11-20 February 2003
|20 Feb||My Fair Lady|
|20 Feb||Musicals old and new|
|19 Feb||The Library Race, continued|
|19 Feb||The Birds|
|19 Feb||Gollum and the Synthespians|
|19 Feb||Concerned Citizens, Global Citizens|
|19 Feb||Bridge controversy|
|17 Feb||The Crazy Grand Amazing Library Race|
|16 Feb||Phrase of the year: Bridge nostalgia|
|15 Feb||Kaleidoscope: Denim, Noise, Tape|
|15 Feb||MSN controversy|
|15 Feb||Causeway woes|
|14 Feb||Low-res photo is really so|
|14 Feb||Caltech woes|
|14 Feb||Big Bang findings|
|12 Feb||Health scare in Guangdong|
|12 Feb||Oscar 2003 nominations|
|12 Feb||Old quarrels|
|12 Feb||Fanning the Waves of Recognition|
|12 Feb||Forget Moore's Law|
|12 Feb||Unread bestseller|
My Fair Lady
20 February 2003 11:43 PM SGT (link)
One of the biggest hits from '60s Hollywood, and also winning Best Picture and other awards at the 1964 Oscars, we present... My Fair Lady! (IMDB)
The story: born as Pygmalion, a play by Bernard Shaw in 1916. It tells the story of phonetics professor Henry Higgins taking in a Cockney-speaking street flower girl Eliza Doolittle, betting with his friend Colonel Pickering, a phonetics enthusiast himself, that he could improve her standing in society and turn her into a lady in 6 months by refining her speech and manners. Read a review and analysis of the play at SparkNotes. Its roots as a play, and an exceptionally witty one at that, explains why the dialogue is engaging and the characters never dull; a remarkable amount of the original is preserved either as dialogue or song lyrics.
Higgins is exceptionally played by Rex Harrison, a "likeable rogue" and elitist who cannot resist the chance at remaking a whole person but is loath to admit emotional relations with anyone (his songs, which Harrison sings-talks, include "Why Can't the English Learn to Speak?", "An Ordinary Man" and "Why Can't a Woman":
I'm an ordinary man, who desires nothing more than just an ordinary chance,
to live exactly as he likes, and do precisely what he wants.
An average man am I, of no eccentric whim, Who likes to live his life, free of strife
Doing whatever he thinks is best for him, Well, just an ordinary man
But, let a woman in your life and your serenity is through
She'll redecorate your home, from the cellar to the dome
Then go to the enthralling fun of overhauling you!
Let a woman in your life, and you're up against a wall,
Make a plan and you will find, she has something else in mind,
And so rather than do either you do something else that neither likes at all.
You want to talk of Keats or Milton, she only wants to talk of love
You go to see a play or ballet, and spend it searching for her glove
Let a woman in your life and you invite eternal strife,
Let them buy their wedding bands for those anxious little hands
I'd be equally as willing for a dentist to be drilling, than to ever let a woman in my life...
- "An Ordinary Man", Henry Higgins
(Ahem, this is of course not to say that I support his views. It's humorous, that's all.)
Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl-turned-lady, is played by Audrey Hepburn, whom I talked about here. From her Cockney "I'm a good girl, I am!" she is coached day and night by Higgins to speak "proper English" by repeating sentences like "The rain in Spain is mainly in the plain.". Later when she finally manages to say this sentence properly there is a delightful song "The Rain in Spain", and Eliza has a solo "I Could Have Danced All Night" that might be familiar even to those who have not watched the movie.
A bit of '60s Oscar trivia: when it came to make the film version adapted from the successful musical, the stage actors Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway (as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father) reprised their roles, but not Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, because the studio bigwigs thought she wasn't well-known (Julie Andrews, of course, is immortalised as Mary Poppins or Maria in The Sound of Music), so they chose Audrey Hepburn instead. In the end, Audrey Hepburn's voice was dubbed with Marni Nixon's because she couldn't reach the high notes, and in the 1964 Oscars, not only was Audrey Hepburn not even nominated for Best Actress, but that award went to... Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins! But a wag somewhere pointed out that rather than wonder what kind of an Eliza Doolittle Julie Andrews would have made on screen, we should be happy because if that happened then someone else would've been Mary Poppins. An excellent point there.
Personally, although I liked all of Higgins's and Eliza's songs, I thought the show was a bit stolen by Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle with his two songs, "With a Little Bit O' Luck" and "Get Me To The Church on Time" - they were really a joy to watch and sing along. However, "You Did It, You Did It", which Pickering sings to Henry Higgins as they return from a ball triumphant that they had passed off Eliza as a lady, doesn't fare well in repeated hearings - it even gets a bit annoying. Greatest Films: My Fair Lady (1964) has a detailed synposis and lyrics of most of the songs.
