Saturday, July 29, 2006

IMF-World Bank Meeting and Civil Society Activities

The Singapore Police say the lobby area on Level One of the convention centre has been designated for civil society organisations to express their views.

Those intending to get their voices heard will first have to be registered and accredited with the IMF and World Bank.

The above excerpt from Channel News Asia.

Some might find the above news distasteful. Admittedly, this appears to sanitise the loud and chaotic nature of demonstrations, leaving the "civil society activities" somewhat neutered, almost docile, and surely artifical. Yet, I find myself in support of this move.

My reasoning is simple. A question - what is the primary motivator of demonstrations? Arguably, it is to bring about change to certain percieved inadequacies. How, then, do demonstrations help advance these changes? Two possible ways: indirectly by raising public awareness, or directly by engaging those who are in a position to enact change.

Singapore's handling of the IMF/WB meeting cuts off the first route, but also facilitates the second. By excising the most disruptive elements of protests, it is likely that [IMF/WB] people would be more receptive to reasonable voices.

Of course, my approval of Singapore's move stems from my severe disapproval of prolonged and unneccessary conflict. Often I think that protests are among the least effective ways to advance any cause. Surely, there must be clearer and more direct ways to effect change. This, however, is only my opinion. Now back to the topic.

What is my conclusion, then? There can be no doubt that Singapore's proposal seems artifical. But perhaps a better word to use is clinical - a word which reminds us of the chlorine in the air, but also of the amazingly efficient, if sometimes unemotional, style that Singapore is known to be.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Ghost Stories Time

Considering that it's the Ghost Festival now I think its somehow the season to tell ghost stories.

Here's a thread from EDMW (something I picked up in the army) which has a good number of ghost stories. Many of the stories are non-serious, while some are spooky. A few are NS ghost stories, which we may have heard before (NS ghost stories are usually retellings of some originating event with much spice added in each variant). In all its a good read, barring some extremely poor English (HWZ standard).

Is anyone is interested in writing or telling ghost stories ? Please share your stories (lame or scary) - I'll try to link to that post if possible.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Diet of Advanced Aliens

What is the likely diet of an advanced (spacefaring) alien civilisation? I suspect that all such aliens will be omnivorous.

Firstly, let me explain why we are unlikely to find herbivorous aliens (for brevity, I use aliens to refer to intelligent ones). For intelligence to evolve, it must first be useful to the evolutionary fitness of the creature. Is intelligence useful to early herbivores? I doubt this.

Intelligence is much more useful for meat-eating animals than purely herbivorous animals. Intelligence allows for the development of hunting tools and simple hunting tactics, which would prove highly significant in increasing the food sources of the hunting animal. But for a herbivorous species, intelligence affords no such benefit. If it does not increase the fitness of the herbivorous species, it is unlikely to evolve.

Then, if herbivores are unlikely to evolve into advanced aliens, would the opposite, a carnivorous race, be more likely to do so? Again, I doubt so.

It is quite reasonable to believe that a carnivorous race would become reasonably intelligent. However, as a civilisation, they are inherently limited. The reason - the lack of argiculture. Without agriculture to support a sufficently large population base, civilisation would not form, and technological advancement would be halted. This is why purely carnivorous species are unlikely to become our advanced spacefaring aliens.

From process of elimination, it appears that any advanced alien species must be omnivores!

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cheapass Games

Cheapass Games has some free games. Not computer games, but rather games which can be played with dice, playing cards, coins, ie, objects which are quite common.

Some games which would be quite interesting to play are:

Bogart which is basically a variant of snake-eyes.

FIGHT! appears to be a game which involves a fair bit of strategy. Best of all, it can probably be played anywhere, since the only things required are coins.

The Lost Pueblo of Doctor Green is a multiplayer game which, I think, plays a lot on psychology and bluffing. Players would try to second-guess the motives of other players and trick other players.

Roll Out the Gun Barrels is a simplified dice wargame. Since I have never played dice wargames, I wonder if it might be fun.

These games would be a refreshing change from the usual games that we play. Now, if only I can find people...

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

How Pigs Can Fly

After reading some nicknames on MSN, I decided to research some methods to make pigs fly.

Method One :
The first method is probably the most well-known and best documented. Many people have successfully used this method to launch various projectiles objects into the air.

Pros : Tried and tested method. Can entertain tent full of people.
Cons : Two people needed to hold pig. People must be small. Some charring of pig may result (although this may be a benefit if bak gua is needed).

