31 January 2006

Software Engineering Ain't Easy

A lot of people have the misconception that the software creation process is very simple - just tell the programmer what you want and he'll produce it within 24 hours. Not so.

It's a pretty complex methodology where one of the most important things to do is to get the user's requirements - what the customer wants it to do. And that is a harder job than you think. Last Sunday (29/1/06), Dilbert showed one of the most common problems in gathering requirements:

It's not the funniest Dilbert comic, but it really illustrates a common scenario where the users just don't know what they want. So that was a comic just for the software engineers among us. Thanks, Scott!

[Dilbert is a creation of Scott Adams and is distributed by UFS, Inc. The comic above was reproduced without permission]

Shooting Ourselves

While waiting for my flight the other day, I picked up a copy of The Sun newspaper. In it was an interview with Malaysian Idol Daniel Lee, and I read that first. It is obvious that he is not a very good interviewee, as his answers weren't well thought out. His managers should hire a PR exec to coach him a little. My favourite response from him was:
Q: What are your other hobbies?

I like photography. I like to take my camera and shoot myself. ...

Shooting oneself, indeed.

29 January 2006

Ang Pow Statistics

We live in a time of science, so it is only appropriate that I did a quick study on my ang pow collections this year. Hopefully, I can compare numbers next year and see if the rate is going up or down.

From my paternal family, the average is RM10 per red packet.

Form my maternal side, the average is RM15 per red packet.

What's interesting is that my paternal side is mostly in Penang, a developed city while my maternal side is mostly in Kulim (Kedah), a developing but pretty ulu place. So it's kinda strange that the red packets coming from a small town is 50% higher than a metropolitan city.

Let's see how 2007 fares. If you'd like, you can do a quick calculation of your ang pow average and post them here. It's totally unscientific (despite the first sentence of this post), but it would be huge fun.

Money Money Money

Yesterday evening I helped Dad package the ang pows (red packets). This is a yearly ritual for us, and I have been helping my parent(s) prepare for the big day ever since I can recall. I'm not allowed to reveal how we segregate the ang pows (lest you become one of the recipients!), but we basically have three categories - "strangers" (people we don't know so well), immediate family members (nieces and nephews), and also "special" (that includes me and the kids of Dad's close friends).

Obviously, I wasn't allowed to peek into my own ang pow yet and that is also another ritual I observe. Dad will usually give it to me on the night of New Year's Eve but I have told him to hold it till the actual day. I mean, I'm no longer 14 so I can restraint myself! And I plan to initiate a new ritual tomorrow - the tea offering. If I'm not mistaken children are supposed to offer a cup of tea to their elders for one reason or another. I haven't done that yet so I'll think I'll make a cup for him as a sign of gratitude.

To all my readers celebrating the Lunar New Year tomorrow, I wish you a Properous Chinese New Year! Or as we lazy bastards wish nowadays, "HCNY!"

28 January 2006

Puduraya, KLIA

I woke up at 5am this morning to get prepared for my 7am flight. Joey was to take me to the airport so I gave him a wake up call at 5.45am. Strangely, the call wouldn't go through so I ran upstairs to make sure he was awake. He was, so I got my stuff and we left.

When I walked into the Departure Hall, I was speechless. KLIA has become Puduraya! Queues that stretched all the way to the revolving doors greeted me, and it was with a sinking feeling that I saw the queue lead right up to AirAsia's check in counter. I was a little worried because my flight was 45 minutes away, and AirAsia supposedly closes its check in counter 45 minutes before flight time. I walked around a bit and looked for an AirAsia staff to enquire, and luckily one was right in front of me. He asked me to get in the same long queue, and my heart sank.

I began walking to the end of the line when I suddenly noticed a shorter queue. I was puzzled at this inconsistency. One line had almost 100 people in it while another had less than 10. I looked carefully, and to my joy I learned that the queue is for those who only have hand luggage. I quickly joined the queue and I soon got my boarding pass. Some passengers who didn't read the sign carefully (or didn't care) tried to check-in with luggage, but they were turned away by the firm receptionist. Unfortunately after all their waiting, they had to go to the back of the longer queue.

I tried to SMS my father to inform him about the possible delay but the message just won't get through. After 2 or 3 times of trying, I realized with horror that I had no credit left. More specifically, I had passed the validity date without reloading. I started to panic again because I could not inform Dad the moment I boarded the plane. I was glad however that he called me and I managed to tell him about my predicament. He wasn't too thrilled about it but said he will continually call me until he couldn't get through, and that would be his signal that I was on the plane.

I got to fly in AirAsia's new Airbus planes and they are quite comfy except for the fact that there is no way to lower the seats. As expected the flight was delayed but only for 15 minutes and I met up with Dad without any problems.

Penang, I'm home!

Transamerica Can Travel

Transamerica is a much much better film than Brokeback Mountain. Of course, the subject matter is entirely different but since they are both big winners at this year's Golden Globes I decided to compare them side by side. Again, you can search for a synopsis somewhere else but basically this is a road trip movie. And as with all road trip movies (like Roadtrip and Eurotrip), it is about a few people embarking on a life-altering journey across great distances.

What makes this different from many other road trip films is its realistic characters and dark humour. Felicity Huffman is just wonderful in the role of Bree, a pre-op transexual travelling on the road with his (her?) teenage son. It really dealt with many issues and offers a genuine ending. A highly recommended movie that, as usual, will not be shown in local cinemas.