Lastly, the ending: Shaw's play ended on quite a definitive note: Eliza is fed up with Higgins for not treating her better now that she's a lady, and storms off. Shaw himself wrote a sequel where he talks about Eliza getting married to Freddy, one of her admirers, and eking out a living with Pickering's and Higgins's (grudging) help. Well the musical (presumably true for the stage version too) is more outwardly romantic: it's hinted towards the end that the Higgins-Eliza relationship will grow - Higgins acknowledges that "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and the ending was marvellous. My apologies to Shaw, but I prefer the more romantic ending.
Musicals old and new
20 February 2003 11:28 PM SGT (link)
With the nomination of Chicago for Best Picture for the Oscars 2003, everyone is triumphing the revival of the musical (e.g. Time: "Chicago" Is Chic), a moribund film genre that has been relegated to Disney cartoons for many years. According to the Los Angeles Times, the critical success of Chicago, together with Moulin Rouge two years back, is encouraging others to make musicals.
...What's remarkable about the resurgence of the genre is not so much that it is back but that it disappeared so quickly in the first place.
Four musicals won best picture Academy Awards in the 1960s: "West Side Story," "My Fair Lady," "The Sound of Music" and "Oliver!" Several hits were released in the 1970s, including "Fiddler on the Roof" and "All That Jazz," but success proved elusive later. For every "Grease," "Flashdance," "Fame" and "Saturday Night Fever" came an equal measure of fiascoes such as "Pennies From Heaven," "Newsies," "A Little Night Music" and "Xanadu."
Scared by such expensive failures, the studios pulled back and live-action musicals almost vanished. Filmmakers at Walt Disney built half a dozen blockbusters around memorable songs, but the tunes were performed not by tenors and altos but by animated tea kettles ("Beauty and the Beast") and crabs ("The Little Mermaid"). If real actors started dancing, it was only because someone had started playing music on a record player. Spontaneous singing was proscribed.
Los Angeles Times, 'Chicago' Has Hollywood Saying, 'Hey, Kids, Let's Put on a Show!'
Of course there are detractors: Salon has "Chicago," schmicago!, where the writer basically complaining about the success of Chicago, and recommends his own favourite musicals of all time. All singing! All dancing! All tough and cynical!, on the other hand, applauds the return of musicals like Chicago that are "nasty, sharp, cynical and unromantic":
...back in October, the movie musical was a dead genre.
The reasons for that are complicated, but at the root are two movies: "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," two of the stinker musicals of all time (I know that's considered heresy regarding the former) and, at the time, the two most successful movie musicals ever...
Closer to home we have a curiosity: Clarissa Oon of the ST bemoans the death of the "wholesome old-school musical"! (Murder by numbers: With a nudge and saucy wink, recent musicals such as Moulin Rouge and Chicago sound the death knell for the wholesome old-school musical).
...Watching the likes of Gene Kelly tap-dancing in the rain or Garland singing tremulously of being Somewhere Over The Rainbow also reminds you that, yes, once upon a time actors really could sing and dance.
So what caused the passing of these old-school screen musicals like The Wizard Of Oz (1939), Singin' In The Rain (1952) and the spunky Doris Day western, Calamity Jane (1953)?
- ST, Murder by numbers
I haven't been around long enough to watch nearly all of the musicals these writers are arguing about, but I'll review one - a good one - that I have in the post. Chicago - it's opening this week, and I should be watching it.
The Library Race, continued
19 February 2003 2:27 AM SGT (link)
- This is the MRT map I put up yesterday watermarked, with the locations of the 23 libraries at the forefront. The picture links to the Excel file with this map, which you can use with Excel's Connectors (under Autoshapes) to sketch one's route before making more detailed estimates of time and cost. Note: since this map is not strictly geographical but symbolic, the library locations are so too. So spare the complaints about the relative placement of the Cheng San and Sengkang libraries (in the northeast) or the Marine Parade one (southeast), or the many libraries that are close to MRT stations but require a bus transfer or walking (e.g. Yishun).
- Other sources I have found useful, if you don't have the paper versions on hand: the bus guide at Transitlink and the Street Directory. However I suspect it's more fun leafing through the paper versions with a keen eye and a pencil to note good links when planning one's route.