Method Two :
Lighter-than-air machines are simple in principle. The following design uses hydrogen as a lifting gas and at the same time incorporates a heating element to increase lift. Maximum lift is thus ensured. Pros : Hydrogen gas is easily available. Balloon can entertain small children. Only ONE person needed to heat pig !
Cons : "POP" sound may be heard.

Method Three :
Let us turn swords to ploughshares ! This last method turns weapons of war into useful tools of propulsion ! Pros : Best way to travel if destination is Sea of Japan. Other nations may give you food aid.
Cons : Possibilty of irradiated pig. May be taken as biological warhead.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

MD5 Battle

I've been fiddling with this extremely simple (yet time-wasting) 'game' called MD5 Battle. Basically you type in the name of two contestants and the game generates a set of combat stats based on their respective MD5 checksums.

So far the best characters I've created are Mrs Spoon, Wii and Godzilla. Mrs Spoon has such amazingly high stats that I'm still trying to find something that can beat her.

It was also somewhat sad that Wei Liang was defeated by Mrs Spoon in one hit. My name has pathetic stats !!!

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Life-Extending Process

Zombian medical researchers have made yet another advance. After much research, they have invented a life-extending process, which can artifically extend the life of any zombian. The procedure works by replacing aged cells with the newly discovered pseudo-cells, thus side-stepping aging. The same replacement process can be applied to diseased cells to treat all known illnesses.

Unfortunately, the process has one flaw. Due to some yet unrectifiable defect in psuedo-cell synthesis, all users of the life-extending process will experience permanent and chronic pain. Because this pain works on a still un-understood level, it cannot be relieved with current drugs.

Doctors are now faced with an interesting conundrum. Being doctors, their key prerogative is to save lives. If so, then they should use the life-extending process to prolong the lives of their patients. However, doing so would certainly cause much pain to their wards. This is problematic, for isn't reducing suffering another duty of doctors ?

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Stasis Machine

On the planet Zombius, a special stasis machine has just been invented. With this machine, doctors can zap a patient and render him in a state of stasis. Effectively, time stops for the zapped patient. This state of stasis can be reversed by using the same machine on the 'reverse' setting.

With the invention of the stasis machine, death has been averted (and in fact that was the advertising tagline of the stasis machine). Nobody rushed alive to a medical facility dies- if a patient cannot be saved using current medical technology, he is zapped with the stasis machine and stored in a 'temporary housing facility' to await a time where a cure has been discovered.

Everything goes smoothly. One day, however, doctors discover that they are unable to activate the reverse setting of any stasis machine. Zombian scientists research this phenomenon and link it to a permanent change in the frequency of solar flares, but are unable to come up with any solutions to the sudden problem. "It's hopeless", the scientists said.

With the failure of the stasis machines, the ruling body plans to shut down all temporary housing facilities. Arguably, those patients in stasis are little more than bodies incapable of being restored to life. Maintaining the facilities, however, costs a significant amount.

Family members of patients in stasis are displeased with the ruling body's plans. After all, those in stasis are not dead (yet). And there is always a small hope that the strange phenomenon would reverse itself.

Meanwhile, philosophers on another planet are pondering on what to do with brain-dead patients 'living' on life support.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Some Prophecies

Here are some vague prophecies that I have written. Unfortunately I don't have Nostradamus' skill in obfuscating things, hence my predictions may not come true anytime soon. Of course, I could always write more prophecies to increase the hit rate.

  1. At high fire, men of low stature destroy metal circle.
  2. One man, killed in dreamland, relives to defeat suited smith.
  3. As new sun awakes, eight arms sacrifice selves to save apple.
  4. Cleansing potion and beast turns man unattractive.
  5. Black knight born with blessings of new emperor.

Anyway the 'prophecies' are all based on some 'source material'. Perhaps you could try to deduce the sources. In the meantime I'll be keeping half an eye on the news to see if any of my divinations come up.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

My family may be trying to kill me

I have a suspicion that my family may be trying to kill me. Let me recount the incident that happened today so that you can judge for yourself.

I was hungry, and there happened to be a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates on the table. There were about four of these chocolates left. I took one for myself, and one for my sister (you always need an accomplice when snacking hehe). Amazingly, the person with a sweet tooth refused the Ferrero Rocher !!! I then put my chocolate back into the box and took hers to eat.

This is a picture of the Ferrero Rocher chocolate before I unwrapped it.I slowly unwrapped the chocolate. The colouring seemed a bit off. Maybe it was a bit mouldy, I thought at first.I continued to unwrap it to survey the extent of mouldiness. It must have been an interesting type of fungus, being multicoloured.
But after more unwrapping I realised what the 'chocolate' was. It was one of those small rubber balls that you get by feeding 20 cent coins into vending machines.My mother and sister were cackling away when I could have been killed !!! Surely this was no laughing matter, but a serious attempt on my life.