27 January 2006

Backbreaking Brokeback

[Correction: I put 'Emmy' instead of 'Golden Globes'. The correction has been made]

I'm sure most of you have heard about Brokeback Mountain - the so-called gay cowboy love story. Director Ang Lee doesn't want people to think of it as a "gay cowboy love story", and he's right. I watched it this morning, and I think it is more like a "very boring and tedious gay cowboy love story".

I won't go into plot details, but it won multiple Golden Globes and is a strong contender for the Oscars. Most movie critics agree too. Needless to say, any film with homosexual elements is banned in Malaysia. Actually, any film that has strong sexual tendencies is also banned (read: Austin Powers).

With so much hype around the movie, I just must watch it. I realize that most Oscar Best Movie nominees are usually very boring but I was hoping Brokeback Mountain would do better. It didn't.

The pace is veerrryyy slow. Great acting by both leads but the main problem is their Western accent. I know Heath Ledger is Australian, but he talks in a genuine manner and that becomes its biggest flaw, in my opinion. Without subtitles, it is just impossible to comprehend their dialogue! Even with subtitles, I doubt I could have survived its snail-like pace. Ang Lee could have edited out 30 minutes and delivered a more digestible movie, but he didn't.

In my continuing movie marathon, I will watch Transamerica next. Transamerica is another big winner at the Golden Globes, winning the Best Actress award for Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame.

The Twilight Zone

For those too young to know, "entering the twilight zone" is a popular expression to describe a strange situation we find ourselves in. It refers to the hit TV series The Twilight Zone where the characters in each episode find themselves in a strange alternate reality. Around 4am this morning, I found myself in a similar eerie place.

David had quite some packing to do last night because he will be leaving for his hometown the next morning (today) at 6am. I went to bed around 12.30am but his bags were still strewn messily on his bed so I decided to leave the lights on so he could continue packing after he came back. I don't like sleeping with the lights on so I put on my eye shades. And soon enough, I drifted to sleep.

I experienced a dream in my sleep and when I woke up from it, I was startled with the glare from the fluorescent lights. The sheer brightness made me wake up that instant. I looked around and David still hasn't come back. At first I thought that maybe I haven't really slept and it was still around 12.30am but when I checked the time it was already 4am.

I felt a queer feeling in my stomach - what is David up to? I looked at his side to see if any items have moved. Nope. He hasn't been back at all. As usual with early mornings, I walked gingerly to the toilet to pee. While emptying my bladder, I began analyzing the situation. He has never been out so late before, but it won't surprise me as he has mentioned about playing some card games with friends before. But I didn't think he would play the night through.

After finishing off, I didn't walk back to my room. Instead, I tried to check Albert's room upstairs. David might just be there. As I walked around the hostel, the corridors were awfully quiet. Usually some sleepless jerk would be playing computer games and blasting out technno music, but not tonight. Coupled with the intense brightness of the lights, it becomes weirder - like the Twilight Zone.

I didn't see David's slippers outside Albert's room, so I went back to my room. I decided to end this fantasy at once and just SMSed him. I doubt he was kidnapped. The thought did cross my mind but it was highly unlikely. At any rate, he confirmed my suspicions 5 minutes later. He replied that he wasn't planning to sleep and he will come back at 5am to finish packing.

I became extremely annoyed and I replied with similar sentiments because I purposely left the lights on for his sake, but he never even informed me that I shouldn't expect him early. Of course, he is not to blame as he didn't know that I would do so. But if he did, I would have butchered him nicely when he returned.

Obviously he's on his way home now, and I have the room to myself. All my lecturers have permitted us to skip the class so I don't really have anything to do. As I wrote before, I have lost all will to study so I'll probably freeze my brain and just do a movie marathon - I'm planning to go through Lost, 24, Transamerica, and Brokeback Mountain (the highly anticipated movie that has been banned in Malaysia).

26 January 2006

Reunion Blessings

I tried very hard to avoid it, but I failed - the Chinese New Year fever is upon me. Of course, it is not as pronounced as when I was little, but I've lost all will to study already. Tonight, I got together with my clique and had our own little reunion dinner over at one of Nilai's best Chinese restaurant. We ordered a few simple dishes but no Yee Sang of course (we wouldn't afford it).

Reunion dinners are a simple gathering of family members, keeping track of what everyone has been up to. And while we might lament seeing some cousins/aunts/nephews whom we hate, we might as well treasure them while they are still around. After reading this depressing news article, I treasure the fact that I will be flying straight home into my father's arms. No queueing forever. No need to wear adult Pampers. No need to cramp into trains.

If those Chinese can do that, why can't we?

24 January 2006

You're A Geek If...

...you can laugh at the following joke I found in the Feb/06 issue of MSDN Magazine:

Date d = FindValentineDate();
catch (SlapInFaceException)


"Sorry" may be the hardest word, but "Goodbye" surely ranks right next to it as well.

Tonight, I finally said goodbye to someone I should have said goodbye a long time ago.

~Let's walk away with dignity, and I wish you all the best.~

23 January 2006

No Proof Necessary

No matter how scientifically advanced we become, we will always need some blind faith. It is our basic instinct to try and explain things, but it is an ever baser instinct to believe certain things without investigation. For example, physicists cannot fully explain gravity, but we all believe in it.

