Good reading fun

I had a work-filled weekend (except for the ROJAK interlude), so it's only today that I can get around to posting some neat reading-related links:
  • Since so many people got a tickle out of "The challenge of problem with office-speak", here's Slate's "Notes on Catch: Which catchphrases should be 'thrown under the bus'?" (via kitschy potemkin). Excerpt:
    It is possible to think of catchphrase use in stages. There's Stage 1, when you first hear a phrase and take pleasure in its imaginative use of language on the literal and metaphorical level. ...

    Then there's Stage 2, when you use it to establish "street cred" (time to throw "street cred" under the catchphrase bus?) or convey a sense of being au courant.

    Then there's Stage 3, when the user acknowledges a phrase's over-ness and tries to extract some final mileage out of it by gently mocking it, usually by using ironic quotes, or adding "as they say" to the end.

    Finally, there's Stage 4: terminal obsolence, dead phrase walking. Take "at the end of the day." It kind of stuns me whenever I find someone still saying "at the end of the day" with a straight face. What are they, stuck on stupid, as they say?
  • Also from Slate (also via kitschy potemkin), ";( Has modern life killed the semicolon?", wonders Portland State University faculty Paul Collins. I have a soft spot for the semicolon, and an even softer one (as I'm sure you can tell from reading my blog) for the dash.

    I also really like the penultimate sentence of this essay:
    When grading undergrad final papers recently, I found a near-absence of semicolons, save for one paper with cadenced pauses and carefully cantilevered clauses that gracefully stacked upon one another, Jenga-like, without ever quite toppling.
  • Alison Bechdel, one of my favourite authors, gives her take on "Compulsory Reading" (via Bitch Ph.D.), about all the guilt we bibliophiles feel about the books we oughta read that we haven't read yet. This one's a comic-strip essay, for those of you that don't feel like dealing with any more prose right now. (If you like it, borrow her graphic-novel autobiography Fun Home from me.)

    My personal list of I-really-oughta-reads includes: War and Peace, London: A Biography, any novels by James Joyce and anything at all by Charles Dickens (I don't think the opening two pages of Hard Times or the adapted-and-illustrated-for-children version of A Tale of Two Cities counts).
After proofreading for an entire week, I'll be glad to get back to a little old-fashioned reading for a change.

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Patterns everywhere

I liked:
I went home thinking about:
  • What makes art art
  • Whether art has the right to shock in order to engage
  • How many people have the patience to stop and think about art.
Just another night at ROJAK.



The logic of heritage conservation in Singapore

1. "Respond" to public sentiment (as measured by a Straits Times poll with 1,103 respondents) by declaring that a bus stop dating from the 1970s will be conserved.

2. On the same day, announce that there will be construction of a new Bugis MRT station. By the way:
Due to engineering constraints which cannot be avoided , the land currently occupied by the New Seventh Storey Hotel (NSSH) and part of the adjacent State land fronting Rochor Road, is required for the construction of the station box and the at-grade station structures, such as the station's entrance and lift facility. The NSSH will have to be demolished to allow for the construction of the station.
Never mind that the New Seventh Storery Hotel is a cultural landmark, the only building in Singapore that still has a classic manually operated "caged" elevator, not to mention the only place in that part of the city where you can sit outside and have a great steamboat meal.

Also, because the government (in this case, the Land Transport Authority) is clearly a great believer in doing things by the book, it decided that it couldn't in good conscience inform the hotel ahead of time that its time was up.

Even though the hotel has to vacate the land by the end of this year. Because six months is a fair lead time for any hotel business, as we all know.

3. For those of you who enjoy an extra dose of Singapore-style irony, note that this is all decided on the same day that the Cabinet minister in charge of the civil service, Teo Chee Hean, tells an audience at the Global Behavioural Economics Forum that:
"policymakers are changing the way they deliver their messages - instead of the usual carrot-and-stick approach, they are favouring a softer method to help shape public attitudes."
(I'm quoting the Channel NewsAsia report, not the Minister's words verbatim, because I can't find a copy of the speech online.)

