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1-10 October 2002

5 OctOpera
5 OctFiasco
3 OctAn Interesting Parliament Session
3 OctClassical Music - Why Bother?
3 OctDialtones - A Telesymphony
2 OctWayang
2 OctThe 9th
2 OctThe 'Obvious'
1 OctThe Actor Confluence phenomenon
1 OctWho, me?
1 OctBack to Work


5 October 2002 8:39 PM SGT

After IE crashed again last night I was compelled to install Opera, an alternative browser originally from Norway, & now touted as the fastest browser on Earth (for one, Hotmail loads MUCH faster on it than on IE, which is quite a joke if you think about it). I tried Mozilla a few months (and versions: 1.0 RC1) back, but it wasn't very stable and the bookmarking functions were still buggy; maybe I'll try it again soon. Anyway Opera has many cool features like a MDI (multiple document interface, which allows you to load all your windows within one big container one & switch between them easily (see the image in their Reviewer's Guide); much more customisation options than IE even with addins (although I haven't explored them all), & something very cool I'm taking to these days: Mouse Gestures.

The standard way we interact with our computers (Windows-running PCs, that is - what the majority of us low-tech people use) is through the keyboard or mouse or a combination of both (like Shift + click something or Command + click for the Mac). Opera enhances this with Mouse Gestures that allow you to use sequences of movements and clicks on the mouse to perform tasks. It's incredibly fast & convenient: for instance, if I want to go to the previous page in the history (normally accomplished using the Back button or Backspace key) I'll just hold down the right mouse button & click the left one. Vice versa for going forward; it's that intuitive. & the ones I use most often now: closing the current window (hold down the right mouse button, move the mouse down and right, release) and opening a new window (just move it down & release). This has to be seen to be believed - a few more interface enhancements & it's the equivalent of Tom Cruise's conductor movements in Minority Report - an irresistably cool thing in that movie.

This of course excludes many features that I haven't fully explored yet, like skins, bookmarks, built-in search fields, cookie manager and so on.

So far I haven't experienced any major problems, except maybe some things I'd like customised like the dictionary-checking function. Ordinarily when you double-click on a word in Opera a popup window allows you to choose, among other things, to check the word in a dictionary, but I want it to check using Dictionary.com instead of the default Infoplease. But I think I'll figure out how to change that in time. Other than that, it's mostly pages that break (look very bad) e.g. MSNBC, probably because the designers only worked with IE. That's a bit irritating but nothing compared to crashes all the time.

Anyway in the days to come I'll of course be using Opera regularly & reporting any insights or problems I find, but now I find it's a great browser (IE seems to be the worst of the current ones now). & I've put a little button at the left if you'll like to download it & try something else for a change.


5 October 2002 8:22 PM SGT

I arrived at the UCC very early (7.25 I think) & something didn't look right - there was nothing about the symphony put up and the people milling around were mostly Malays. The event being advertised was Kembara, a Malay dance programme. Then I picked up a brochure on the symphony & the words "boo-boo" rang in my head.

Damn, I have to convene a Board of Inquiry to investigate this...it turns out that the Choral Symphony performance is on Oct 8, not Oct 5. I sincerely hope I didn't mislead anyone with my earlier post, which I've corrected. But try as the board might (the board of One), I cannot understand how I remembered or read it as Oct 5 - both the SSO and UCC pages clearly show it as Oct 8.

Yeah, laugh on...

At least I didn't think it was some date after Oct 8, so I haven't lost anything except some money (for the cab fare) & time.

An Interesting Parliament Session

3 October 2002 11:25 PM SGT

Notwithstanding commentary that the MPs were too preoccupied with trivial issues like the stayer/quitter debate (ST: Parliamentary heroes or S'pore's Neros?), I thought the session turned out to be pretty interesting. We have the acting PM Lee Hsien Loong's impassioned plea to Singaporeans to consider their ethical obligations to the society they grew up & were successful in, & give time for a national identity to develop, blah blah blah; & also:

Complain & complain & complain...

Minister of State for Education Dr. Ng Eng Hen's rebuttal to criticisms of the educational system (ST: Foreigners love this stressful system). In fact, reading the news reports closely reveals (to me) that he might have been a tad exasperated at the flak his ministry is drawing, & has been drawing, over the trite complaints of a stressful educational system that leaves no room for anything besides academic success. I guess it doesn't help that the people who complain won't be the last to line up to buy ming xiao - brand-name school - examination papers, for instance. So what's the real source of the problem, the syllabus, the schools, the parents, society?