There are other more subtle examples. Positive thinking is a good one. A few posts ago I mentioned that I "attracted" a lucky draw prize just by thinking about it. Most people who have not experienced this will ask, "But how is that possible?" And the problem with most people is that they do not want to believe it without seeing it for themselves. Unfortunately, to make this work they need to have blind faith. If they doubt in its effectiveness, the thing they want will never come to them.

Religion is another thorny issue. No matter what faith you belong to, blind faith is a necessary ingredient. People can argue all they want but there are certain things that cannot be confirmed without going back in time. So at the moment, let's just believe blindly.

Trust me.

22 January 2006

Just A Note

The previous 4 posts (below) were written from my PDA while I was up in Genting on the 21st of January, 2005.

I Should Be So Lucky!

Motivators always tell us to think positive and we will attract positive results. I have witnessed this remarkable truth before & it happened again tonight. Since I was told none of us will win, I made the resolve to win the lucky draw. I've never been lucky in lucky draws so I don't know why I even made that aspiration. But wouldn't you know it - I won!
I got a one night stay in First World Hotel & two theme park tickets. Unfortunately it's only valid till mid April so I'm not sure if I can even make it.
It's impossible to prove how I influenced random chance but I know that the most important factor is complete faith & focus. Thankfully I'm religious- and so I have learned to follow blind faith.

24.7 Degrees of Separation

I'm writing this from my PDA up in Genting. It's roughly 24.7 degrees centigrade, so it's not really freezing. The bus arrived exactly on time to pick us up, something that rarely happens.
Though there were only 15 of us, we got the entire Super VIP bus to ourselves. I tried catching 40 winks but it's quite impossible with the morning glare.
At 9.30am, the public lecture started. Conducted by Mr. Searcy, the VP of eGenting R&D, it was extremely informative & showed us how the problems should be approached. We were fairly embarassed when we didn't understand some of the concepts he termed as "basic". It sorta reinforced my theory that our education system lacks depth.
Anyway, we were let off early to have lunch & this time was better because: 1) There was no queue; 2) We weren't thinking of how to solve the problems.
Now I'm in the conference hall for the second part of the public lecture.

After Lunch Sleepies

This is the worst time to listen to a talk as I had such a heavy lunch. The explanations are insightful, but my mind is blind at the moment. This is just a small note to try & keep awake.
At any rate, he has explained the solution to the question I attempted - and I got it wrong. In fact, he said that only ONE contestant got it right. Obviously my hopes of winning are dashed, but it strangely feels liberating because I don't have to wonder anymore.

Uncommon Fun

Our lecture finished before 4, but our dinner starts at 6.45 so we walked over to First World Hotel.
The new Flying Coaster was just outside the main complex, and when I saw it I knew I had to ride it. The others (Alvin, Jay, YY, & Sushi) were less enthusiastic but encouraged me to go anyway. I didn't want to spend RM10 to enjoy alone so I persuaded the others until everyone but Sushi conceded.
And so we went on it! There wasn't any queue so we got right in. The twist to this ride is that we lie down on our front so it feels like we're flying. As we started to swing up I could feel my legs shivering. However the wait turned out to be scarier than the ride itself. It was exciting, but never scary. It was worth a shot nonetheless.
After that Jay suggested the video game arcade & I challenged him to a fight. Not many people know that I was fairly good in King Of Fighters. Was. But the arcade turned out to be disappointing. The KOF machine that we played on had malfunctioning controls. By the way, the arcade here uses touch cards instead of tokens. But their implementation was far from perfect & we got a little frustrated. But in the end, there's nothing better than spending quality time with friends.

21 January 2006

Locked-In Part 2

(This post is a direct continuation of yesterday's post)

In the last post, I was locked in my own room by David, my roommate. I had threatened to vandalize his belongings if he doesn't come and let me out that instant. And he did - 10 minutes later.

I knew the door had been unlocked but I wondered why he didn't come in and check on me. I had already planned to take a shower so I got my toiletries and headed out. When I opened the door, no one was there. I knew he had ran away. That was the last thing I expected him to do. I didn't realize how much of a coward he was until that moment. Obviously he knew he was guilty, but I assumed he would at least try to apologize.

But he didn't. He ran away in hopes I wouldn't catch him.

Feeling even more disappointed in my roommate whom I thought I knew so well, I went and took my shower. I still couldn't decide how to confront him later when I see him. My choices basically were - stand close to him, look straight into his eyes, and say, "Don't ever do that again." or ignore him and give him the cold shoulder. I really wanted to do the first one because it would be the most effective but as I said, I had terrible acting skills. Especially when it comes to showing my anger, I am reluctant to let out my Dark Side. I have often been teased for my calmness. Really.

So in the end I gave him the silent treatment. I didn't speak to him when he came back. But after attending the Buddhist Society chanting session, I felt happy enough to chat again. There really is no use in holding a grudge against him, because I have acquired the greatest weapon of all - the right to call him a coward for running away.

Therefore, yes, I can respond to pranks, but even great pranksters like David crumble when I do my thing ;)

20 January 2006

Unquotable Quotes

Everything in my studies is starting to get tied up in a knot, and it's all because of my lecturers. Though the following sentence may mean nothing to you, it gave me and my friends some pretty hard laughter and so I want to jot it down.

"I am perfect. So how can I be wrong?"

