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11-20 December 2002

20 DecThe 'mood' III: SAD
20 DecJohnny's Blog
20 DecAl Gore exits
20 DecThe 'mood' II: ORD
20 DecThe 'mood': One Ring To Rule Them All...
16 DecThe best Star Trek movie
15 DecCondi Rice & Brahms
15 DecNemesis reviews
15 DecBringing LOTR to the big screen
13 DecSnippets of Life
11 DecI Have a Tag-Board!
11 DecPiano 'Anniversary'

The 'mood' III: SAD

20 December 2002 11:15 PM SGT

This confirms a suspicion that the Internet is the hypochondriac's godsend: an article on Winter Blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Am I a sufferer? Creepy...

Johnny's Blog

20 December 2002 11:04 PM SGT

Always Look on the Dark Side of Death: Johnny has a pretty amusing entry today. I really hope your parents aren't in the habit of searching for traces of your presence online. :-)

Al Gore exits

20 December 2002 9:57 PM SGT

A few days ago, Al Gore surprised political watchers, and me, with his announcement on "60 Minutes" that he would not be seeking the Democratic candidacy in 2004 (CNN: Gore says he won't run in 2004). This was because (1) he had suggested that he would announce his decision only after the holidays, & (2) he seemed to be re-emerging into politics with his book tours & astute call for Trent Lott to apologise for his comments (CNN) or be censured by the Senate, after the blogs but before the rest of the political establishment had begun to take notice.

"I felt that the focus of that race would inevitably been more on the past than it should have been, when all races ought to be focused on the future," he said.

... Gore also conceded that some people within the Democratic Party "felt exhausted by the whole 2000 process" and didn't want to go down that road again.

"I'm sensitive to that," he said.

- CNN, Gore at peace with decision not to run

Along with his announcement, Gore also took part in Saturday Night Live with funny skits of his smooch with his wife, the Oval Office of The West Wing & even Lott himself (check out the image at CNN: Gore bids for laughs on 'Saturday Night Live'; the transcript and some snapshots, better than nothing). Sigh, if only this programme was available locally.

Anyway I share the feelings of most of the letter-writers at Salon: Letters to 'Al, we hardly knew ye': He was more a victim of the media's characterisations & his slightly stiff ways; in terms of experience and qualifications he was certainly the frontrunner. He narrowly lost the count at Florida in 2000 & was the victim of an ill-considered, disgraceful decision of the Supreme Court to appoint itself as the deus ex machina to end the crisis with an improvised solution. I was a supporter of him during those hectic days of Election 2000, & the brouhaha afterwards where all sorts of wild political scenarios suddenly became possible. I also bought his environmental tract Earth in the Balance though I haven't read it yet; The Prince of Tennessee is a biography which regrettably has little on his vice-presidential days.

Martin Peretz at TNR laments Gore's retreat; Andrew Sullivan gloats; David Frum analyses the politics behind it. I find Peretz worth quoting on this, because the record has to be set straight:

But these short bouts of praise have been the exception. No political figure in living memory has been as targeted by the media as Gore, so relentlessly ridiculed for offenses invented mostly by the media itself. Gore never really asserted, or even suggested, that he had created the Internet. He knows, first of all, that the Internet is not something that is, mirabili dictu, invented. What he actually did say--that he played a critical role in the political process that made way for the Web--isn't simply plausible; it's undeniable. Still, the ludicrous assertion that he had claimed scientific paternity gained such currency with TV pundits, who do nothing if not repeat themselves and emulate each other, that charging Gore with untruths became national sport. By contrast, Bush's big lie--that he could pass a massive tax cut without sending the country into fiscal distress--was largely ignored.

- The New Republic, High End

His keeping of a low profile after his acknowledged defeat in 2000, support of the president as commander-in-chief in the post-Sept. 11 days, & now his graceful exit, makes me really wish US politics was not so much about money & style as substance and maturity like this.

The 'mood' II: ORD

20 December 2002 8:50 PM SGT

Number Two: my colleague Gabriel ORDs a week from now: of course my envy is tempered by the consolation that it'll be my turn soon - but not soon enough - & the apprehension of graduating into the world of adulthood, where you have things like your livelihood to worry about (but at least for me, that will be delayed for another four years). But congratulations to you Gabriel, if you're reading this. After all the OT & crap, you deserve a break.

I always advise people not to be too jealous of ORD personnel - & ORD personnel not to gloat too much - because one's ORD will arrive right on time whether or not you spend your days fretting about it & marking its arrival on walls/paper/spreadsheets/the ORD Countdown Timer (although I admit the latter is a wonderful program). Besides all the knitting of brows will probably damage your health.