I was intrigued that he seemed to be taking it a bit too personally. Witness these statements (taken from the ST):

"How do you and should you stop parents and students wanting to do well and get ahead of others? Can we, for instance, legislate limits to studying hours or outlaw, close down all tuition centres?"

(in response to a question from MP Inderjit Singh on whether exam-savvy Singaporean students did better than their international counterparts in the workplace as well) "I would take offence to that statement. I graduated from a local university and I've been told I'm quite successful and I do quite well."

- Minister of State for Education Dr. Ng Eng Hen

Bar tops & seat belts

Minister of State for National Development Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan's response to suggestions for the government to be less uptight (referring to bar-top dancing):

"If you want to dance on a bar top, some of us will fall off the bar top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar top dancing, not just because they've fallen off the bar top, but it's usually because a young girl with a short skirt dancing on it may attract some insults from some other men, the boyfriend will start fighting and some people will die.

"Blood will be shed for liberalising this policy. Whilst I support the liberalisation, I also want all of us to be aware that there is a price to be paid for liberty. If we are convinced that our society is ready to pay that price or that that price is a necessity, let's go in but go in with our eyes wide open."

- from Channel NewsAsia, Committed Singaporeans play unique role: Vivian Balakrishnan

Well I think his example of a way bar-top dancing can lead to violence, death and catastrophe shows that he has a very active imagination. I mean, you would've thought he was talking about gun liberalisation or something. I am not saying that it couldn't happen - no, people have done weirder & certainly more irrational things than this - but if this reflects the mindset the government has towards managing the people & their excesses, then it shows that as a citizenry we're really a pathetic lot.

My view on this? I'll talk about another law that the police recently decided to enforce actively - the rule of installing and using seat-belts for back-seat passengers, which apparently has been in the books for years but was regularly flouted. Fastening seat-belts might certainly save the lives of back-seat passengers in the event of an accident, especially for the unfortunate fellow that's in the middle & could be flung towards the windscreen. But is anyone else but the driver & passengers at risk if these characters do not put on their seat-belts? Will passengers unfastened to their seats be hurled out of their vehicles & end up hitting passers-by? Any other ways they could conceivably do harm to anyone but themselves? I think not.

To me, it's great if the law states that all cars must have seat-belts installed for both front- & back-seat passengers (it's probably there already), so that the driver and passengers have the option to put them on if they are safety-conscious. But for the police to be going around checking if you've put on your seat-belt so as to safeguard your life is like patrolling the streets for guys whose flies aren't done - it places the burden of caution/self-preservation on the government unnecessarily. Methinks that if nobody except the driver & passengers are harmed, then it should be up to them to decide whether they'll opt for safety or convenience. Maybe we can apply this thinking to the bar-top dancing issue; normally I would think that a more trivial matter than seat-belts, but Dr. Balakrishnan obviously doesn't think so.

PS. Please ah I'm not getting into politics or encouraging people to go for civil disobedience; this is just the opinion of a nobody whose readership can be counted on one hand. So there...

Classical Music - Why Bother?

3 October 2002 11:44 PM SGT

This, by Dr. Joshua Fineberg, is the best article on art that I've read in a long time - the relationship between the creators & the audience of art, by taking classical music and its demise as "popular music" by the masses as a case study. Every other paragraph unveils an insight; it's a must-read.

Dialtones - A Telesymphony

3 October 2002 10:22 PM SGT

In the hype, hate and hypnosis surrounding the mobile phone, its potential as an ingredient of art has been largely overlooked. As with the proverbial fish who would never discover water, we take for granted that we are immersed in cellular space, our imaginations dulled by the extraordinary ubiquity of our wireless devices. Announcers at every modern-day concert command us to turn off our cell phones, but what Cagean aesthetic possibilities might we discover in leaving them on? What deranged beauty might we find, or what might we learn about our interconnected selves, in their high, pure tones?

- from Dialtones (A Telesymphony) (seen on Slashdot)

Yes this is a symphony performed by the audience of 200 on their handphones. There is a technical diagram of how the symphony was organised, pictures, and also audio samples of the highlights of the concert. I think it's a lovely idea - think of the polyphonic potential - & the result is pretty, well, fresh. Still I won't be converting to handphone symphonies any time soon :-)


2 October 2002 10:58 PM SGT

Today I was banned from reading books during working hours. Apparently some officer passed through & thought I was lobo (:slack, idling). (I was reading United Nations in the Contemporary World by David Whittaker, though I doubt the fellow bothered to look.) So even when I don't have any work or when my understudy is using the computer (so I can't), I have to look for other 'constructive' things to do.

