off with their inconsistencies, their lack of transparency, and other some such crap. They sent you a warning on something you said, and you believe the warning is a wrong so great you’ll never forgive them.
You know what? Nobody’s perfect. If they wounded you so much you can’t stop bitching about it, then I don’t know how to help you, because I simply won’t come up to your face and tell you to buzz off and stop contaminating the freaking air. But make no mistake – please buzz off. Take all your baggage and go.
There is one member who simply couldn’t stop talking about how ill TBF treated this chap. For the first few hundred of these posts, I was fine. I mean, I just try not to be bothered. No problems there. Then I found out that this chap unloaded his feeling on another forum – literally spilled his guts on how shitty it was over in TBF. Nothing I’ve never heard of before, but get this: even though they treated him bad, he’ll still pop by anyway to ‘check on the goings-on’ because sometimes the posts are relevant and not subject to over-moderation. I mean, COME ON!
There is another, how shall I say it, snob, who is ever at hand to tell everyone that TBF hasn’t got anything good to say anymore, because everyone’s talking about their favourite colour and how people stack their books. This is, frankly, the sort of attitude that I myself am glad if they disappear. These apparently ‘I’m a little too highbrow for you’ people don’t start interesting threads anymore, don’t want to participate anymore, but doesn’t bat an eye in complaining about lack of content they would want to discuss.
I have nothing against ‘highbrow’ people. Seriously. I enjoy they things they talk about, there’s plenty to learn, and despite sometimes being more arrogant than I’m comfortable with, they sometimes do say things worth listening to. No problem – different folks, different strokes. Being an Asian in an international forum demands a mentality that is open rather than rigid.
But people who do not contribute but continues to slam the situation in TBF is a little too much.
I’ve learnt that a forum evolves. I don’t think for a second everything will be lovely and rosy all the time. I’ve lost a lot of good members that I wished would have stayed, and a lot of the people I joined the forum for has left. I was sad.
Here’s how my thinking works: in this situation, only one of two things can be done. First is just leave. Pull back from all active participation, post jibes once in a while on how things have turned from bad to worse. Whine.
Alternatively, I could take action. I continue to post, talk politely, contribute where I can. I try to talk and contribute in the forum that I love, which is Scifi/Fantasy. I’m working on the tabulation of the TBF Top 100 SCifi/Fantasy List on my own. Nobody asks me to do it. I’m hoping that by posting constructively I can help improve the place little by little, enough to attract new members with like sensibilites. My unstable internet connections have hindered my appearances somewhat, but I never stopped contributing positive posts. Trying to improve the tension by cracking (admittedly bad) jokes and cracks, hoping the whole community will lighten up.
If enough of us do this, TBF will foster, grow into the place it ought to be.
Yes, it has moderation problems. Yes, certain threads need not be closed. Yes, sometimes heavy-handedness spoil the atmosphere. Yes, Darren’s not around most of the time. Yes, we’d all rather discuss politics and religion, because sometimes we’ll run out of books to talk about, and politics (sigh, and religion) is an interesting alternative. Yes. YES! Agreed on all counts. However since this is the reality, why not make the best of it and show the moderation gang we can hold our own?
Do you seriously think that the moderators don’t know what we’re feeling? Do you think there aren’t moderators who would *love* to join us if we do talk politics and religion?
My problem is this. These people are not just leaving, but they paint a very bad picture of the place. There are new folks coming in all the time, and the majority of these new people are actually people I’d love to meet. Your presense is staining the place, like cloying cigarette smoke in a nice deli. People’d get up and leave, or stay away. If you’re going, go! I want new people who are enthusiastic, fun, smart and funny. I want to see these new people make the place their own, and revive the place. I want to make new friends from all around the world who love what I love.
The natural order of internet forums is new people *will* come. Chances are good that *good* people will come. But they won’t stay with you loitering around with crap.
You’re unhappy – by all means be unhappy. You can’t help what you feel when you feel the way you do. Hell, I was pissed at times too. But don’t drop by, take pot shots, and cower behind guest visits. Your behaviour is like those you’d hate to have around your own beloved forum, wherever that may be. Or worse, don’t complain about lack of intelligent posts when your goodself is refraining from creating or participating in intelligent posts in the first damn place.
I will have to say I’ve nothing personal against all these people. I don’t know them in a personal level, and if I meet them in person we may actually have a good conversation.
I’m sorry TBF has cut deep into your heart, disappointed you like an ex-lover. But please stop whining and let others come and improve the place, if you’re not going to do it yourself.