O.R.D.
An extraordinarily versatile word.
(noun) Short for Operationally Ready Date, where the full-time NSman is deemed ready to serve his country in time of need: "So, when's your ORD?"
(transitive verb) To reach one's ORD: "I will ORD on June 28 2003."
(intransitive verb) To describe some happy soul who has reached his ORD (and left): "Where's Lin? He ORDed already."
(adjective) 1. To describe feelings, thoughts or things that come with reaching one's ORD: "He's in an ORD mood." 2. Used jokingly in place of one's rank e.g. CPL (corporal): "ORD Ziyuan."
(interjection) That one is reaching one's ORD and feeling very vehement/joyful about it: "ORD loh!"

- my definitions

Errata: For some reason I wrote "Dec 28 2003" in the "transitive verb" portion when it should be "June 28 2003." I must really be losing it.

The 'mood': One Ring To Rule Them All...

20 December 2002 8:32 PM SGT

Yup I'm guilty as David charges at the board - nothing new for four days. I guess I've been lazy.

I've also been in a kind of pensive mood lately, for many reasons, some of which I'll detail in the following posts. Number One: it's near the end of 2002 & this naturally sparks off a round of soul-searching where I wonder where the 12 months went, & evaluate my life a year after (this begins to sound more credible if you have Lord of the Rings in your life, as Peter Jackson, the director & visionary of this cinematic masterpiece, said in an interview:)

His editing of The Two Towers film:

'I took the approach that we saw The Fellowship last year and we've popped out of the cinema for a popcorn break that lasted 12 months, and now we've gone back in and the projectionist is putting in the next reel and the story carries on. I wanted that kind of unity to it.'

- Peter Jackson

The Ring Master, Straits Times, 19 Dec 2002

As I never tire of telling people, I was with my secondary school classmates as we scoured cineplexes in town to find seats on that Sunday night (23 December 2001) & finally settled on Beach Road. Even though the building looked unimpressive , elongated actually - I joked that the screen must either be very wide or very narrow - the cinema was actually quite good. The broken-down aircon even turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because when you watch a three-hour movie like LOTR in a normal 20-degrees Celsius cinema at the end, you're going to have a serious case of freezing, which did not happen that night. Before that I was partial to the movie - impressed, to be sure, by the raving reviews from battle-hardened critics who condemn 90% of the movies they watch, but not that interested because I'm not into fantasy - Tolkien, Pratchett, McCaffrey & the like. But I think we are witnessing cinematic history here, a trite expression but quite true for LOTR.

The best Star Trek movie

16 December 2002 11:25 PM SGT

Slashdot has a poll on the best Star Trek movie, but they've listed the options in an unconventional way:

Slashdot calls it No. Official Name
Khan 2 Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
Spock 3 Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Whales 4 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Frame-up 6 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Kirk Died For McDowell's Sins 7 Star Trek: Generations
Borg 8 Star Trek: First Contact
Pus 9 Star Trek: Insurrection
Clone 10 Star Trek: Nemesis

As for the two missing ones, they are widely regarded as being terrible (I know, because I watched the fifth).

Condi Rice & Brahms

15 December 2002 6:02 PM SGT

Newsweek has done a cover story on the quiet power of Condi Rice (the current national security advisor. The article is interesting, but I was especially intrigued by this:

Rice once had hopes of becoming a concert pianist. She is still accomplished enough to have performed with cellist Yo-Yo Ma before 2,000 people at Constitution Hall earlier this year. Afterward, Ma asked her to name her favorite composer. "Brahms," she answered. "Why?" he inquired. Because Brahms's music was "passionate without being sentimental," said Rice. Ma asked, "Do you also think it's this irresolution in Brahms, the tension that is never resolved?"

- Newsweek, the quiet power of Condi Rice

I think the comment "passionate without being sentimental" is apt for some of Brahms's pieces, like the String Sextet No. 1, Op. 18, and the finale to his Violin Concerto, Op. 77.

In the letters page responding to this article, there was some feedback that mentioning her preferences for lipstick and shoes in an otherwise-serious article about how the national security advisor thinks was blatantly sexist:

Readers do not appreciate our references to Rice's race or to her make-up preferences either, complaining that their inclusion seemed to downplay Rice's abilities and accomplishments as a human being - not just as an African- American woman. Many point out that reporters would not deign to ask accomplished men about their cologne or wardrobe preferences.

- Newsweek, the quiet power of Condi Rice

So true! Sigh, I read it without as much as a thought about the understated bias.

