21-31 January 2003
|29 Jan||Japan's Gross National Cool|
|29 Jan||Bilateral troubles|
|29 Jan||Fatal Flaw|
|28 Jan||The End of the World|
|28 Jan||Safari & Keynote|
|28 Jan||The Two Towers and the issue of Iraq|
|28 Jan||It looks quite good!|
|26 Jan||New design; Hero|
|24 Jan||Mixed news|
|21 Jan||A Gaggle of Good Stuff|
Japan's Gross National Cool
29 January 2003 11:49 PM SGT (link)
Japan's Gross National Cool (Slate): a despatch (American: dispatch) from Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, from Davos's World Economic Forum, where he talks about his experience sitting next to Nobuyuki Idei, the "legendary chairman of Sony and the Japan delegation's ruling rock star," and how Japanese culture - anime, consoles, Hello Kitty etc. - gains influence in the world even as its economy continues to be stagnated. He also links to Japan's Gross National Cool, from Foreign Policy.
29 January 2003 11:19 PM SGT (link)
Cambodian crowd storms Thai embassy in response to a Thai actress's comment that Angkor Wat be returned to Thailand, a remark which she later denied making. At a point Thai PM Shinawatra threatened to send troops to reclaim the embassy - that was apparently also taken back later. The two nations have had rocky historical relations. (Or, read CNN's coverage: Cambodian mob storms Thai embassy).
But of course, the bilateral tensions that preoccupy us this time are undoubtably between Malaysia and Singapore, whether about the water treaties or Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Putih or the number of small brushfires started up apparently by the Malaysian papers. Case in point: offensive statements on a Young PAP forum - the papers either do not understand, or choose to ignore, how public Internet forums work. Now the Young PAP moderators have the impetus to snip away anything vaguely insensitive, and their forum and its readers are the worse off.
Incidental food for thought: is it a bit of a stretch, as the Malaysians protest, that changing the price of treated water unilaterally indicates that Malaysia has no intention to keep to the letter of the law with regard to the water treaties or the entire idea of the Separation Agreement (1965)? The very idea of Malaysia claiming that that latter agreement should be null and void seems quite ludicrous, despite their flip-flop on other issues concerning treaties. Still, in my opinion, this isn't as reckless as the Malaysian papers' fanning the flames over Dr. Huxley's book, as if it were the manual for Singapore invading Malaysia (I noted this earlier).
Never mind: the hoopla caused after months of stand-off concerning the water issues, the Malaysian patrols of Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Putih, and more recently, the rounds of accusations and counter-accusations regarding the Foreign Ministry's disclosure of documents relating to the water treaty negotiations (Prof. Jayakumar's speech in Parliament, and attached documents - important reading) leave me doubting whether both nations can extricate themselves from this feud(s) to achieve a peaceful settlement in the future. Of course I believe Prof. Jayakumar's sincerity in wishing for a peaceful outcome despite the move to retaliate against the Malaysian barrage, & even Malaysia's in wanting a settlement as well. But at this stage it seems we need a very skilled arbitrator or a god to do that.
Update: Young PAP denies instigating loose talk of war on website forum (Channel NewsAsia).
29 January 2003 10:38 PM SGT (link)
Sigh the design is working fine except for the navigation bar - in Opera 6 it's in the correct position but you can't click in it! I believe it's a flaw in their CSS implementation, but I haven't gotten down to checking it out yet. With the choice between leaving out Opera users & using another way which doesn't look very good, I've decided on the former. Of course, everyone can point out that there are probably no Opera users that will read my blog. It's the idea of compatibility, OK? ;-) I will get this fixed, one way or another, soon.
The End of the World
28 January 2003 10:41 PM SGT (link)
Never mind if we're likely to be the only planet in the universe capable of supporting complex life, now paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee return with the verdict that even Earth won't last much longer, and we along with it. That summary might not do justice to their twin works Rare Earth (the Rare Earth website) and the new The Life and Death of Planet Earth, so read the blurbs to get a better picture. ABCNews reports on the new book and some of its conclusions (When Will the World End? New Theory Emerges) - already I learnt something, because while I knew that in about 5 billion years' time our sun will grow to become a red giant and engulf the inner planets (including Earth), I didn't know about the predictions for climatic change in the process. Imagine the shock and alarm Earth-dwellers like us would have if we didn't know modern astronomy and saw this happen (of course, not visibly during anyone's lifetimes, but gradually).