- I said in the last post that "Paradoxically, after trying to design a route, I realised that it may not be as difficult as it seems, & good teams with good routes could probably do it before it turns dark." This is probably wrong: I had failed to account for the time one needs to travel from MRT stations to libraries nearby. Even if the library is located in the shopping mall next door, it should take at least 20 minutes to get out of the station and climb/escalate/lift up to the library, twice including the return trip. With this and a complete route, my estimated time to complete the journey now stands at around 10 p.m., fully an hour late. Obviously this will not do - I'd hate to make the whole journey & not manage to pass the challenge. But good news: the full cost I have estimated (with much greater accuracy than the time) is around $20 - this will of course be less with bus and/or MRT concessions. Of course I will fine-tune the plan to get the time down by at least an hour, bearing in mind that my estimates now could also be too pessimistic.
- Things get worse: A friend points out that I might consider including the SAFTI MI library since it's now open to members of the public. I am still trying to digest the implications of this - frankly I find 23 libraries quite enough, but if we are including construction sites, why not a fully-functional public library? What's more, I haven't been there before.
- I have remembered another source of inspiration behind my idea of the Library Race besides The Amazing Race - Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne. In it a meticulous London gentleman Phileas Fogg takes up a bet that he can circle the world in 80 days, and he does so using trains, steamships and on occasion even an elephant. I think I had his example in mind when picturing exactly what would happen while making the trips from one library to another - making sure one was keeping to one's schedule, trying to find ways to work around unexpected delays. Too bad the twist that happens at the end of the book won't apply to our little Singapore romp :-) The book is good, if one can extract oneself from the modern world of 24-hour plane flights to this 19th century environment - the figure of 80 days is not as important as the careful planning and adventure it entails.
19 February 2003 2:18 AM SGT (link)
The Los Angeles Times (free reg. req.) has an article on Bodega Bay (To Bodega Bay, for the birds), a picturesque fishing village famed for being the site of Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds (1963, IMDB), which many people think of as a good horror movie. The story is basically about birds that start attacking people viciously, but the movie and the story it originates from, a short story by Daphne du Maurier, start to differ from there.
I read The Birds, the short story by Daphne du Maurier, in one of the anthologies of horror short stories with Alfred Hitchcock's name (Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbinders in Suspense) - it was a really unsettling story about a family living in a coastal town in England, who discover that the winter weather has changed noticeably and with it the behaviour of birds around their town - seagulls, sparrows etc. The birds gather in huge flocks at the beaches and wait, and at certain times in the day begin to ferociously attack anything in the open for food. The narrator, Nat, struggles to protect his family as he boards up his house (the ferocious birds peck at glass windows till they crack) and retain hope as they hear from the wireless that the crisis has affected towns and cities big and small. There are hints that military action has been futile, and his wife wonders whether "America [would] do something". The ending is one of the most creepy I've ever read:
...Nat listened to the tearing sound of splintering wood, and wondered how many million years of memory were stored in those little brains, behind the stabbing beaks, the piercing eyes, now giving them this instinct to destroy mankind with all the deft precision of machines.
"I'll smoke that last fag," he said to his wife. "Stupid of me, it was the one thing I forgot to bring back from the farm."
He reached for it, switched on the silent wireless. He threw the empty packet on the fire, and watched it burn.
- The Birds, a short story by Daphne du Maurier
Now for the disappointment - the movie is nowhere as good as the story. It could be the scenes of the birds attacking their victims, done using primitive-looking effects from today's standards - but I would say that more sophisticated effects would have ruined the story just as easily. Or the dull acting. Or the fact that Hitchcock tamed down the story so that the bird attacks only affected a small town off the coast of California. Or maybe I was just irritated by the 60s-movie star compulsion to smoke whenever they get the chance. To conclude, I didn't like the movie - give me the story any time! It's too bad this is not more widely available.
Yes a common theme of my taste in fiction emerges yet again - an apocalyptic scenario and an unsuccessful (for the most part) siege by the protagonist(s) who want to preserve their way of life, or sometimes just their lives (see this earlier post on science fiction).
Gollum and the Synthespians
19 February 2003 2:05 AM SGT (link)
Salon has an article on the future of synthespians - a term from Simone, actors created with computer graphics, or hybrids like the recent Gollum in The Two Towers, played by a real actor, Andy Serkis, touched up with computer graphics - Gollum: Dissed by the Oscars?. It talks about the acknowledgement, or lack thereof, of such actors and roles in the Academy Awards. People who thought Gollum was the character to watch in The Two Towers, like me, might be interested.