Sharapova vs My Little Sakura

I don’t know how I missed the last match up. I thought I was following the tennis scene close enough…
Ah but anyway, here is the
matchup again: a tantalizing meeting between the current glam queen of tennis (who can actually win tournaments!) and my all time favourite ladies tennis player, Martina Hingis.
Did I mention that I was moved almost to tears on the news that her ankle injury forced Hingis to retire 3 years ago? And did you know that I was moved almost to tears that she has decided to pop back onto the scene?
Hingis is doing well now, but she is not in Mauresmo’s powerplay league, although I do love a tennis match that relies more on brain than brawn. That, I think, is why I really love Hingis so much… she’s not a huge power player, but one who actually plays watchable tennis.
During Hingis’s absence I admit to taking a liking to the Russion beauty, but in this matchup, there is only one person I want to see win. And that’s my cute little sakura, just as I remembered her in 1998 during Wimbledon.
🙂

Burning? What burning?

Just the other day I was thinking about the world-wide reaction to the whole Prophet Mohammad cartoon business, and it suddenly popped to my mind that Malaysia wasn’t really in the picture. Just when I’m thinking it’s a miracle the muslims here didn’t do anything, I read
this.
Granted, it isn’t as big a reaction as some of the violence we’ve seen. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in expressing disapproval at all, as long as it’s done in a peaceful manner. What’s puzzling (or rather *not* puzzling) is the fact that this isn’t featured in the local media at all. Or at least in a prominent way. I mean, we’re talking 3000 strong protesters here.
Was there a suppression (shudder) or it is simply time for me to pick up the bloody papers these few days?

A win? Really?

Yeah, well, colour me unimpressed.
So MU won over Liverpool. I guess I should be happy. Bitter rivals to the very end, but in the end, the silly Anfield boys got what they deserved for trying to mess with the best.
Or did they?
If I’m honest, the game yesterday was really terrible. Even a die-hard fan will worry over the state of things over in Old Trafford. They were swarmed by Liverpool almost from the get go, and looked so damn sloppy. They never looked dangerous, van Nisterooy hardly got a touch, Rooney was clamped down, and guess who’s in midfield? (no, not Alan Smith, thank goodness). Nobody who mattered. And that’s the problem.
MU were lucky to get all three points. They didn’t deserve it.
Liverpool, I hate to admit it, but you were robbed.

All-England Finals 2006

The All-England 2006 badminton competition finals concluded yesterday, and as surely as following a movie script, Malaysia has come up empty again. Tan Fook and Wan Wah have again finished runners-up to Jens Erikson and Martin Lundgaard from Denmark in an exact rematch of the 2004 All-England men’s doubles finals. I’m beginning to wonder what it will take for our players to actually win this bloody thing. Malaysian players are trained by the best badminton coaches in the world, and they have no lack of technical skills. What we’re missing is that winning mentality – the sort of stuff that defines athletes like Tiger Woods. The will and the toughness of mind to win.
It’s perplexing, really. The Malaysian public has gone so far as to expect a loss from our boys even when facing an opponent of similar strength. I mean, even when it’s a 50-50 showdown, it really is only a 30% winning prospect.
Why? What is missing in all the years of mental and physical conditioning? What will it take for us to finally win, and win consistently, commensurating with the skills that’s undeniably there?
It’s so tiring to always be hopeful and be disappointed every single time.
Chong Wei is also guilty of this. There’s never been a better singles player in recent memory from Malaysia. Choong Hann had his moments, but could never really challenge the big guns from China, Hafiz is inconsistent, and Roslin is, well, hopeless. Even the older crop of players – Rashid could not win outside of Malaysia, and Ewe Hock rarely, if ever, shone.
It’s not enough to say that we take heart from the fact Chong Wei stretched Lin Dan to 3 games in the semis before losing. He was leading Lin Dan 13-6 in the decider, for crying out loud! At this level Chong Wei should have the fortitude to close out the game.
It’s always the case – the self-consolation that always comes. No problem. We’ve reached the semis. We lost to the eventual champion. We lost to a higher ranked player. We stretched them to a punishing three setter! We showed ’em!
This in every single tournament we lose!
Ah screw it. It’s a typical day for Malaysian badminton.
I did want to talk about the other games from the finals, but I think I’ll settle with just Gao Ling. Gao Ling by far is the nicest badminton player to watch in a long while. Other women players, no, actually everybody plays the game with a poker face, with the occassional fist pumps, smash grunts and exasperated expressions on an unforced error. But nobody in all the years I’ve watched professional badminton smiles like she does on court, finding a light moment often during tense matches. She is always smiling, literally lighting up her face. I’m sure her partners for women’s doubles and mixed doubles find her very easy to play with. While she’s not a Chinese rose like Huang Hua or even Xie XingFang, she’s not bad looking either. She is, by the way, the top mixed doubles player with Zhang Jun and until recently, the top women’s doubles with I-forget-her-name. Mixed doubles champion for both Sydney and Athens Olympics, and gold medalist in both mixed and women’s doubles for literally countless badminton tournaments over the past 5 years.
Watching Gao Ling play soothes my soul. 🙂