Safari & Keynote
28 January 2003 10:22 PM SGT (link)
In the recent Macworld, Steve Jobs, in his characteristic way, unveils new hardware and software to excite the Mac faithful (New York Times: Apple Thinks Big, and Small). But what's notable this time is the launch of Safari, Apple's answer to IE (based on the KHTML engine, the heart of the Konquerer browser for the KDE OS), and Keynote, to a slimmed-down PowerPoint. I won't put screenshots here, but please look at the Quicktime clips of demonstrations of Keynote and you'll be amazed, because compared to this, PowerPoint looks totally plebeian. Keynote is not even PowerPoint on steroids or merely translated to the cool Aqua interface of OS X - Keynote is what artists would use if they ever needed to give presentations. Thanks for the enthusiasm about it, Benjamin :-) Now I want a Mac more than ever...
Back to Safari: the choice of the KHTML code base reportedly alarmed Mozilla advocates - Apple's lead engineer for Safari publicly praised it over Mozilla mainly because it was lean but mean (standards-compliant, for the most part). I confess that when I first glossed over the Macworld news, I thought they had chosen Mozilla, since that's the most prominent open source browser project around. & apparently Opera on Mac will be affected by Apple's entry into the market. A mini-browser war that, thankfully, should be much less turbulent than the older one was.
The Two Towers and the issue of Iraq
28 January 2003 10:11 PM SGT (link)
This comes quite late, but Goldberg at National Review attacks those who decry the "racism" of the ugly black-skinned Orcs & Uruk-hai vs. the pearly-white Elves & the other good guys, and also talks about its relation to the modern predicament of Iraq: Movies & Metaphors. The Claremont Institute, along the same lines of drawing metaphor where Tolkien protests none, calls the movie A Towering Achievement.
It looks quite good!
28 January 2003 9:21 AM SGT (link)
...Something I haven't been able to say in a while. I like this maroon-orange-beige combination better than the old one. Repairs to the other pages are continuing, but I will try to find time to continue posting content here, even in the midst of the coming Chinese New Year holidays: he xin nian, zhu xin nian... But I find those songs they play in NTUC, about how you worship the Cai Shen (God of Wealth) to death, quite irritating.
You know the news coverage they give to the first baby born in the Chinese Lunar New Year, or Christian new year? Is that meaningful - because to me, babies are born all the time, so whether yours arrives during that period is more the luck of the draw than anything. Heh I thought about this because my colleague gave birth yesterday to a healthy baby boy, but just a few days short of the Year of the Goat. Newborns are always so cute :-)
27 January 2003 9:07 AM SGT (link)
Yeah my new design looks totally trashy, so I've made it more basic while I figure out how to make it work across three browsers, two of the most common resolutions (800x600 & 1024x768), and have an appealing colour combination. But this interim one is not bad in itself, right? At least I managed to fix 2 irritating bugs which were actually a result of my misuse of some rules. Sigh.
New design; Hero
26 January 2003 1:34 AM SGT (link)
As you can see, I've changed the design for L.z.y./Data and I invite comments & suggestions. This might look funny on older browsers that don't support CSS adequately, but I've tested it on IE 5.5, Mozilla 1.3 and Opera 6, all on Windows. It's bloody sickening - misaligned DIVs that might be the result of my less-than-adequate understanding of CSS2, or the browser's lousy implementations. & you should see how it looks on IE4 - please upgrade if you're still using it, because it can't even support things like dotted borders (*grimace*).
So far Mozilla 1.3 is giving the most "correct" look, I think. Problems remain: the bottom border of the content part disappears in IE, and also the whole thing is narrower. The arrangement of the L.z.y./Data is so screwed up that I think my methodology is wrong: should switch to an image or something. I hope to have all these problems ironed out soon, and all the other pages besides this one will also be formatted properly.
I've also completed the Timescape review that I've been promising for practically a week.
2003 has been a good year for movies so far: two thumbs-up & no disappointments yet. I watched Hero on Tuesday: it was excellent! The story-telling was superb - we are left in suspense as the nameless assassin (Jet Li) explains his story, then the Qin lord (Chen Daoming) counters it, & finally we know the truth. The battles are also spectacular - they've really outdone Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Some might not like the Zen words of wisdom/psychobabble on how calligraphy and swordsmanship are closely related etc., but that was part of the fun for me. And as Jet Li gushes in his interviews with the media, it's rare to have a movie like this that preaches peace instead of violence as a means of solving problems.
24 January 2003 12:27 AM SGT (link)
If the page looks a bit funny, my apologies - I was experimenting with some new positioning & obviously I don't really get it yet.