Oh, I totally agree, Mr Minister. Very soft sell on this one. That's why everyone I've spoken to who feels the same way I do, can only swear in response. Popular reactions:
  • "ARGH"
  • "Cheebye" (repeated several times)
  • "should enbloc Istana" (this seems to be gaining ground)
budak, being more creatively inclined than I am right now, has a more eloquent haiku to offer:
singapore storeys
oft find themselves caught well-short
by new trains of thought
I have to stop thinking. It hurts too much.

Related posts: Photograph it before it's gone, I love Singapore, In memoriam



Busy proofreading, no time to blog. But G-man sent me a gem of an SMS yesterday:
Walking through a HDB town centre at lunch ... overheard snippet from a conversation between some mobile phone sales staff ... Indian guy saying "You want to see my ex-Chinese girlfriend?"
So if she's not Chinese anymore, what other race would she be?

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Out of Focus, Night & Day

No, the post title is not a description of my current state of mind, despite the last-minute proofreading job that's sapping all the creativity from my system. No, it's referring to the Out of Focus exhibition, part of the annual Month of Photography line-up. This year's show is at Night & Day, a bar slash gallery at Selegie Road. I'd been to the bar space before, but this was my first time climbing up to the top floor exhibition space.

Ironically, for this was a photography exhibition, I didn't take any photos while I was there, even though I had my camera with me and there were several people taking pictures throughout the evening. I blame it on being distracted by many conversations with many people whom I haven't seen in a while, not to mention that after being cooped up at home for almost three days with only proofreading and the cats for company, it was nice to be surrounded by the buzz of human conversation again.

Oh, but the photographs. My friend Gozde Zehnder curated a series with words and colour that reminded me of the visual sensibility of the short film she made with her husband, Take Me Home a.k.a I Saw Jesus. Everything else was in black and white: Geoff Pakiam's study of camera surveillance, Ng Sze Kiat's empty spaces and Chen Shi Han's whimsical toy soldiers.

The problem with writing about photographs is that it's really just much better to go and look at them yourself.



Seeing the civic district

Pigeons sitting pretty

Who knew that walking around for one hour in the post-rain mid-afternoon tropical heat to take pictures could be so draining? I was ready to pass out when I got home after dinner, and it wasn't even 8 p.m. yet.

During my one-hour ramble, I learned that there are weeds growing out of the clock tower at the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, Falun Gong types still practise meditation under Esplanade Bridge and the Cenotaph has metal snaps to keep the skateboarders away. See the Flickr photo set for more commentary.

Yes, I finished sorting and uploading these images before I finished sorting through my Shanghai pictures. Maybe because there were fewer of them.



Wherefore art thou, irony?

Behold the headline of a Channel NewsAsia report from yesterday:
Nationwide campaign launched to get entrepreneurs to think out of the box
I am speechless.

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Get your own Swedish furniture name

$61.70 worth of stuff from Ikea

I have a love-hate relationship with Ikea, so the Blogadilla Swedish Furniture Name Generator made me giggle.

My Swedish furniture name is YYMEI --- what's yours?


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Feeling my age, redux

Is it scary that I clearly remember three out of Wired's selection of five obsolete storage formats? And for the other two (the 8-track and punched tape), the ex-boyfriend in the US used to make enough 8-track jokes that I feel like I know what they were, and who hasn't seen punched tape in some old spy thriller movie, eh?

As for feeling one's age in internet terms, there's always news about Yahoo issuing new Rocketmail accounts to trigger ye olde memories of an ex-student and an ex-colleague who had accounts there way back at the beginning of this century. The funny thing is that "Rocketmail" makes me think of, you know, something blasting off at high speeds, and the two people I remember having Rocketmail accounts were not what you would call explosive personalities.