Borders at Christmas

On Christmas eve, Borders in The Curve came up with the best display that I’ve seen so far… check this out:
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Live mannequins, and they are, you guessed it – reading! Wow.

Review of Fable:: Legends in Exile (Book I)

This is my review of Fables: Legends in Exile (Book 1), a trade paperback collection of the comics series Fables (first 5 issues) published by DC Comic’s Vertigo line. In fact, this is my first review of anything, so if it sucks, well, let me know….

Fables is created and written by Bill Willingham, and drawn by Lan Medina.

Brief

I’m always on the lookout for interesting comics trades or graphic novels, and this particular series caught my eye as I was browsing in my usual haunt one day. Funny I hadn’t noticed this before, but Fables is supposedly a highly acclaimed comics series with accolades from all over the industry. And it’s from Vertigo to boot – I have lots of Vertigo stuff and I don’t remember seeing Fables in their catalogue, which they print at the back of every trade. Evidently the list isn’t complete.

But after the terribly disappointing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2, I didn’t mind something completely off my radar this time. As of time of writing, there are 4 Fables collections on the shelf. As I always try to start from the beginning, I picked up Book 1.

Background

The story is set in modern day New York. Fables are fairytale characters from stories that we’ve all heard in our younger days. Characters like Snow White, Bluebeard, Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk live alongside humans in our world. These Fables escaped from their Homeland to our world after their respective universes were plundered and conquered by the Adversary. Apparently the Adversary had no interest in our world. The book didn’t say why, but it’s probably the pollution and noisy MTVs.

There are two broad categories of Fables; Fables with human guises live in New York and mingle with every day human beings (which the Fables call ‘mundanes’). Snow White, her sister Rose Red, Prince Charming, Jack and others belong to this category. Fables who do not have human guises, but have ‘glamours’ to conceal their true form and appear human-like also dwell in the city. Other Fables who do not have the means for glamour spells stay in the Farm, which is located far away from the city in a remote countryside, where mundanes are not likely to discover them.

The story starts with Jack reporting to Fabletown’s Sheriff, Bigby Wolf (from the big bad wolf who blew the pigs’ houses down fame) that Rose Red’s apartment had been violently ransacked, with blood splashed all over the scene and Rose Red herself missing. With Snow White, Fabletown’s deputy mayor, Wolf begins the hunt for the perpetrator and the missing, and presumably dead, Fable.

Many familiar fairytale characters make their appearance here, including Snow White’s ex-husband Prince Charming, Fabletown’s mayor King Cole, Pinochio, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. It’s interesting to see them in the context of the modern world; some have it easy, some hard. A good jog for your memory too, wondering from which fairytale each character came from.

Impressions

The art here is lovely. The pencils by Medina are sharp and nice with vibrant colours, conveying the sort of fairytale feeling to the book. The plot moves along quickly, with nary a dull moment, and you’re kept guessing at every turn, just as an interesting whodunnit would. However, I do get the feeling that the storyline is rushed, and the motive for the crime a little thin. It could have been better with more possible suspects and red herrings thrown in. Nevertheless you’re still shown a good sample of the characters that inhabit Fabletown.

Conclusion

I like the whole premise of this series. It casts a very different light on the characters that we know and love from childhood fairytales. This collection’s whodunnit storyline may not be as richly detailed as you’d expect from a detective novel, but I believe it’s the medium’s limitation – there’s only so much you can cram into 5 issues of comics. It’s still very engaging and fun to read, and you really want to know what happened to Rose Red. The sharp pencils does not disappoint.

I’m looking forward to reading the second book (which will concentrate on politics within the Fables staying in the Farm, titled Animal Farm).