Locked-In Part 1

[The events described happened yesterday - but I couldn't post it because the network was down]

David played a prank on me by locking me inside the room. Yes, he locked the padlock. I can't express how angry I am right now, but I think I'm more disappointed and nervous than angry.

Disappointed because I never knew David could be so reckless. He is the kind who likes playing pranks, but this is dangerous. What if a fire happened? What if I really need to go the toilet? He had the nerve to leave me here and go have dinner with the other guys.

Nervous because, well, there's no fire yet but I do need to pee quite badly.

Upon discovering my predicament, I didn't know what to do. I had planned to give him an angry call, but I knew I had bad acting skills so I decided to send him the following SMS:


Short and sweet, no? Of course, I wasn't really angry or serious about destroying anything. But that's what I like about looking serious all the time - when I make a threat, it seems very real. And it did work on David. Less than a minute later he called me. In order to put more pressure on him, I purposely cancelled his call. He SMSed me that he is coming back, probably trying to prevent me from trashing his side of the room.

And while waiting for David, I began writing this post. As I just finished typing out my SMS message above, I heard the familiar sound of the padlock opening. I had yet to decide how to confront David - should I be aggressive or give him the cold shoulder? Well, there wasn't any time left to think as the padlock was removed.

Drop by again tomorrow to read the conclusion to today's post. What did I do to David? And how did he react?

19 January 2006

Keeping Up With Tradition

Tradition- something that has been done so long we forgot who started it, but we do it anyway.

At least, that's my definition. For Malaysian Chinese, two traditions that stand out during the Chinese New Year period are: the purchase of new clothes, and the wearing of new clothes. And of those two, I follow none.

It is considered tradition for kids to buy new year's clothes during this period. As such, Chinese kids rarely buy any clothes for most of the year and then only start their spree a month from the Big Day. David even has a "new clothes allowance" from his father!

I used to do that too but not anymore. I buy clothes all year round. As long as it looks great and the price is right, out comes my wallet. However, being the good ol' fashioned kid that I am, I still try to get Dad to pay for some of the more expensive clothes :P

The other tradition mentioned is that kids should only start wearing the new clothes during the Chinese New Year period, not before. Needless to say, I don't really care. Before I came back to college, Mum got me a new t-shirt. I wore it the following time we met for lunch, and she seemed a little upset. "Weren't you gonna keep that for the New Year?" she asked.

Last Friday I bought a pair of new jeans (on my Dad's account, of course). I'm gonna try and keep it till Ang Pow Day comes around (since I'm a good ol' fashioned boy), though I think I might just have a little walk around it first :p

But What Is It Really Worth? Part 2

I got a great comment from Jackson regarding the previous post. Here is what he wrote:

A top student in class is not necessarily means a good programmer. I know a few people that are very good at programming currently studying overseas, and they are Malaysians too! Why would Microsoft sponsor their studies if they are not good? They already have a place in Microsoft after they graduate.

I’m not saying that I am the best programmers in College; I’m just saying that there are other people, who don’t really want to show their talents because of various reasons.

I feel the need to response in a post because I think I missed out an important point when writing the previous post. So here's my reply to Jackson and others:

Of course, yes, I'm sure there are many good programmers as well. In fact I once read about a 17-year old opening his own eCommerce site.

I think in the process of writing such a long post I neglected to point out the main gist of the topic: the state of education in Malaysia. My post isn't so much on our student's uselessness, but on how we think about education.

Local education systems hardly challenge students out of their comfort zone. Even when my programme is franchised from the UK, it is still very exam-oriented. Malaysians love to think that passing exams mean they are good enough. Not very true in our sense. After looking through many of the questions on TopCoder, I at least know that I'm not good.

Some unis teach data structures in the first year while we only learnt it halfway through Year 2. Makes me think what the students are taught in Year 3. So my call to other local students is - rise up to the challenge! Prove that Malaysians can be as skillful as Indians, Singaporeans, and Americans. Push yourself beyond what is expected of you and you'll soon find yourself among giants.

I'm still on the way up and I hope all my peers will strive as well.

18 January 2006

But What Is It Really Worth?

I am very much looking forward to Saturday, when me and my mates will be going to Genting for the day-long seminar and awards ceremony for last November's eGenting Programming Competition. It's gonna be so fun because everything is free - yes, FREE! "Free" looks more attractive when spelled in all capitals, doesn't it?

Basically, the Genting coach will pick us up from our college itself and drive all the way up the City of (Boring) Entertainment. Once there, all our meals are provided for, and their food is pretty good. So it's gonna be real fun, especially since I expect a little rivalry with the MMU students. MMU sent many participants too, so I believe I'll see a large group of them there.

Ever since I heard that Genting is going to pick us up from our college, I had an interesting thought. Edy mentioned the same thing as well, but the others do not agree. Edy and I think that perhaps one of us 5 participants actually won a prize. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, there is the real possibility. Consider the following points:
  1. On the day of the competition, we had to make our own way to their offices in KL. We weren't even given transport allowances.

  2. In the e-mail announcement, it is clearly stated that contestants should once again meet at their office in KL. Exceptions were only made for us and MMU.

  3. A lecturer followed us up during the competition. He managed to skim through several answer scripts and commented that many of them were plain rubbish. While I don't think my answer was particularly good, I didn't really copy'n'paste much code.

Those 3 points are giving me fervent hope that one of us, or even me, won one of the top 3 prizes. Or at the very least, be offered jobs at eGenting.