Concerned Citizens, Global Citizens
19 February 2003 1:42 AM SGT (link)
In today's ST Forum there was a letter, Nation of bystanders will not be good global citizens, in reaction to the report published on Sunday where some members of the public provided reasons why they would not come to the aid of others in need (...what about others? Most are willing to help but...). The letter writer makes a good link between the recent cases of some protestors against the impending US attack on Iraq, and the bochap attitude expressed towards others:
I THINK that there is a connection between the large number of policemen mobilised on Saturday to curb what was to be a rally against any impending war on Iraq, and the views of some when asked in a poll if they would assist someone in trouble ('Most are willing to help but...'; The Sunday Times, Feb 16)...
Setting aside for a minute the issue of whether a permit was obtained for the rally, as long as our attitude as a nation is that other people's problems are theirs to resolve on their own, and we choose to remain detached, unmoved and unemotional unless it threatens our personal interests, we will never be good neighbours, let alone mature into responsible global citizens.
Does his description of the general Singaporean attitude towards anything that's "not his business" sound familiar? Methinks this attitude is a general malaise among the entire population, and after one does nothing but point fingers to find culprits or causes, or refuses to acknowledge the problem, we could just end up being nothing but the proverbial "little red dot" with nothing much to contribute to the world besides factories and shopping centres.
19 February 2003 1:27 AM SGT (link)
OK I have officially joined the crowd who are tired of the trivial squabbles over minutiae in the Malaysia-Singapore bilateral negotiations, most notably the bridge one that was stirred up with Dr. Mahathir's swipes at Singapore & PM Goh (see my post, Phrase of the year: Bridge nostalgia). The Foreign Affairs ministry rebuts Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar's comments, pointing out that they are inconsistent with Dr. Mahathir's previous letters and statements (giving special mention to the "4-eyes meeting" claimed by Dr. Mahathir compared to Datuk Syed Hamid's vouching for Dr. Mahathir) - Channel NewsAsia, MFA says Syed Hamid's comments on bridge issue 'all very mysterious'.
I mean, it's been said by many people but bears repeating: when everyone is justificably talking about terrorism and security, Iraq and North Korea, the stagnant economy and long-term competitiveness, we are arguing about who said what years ago about a bridge. And no matter how hard PM Goh or anyone else in the Singapore government wants to talk about job losses and retraining and competitiveness, this kind of cheap attacks to & fro just take the limelight because they're scandalous, and as we all know deep down, silly. Right now we have one side who decides to wax lyrical about the truth and the other is eager to portray them as jingoists with an inferiority complex. Perhaps the best way is to give these non-immediate issues a rest, important as they are, since they seem to thrive on more coverage and emotional reaction than real substance.
The Crazy Grand Amazing Library Race
17 February 2003 10:28 PM SGT (link)
OK for those who have heard my "sales pitch" in the past two days, reading this is optional. But for the rest, please hear me out! :-)
I've thought of nothing much else for the last two days - the idea is truly crazy, yet amazing at the same time. Of course I was inspired by the single episode of The Amazing Race: although I didn't think much of the Singapore setting, the contest was really interesting. Right, basically I was faced with a problem: I haven't been to many national library branches. I want to visit them, if only to take a look around. Then I thought: why not visit all the library branches in Singapore in one day?
Of course the rules need to be spelt out more clearly, & after much thought I've reduced it to these:
- Goal: Visit all the national libraries in Singapore within 1 working day.
- That means when they are open; no point going there when they're closed. On weekdays this ranges from 11 am to 9 pm (except for Woodlands, which is 12 noon to 9 pm).
- National libraries means these, in alphabetical order: Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Batok, Bukit Merah, Bukit Panjang, Central, Cheng San, Choa Chu Kang, Geylang East, Jurong East, Jurong West, library@esplanade, library@orchard, Marine Parade, Pasir Ris, Queenstown, Sembawang, Sengkang, Tampines, Toa Payoh, Woodlands, Yishun. My friend also wants to add the one under construction at Bugis, to make twenty-three branches in total. The truly mad person may wish to include the 43 Community Children's Libraries spread all around the island, but I think it's impossible to cover all that in one day. There are limits to one's ingenuity :-)
- Modes of transport: bus & train. No taxis or private cars - that would defeat the purpose. But discussion with some enthusiastic khakis has raised the possibility of bicycles too, for an additional physical challenge.