Related posts: Spotted in a crowd, Not done growing yet, That time of life, Someone said ..., Feeling my age

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The charger won't charge

After its first jaunt overseas, the Macbook charger decided today that it didn't want to work anymore. Oh sure, it put on a good front this morning while I was clearing email and work, but after I got home from a lunch appointment, it flatly refused to do its job.

Fortunately, Wahj came to the rescue (again) and drove over to lend me his spare Macbook charger. Otherwise I wouldn't be blogging right now, nor could I have spent the evening choosing and editing some of the vacation pictures.

The unexpected thing about not being quite ready to write about the trip, is that hour by hour I can feel the experience slipping away from me, perhaps because Shanghai was different yet not so different from Singapore, so everything is starting to blur together, as if I'd never gone.

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The challenge of problem with office-speak

I'm glad I'm back at my email and reading BBC News today, or I would've missed the BBC News Magazine's "50 office-speak phrases you love to hate". I think most of my pet peeve corporate-speak phrases are on the list, including the vomit-worthy:
  • "going forward" (#1)
  • "incentivise" (#4)
  • "challenge" (#10)
  • "paradigm shifts" (#35)
  • "stakeholder" (#36)
  • "cascading" (#39)
  • "leverage" (#42)
On a related note, Slate has the sparkling "Lazy Bastards: How We Read Online" (via kitschy potemkin).

Related post: On being plain-spoken

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No, I didn't eat that many xiao long baos

It's one thing to have a flight delayed for over an hour due to a "technical malfunction", but to spend that time stuck in the packed airplane with the bloody Garuda Indonesia anthem playing on an unremitting loop is the perfect recipe for a little air rage, if you ask me. If you haven't heard it, it's an overwrought, pseudo-operatic, well-muzaked paean to soulless corporate slash nationalist self-importance. On an unremitting loop. Good thing I had Michael Pollan's very engrossing The Omnivore's Dilemma to read.

The worst part? As I was settling down to sleep at home last night, the bloody Garuda song popped, unbidden, into my head again. It's about the most annoying earworm evar.

The obligatory blog post about my travels to come later. I need to clear some work first.



No bad puns on Shanghai in this post title

I'm going away on vacation to Shanghai tonight. I spent the entire day cleaning the house and running errands, and finally sat down to pack at 6 p.m.

At which point my brain gave out and I could not compute if daily temperatures of 20-25 degrees C mean that I should pack a jacket, or not. So I called Ondine, who confirmed that I would need one --- no, not leather, too heavy, something lighter.

Bear in mind that I used to field Chicago winters, no problems. One glance at the weather forecast, and I used to know which jacket I'd need, how many layers to wear under it (in the event of the weather changing midway through the day) and which shoes to wear. Now I find myself staring blankly at a website that tells me it's 71 degrees F in Shanghai "right now!" and my only response is to exult that it'll be cooler than it is in Singapore.

For the first time, I'll be bringing my laptop on vacation with me. I'm not going to do any work or read any work-related emails, but I thought it'd be useful for downloading pictures from the new camera and finding out what's going in Shanghai (I've barely worked out an itinerary yet). Plus I'm staying with a friend, so there won't be any security issues.

If anyone is still interested in my shoe count (see previous tallies for five days in Bali and four days in Ho Chi Minh City; I forgot to tally it for the two-week Paris/London jaunt, but I'm pretty sure it was three pairs then), this time it's three pairs for a seven-day trip.

Oh, and unlike the last time, I have a valid passport.

Edited to add (9:51 p.m.): xkcd goes to the airport too! At least I don't have lockpicks and the blood of a churchmouse ...

Edited to add (11.09 p.m.): Okay, I may only have three pairs of shoes (okay, four if you count slippers), but in my one hand-carry luggage and one check-in bag are squished three other bags, giving me five bags in total: one small wheelie, one backpack, one small messenger bag for daily use, one small handbag for going out at night and one fold-up bag that can be used to tote back shopping acquisitions. I think I'm going a little mad --- or taking that old Girl Guide motto "Be Prepared" far too seriously.