Nemesis reviews

15 December 2002 5:31 PM SGT

Star Trek: Nemesis, the 10th movie, has been released in the U.S. to reviews ranging from mixed to bad. CNN and Roger Ebert have condemned it, while the New York Times (FRR) gives a bit of praise. Rotten Tomatoes has a rating of 43% - rotten. Slashdot has some commentary from fans.

Whenever a new Trek movie is released, I experience mixed feelings - on one hand, being a Trekker, I'd enjoy any show featuring the TNG crew, but on the other, I know that it will be full of action sequences, gung-ho behaviour, sex & violence, & the great big villain that Kirk/Picard needs to defeat. It's something like what Nick Hornby said about football fandom - your team might be facing relegation & the players suck, but even as you jeer at them, you keep hoping for a miracle in the next match. This sort of devotion is not all that uncommon, I think.

On a related issue - the low ratings of Enterprise, UPN is hoping that the movie can bring renewed interest in the Star Trek "franchise": UPN to 'Star Trek' Film: Help Beam Ratings Up. Personally, I've watched 19 episodes & I've found only two to be worth mentioning: Dear Doctor and Shuttlepod One. I'm really unsure whether the show is going to be so dull and aimless until it gets axed, or it's just building up momentum for greater things. It should be pointed out that TNG did not actually get the huge support it did from fans until the 3rd season.

Bringing LOTR to the big screen

15 December 2002 5:21 PM SGT

Wired News has an article (Digital Actors in Rings Can Think) about the computer program behind the scenes of great battles, like in the prologue in The Fellowship of the Ring. The difference is that the computer-generated "agents" doing battle are programmed to respond to the situation & act accordingly, sometimes with surprising results:

When an animator places agents into a simulation, they're released to do what they will. It's not crowd control but anarchy. That's because each agent makes decisions from its point of view. Still, when properly genetically engineered, the right character will always win the fight.

"It's possible to rig fights, but it hasn't been done," Regelous said. "In the first test fight we had 1,000 silver guys and 1,000 golden guys. We set off the simulation, and in the distance you could see several guys running for the hills."

- Wired News, Digital Actors in Rings Can Think

Another point to my case that the reason for Rings to be so successful is not so much that there are more fantasy fans but the power of software today.

Snippets of Life

13 December 2002 9:28 PM SGT

Today is Friday the 13th. Yeah, like it means anything.

An article from the New York Times (free registration required) talking about piracy & the potential for U.S.S. Cole-style terrorist attacks in the Malacca Straits: Warnings From Al Qaeda Stir Fear That Terrorists May Attack Oil Tankers.

For some strange reason, the American dramas I watch on Channel 5 seem to be stuck in very late slots, as if they were tottering soon-to-be flops. Now The West Wing is back, on Thursday midnights.

CNN, as part of coverage for Star Trek: Nemesis that's opening in the US today, reports on the villains of Star Trek. Their thesis is that the best Trek movies are successful because they have the most menacing villains (Khan/Borg Queen/Shinzon?) with personal connections to the hero (Kirk/Picard). Personally I'm quite tired of the big hero vs big villain story because it's been told so many times in so many different guises (see Brin's analysis of this form of storytelling as I described in this post); I firmly believe that the best Star Trek stories involve the characters themselves in situations that allows them to reevaluate themselves and their beliefs. & don't even get me started on the "domestication" of the Borg from a genuinely grave threat to the Federation - because they worked on different concepts that made traditional means of brokering peace inapplicable - into yet another enemy led by Evil (the Borg Queen). It's almost as if Berman & Co. sat in for the first few lectures of the zoology of creatures that live in collectives, & then decided to skip the rest. But I'll talk more about this some other day.

I'm considering becoming a volunteer for the National Library.

An ambitious plan by Gateway to link up thousands of its storefront PCs into a grid computing environment that will provide supercomputer-level performance to "research institutions, universities, government agencies and businesses." If every large organisation with many underutilised computing power gets into the act, this could really propagate distributed computing beyond the geek-interest level (an introduction to grid computing at Nature).

I Have a Tag-Board!

11 December 2002 10:57 PM SGT

Now everyone who wants to yak away about what I post here can do so.

Piano 'Anniversary'

11 December 2002 9:54 PM SGT

Exactly 21 months ago on this day, I had my first piano lesson. Now I'm not really one to divine special meaning in anniversaries, but I just thought I'd talk about the subject. 21 months & nothing to show for it, really - I don't mean certificates (I got Grade 3 for practical & 5 for theory) but what I can play. These days one of the pieces I'm practising is Chopin's Prelude in C minor, Op. 28 No. 20, a very short & simple largo for the professional, but I'm still perfecting it. Still, it's one small step for the budding pianist, & I'm still hoping that with enough practice & determination I will be able to play his great (but invariably more difficult) pieces.

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