- Scrap CPF top-ups, the ST suggests, only to be rejected by DPM Lee soon after. Is it just me or are the ST editorials more intrepid and incisive these days? It does make the reader think though. & who says the ST is a mere "pro-government newspaper"?
- Navy ship tried to avoid fatal collision (ST): things just get stranger and stranger...
- Old hard drives yield data bonanza (News.com): Old news for those who read tech stuff, but could be worrying if you have things you don't want others to see. You could always take a hammer to your old hard disk though, if you don't mind losing the resale value.
- Fans Howl in Protest as Judge Decides X-Men Aren't Human (WSJ). Amusing, amazing read.
- History Lesson (Newsweek): Author and Civil War-era expert Iver Bernstein on the inaccuracies in Martin Scorsese's 'Gangs of New York'. See my review of Gangs.
22 January 2003 1:53 AM SGT (link)
<RANT> (those who have heard something like this before from me can save your effort)
Today I was banned by my boss from doing F Maths during work (note: I do this when there is no work or my understudy is using the computer).
One of my colleagues joked during lunch that maybe I should do Chemistry instead. I threatened to nobody in general to bring my Chinese textbook ;-) But seriously, we are both at our last straws - I have 86 workdays more & it looks like every minute of it will be spent doing work, work, work. Banned: books, magazines, newspapers (by big boss no less), Maths. They'll ban chit-chatting next. It looks like I won't even get the obligatory ORD break that most ORD personnel enjoy. & supposedly it's my fault (as usual) that doing Maths is too "obvious" e.g. Gabriel's drawings were done on white paper so perhaps people thought he was writing something work-related, whereas my foolscap gave me away.
Whatever - the real reason is that he didn't have my boss, with an unrelenting suspicion that I'm out to lobo. I treat this as a grave insult, of course - as I feel like blowing off steam to someone, I have tried very hard to be out of trouble since I matured in secondary school, and it's totally infuriating to be denounced as a slacker & treated like an outcast in my own workplace for mistakes I made months, no, years ago. Critics of me might say my "goody two-shoes" cover has been blown, or that I'm really unsuited for working in office environments. My stance is that I've tried my best, or close to my best, & I still sometimes do, but these days I just don't see the point. I don't get any satisfaction - I just get more work, & more blame. How dare they question my character, my work ethic, my commitment. Don't think I came in like that: the SAF has made me develop the thoughts here today.
Oh yes, I've also been given marching orders to go to an unoccupied cubicle outside to do my work, & my boss couldn't care less that the transferring of files here & there is bloody inefficient & is sure to cause some discrepancies eventually. She thinks that being hidden in the room allows me to lobo - there's that persistent idea again. But (heaven helps me), the computer refused to start up, although it was working fine a few weeks ago with the project officer. The internal technical support guy says it's a spoilt VGA card, but the serial number we gave the support vendor is wrong, so after the resubmission & contacting the vendor & the guy coming down & the guy coming down a second time to bring the new card, I might not actually start working there till Monday. Again I say, . I certainly didn't spoil the computer - it can't even boot! Too bad.
Working conditions are getting worse, especially for the other section where we now have a big boss who is NOT a family man (he's single), so he thinks nothing of having meetings & discussions till 9, and their boss who is supposedly so swamped with work that his working hours are effectively 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., with no break in between (an unsympathetic fellow would say that maybe it has something to do with his working habits too). Once I was on branch duty (my understudy wasn't around) and these two went for some meeting at 7+ & only returned at 9. Then the guy asked me to do a pithy slide and then we called it a day (or night; it was around 9.40). More than once my colleagues have stayed till 9 on weekdays & 5.30 on Saturdays (but at least they got "off's" for that) to do work. We sometimes work a bloody thirteen hours & they still think we are lobo - it's so ridiculous I don't even know where to start.
I am running out of retaliatory options. My boss's insinuation is that I am kept here on the condition that I work my ass off for the branch, & she threatened (again) to post me out if I had "nothing to do" (only in her imagination). I've had enough of her threats, & everyone else's for that matter. I suppose I could hang around the canteen for the full lunch hour, or the other office, but the problem with that is that she has her "spies" there (namely the guy I talked about before) who will be sure to report the "incident". What I know clearly is that I will not spend my remaining 86 working days slogging for the SAF. I will rather stare at the wall, or secretly surf the Internet (the cubicle also houses the I-Net PC with a broadband connection that's supposedly only for work-related research), or type the Great Singapore Novel on the computer - anything. Don't look for efficiency from me. I also haven't been contributing suggestions, much to my Branch IC's dismay - & I think she's beginning to have a bad impression of me too. I could say I don't care, but that will be a lie. My consolation is that all this hatred & disparagement will stop when I leave, & never look back. When I leave I will have mentored my understudy for, what, 10 months - certainly enough time to at least pick up everything at least once. & of course I don't have a handphone number & I won't be home every day, so good luck harassing me for stupid things (as others have suffered).