- How would we remember our achievement? I initially thought of bringing a camera or digital camera to take a photo besides all the library signs, but on second thought that's a bit cliché. My friends had a better, even crazier idea: on reaching a branch we would look for a pre-determined book, borrow it, & then return it at the next branch. Say you go to Woodlands, you borrow a book like Michael Crichton's Timeline, & you're going to Sembawang next. At Sembawang you return the book & borrow another copy of Timeline. In this way all the library receipts will register the same book, not to mention the fact that you were at the library at the printed time. You can choose to stay in the library for as long as you want after you've done this.
Yeah it's ingeniously nuts. But it's irresistably so!
OK some caveats. The book one chooses has to be well-stocked in all the libraries; it wouldn't do to go to a branch & not find the book, for that will spoil the game. So Timeline is one; maybe if one's more flexible, any Tom Clancy or John Grisham book. & if many people are playing, we have to make sure there are a reasonable number of copies in each branch.
Caveat No. 2: the receipts are printed with ink that fades away after a while, so we will have to paste them nicely on paper & photostat them to keep them for a longer time.
Caveat No. 3 that I've just thought of: the problem of library cards. I wonder how fast the system can be updated such that you won't be at your 5th library only to realise that the 4 books you've returned are still marked as "borrowed." This could be solved with more library cards, but I'd like to use as little as possible.
- Meals: No catering lah! You think what? Haha OK to be serious I wouldn't advise anyone to skip lunch & dinner for this, so maybe we can allocate half an hour at a good place to eat, subject to the choice of each team, of course. Or you could da-bao burgers & eat along the way, whatever! Flexibility is the name of the game.
- Competition: Ah the true spirit of a race. I suggest that every "team" - it could be a couple or a bunch of friends - be given the flexibility to start at any time, at any library. If you're so confident of your abilities you can start an hour late or something, give yourself a handicap. & to start off at any library means there are more possible ways to go around every one of them.
I also suggest that all the teams meet up at a central location at the end of the long day - perhaps at 10, a safe hour after the closing of the libraries, maybe in town, so that we can compare our notes & share our experiences.
- Criteria for winning: I was thinking of considering the two factors of speed and cost - how fast you manage to complete the circuit, proved by the receipts, and how much you spend. Of course, needless to say, we should exclude bus and MRT concession passes, though they may of course influence your decision in choosing routes. I should say that by and large the route is up to you - there's hardly any one way to get to any library.
- Other goals: Visit all the libraries, especially those you've never even heard of before. See whether there's anything special or memorable about them. What's more, gain knowledge in the efficient use of our public transport system like never before. Others: maybe exercise? For the cyclists.
Paradoxically, after trying to design a route, I realised that it may not be as difficult as it seems, & good teams with good routes could probably do it before it turns dark (gasp!). I mean, we want it not to be so hard that it's impossible, but if it's too easy then it defeats the purpose too. Anyway methinking the "MRT-hugging" strategy: that since most of the libraries are located near MRT stations, it's best to use them as a guide for library-hopping. Here is the nicely-designed map from SMRT:
Click to get enlarged version.
OK last but not least, anyone who's interested, who doesn't think I'm crazy, who thinks this is so crazy it could be fun, please drop me a line at the tag-board or my email. I should say that I have had some very enthusiastic responses already: thanks a million guys! Even if you're not interested, tell it to pple whom you think will be. So are you up to the challenge of the Crazy Grand Amazing Library Race?
Phrase of the year: Bridge nostalgia
16 February 2003 12:11 AM SGT (link)
Today the ST gave extensive coverage to Dr. Mahathir's comments on PM Goh's nostalgia (as I posted yesterday): Mahathir blames PM for blocking bridge, front page but sneaking above the fold as if in two minds about whether to highlight it; Laughter and applause as Mahathir takes digs at S'pore, all his comments translated into English. As expected there was an official response, coming from the Foreign Affairs ministry. And a biting one it was:
"Prime Minister Mahathir is an entertaining story-teller. But for facts, please refer to Minister Jayakumar's statement in Parliament and the exchange of letters between both sides.
Prime Minister Goh did not think that there was a need to replace the Causeway with a new bridge, when the Causeway was serving both countries well, and the Second Link was still under-utilised. It would be a waste of several hundred million dollars. However, since Malaysia was extremely keen on the bridge, in the interests of concluding a package deal, including the supply of future water to Singapore, Prime Minister Goh had agreed to it, and suggested that the Causeway be knocked down after 2007 when the bridge had been completed."
Call me a sucker for showmanship, but if the comments made were televised, I'm eager to see the demeanour of the spokesman as he utters "entertaining story-teller." A Singaporean version of C-Span? Basically the MFA spokesman says, "refer to the letters we've released & you'll find all the facts & refutations you need."