My theory makes sense for the MMU students as well. Since they sent so many participants, they have a higher chance of winning. But if this is the case, and one of us are winners, it begs the question, "What is it really worth?"

It may seem strange for me to have high expectations of winning, and yet treat the prize as worthless. Allow me to explain how the competition works. There are 4 questions of varying difficulty, and they are assigned different point-values. For this competition, the 4 questions had the maximum scores of 250, 350, 100, and 500 respectively. Within 8 hours, we were expected to answer as many questions as possible. But it is clearly stated that we do not need to answer each question. So the winner is obviously the one with the highest score.

I attempted the 250-point question and had initially planned to do the 100-point question as well. Alas, I could barely finish the first question! I checked with the others and they had all done only one question, either the 250 or the 100. So my concern is, if 250 points can make one of us a winner, what does that say about the quality of Malaysian student programmers?

Very little, I'm afraid. I would at least expect all winners to score around 400 to 500 points. I would frankly be a little ashamed if I won anything. Of course, it is very possible that Genting is being very generous and we didn't win anything, but I'm still hoping for some prizes. So when this Saturday comes around, I will see for myself how well our local students perform.

As an interesting note to support my theory that Malaysian student programmers suck (I know I do), consider this:

Just recently I've been joining TopCoder programming competitions, which pits contestants from around the world. I like it very much because it tests our ability to solve problems, not just output silly things like "Hello World". Once registered for a particular competition, I can view the details of other contestants. I've joined 3 times so far, and to my disappointment, I was the only Malaysian there. Sure, it could have something to do with the fact that it is sometimes held at 1am local time. But then again, I see quite a number of Singaporean contestants, so that is not a good explanation.

And the strongest proof that most student programmers suck? I, supposedly a top-scorer in my class, could only answer the easiest question everytime.

17 January 2006

Best TV Series Not Shown Locally

I have just finished watching the Season 3 finale of Nip/Tuck, and I have to say it is the best TV series that is not recognized enough. It is equally as good as Lost and Desperate Housewives, but Nip/Tuck never managed to reach either show's popularity.

Part of the reason is because of its shocking content. In fact, that is why I like it so much. For the uninitiated, Nip/Tuck is about the lives of two Miami plastic surgeons - Dr. Sean McNamara and Dr. Christian Troy.

They are both partners in a plastic surgery clinic, and they work on different cases every week. The cases are all very interesting and create a debate on the ethics of plastic surgery. But what separates it from other medical dramas is that the personal lives of the doctors are very screwed up. There's too many to list here, but you can read more from Wikipedia's Nip/Tuck article.

But the Number 1 reason why I love Nip/Tuck so much is the Carver story arc. The carver is a serial 'terrorist' who scars the face of beautiful people. He will first inject a special kind of anesthesia that immobilizes his victims but keeps them awake, so the victim could feel the scalpel slicing through his/her cheeks. It is more terrifying than those cheap horror flicks (Scream, Halloween, etc). His motto is, "Beauty is a curse on the world." Just look at him:

The Carver was introduced in Season 2 and his case was recently solved at the end of Season 3. I won't give too many spoilers, but there are many fantastic twists to the story, and the finale episode is one of the best TV episodes I have ever watched, period. I highly recommend everyone who is looking for a good time to buy the DVD or download the torrent.

Just don't watch it after you eat.

What A Misunderstood World

One of my evergreen favourites is "What a Wonderful World". Louis Armstrong's original has got to be the best, but Michael Buble's rendition does it justice as well.

Anyway, it is a pretty simple song with simple lyrics and I never read the lyrics until tonight. And oh my, what a shock I got! There is this verse from the song:
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

In the second line, there is the sentence "the dark sacred night". To my horror, I've been singing it as "the dogs say goodnight" for my entire life! OMFG! But in my defense, it really does sound like it when you hear Armstrong's original. Go on and you'll soon agree.

16 January 2006

Annoying Habit

Less than 2 weeks ago, I wrote about having to break my habit of sleeping late. Well, I haven't learned my lesson and I paid for it dearly last night.

Around 1am I was still tossing around with many thoughts in my head and suddenly the electricity went out. David and I groaned almost simultaneously - this could last a long time. Obviously it became harder for me to sleep in this Chinese New Year weather, and in 3 minutes I walked out of the room just to get some fresh air.

Once outside, I noticed that only my side of the hostel floor is blacked-out. That means only 10 units, not the entire block. I got even more annoyed, as one of us probably tripped the breaker or something. I laid in my hot bed for another 5 minutes before the power came back on and we sighed in relief. From there it was another long road to sleep, and not a good one at that.

What an annoying habit.

15 January 2006

Say What?!?

My college contracts a cleaning company for both the academic and hostel blocks. Every morning, hordes of lowly-paid cleaners (mostly foreign) arrive in vans and split up into their respective groups. For each hostel block, they will wash the toilets and sweep the floor everyday. Occasionally they will mop the floor and wipe the windows as well.

As the cleaners rarely change shifts, I see almost the same face everyday. Most of them are foreigners but I do not know their actual nationality as it is hard for me to differentiate between a Burmese and a Vietnamese. But this rarely poses a problem as we rarely communicate with them anyway. A rare exception is the locals. Some of the Malay aunties are quite friendly and they try to make some small talk when they pass you in the hallway.