The year of the SCAPEgoat is approaching, I joke. You want us to work - great. Be thinking NSFs - OK we can try. But to do OT almost all the time such that we think it's fortunate to be able to catch the bus down the hill (fyi, official working hours are until 5.30, and the last bus comes at 6.40); insinuate that I am not putting in my best (applies only to me); & don't apply reason in asking NSFs to do work only when, um, they actually have work & can do it (with an available computer) - that's it, you've crossed the boundaries. Why the hell should I aim to be the "perfect NSF" - ren lao ren yuan, work damn long hours, think up of all sorts of new ways to improve the branch, take all the shit that's happening at work, & leave after 2.5 years with what? A pat on the back & some words of empty praise. Again, I say, they've made an enemy out of me - I have no idea of playing into their hands & idea of a "perfect NSF" after the unjust & unfair treatment applied to me for so long. It's like the SAF Day Parade (as I never tire of bringing up) - if you condone this kind of thing, that just sends the message to the higher authorities that it's perfectly OK, so what's to stop them from doing it again? Until someone gets struck by lightning & the thing makes the evening news?
In opposition to just tahaning it out & biting my tongue, I could request an interview & pour out my frustrations & ask that I be treated more fairly. But frankly I don't think this can achieve much, since (1) I'm not that great a speaker & (2) they have all their suspicions and mental baggage about me so I might as well be ranting to my long-suffering colleagues: nothing will happen. (3) I might even get emotional - that will totally destroy my stance, since I have to appear strong & unafraid of this repression & outrage.
I think I will stick to the plan I originally hatched before I thought of doing Maths & after the time when we were banned from reading newspapers during working hours - whatever work I have, I will take my own sugary sweet time to finish, so as to fill up my working hours & prevent getting very bored - work-to-rule. Not that I will miss deadlines - I just won't over-achieve. This requires a delicate balancing act because you could overdo it & others will expose you. For instance, I did the new files for 2003 quite leisurely by my standards (spent a whole day sticking the labels & slotting the files into protective plastic covers), but that was not enough. Not nearly enough for 86 workdays.
A Gaggle of Good Stuff
21 January 2003 12:21 PM SGT (link)
- Hint: It's Not Plastics: Time has a review of What Should I Do With My Life?, last mentioned here.
- The Male Minority talks about the less-than-proportionate sex ratio in US colleges, numerous theories behind why this is so, and some colleges' efforts to introduce "affirmative action" for men. Although it seems sympathetic to theorists like Christina Hoff Sommers (who wrote The War Against Boys) who claim that this is the result of men bearing stigma of an anti-intellectualism culture and the Bill Gates syndrome (college dropouts can become big successes too), and being less prepared for college than women, its conclusion seems to unconsciously support her case:
Christina Hoff Sommers, a conservative education analyst, writes in her recent book, The War Against Boys, that schoolboys are "routinely regarded as protosexists, potential harassers and perpetuators of gender inequity" who "live under a cloud of censure."
And surely more men will also be lured onto campuses by the realization that they'll be surrounded by smart, attractive women with great earnings prospects.
- Time, The Male Minority
- I recently read The Advocate's Devil, a book of fiction by C. M. Woon, or more commonly known as Dr. Walter Woon, ex-NMP & law professor who is now Singapore's ambassador to Germany. It's about a Straits Chinese named Dennis Chiang who's fresh from British law school and is practising with his idiosyncratic boss Mr. d'Almeida; with a touch of irony and humour he relates the many Sherlock Holmes-like adventures they have in solving crimes or simple puzzles. It's an enjoyable read.
The collection of stories also has Dennis constantly re-examining his assumptions on race, and his awkward social position as an English-speaking Straits Chinese uncomfortably sandwiched between arrogant imperialists and Chinese-speaking leftists, who, predictably, denounce him has a "banana" (for those who don't know: yellow on the outside, white on the inside). An NUS fellow has some insights on the themes of The Advocate's Devil, postcolonial writing & all that.