Something I thought of that I've also floated among some friends: if SM Lee's comments were taken out of context, or even if, gasp, they are untrue & Dr. Mahathir was not being totally candid (to say it in a Clintonesque way), then is there going to be anything untoward? (But despite his anti-Singapore antics, I believe the good man is not lying.) The last time Bloomberg defamed SM Lee by calling into question the independence of son DPM Lee & daughter-in-law Ho Ching with regards to Temasek Holdings, they bore the consequences, while Dr. Mahathir gets to say whatever he likes because he's the leader of a neighbouring country? I mean, defamation is defamation is defamation, made in Singapore, the US, or Malaysia, isn't it? Or perhaps there's a legal reason for this apparent inconsistency that I haven't realised.
Kaleidoscope: Denim, Noise, Tape
15 February 2003 11:27 PM SGT (link)
New Scientist: 'Denim' solar panels to clothe future buildings: Researches have developed a material that can extract energy from the sun like conventional solar panels but is flexible enough that it could be used in anything from buildings to clothing. The New Scientist illustration is excellent: basically electricity is generated with two layers of semiconducting silicon atoms. But I wonder whether the plastic layer, which I suppose gives rise to the denim colour, can be more versatile than that - "You can have this new solar panel material in any colour, so long as it's blue." Come on. & there are so many interesting ideas that could be developed if this thing does take off, like entire energy self-sufficient buildings in denim decor, or armbands powering watches. Just thinking...
Wired News: Can You Turn That Down, Please?: you got it, noise permeates the modern life. I'm a nocturnal person mainly because of the peace & quiet, but the problem with it is that it's too fragile: any self-absorbed dude passing by in his motorbike with radio at full blast, or some taxi that decides to stop in the carpark for five minutes, leaving the engine running, that's enough to destroy it. Also, the grassroots campaigns against noise mentioned in the article are interesting.
New York Times (requires free registration): Unraveling Duct Tape, Warts and All: With the recent national security alert in the US & UK, duct tape as a proposed means of sealing off rooms from biological and chemical terrorist attacks last brought renewed to scrutiny to this simple thing that, as the New York Times quips, has become "indispensable to handymen, preppies and drug smugglers". Personally my favourite is the scene in Apollo 13 (IMDB) where the astronaut used it to fashion a makeshift ventilator.
15 February 2003 12:44 AM SGT (link)
Two weeks ago it was revealed that Microsoft's MSN portal targeted Opera users, by purposely provided them with a broken page. As a reply to MSN's treatment of its users, Opera Software today released a very special Bork edition of its Opera 7 for Windows browser. The Bork edition behaves differently on one Web site: MSN. Users accessing the MSN site will see the page transformed into the language of the famous Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show: Bork, Bork, Bork!
In October 2001, Opera users were blocked from the MSN site. The event caused an uproar among Web users and MSN was forced to change their policy. However, MSN continues a policy of singling out its Opera competitor by specifically instructing Opera to hide content from users...
- Press release on 14 Feb 03, Opera releases "Bork" edition
I first saw this on the Register some time ago (MSN deliberately breaks Opera's browser, claims company), and complete with Opera's technical demonstration (Why doesn't MSN work with Opera?; later Why MSN still doesn't work with Opera, as the problem has been fixed for Opera 7 but not 6) the case against Microsoft/MSN seems pretty damning. Basically MSN's site has code to detect Opera 6 browsers trying to access the page and deliberately sends a malformed style sheet that screws up the layout, hence making the user think the browser is at fault. This is the most outrageous anti-competitive behaviour I've ever seen. However, in order to see the effect for myself, perhaps I'll check the pages when I have time.
Also, here is News.com's coverage of the October 2001 lockout (MSN lockout stirs antitrust rumblings). I find it amazingly paradoxical that the Microsoft spokesperson tried to lay the blame for the lockout on the other browsers (Mozilla/Netscape & Opera); he said they were non W3C-standards-compliant, but any web developer worth his salt would know that it is Microsoft's browsers, even the most recent IE 6, that are the worst of the lot.
15 February 2003 12:34 AM SGT (link)
Malaysia says it will proceed with the construction of a new bridge to replace the Causeway that links it to Singapore.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that Kuala Lumpur will begin building the 25-metre high bridge on the Johor side.
...In what appears to be a tit-for-tat reaction, Dr Mahathir made public a conversation he said he had with Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Malaysia's plans to build the new bridge.