Recommended.

Note: Like any book from Vertigo, this isn’t children’s fare. Four-letter words are used, and you won’t want to give this to your favourite niece below a suitable age.

rambling…

Is it just me, or is the back of a black Honda City look like Darth Vader’s helmet?
I still have something to say about Sally Yeh. Just a little longer.

Something about Sally Yeh… wait for it. 🙂

Drastic Managerial Changes at MU Amid Shock Europe Exit

8 Dec 2005, London – Just hours after a 2-1 loss to Benfica in the final Group D game which effectively ended Manchester United interest in the Champions League, the board of directors announced that Sir Alex Ferguson will be let go and replaced with a new manager whose skills not normally associated with top-flight football. Direstraits, a 29-year old native from Malaysia has been appointed coach of the Manchester club with immediate effect.
Malcolm Glazer, the investment tycoon who recently seized ownership of the club, is showing his obvious aptitude in the business of football by bringing in the untested Direstraits. The Malaysian worked as an IT consultant with a closet passion for football management, as evidenced by the Championship Manager 4 posters hanging in his suburban house in Subang Jaya. Glazer was impressed by the impassioned plea for changes made by Direstraits via email seconds after the final whistle of the Benfica game was gone, and immediately gave him the much coveted position in football.
“I can’t effing believe it!”, raged Sir Alex during the press conference from which the announcement was made. “So relying on Alan Smith for midfield duties was a mistake. So not recognizing the fact that Giggs and Scholes are a spent force was a mistake. But to be replaced by a buffoon who did, what… computers?… for a living? It’s total bollocks!” Direstraits, sitting next to Sir Alex and looking cool in a Manchester United jersey worn backwards (accidentally, it is believed), looked unaffected at the outburst.
Sir Bobby Charlton, member of the club’s board of directors, said, “There’s no disputing the effect Sir Alex has brought onto the club since his arrival from Aberdeen. I mean, look at that chap! He has a bigger trophy cabinet than mine, and his on-the-pitch skills are shite compared to mine! No doubt Sir Alex has been a loyal servant to the club for many years, but the time has come for a change of guard. I mean, look at Alan Smith!”
The appalling display at Portugal saw Manchester United pummet from second place to finish last in the group, ruling out the football powerhouse from even playing in the UEFA Cup. The club has previously set a record of 9 consecutive seasons of qualification to the knockout stages of the competition. This is a major financial loss for the Manchester outfit, as Champions League knockout stages guarantee clubs millions in revenue generated from gate receipts and other goodies.
Glazer is excited at the prospect of the new managerial experiment. “Mr Direstraits may not have actual top flight football experience, but his virtual hours at the football management simulator is second to none. His enthusiasm is unbounded, and I think that will translate to results on the pitch.”
However experts say there is no correlation between the real life football and the virtual. “The emotion involved in managing a real life game is missing in simulators. You don’t feel the effects of referees making silly mistakes during do-or-die matches, or rival managers making snide remarks about your player formation and your dress sense,” says Dr George Rest, chief sports psychiatrist at the University of Reading. “However, it will be interesting to see how a manager used to an environment devoid of personal affectations will fare in this league.”
Direstraits wasted no time outlining his plans to address the club’s immediate concerns. “Since we now have to content ourselves with chasing Chelsea, we must see to it that we pick ourselves up. Morale will be down, of course, but thankfully we will hear less of it since Roy Keane’s departure. And it’s a good thing too. Sometimes, the best way to improve morale is to fire all the unhappy people. If he was still here bitching about, I’d have given him his marching orders, me. And let’s do something about Alan Smith…”
When asked about his personnel plans for the club in the short-term future, Straits was adamant the change will be as shocking as his appointment. “I will bring in the best people to rebuild the legacy that is Manchester United. All we need is to reboot and reload the season, and money to buy people like Fandi Ahmad, Bambang Suprianto and Ronaldinho. You may not have heard of them, but they are quality players.” Direstraits seemed shocked that at the prospect that the 26 year old Brazillian may not consider a move from Barcelona to Old Trafford. “I have a strategy too complicated to explain, but rest assured, I will sell everyone if I have to to lure him over. Nothing a good Malaysian meal can’t fix!”
Fans stopped for comments in the streets of London are still, at press time, too shocked to make any coherent sense.
– BBBCNews

