The final frontier

There is something about watching videos that remind me of how small our planet is, and how impossibly small of a space we occupy in the universe, and how incredibly little we know about either planet or universe, that gives me that tingly feeling inside.

This week, I got tingly while watching The Known Universe by the American Museum of Natural History (via Gee Len on Facebook, who shared "This Link Leads You To The Entire Known Universe")

And that made me think of one of my favourite TED talks ever, wherein the delightfully cute Brian Cox talked about the CERN supercollider (before it was completed last year). The part I love is towards the end, from 10:50 to 14:35, in which he recites what he calls "a wonderful narrative --- almost a creation story, if you'd like --- about the universe, from modern science over the last few decades".

Mmmmm ... tingly.

When I was a kid, my first adult-like ambition was to be a teacher --- pretty much par for the course for any wee urbanite who's packed off to school where teachers wield all the classroom power --- but after that what I really wanted to be was an astronomer (which I've briefly mentioned before). Not doing well in physics, or really, in any science subject in school put paid to that vague dream, but I still get a kick out of reading or seeing astronomy-related stuff (the ones I can understand, anyway). The best non-visual link I've found recently is this lesson plan for "The Earth as a peppercorn" (via Slate's "Learning To Love the Moon"), which uses a "thousand-yard model" to help people understand the relative sizes of the planets and the distances between them.

In a nutshell: even if the Earth is represented by the size of a peppercorn, while the sun by a ball 8 inches wide, even then the distance between Pluto and the sun is, well, pretty damn far. Go read and imagine it for yourself.



Okay, so now we know it's called an iPad

Why you shouldn't let the cat too near the keyboard

(Image above of my old iBook used here for nostalgic reasons. Someday not too far in the future, I don't think we'll be wrangling with keyboards like this anymore.)

Now that it's been more than 24 hours since the announcement of the iPad and everyone's had a chance to freak out about all the functionalities it doesn't have and how it's not going to be the tablet-killer everyone thought it was going to be, let us remember a few things:
Me, I just wish they'd called it the iSlate instead because I'm old school that way --- I think the word "slate" has more resonance. "Slate" also makes me think of all the fun doodling goodness (literally or metaphorically) you could have with it, whereas "pad", once you get over the jokes about feminine hygiene products, merely conjures images of lined notepaper (perhaps even in that sickly yellow hue of legal pads) just waiting to be filled with, ugh, work.

Edited to add (10:48 am): Oops, except that I forgot about the HP Slate --- which I suppose tells you something about how much mind share it holds with me.

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I feel like I've been sleepwalking through the last few days. Maybe it's because what I'm working on right now is related to, yet wildly different from, what I usually write and research about; nonetheless I seem to have taken to it like a duck to water. The most embarrassing part was walking into Borders on Monday and buying up one of every local women's magazine --- I must have looked like a freebie junkie. The most fun part was rambling about Singapore to a client from overseas over many beers. The most difficult part will be when I have to sit down and write up all this material in less than a week's time.

Sometimes, the more I write and talk about Singapore, the more I feel that it appears to be just like every other modern city in Asia --- but really isn't, upon closer examination. Or maybe it's natural to think that way about the city I've lived in for so long.

The other reason for my metaphorical sleepwalking is, predictably enough, that I haven't had proper sleep lately. Mistaking weekday nights for the weekend will do that to you.

I am also rather distractionable. Which, you know, makes me rather distracted.



Milton Glaser and more

Opening night

A Design Film Festival is on right now, featuring a slate of eight films about different aspects of design. Tonight I saw Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight (he's the legend behind the "I ♥ NY" campaign) and tomorrow I'll be at Herb & Dorothy, "the extraordinary story of Herbert Vogel, a postal clerk, and Dorothy Vogel, a librarian, who managed to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history with very modest means."

The overall line-up's pretty impressive, featuring films about individual designers, as well as groups and movements. Check it out.


I paid how much for SMSes?

My latest mobile phone bill informs me that I sent 907 local SMSes in the last billing cycle. That works out to about 30 messages a day, which is not inconceivable considering that sometimes one message may spill over into several 160-character SMSes.

Nonetheless, 907 is a lot considering that I averaged 500-600 SMSes a month last year. Plus it added about $20 to my monthly bill ($0.05 per SMS, which is also a lot considering that the cost of zipping all that data around is negligible with all the paid-up mobile phone infrastructure in place).

Hmmm ... more WhatsApp, less SMSing.



It would seem we are still talking about this

Speaking of "mixed race" issues, here are some old but relevant links that I meant to blog, um, months ago.

If you missed them:

1. "Mixed-Race TV Contestant Ignites Debate In China" (via nimbupani)

The only thing I wish the article had gone on to parse is the extent to which the racism in question is directed at the woman for being part African-American, as opposed to being merely mixed-race. Likewise someone still needs to take a hard look at the dimensions of racism and attitudes towards race in Singapore – how different "mixtures" of race are viewed differently. Even though the government's now decided to allow parents to include both races in the child's registration information, that doesn't get around the fact that there are different social or cultural implications in Singapore to being legally identified as, say, Caucasian-Chinese vs. African-Chinese.