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Rehabilitating real estate flyers

At tonight's wedding dinner, a new acquaintance was talking about the difficulty of finding a short-term lease on an apartment. My immediate suggestion was, of course, "Find a place that's gone en bloc."

(For my non-Singapore readers, see my attempted translation of the term "en bloc" and its associations here.)

Which then reminded me that I was supposed to mention my friend Daniel's personal project, Bloc Me, with &Larry, to redesign the hideous "for sale/rent/agent available" flyers that flood many mailboxes in Singapore.

Their solution uses nothing more fancypants than the fonts Arial and Times New Roman, Powerpoint software and "excellent design sense" (I'm quoting the website). Two templates are available for download and free usage; I just wish the images were available in a non-Flash format so I could plonk the flyer designs here. They're very clean, white and communication-friendly --- far less offensive and more effective than the tripe that most of us are familiar with.

Related post: Photograph it before it's gone



O Mustafa, O Mustafa

Hands up, if you can sing along.


Outside Mustafa


Inside Mustafa

The emptiest section at Mustafa is the one with all the gold jewellery (rear building, ground and basement 1 levels). Or maybe it's more popular during the daytime. After 1 a.m., it's all about the food, household and DVD sections.

I went home with one packet of ready-to-eat rice and some muruku.



For your reading pleasure

The Top 50 Blogger-powered Blogs, ranked based on some fancypants mathematics involving Google PageRank, Technorati Ranking, Bloglines subscribers, backlinks and Alexa Rank. Most the big guns are there, including PostSecret (#1), Blogger Buzz (#9) and Xiaxue (#24).

Yes, Singapore's very own Xiaxue, who, if you believe the math, outranks Eschaton (albeit narrowly, it's at #26) and Ikea Hacker (#33).

I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Then again: "Lies, damn lies and statistics".

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New camera

Books, mags and people

This is not the first picture I took with it. The first picture was a completely embarrassing flash-enabled close-up of Darren, taken inside Cathay Photo as I was testing the camera out. I'm going to save it for fun, but I'm not going to post it here (it's more embarrassing for me than it is for him).

The camera, if you're wondering, is a Canon IXUS 860 IS, which has a lovely big LCD screen and enough functions that I can hopefully learn to take better pictures. The Contax is still around and good for taking stealth pictures of people, but its battery life is just shite and no good for vacations or any situation requiring more than an hour of battery life.

I have work to do tomorrow, but I really want to go out and shoot.


The prettiest picture of them all

A number of my friends are enamoured of the biggest drawing in the world (fake, by the way) but I'd rather have this picture of the Milky Way, please. Did I mention that one of my earliest childhood ambitions was to be an astronomer?

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Fine, you win

Cats don't need toys

I needed to charge my cell phone before going out for the better part of the day this morning, so I took out the charger from the cupboard where I safely squirrel it away from Sisu's imprecations and plugged it in.

The phone didn't start charging. I switched outlets. Still no response. I switched to a power strip in the bedroom. Zilch.

Then I noticed the frayed cable. I'm surprised it was still holding together.

Remarkably, even though it was before 8 a.m. and I had a mild headache, I did not yell Sisu's name loudly, even when she came sniffing around at the phone and charger.

The thing is, I do have lots of old Nokia chargers lying around. It's just that most of them come with a fat pin that plugs into older model phones, not the skinny pin that my N95 and many current models use. I used to have an adaptor with a thin pin, but I loaned it to a friend recently.

Meanwhile, my phone battery held less than half its charge, and I was going out for the better part of the day. I knew I should've bought that turbocell charger when I saw it at the Singapore IT Show.

Fortunately, today's meetings put me in the vicinity of Funan Centre, where I picked up an original adaptor thingie for $15. I suspect I might've gotten gypped, but I didn't have time (or remaining charge on the cell phone) to quibble over it or hunt for a better bargain.

Sisu, that $15 is coming out of your allowance, you hear?

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