A fan’s review of The Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Let me begin by saying I dislike Terry Goodkind. It’s not because he writes poorly (although he definitely could write better) or because of that cowboy hat I see him wearing on the inside cover. I dislike Goodkind because he blatantly plargiarises Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Those of us who picked up Jordan (which came out first, btw) before reading Goodkind will recognize many elements from Goodkind’s story that came from WOT, such as the Children of the Light, The Aes Sedai, the Black Ajah, the Seanchan’s adam and damane, and many others. It’s not ‘reusing elements of a fantasy story.’ I’d be surprised at anyone familiar with both stories to say that Goodkind coincidentally came up with his stuff.
Which leads me nicely to Fionavar. You won’t really know about this, but when it comes to Kay, I’m rabid. I’ve read everything else (except one) by him before embarking on FT, and boy was I excited. Up to the first 50 pages.
I’m reading an LOTR clone. There were so many elements borrowed from LOTR I had to check the spine a few times to be sure it’s Kay. Not only were characters similar (lios alfar are elves, svart alfar are orcs, the Council of Mages, a warrior king, dwarves dammit!), but the plot devices as well, most notably the traitor in the midst, and the lonely journey to evil stronghold.
It was like opening your favourite pack of Hobnobs and finding cookies you’d bake in a lazy afternoon.
Granted, not everything’s the same. The story starts with five people from our reality (read: Vancouver) gets transported to Fionavar for a ceremony of sorts by the resident Gandalf named Loren Silvercloak. When they are there, things are not as simple as they seem and before you know it, all five has a hand in saving the First of all worlds. As I mentioned, the main protagonists actually came from Vancouver and isn’t 4 feet in height. While Kay didn’t invent a new Elvish script, he did imbue a sense of history to Fionavar and its populace – a lot of work went into building Fionavar.
I have to say, however, that the story gets better later in the first book, much better in the second, and much much better in the final book, with an excellent and satisfying ending. I persevered because it’s Kay, to be honest, despite my initially strong sense of dislike. I’ve read enough of him to know what he can do, and trusted him to lead me back. And he did (or I would be very mad).
There is a plot twist in the middle of the second book that completely blindsided me. The best way to describe this twist would be: cameo appearance. Suffice to say, I became very interested from that point onwards. Also, an incident in the third book made me inadvertantly say ‘Cool!’ aloud, something no book has done before. There are aspects of the story that seems to add on to the Tolkien original. I’m specifically thinking about the fate of lios alfar who ‘hears their song’ and begins to sail west to a place ‘the Weaver at the Loom built for them alone.’ Sound familiar? There is a twist here that I thought added depth and emotion.
Make no mistake, the Fionavar Tapestry is a very well written piece of fantasy, and if you’ve not sampled good fantasy, you can do much worse than this trilogy. However, it was still, in my mind, an LOTR clone, and my personal bias against something that I can readily identify in another piece of work. Upon finishing this work and savouring the ending, however satisfying, it simply underscores the fact of how much more accomplished his latter works are. Having read this, I have a sudden urge to re-read his Sarantine Mosaic duology, with a renewed sense of anticipation.
All I can say is, if you’ve enjoyed Fionavar and would like to read more, boy, are you in for a ride.

A proper outpouring of feelings

Wow… I had made a trip to one of my internet friend’s blog, and boy can she write. Actually I’ve visited before, but this is the first time I’ve visited her new place.
Now I know her through a book forum we both frequent (she until recently, that is). I’ve seen her post many times, and have participated in banter and the usual chichat of forum life. But her blog is written in a manner like I’ve never seen her write before. It’s like she’s a different person altogether – the writing crisper and more personal, and none of that forum shorthand that I’m so used to seeing.
It got me thinking – could I ever write something like what she’s doing on my own blog? I know the focus of this blog – keep the personal bits to a minimum; I’m not into the whole online diary thing. I talk about what I’m thinking, and what I feel, what I learned, what interests me. But even if I wanted to, could I write the way Jane writes on her blog?
Probably not – we’re talking major soul searching here. Discussions that about the state of being, and of mind. Could I even talk at that level?

It’s about freaking time

It seems like Yahoo! and MSN Messengers are going to talk to each other after all! I remember there was a time when AOL (or was it MSN) kept changing their protocols when MSN (or was it AOL) integrated it’s IM network with them. I thought we’d never see a unified protocol, because frankly, multiple IM clients are stupid. I know about clients like Trillian, and have even tried them, but they seem to be built on a sandy foundation – MSN, Yahoo, AOL or whatever these multi-protocol clients support – these protocols can change at any time and the support to them will break. Also, you don’t get the cool stuff like IMvironments and avatars and stuff if you use a generic client. So a unified IM network is good.
Anyway, here’s a link on the report on Yahoo and MSN – read it here.
And before I forget, I think Yahoo messenger is the best messenger in the world.