Dr Mahathir claimed that during the four-eye meeting, SM Lee supported the Malaysian idea but that SM Lee also said the construction should only start after Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong retires, as Mr Goh is nostalgic over the Causeway.
- Channel NewsAsia, Malaysia to go ahead and build its side of new bridge to replace Causeway
Sigh, another day, a new controversy. I predict the causeway will look like a freak when the Malaysian side has finished their part of the construction, sort of like the half-fish, half-lion Merlion, only worse. Hmm, maybe that can be turned into a tourist destination for both sides to gain.
As for the comments on "nostalgia," I suspect there will be an official response pretty soon to Dr. Mahathir's as-usual acerbic remarks on our leaders.
Mobilisations, & Dr. Tim Huxley's book
Today in the ST there is a fascinating article by David Boey, Motive behind misreading of book on SAF, which actually gives some examples of "Singapore-Malaysia political brinkmanship" resulting in mobilisation exercises, and the recent controversy in Malaysia over Dr. Huxley's book, Defending the Lion City (I commented on it here). Despite the grim relating of tensions, this BT journalist tries to remain aloof, analysing it from Singapore's defensive point of view, and tries to emphasise the close ties between our two nations.
Low-res photo is really so
14 February 2003 11:53 PM SGT (link)
...contrary to reports last week [e.g. CNN, Spy telescopes, radar could help shuttle probe], the photo was not snapped by one of Starfire's extraordinarily powerful telescopes, which are designed to spy on enemy satellites and detect incoming missiles.
Instead, it was taken by Starfire Optical Range engineers who, in their free time, had rigged up a device using a commercially available 31/2-inch telescope and an 11-year-old Macintosh computer, the researchers said.
& to think everyone was speculating on the true high resolution images that were supposedly not put in public.
14 February 2003 12:31 AM SGT (link)
Caltech aims to turn out well-rounded engineers and geneticists with a humanities regimen. Some students say it doesn't compute...
Every budding rocketeer, every genome mapper in the making must complete a four-year program of history and literature, philosophy and languages, music theory and art studies... Together, they account for 20% of the units needed for a bachelor of science degree.
He recalled a poetry class in which the lecturer asked for examples of odes: "The answers we gave were 'electrode', 'cathode', 'anode' and 'diode.' "
- Los Angeles Times, It's Not Rocket Science
My my, aren't we cheeky? But seriously, this effort by Caltech to drum in some humanities knowledge is worthwhile; we can't all live with science and engineering alone.
Big Bang findings
14 February 2003 12:08 AM SGT (link)
Not all the news coming out from NASA is bad: after a year of collecting data using the MAP (Microwave Anisotrophy Probe) probe, NASA and Princeton University scientists will be publishing the results, all with exciting implications for cosmology:
- Universe is 13.7 billion years old with only a 1% margin error.
- First stars ignited 200 million years after the Big Bang. Light in WMAP picture from 380,000 years after the Big Bang.
- Content of the Universe: 4% Atoms, 23% Cold Dark Matter, 73% Dark energy. The data places new constraints on the dark energy. It seems more like a "cosmological constant" than a negative-pressure energy field called "quintessence". But quintessence is not ruled out.
- Fast moving neutrinos do not play any major role in the evolution of structure in the universe. They would have prevented the early clumping of gas in the universe, delaying the emergence of the first stars, in conflict with the new WMAP data.
- Expansion rate (Hubble constant) value: Ho= 71 km/sec/Mpc (with a margin of error of about 5%)
- New evidence for Inflation (in polarized signal)
I'm afraid I only roughly know what the results are really about, from occasional browsing of popular science books. Read CNN's coverage ('Baby pic' shows cosmos 13 billion years ago) for more details. The MAP site has more publications on what its mission is, the physics behind the experiments etc.
Health scare in Guangdong
12 February 2003 10:46 PM SGT (link)
There's an outbreak of what the authorities there call "atypical pneumonia", causing a health scare in big cities like Guangzhou (ST, Killer bug causes panic in Guangdong). Speculation elsewhere has raised the bird flu that affected Hong Kong a few years back, prompting the government there to cull all the chickens they had to stop the spreading of the flu. One wonders. My mother told me about this, because she has delayed her return there because of the health scare.
Oscar 2003 nominations
12 February 2003 10:42 PM SGT (link)
Also see the trailer to The Pianist (IMDB), about a Polish Jewish classical pianist trying to elude the Nazis in the Warsaw ghettos and labour camps. It won the 2002 Palme d'Or prize at Cannes and is one of the nominees for the Oscar for Best Picture (according to the distributors, it will be coming to Singapore this month). It's based on the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was playing Chopin on a Warsaw radio station when the first German bombs fell, and I think we see that scene at the beginning of the trailer - it's quite shocking. Trivia: the piece he's playing is Chopin's posthumously published Nocturne in C sharp minor.