Recently, a Muslim lady has been assigned to my hostel block. She is pretty cordial and we smile at each other, but I don't know if she's a local or perhaps an Indonesian. Because everytime she speaks it sounds Malay-ish but I could never understand a single word! Just this morning, I wanted to greet her but held back as I didn't want a repeat of our last conversation:
Me: [smiles at her]
Her: Xkljawunndu, oauwjm! kjauen lakiwufhw. [laughs]
Me: [smiles sheepishly and nods my head while quickly walking away]

She really does seem nice and in need of some company, because I often see her walking up and down the corridor doing nothing. But I can't bring myself to have a proper conversation with her in the fear that I might create misunderstanding. Yes, I could just smile and nod my head when she speaks but there are certain questions I should not smile and nod my head to, like:
  • Do I look fat?

  • Would you like to come home with me?

  • Can I clean your underwear?

So I think I'll maintain my smile-and-run routine, thank you. But I do wonder - does she think of me as a mute foreign student who doesn't understand Malay? Who feels weirder?

14 January 2006

Now That's CNY Weather!

Dad mentioned last month that weather patterns seem to be changing because it is still rainy even though Chinese New Year is just around the corner. In fact I agreed because I usually succumb to heat-related sore throats around this time. But with rain every other day, it kinda looked like it was gonna rain through the Lunar New Year.

Tough luck.

Yesterday afternoon was the hottest day since I returned to Sleepy Hollow. And the hot spell is still going strong, and I can hardly stand it. Since David is up in KL, I am stripped to my underwear and also considering going to bed in my birthday suit if this goes on. A dip in the swimming pool later is a must.

How I wish I could disissipate heat via my tongue like a dog.

12 January 2006

Some People Have It Worse

I know I'm supposed to write the conclusion to yesterday's post, but I've delayed that when I received the following chain SMS from a friend:

Anyone see the lost car Toyota Vios [reg no] PLEASE call this number 012xxxxxxx. Owner will pay back allowance... Thanks.

I doubt the car can ever be found, and I'm instantly reminded of the most stupid thing I've done. Coupled with the recent break-in attempt, I am a little traumatized and tired.

10 January 2006

Worst Fear

I had planned to write about the spaghetti lunch I made for Jay, but something more important has cropped up - my room was almost broken in this morning.

Our hostels are no stranger to break-ins - it has happened quite regularly every semester. David and I are always cautious, but frankly speaking, once you are marked by the thieves it's quite impossible to prevent a meticulous robbery.

David discovered the attempt this morning when he noticed that two of the four screws connecting the padlock bracket to the wall has been loosened. More specifically, the wood around the screws have been chipped away. I am most distressed by this turn of events, even though I'm not the one with the most expensive equipment.

My plan of action is as follows: Inform the Accommodation Office to install a new bracket in a new place by tomorrow. Find some surveillance software that will turn my webcam into a security camera. And most importantly, get into the psychology of the asshole(s). I'll also be planting some traps of my own.

This time, it's personal.

NFTC: Broken Rule, Broken Mirror

Broken Rules, broken mirror. Heng Sure and I have been going by the principle: if we hold the rules and precepts we will be okay. The other day we took too long after lunch and were 1 hour late getting back to the bowing site. As we dawdled getting our trip together at a gas station, a black van came roaring by and smashed our side mirror. The retribution mirrors the offense - broken rule, broken mirror. Now, everytime I have to crane my neck out to check traffic because of no mirror, I am reminded of that mistake, realizing it could be my head next time.

Disciple Heng Ch'au
bows in respect

08 January 2006

Overrated Weekends

Weekends are overrated. People expect weekends to be full of fun and life, the exact opposites of what weekdays represent - doom and gloom.

But who was it that first came up with this silly idea? I suspect it's a government conspiracy. I mean, there are SEVEN days in a week, but only two... TWO!... days are assigned as you-can-let-your-hair-down days.

Weekends used to be my most productive time but not anymore. They have become life-sucking. For example, I just sat around doing nothing for the past two days. That is also a possible explanation as to why this particular post sucks.

Pivotal Moments Part 2

(Pivotal Moments posts are all about life-defining events in my life. If you haven't, do read the first part)

I don't remember how old I was, but we were having a family reunion dinner. I was still quite young, maybe 9 or 10, so I was sitted between Mum and Dad. Besides the three of us, my aunts and my paternal grandfather was also there. As in Chinese tradition, before we start eating we must ask the eldest person there to begin. In this case, it was my grandpa.

Maybe I was shy or unaware of this practice, but I didn't wish him accordingly. Mum noticed it and asked me to do so but I didn't want to because it would be weird. But she didn't let the matter drop and kept on pushing me to just say those simple words. And the more she pushed, the more I resisted because everyone has started eating and it would be rather embarassing to blurt it out. But after 5 minutes of her nagging (seemed like eternity though) I finally said, "Grandpa, eat".

Looking back, I'm amazed at my self-consciousness even at such a young age. I can't believe I already notice this phenomena called Comfortable Time to Do Something (CFTDS). Basically, there are certain things in life that must be done during the CFTDS period. Once you pass that crucial time, any remedial actions you do will seem insincere and fake.

Let's set up a sample scenario - you are in the library reading a book. As you are turning the page you look up and saw someone passing by. He looks at you also and gives you a slight nod but you didn't return the gesture. In your mind you think, "Do I know this guy?"