I think this has to do with the discomfort people get when they see us NSFs seemingly idle around, maybe because (1) they think it reflects badly on them, the commanders; (2) it's a waste of resources (now NSF labour might be cheap but it still costs something); & (3) they fear their manpower will go on the chopping board. & judging by anecdotes told by my colleagues of their attachment experiences, this view is held quite widely. All this results in is a troupe - a whole workforce, even - of wayang performers who would exhaust their physical and mental resources on thinking of better ways to seem like working hard, when you could actually be using your breaks to improve yourself or help the organisation in the longer term (with higher morale, for instance). I think this will just hit back on the organisations perpetuating this like a boomerang; when you need to do more than put up a show, all your performers are going to get off the stage as fast as possible.

For lack of a more eloquent lament: it's a shitty world.

The 9th

2 October 2002 10:58 PM SGT

As somebody once proclaimed, when a classical music aficionado refers to 'the 9th', he or she is not talking about Mahler's ninth symphony, or Schubert's, or anyone else's for that matter, but Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, also known as the Choral Symphony because of the famous "Ode to Joy" section in the last movement. Next Tuesday the Singapore Symphony Chorus, Philharmonic Chamber Chorus and Singapore Bible College Chorale, together with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, will be performing this great symphony at the University Cultural Centre (details at SSO's website and also, the UCC). & what's more, it's free.

Cue to kiasu Singaporeans: yes it's free! This last bit must certainly appeal to the Ugly Singaporean in all of us (if you are a Singaporean), even if you aren't an advocate for "join queue, talk (about what the queue is for) later." Now these people have atrocious thinking processes, not to mention an abundance of time to waste. I wonder how good the turnout will be, considering that it's free & I think it's going to be a rousing performance. I hope I can get a good seat.

PS: I wonder if NUS will pack the hall since it wouldn't look good to have too many empty seats. This is not like hiring seat-warmers a la the Oscars; this is protecting your 'face'. I've experienced this kind of thing before where the authorities 'take it upon themselves' to ensure a good attendance. Sigh enough about this or I'll get very agitated.

Note: This post was edited; see this for details.

The 'Obvious'

2 October 2002 10:56 PM SGT

Everything you've learned in school as 'obvious' becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There's not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.

- R. Buckminster Fuller, engineer, designer, and architect (1895-1983)

Heh, anyone remember 'a force is a push or a pull'? :-)

The Actor Confluence phenomenon

1 October 2002 12:15 AM SGT

Watched the second episode of the two-parter "The Candidate" of The Practice (synopsis, commentary on its legal ethics), & I think the sixth season is worth paying attention to after such a dramatic start. Anyway my business here is to describe the curious actor confluence phenomenon I've noticed, because the person playing Senator Keith Ellison seemed familiar to me. It turns out he's Dylan Baker who also starred in The Cell, which I recently watched, and Thirteen Days, which I watched on the big screen. Bet you've never heard of the man; well maybe he's worth your attention: he has a clinical & mysterious look about him.

It doesn't count if you purposely rent all the videos of some big star like, say, Julia Roberts: you have to serendipitiously see the person in big & small roles within, say, every other movie you watch. The granddaddy of this phenomenon (to me) is William H. Macy: Jurassic Park III, Panic (good show, btw), The Client (where he fakes a southern accent), Pleasantville (another good show), Air Force One (he was the last good guy to die for President Harrison Ford) etc.

Who, me?

1 October 2002 12:10 AM SGT

As a subscriber to Newsweek & Scientific American, among others, I get a lot of mail from distributors hawking subscriptions to associated magazines like The Economist, FEER, AWSJ etc. Today I got one for Science magazine, presumably because of SciAm. I was quite tickled by the opening paragraph from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (or AAAS):

In recognition of your standing in the greater scientific community, the Board of Directors of the AAAS invites you to become a member...

Aw you're too kind ;-)

Back to Work

1 October 2002 12:07 AM SGT

Today I returned to work after taking leave on Monday. It was quite enjoyable, although I just spent the day practising the piano & watching movies. It's the simple slack things in life that count :-) As I've always maintained, leave is what's keeping us NSFs sane.

Oh, & happy Children's Day!

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