12 February 2003 10:13 PM SGT (link)
KUALA LUMPUR - Berita Minggu columnist Abdullah Ahmad said Malaysia's founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman was wrong to have believed that expelling Singapore from Malaysia would see the Republic flounder and become backward...
...Tan Sri Abdullah said 'our territory was surrendered by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra on a silver platter to Lee Kuan Yew 38 years ago'.
'How wrong he was. Tunku thought that by removing Singapore from Malaysia... calm would return for as long as there were stars and the moon.'
He ended by saying: 'Isn't Singapore Chinese? How can the Chinese become backward? Which Chinese will compromise if he feels he is strong?'
It seems very easy to see the present state of bilateral tensions as about race, because the Malaysian leadership is led by UMNO, and Malay newspapers have been the quickest to slam Singapore for alleged "unneighbourly" acts. But this is so blatant it's sickening, not to mention the underlying notions that Singapore was Malaysian territory stolen by the Chinese leadership, led by Lee Kuan Yew, totally ignoring the fact that he & the PAP government were elected to their positions & were certainly not beholden to the Tunku & Malaysia. I suppose if they could, they would argue that Malaysia, being the heirs of the sultans, should take possession of the entire Singapore country - that's a logical consequence of their arguments. Talk about living in the past.
Fanning the Waves of Recognition
12 February 2003 12:45 AM SGT (link)
Good grief, the press is at it again. I last dissed the local press's fixation with Fann Wong's supporting role in Shanghai Knights, and today's Straits Times's Life has it that indeed, Fann gets raves; never mind that they were already celebrating that last week.
Basically the article summarises US film critics' reaction to the movie and any mention of Fann Wong & her performance ("Out of the 12 reviews Life! checked in American newspapers and websites, 10 mentioned her by name."), and even quotes many of them, one-liners because, ahem, they were one-liners to begin with. Evidently everyone thinks that her performance, despite a pleasantly-surprising long 45 minutes or so of screentime, isn't worth more than that. People would rather talk about Owen Wilson's comedy or Jackie Chan's cool-as-always stunts. Does that tell you something?
And while Hongkongers have not seen the film yet, the South China Morning Post gushed that she 'seems set to displace Lucy Liu as Hollywood's Asian babe du jour'.
Liu, whom Fann reportedly beat to the role and who will star in the upcoming Charlie Angels 2, was the female lead in Shanghai Noon, the first feature in the Shanghai franchise which was directed by Tom Dey in 2000.
- Straits Times, Fann gets raves
Babe du jour i.e. the babe of the moment, which Life! now seems to think an honorific. & how is it possible that Fann Wong beat Lucy Liu to the role of Chon Lin - she had already played the princess in Shanghai Noon & they would have had to concoct weird reasons to explain why the princess & sister looked the same. Besides, if one has watched Shanghai Noon, one would realise that the princess role was a "vase" one anyway, besides the 5 minutes or so the princess gets to kick ass instead of being the damsel in distress. Comparing it to Chon Lin definitely makes the latter role stand out.
I mean, stop it already.
Again I must say that I'm the devil's advocate here: I don't have anything against Fann Wong or Singaporeans being successful in the movie business, but please, I can't stand hype.
Forget Moore's Law
12 February 2003 12:23 AM SGT (link)
Forget Moore's Law, Red Herring says,
Forget Moore's law because it is unhealthy. Because it has become our obsession. Because high tech has become fixated on it at the expense of everything else--especially business strategy... But most of all, forget Moore's law because it has become dangerous. It is a runaway train, roaring down a path to disaster, picking up speed at every turn, and we are now going faster than human beings can endure.
- Red Herring, Forget Moore's Law
This seems to be neatly tied in with News.com's article reporting Moore's Law to roll on for another decade. Red Herring's take is that Moore's Law and the exploding expense on R & D in the semiconductor industry is irrelevant considering the trend, mentioned by Google and others, that more raw computing power is not what's needed these days - the PC consumer market is quite saturated, there are no "killer apps" besides games to actually utilise the power etc. Worth reading.
12 February 2003 12:17 AM SGT (link)
WordSpy's word of the day - unread bestseller, simply a book that many people purchase but few read in its entirety e.g. The Bible. Out of Paul McFedries's Top Ten list, how many do you own? & read, or not read?