You continue reading the book for 0.8 seconds and suddenly you realize who it was - he is your ex-girlfriend's best friend's brother. You freeze in horror. "Why didn't I say Hi?!?" He is currently sitting about two tables away, and you can't decide what to do. If you ignore him, he will think that you have forgotten all about him (Bad). If you go over and say hi, he will think that you are insincere and trying to cover up your blunder (Worse).

The above example is just one of many. Basically, the CFTDS was during the moment you two looked at each other. If you had said Hi then, no one gets hurt. But if you miss that window of opportunity, it becomes a lose-lose situation.

I was aware of this CFTDS during the reunion dinner, but I couldn't explain it until now. Nowadays, I make sure I do the greeting along with everyone else. But I'm still at a loss of what to do whenever I miss the CFTDS period for other complicated scenarios. Is it all just in my head, or is there some sensible psychological explanation?

07 January 2006

Self-Healing Parts

One of the holy grail of robotics and electronics is self healing parts. Basically, any damaged components can repair itself, or perhaps a robot will know how to replace it without human intervention.

Well, I think I've discovered that in my own room.

Many months ago, I wrote about my cheap kettle that can no longer stop automatically. I have to be around to flick the switch after the water boils.

But when I returned this semester, a curious thing happened. It started being able to switch itself off. That doesn't happen everytime, but often enough for me to declare it a miracle.

The Nobel prize committee should be calling me anytime soon.

06 January 2006

People of Singapore Parts 22 - 24

As it is exactly one month since I started my trip to Singapore, I have decided to release the rest of the photos under the "People of Singapore" collection. It has been great picking out the best photos from the trip and sharing them with you. For a quick access to other pictures, type "People of Singapore" in the search box above.

A group of amateur (students?) film-makers shoot on location at Underwater World, Sentosa Island. The host is placing his hand in the mouth of the plastic shark and saying something in Mandarin while curious people like me stand and watch.

Some teens playing beach football along Siloso Beach, Sentosa Island. As Sentosa Island is the only mainstream beach resort in Singapore, a lot of locals come here to bathe in the sea and have a day out. Even so, the beach wansn't particularly packed that day.

This is one of my best secret photographs. This couple was standing on a deserted area near Siloso Beach, and I snapped a couple of shots without them knowing... although the photo looks as if they were posing. I got my focus and exposure locked on before pressing the shutter as I casually turned around, never stopping to look into the viewfinder.

05 January 2006

"Screw You!"

For a long time, students who chose not to stay in the college hostel but still somewhere nearby has had to spend at least 10 minutes travelling because there are no housing areas directly next to the college. But that has recently changed with the construction of the apartments directly next to the college hostel. This became the best alternative for students who feel "constrained" by the hostel's rules as it is the closest external accommodation.

It opened last semester and students began moving out. The outflow seems unstoppable, and I have noticed a visible decrease in the number of students in the hostel. Now, those who stay in those apartments usually enter the academic block via a back gate. This back gate is opened for staff and students to drive in because the main gate is rather far. But lately there are a lot of students using that entrance as well.

In the beginning of this semester, I got a mild shock when I read a notice that the back gate will be closed by 9.30am. That is rather inconvenient because I sometimes use that entrance too. I reflected for a moment on why the management would do such a thing, and I realized why. They probably wanted to 'punish' the students from the apartment from moving out. By closing the back gate, those walking from the apartment have to walk even further.

In other words, it is the management's way of saying, "Screw you, you traitors!"

Breaking the Habit Part 3

(This post has no relation to the previous 2 parts)

I could hardly sleep last night. I have an 8am class this morning, so I decided to sleep early in order to get sufficient rest. I put on my eye shades at 11.15pm, but by 12am I was still tossing and turning. Luckless, I put on my MP3 player and listened to it for quite a while, until I felt sleepy.

During the holidays I am used to sleeping around 12.30am. It seems that it has become a habit - a not-so-good one. I'm going to have to break the habit if I'm to wake up fresh. Do you know that something done consistently for 4-6 weeks becomes a habit? I'm gonna force myself to sleep early tonight and reprogram my brain.

04 January 2006

Breaking the Habit Part 2

(This is a continuation of yesterday's post)

So there we were driving down a dark stretch of road, not knowing where it led to. A little while back I thought I saw the signboard reading "Dengkil", but I don't know where that is, so it wasn't much help. After 2 minutes along the dark and narrow road, I drove by a few rows of shophouses so we must be near a town.

By that time, the other passengers were asking me to turn around and head back to Putrajaya and I began to feel the same way. But I had a choice - to turn around and head all the way back to Putrajaya, or to keep going and hopefully see some signboards. Normally I would freak out and make a U-turn, but I decided to break the habit this time. I announced to the others that we will keep going and do something that no man has ever done before - stop and ask directions.

There seems to be a common stereotype among women that men can't stop and ask for help, and I have to say that it is an absolute truth. I can't explain it, but I find the idea of seeking guidance an absolute blow to my ego, as if that would reduce my manliness (ahem). But I said to myself that I can't keep on like this without knowing where the road led, so I acted humble for a second and stopped in front of a shop. Then I sent David to do the dirty work of asking, with the excuse that my Mandarin is terrible. So I guess it was a win-win situation without having my conceited ego trampled on too much.