2. "Ward Helps Biracial Youths on Journey Toward Acceptance" (via my friend Peter on Facebook)

The "Ward" in the headline is American football player Hines Ward, who is of Korean and African-American parentage. Korea has its own murky history of dealing (or not) with people of mixed-race parentage and it's becoming a more prevalent issue as many Korean men in rural areas are marrying women from Southeast Asia. (No doubt one of the reasons why most people guessed I was Filipino or Vietnamese when I was travelling there last year.)

3. And just to round up the trifecta, "Who Are We? New Dialogue on Mixed Race", which was written in the wake of Obama's presidential campaign.

Things from this article that seem to me to be stating the obvious, but that obviously haven't been absorbed by modern mainstream thinking yet:
  • “There’s this notion that there’s an authentic race and you must fit it,” said Ms. Bratter, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University in Houston who researches interracial families.
  • “When you’re mixed, you see how absurd this business of race is.”
  • “Ultimately,” she said, the goal is “to not have to check a box.” [the last two said by people of mixed-race parentage]
Less angst about sorting people into skin-colour-driven/parentage categories, more rational discussion about what people think those categories mean and how that affects their behaviour, please. Drawing up the longest checklist of politically correct racial categories is not going to help any society make a more sensible decision when it comes to figuring out, for instance, how words like "Allah" should be used.


In which I put blogging-by-iPhone to the test

I'm sitting at my laptop at home, so I thought this'd be a good time to test if I have BlogPress Lite set up right. It's a free app, but obliges Blogger users to have Picasa activated as well (even if, like me, you have no intention of ever using Picasa).

Edited to add (5:51 pm): Hey look, it works --- except that I had to manually add labels (or "lables", as it's misspelled in the app) to this post because BlogPress Lite imported only the five labels I'd used most recently.



Solo efforts

It's not every evening that you walk into a friend's birthday party, only to be greeted by a look of dismay from the birthday girl. "I brought you wine!" I said cheerily, waving the bottle of Shiraz.

"Yu-Mei Balasingamchow," she intoned in her distinctive singsong way, albeit with a tinge of disapproval, "you were supposed to be here earlier."

"Yah, sorry, I had dinner with some friends and ---"

"No, you were supposed to be here earlier." She gave me a look. It turned out there had been a Very Nice Man at the party whom she'd been hoping to introduce to me, but he'd booked it for another party before I got there.

Nonetheless, she proceeded to tell me several significant details about him, which now makes me wonder if I'll be able to keep a straight face if he and I ever get round to meeting (nothing wrong with him, just my friend's enthusiastic description).

Unrelated to this, a couple of months ago someone asked me what type of guys I like. In response my mind went completely blank. One doesn't simply walk around with a list in our heads, do we?



Hiding from the heat

Tea for two

I meant to go to a book launch today, but after fighting the unforgiving currents of Saturday traffic with sarah (it felt like all of Singapore's five million people were out on the roads) while being subjected to the full force of the tropical sun, then recovering in the cool tranquility of Papa Palheta's courtyard --- heading to the National Library was just too far to go in the heat. The farthest I could make it was to the home of some friends who lived within five minutes' walk.

Tomorrow I'm staying in.



New year, new work

I have been working hard since the work week began. No, really. Just ask the cats.

What I'm working on right now takes a lot of, um, soul-searching and brain power, so I haven't really had the energy to write anything for this blog.

For example, I was going to write about how 'mixed-race' (what an ugly term!) children are plonked into a race category by the Singapore government, but Yawning Bread and my father beat me to it. My father's letter to the Straits Times was printed today: "A missed opportunity".

I don't entirely agree with the last couple of paragraphs as published, because I think you can be Singaporean without being in Singapore, but other than that it's pretty much what I was going to say. I've had my own (minor) struggles with the Immigration and Customs Authority to recognise my 'race', so I've long recognised the daftness of this particular government requirement.

Apropos, I also just finished reading Farish A. Noor's What Your Teacher Didn't Tell You: The Annexe Lectures Vol. 1, which has a chapter, "The Lost Tribes of Malaysia", on the meaning(lessness) of racial categories bestowed upon us by British colonialism. In grossly simplified terms: 'race' is a legacy of the colonial census, and not a very well-thought-out one at that, though today in Malaysia still effectively buttressing the colonial policy of 'divide and rule'.

I've been saying that as far as this racial labelling in Singapore officialdom is concerned, we should all just tick the 'Others' box --- and carry on.



Hello 2010

I meant to write something suitably offbeat for New Year's Eve, but I hadn't finished it by the time I had to go out to my aunt's last night and now that draft blog post just reads wrong.


I still don't know what to call this decade, now that we're done with the Noughties/Naughties/nowhere-in-hell-are-they-the-Ohs. Is the new decade the Teens? The Twenty-'Teens? The Two-O-one-ies as Shan has suggested on Facebook? Someone think of something catchy, fast.

(Speaking of catchy phrases, I like "The Catchphrase of the Decade". A lot.)