Palm + Windows = Treo 700w

Now for something I thought I’d never see – the Treo 700w. A Palm device powered by Windows Mobile. Somehow the look of the device is all wrong – the shape that so defined the Palm revolution in PDA-telephony running Windows – ugh!
But that’s my impression. It may rock the world. Me, I’m waiting for whoever who comes up with Windows Mobile 2005 in a PDA-handphone combo with all the stuff you’d come to expect from mobile devices these days.

Weblog Upgrade via Handphone – Wowsers

I’m surprised at the speed this guy takes to upgrade my copy of MT to 3.2. I was looking forward to some new stuff with the new version, but the upgrade process took longer than I had expected simply because of my phone’s tendency to drop my EDGE connection.
Finally got it up, and I must say SixApart did a good job for the upgrading process – smooth. However if it wasn’t for the time I’d peek more closely at the blog settings – looked to me like there are some bugs…

Google Blog Search

Looks like the new Google Blog Search has done a brilliant job. Not only is rambleville already listed, it’s listed in it’s proper home, and not it’s previous incarnation in blogspot.
Man, I’ve got to do something about blogspot’s rambleville.

Mobile Internet

I’ve always said (and expected) that having Internet with you constantly on all the time is a good thing. This is what’s happening with me now.
I’ve finally sunk in the money to get a Nokia 6320i after years of holding out on a new handphone because I wanted to wait for a PocketPC/handphone hybrid running Windows Mobile 2005 Phone Edition. That hasn’t come fast enough for me, and how that I’ve shifted to techno-nowhereville, I found that a month of no internet at home is a little stifling than I had imagined.
So enter the Nokia, that among other stuff has the one thing I’m eyeing for – it’s Bluetooth and EDGE capabilities.
I can connect to the net via my phone to my laptop, and the reception in Putra Heights isn’t half bad at all. So no internet at home – solved.
But I was talking about mobile internet. As I lug around with me my trusty iPAQ 4150, I can connect to the internet at any time I want, wherever I am. The process now is clunky – too many steps in my opinion to get online, but then I’m a major nag. Nothing is simple enough for me, even though I can be considered . But the service is fabulous. So I’m finding getting my email and browsing the internet and IMming wherever I am a lot of fun.

Online is Offline

I’ve shifted to my new place for the past one month now, and one thing I can tell you it’s too easy to take broadband internet for granted. No phone lines and no satellite broadband, I may as well have been living in a cave.

Artsy-Fartsy Hotel

Wow. This has surely got to be the most interesting hotel I’ve ever been anywhere around the world. I’m currently staying in The Gallery Hotel, Singapore while I’m here working for about week, and boy was I surprised.
My colleague told me it was a ’boutique hotel’, whatever that means, I thought. Landing here has given new meaning to artsy-fartsy hoteling.
I’ll post pictures next.
Yes, I’m impressed.

London Blast

You’re probably reading about the blast that rocked London today in its Underground subway system. I’m now sitting in front of my TV listening to the reports on CNN on this. Interestingly, this happened a day after London has been selected to host 2012 Olympics, but according to early reports, it has been claimed by a to date unknown terrorist group.
There’s nothing I can say that the reports wouldn’t have already mentioned, but my thoughts and condolences to those who are affected, and special thoughts to my pals residing in London.

Nothing is harder than taking the first step

There is a reason why people say that the bloody first step is the hardest, and that when you’ve started, half the battle is won, blah-blah-blah-blah.
You want to make the change and improve your situation, the only thing for you to do is to start the ball rolling. Nothing’s gonna happen when you sit and mull over lost opportunities, or what would be or could be.
Finish that damn thing and send it out.

Project Petaling Street

Welcome welcome to Project Petaling Street. I had originally thought this website is the virtual embodiment of the (in)famous boulevard here, but hey, whaddayaknow?