As it turns out, the road we were on does lead back to Nilai. It is basically an old trunk road running parellel to the highway. The kind shopkeeper drew us a rough map and we followed it successfully back to our hostel. It took much longer, but the distance was roughly the same. I think it was a great mini-adventure, and I'm glad I kept to my resolve.

Breaking the Habit Part 1

I went to Alamanda, the new shopping complex at Putrajaya for the first time tonight. Joey led the way in his car, and we shopped around a bit. My personal opinion on Alamanda is, it's gonna become deserted soon if people do not move in to surrounding towns soon.

Anyway we (David, Alex, Albert, and I) left early, leaving the two lovebirds (Joey and Amy) to themselves. David wanted to show me a shortcut home, and oh, isn't that how things start going wrong?

He neglected to mention a little simple instruction, and because of that, we missed the turning and I suddenly found myself travelling on trunk roads towards an unknown town. I could still see the bright lights of Putrajaya in my rear view mirror, but I have a bad feeling we were entering the Twilight Zone.

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this story... (I'm just too tired to write all of it)

03 January 2006

People of Singapore Part 20

Siblings pray to deities in a Chinese temple. In this predominantly Buddhist country, there are many temples such as this. But Chinese temples are not limited to Buddha images, but also various deities of Chinese folklore, such as this.

The Calm Before the Storm

The hostel area was practically a cowboy town last night. There was hardly anyone around, but tonight most students have returned. The place is once again buzzing with activity and it's great to see the place brought to life.

Lectures start tomorrow, and I think it's gonna be real interesting. First, there is the much dreaded double module project. It felt like only yesterday that Ms. S told us first-year students not to worry about the project yet. Well, I think now is the proper time to start worrying.

Secondly, the petition I wrote for Mr. Yap last semester pulled through. He's returning as our lecturer for a more advanced course - one which he is an expert in. More importantly, I expect more quotable quotes coming from him so watch the sidebar!

02 January 2006

Malaysia - Land of Almost Nothing to Do

Finally, regular blogging continues today!

It has been an exhaustive experience, in good and bad ways. But the most tiring aspect of this trip was finding interesting places for my friend Sovatha to visit. He travelled around KL, Singapore, and Penang for a week, and that's a real long time to spend here. It is pretty frustrating to look for decent tourist spots, especially in Penang.

In the end, I took him to the usual tourist spots but they were somewhat disappointing as well. Chief among the disappointments was Khoo Kongsi. For RM5 per entry, only the main temple was open while most of the surrounding areas are undergoing restoration.

But the Penang part was still a relative ease compared to the nightmare that was KL. On my way back I dropped him off at the Salak Tinggi ERL line, but he hasn't been on KL's train network before so I had to give him a 5 minute crash course. Luckily he made his way to Chinatown where he got a basic room at a budget hotel. I felt a little irresponsible for dropping him off alone but I had no choice as I needed to enrol in my course and clean my room.

The next day I myself took a train up to meet him. But that was filled with delays and last-minute changes, all of which I caused. It was annoying as hell, but I knew I had to endure it. The main agenda for the day was to attend the New Year's Eve countdown at KLCC and witness the fireworks display, but I found out a couple of hours before that the fireworks will actually be fired from Dataran Merdeka, not KLCC. So I changed my plans accordingly, and it was for the better as Dataran Merdeka is within walking distance of the hotel.

But the worst part of the trip was the afternoon of the 31st. He had done some cultural walking tours as suggested by his Lonely Planet guidebook and had gone to KLCC twice, so I was hard pressed to find something more interesting for him to do. He has suggested numerous times that he would like to go to a theme park, either Genting or Sunway Lagoon. But Genting is too far and Sunway Lagoon is too kiddy, so I suggested the indoor theme park at Berjaya Times Square.

I brought him there and he liked what he saw, so I left him there for 2 hours to play the rides while I walked around the mall aimlessly. Yes, I repeat - I left him there by himself. He sounded a little disappointed, but the fact is I have been there before and spending RM25 again is not my idea of fun. Luckily the ride queues weren't very long or he could have taken longer.

In the evenings, heavy rain threatened to spoil the fireworks. We ran to the nearest 7-11 and got ourselves an umbrella each. We spent the early evenings going around Chinatown and Petaling Street before heading to Merdeka Square at 9.45pm. Even though it was still early, the field is already packed and we took a seat on the five-foot way far away. We chatted and passed the time. During that time, hundreds upon hundreds of people streamed into the area. By midnight, even we were crammed in a sea of humans.

The actual countdown itself was boring. I didn't hear any actual counting down, neither in Malay nor English. I kept hoping for someone to start shouting "Sepuluh!" "Sembilan!" "Lapan!" but all I got was sudden silence and then the fireworks show started amid applause.

And the fireworks! Oh, the fireworks! I suspect the government has been cutting down on the entertainment budget. I can forgive the fact that the fireworks look mostly the same, but I can't understand why they left so much smoke in the air. Below is a picture at the beginning of the show:

And within 5 minutes....

...Most of the fireworks were obscured by the thick smoke.

It was really annoying as it diminished my enjoyment significantly, and my enjoyment was the reason why I went all the way there. After the show it was almost pandemonium as everyone rushed to beat the traffic, thereby becoming the traffic. It was good we weren't in the middle of the field or it would have been worse.

Anyway, that was the main highlight of the trip. There were other things that happened on the trip that I would like to write about, but I'll keep that for another post.