Now this is truly amazing

I don’t know how long this has been in market, but it practically puts my plans for a mobile app I’ve been planning in the back burner permanently.
Check this out and expand your mind: Delicious Library.
I’ve got to learn me some of those…

pda writing blues

l’m waiting for the time when writing on the pda isn’t such a pain. l shouid Know, because l’ve been writing on it for sometime now and it doesn’t seem to get any easier. The problem i believe is the isn’t a really really good hand writing recognition yet. The input mechanism just isn’t Condusive to prose writing. It physically hurts. plus then isnt enough screen real estate.
Did i mention that i’m writing this post right now on my pda? Pleasant experience it is, too.

Wait

It’s been a while since I posted, but I’ve actually lots of stuff written but not have the chance to really get it out yet. It’s all in my otak while I mull during breaks during office hours.

Classic Programmer?

I’ve been listening to Library of Congress’s Lectures on Digital Future Series 3, presented by a physicist Juan Pablo Paz. He describes the quantum computer, and it’s interesting, directly relating to the field of computing by outlining the difference in principles.
Anyway, he mentioned something that I thought was quite strange – a member of the audience asked him if someone needs to have a PhD to program a quantum computer. He said that 10 years ago that’d be a yes, but now it’d be a no, and that a classic programmer would be able to program as well as a quantum computer programmer.
What struck me was – Now we’re ‘classic’ programmers? 🙂 I’m archaic! 🙂
Yeah, yeah, before anyone who reads this (yeah, the 2 of you) thinks otherwise, I wanna say I know what he means, of course. Quantum computing is a completely new way of looking at processing. No longer linear. It simply is a new way of thinking where the current way of sequencing logical operations is not applicable in the same sense anymore. And since this is a newer way of development, in the quantum computing environment, it’s apt to call the current practice ‘classic’.

otak downloads (cont)

Did I forget to mention that Simtel and Winsite are only 2 of the download sites that I know are distributing otak? There are other places I know that actually offer the downloads as well.
Some are linked to the Simtel network, although hosted elsewhere (i.e Chicago Sun Times) and I’m not sure if the counter gets incremented when downloaded from sites like these.
Then there are other sites that hosts otak on their own. I remember stumbling on them before, but not sure if they are actually still around.
I’m pretty sure there are places I don’t even know hosting the file.
After all this rubbish, my point is – there could be well over 4000 downloads of otak.
😀
As you can see, I’m trying my hardest to be modest.

otak downloads thus far…

I don’t know why, but I just did a check on the total number of downloads for otak thus far, since it was released close to 2 years ago.
Winsite has about 700, and Simtel has recorded about 3300, so the grand total is about 4000 downloads.
I recognize that if it wasn’t freeware, there wouldn’t be this many downloads. And I can’t honestly say I’m not tempted to turn this into shareware.
I suppose I’m torn – fulfilling a ‘payment’ of sorts for my dependence on freeware in my own computing universe, or making a little money for myself.
On one hand, I’m contributing a software to the world, something that is used all around the world. On the other, it is my blood sweat and tears.
Hmm… I will explore this further later.

Politics

Where could we discuss politics here? I for one would be very interested to join a political forum for things concerning us, for things we care about.
The US has a political system that compared to us is a world of difference. Their presidential candidates debate in television on issues that matter to their people, and we see how each party intends to tackle the said issues. I think this is good – the sort of transparency that allows the people to decide for themselves with information clearly available on both sides.
Now I understand we don’t have a 2 party political system here. What that means where freedom to discuss politics here is concerned, I don’t know.
Where could I go to to talk about what matters to me? And how do I know if I’m being heard, and what guarantees do I have
If there is such a forum, I’d like to hear about it.

What the…?

I wouldn’t have believed it. On any other day I would have cheered for the winning team, proudly displaying our logo as it is. I would have feared for our consistency if we were facing another team, but this… this is just totally unexpected. I mean, come on.
MU’s loss to Norwich early this morning is worse than the loss to Man City 2 years ago that sparked a revival. I don’t know what’s gonna happen to them now that they’ve dug themselves into this huge hole.
But I hope it’ll be ugly.

House Renovation

People all over the place will tell you various things when they find out you’re moving house. One of those is invariably how much you would expect to spend on renovating/furnishing the house after you’ve gotten the house keys. They’ll say that whatever you’ve budgeted, be prepared to break the cap you’ve set.
Unfortunately, they are right.

Yeeeeehaaa!

I suppose one can get tired of too many hellos from too many false starts.
But hello anyway, and welcome to the new rambleville, finally in a domain all my own.
I’ll slowly fill this baby up with stuff from my previous blogs, and we’ll see how it goes.