I advise all people to check their confectionery before eating. Who knows, there might be marbles in your M&Ms.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Singapore an Unhappy Place to Live

When browsing the BBC website, I came across a story on a report compiled by think-tank the New Economics Foundation (Nef). This report considers statistics like the average happiness of a nation, the lifespan of its citizens, then compares it against the ecological footprint the nation occupies. Using these data, they generate a statistic, the 'Happy Planet Index' (HPI), which attempts to measure the efficiency at which a nation converts resources into the well-being of its citizens.

Ok, that sounded complex. But I suppose we all want to know how Singapore did, right? I'll post an extract of the report here. By the way, the first column is the Life Satisfaction index, the second the Life Expectancy, the third the ecological footprint (the number of earths we need if everyone lived like that), and the final column the HPI.

The results are not very pleasing. While Singapore scores well in two categories, it suffers from a very severe habit of high resource consumption. This same problem is faced by much of the Western world-- if you turn to the table documenting the Western world, you'll find the entire table to be much like Singapore, two columns green and one red.

The report, which can be downloaded free at the Nef Website, suggests that human well-being doesn't require lots of resource consumption. While many parts of the report may not be very objective, I think that their suggestion makes a lot of sense. Happiness doesn't always mean buying more stuff.

**For those people who downloaded the report, the tables start from page 16. You might want to skip the first few pages.

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Some Photos from

Here are some nice pictures from Discover.

The diver is holding onto an area of the fin where there are no nerves. This allows him to tag a ride safely (relatively).

Just a praying mantis... made from paper.

And an origami stick insect.

All the previous images were from Discover. They have some interesting articles for reading, so just hop there and take a look.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mr Miyagi, Resignation

Divide. Schism. Disconnection. Factionalism. Polarization.

All these screaming ideas were apparent when I read through Mr Miyagi's post, and especially the comments to that post. My reaction to his resignation is simple, as I commented:
While I respect your decision to resign, I can’t help but wonder whether it is the best possible solution. For one, you yourself have noted a schism between ‘the online and the offline’. By resigning, there is one less opportunity for reconciliation and one more chance for division.
The division already exists. Just read through the comments to Miyagi's post. An overwhelming majority expressed vocal support for his decision. A good number of these showed extreme cyncism towards Today and other public media. Only a mite few found his resignation regrettable.

I was never a fan of conflict and disengagement. If the blogosphere indeed becomes totally separate from the mainstream, I would be very much dissapointed. Any such polarization suggests that there are some innate, irreconcilable differences between bloggers and the mainstream media. But aren't we all human, and aren't we all the same?

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Sony PSP White Ad

I am going to show you an image. Just note down your responses to it.

Now, I am going to show you the full image.

Did you feel offended by the first image? If so, did you feel the same, less, or more offended when it was revealed to be an ad?

This ad, which promotes the PSP white, was displayed only in Holland. Interestingly, it didn't cause much of a hooha in Holland. However, the ad was quickly spread on the Net where it upset some.

Is it racist? Does it have racial overtones to it? Probably not. As I have written previously, everything will be intepreted differently by audiences from dissimilar backgrounds. The ad might be offensive in America, with its history of racial tension. This might not be so in Holland, where racial issues are not salient.

I first learnt of this ad from Crtl+Alt+Del, a webcomic I read regularly (although the comment on the ad was in another section, not the webcomic itself). One comment which stands out is:

It would be nice if we lived in a world where anyone looked at that billboard and all they saw was two people.

You can read the rest of his words here.

I'll like to sign off with a final picture, which may also be considered racist.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

mrbrown Satire Video

I have just discovered a brilliantly funny video satiring the mrbrown saga (yes a saga muhaha).

This video was produced by cloudywind. Kudos for the funny work!

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

My Desktop

Here's a low-res picture of my desktop, which I believe is more optimised than most people's.

The icons are arranged very logically. The left side is populated by links of high importance (like recycle bin, My Computer) and low usage. The right side is basically the things I use daily.

For example, I can access any drive on my computer via the top right row. The next row is even more useful, because I can access all the folders where I keep my stuff ( I estimate that at least 75% of my desktop clicks are on this row). The next few rows are by sorted by function; multimedia software, internet software , games etc.

This arrangement allows me to do whatever I want very quickly. It also looks less cluttered than the normal windows arrangement, which just piles all icons on the left side of the screen.

I will reveal my web brower setup sometime later, which is also rather efficient for surfing. As a sidenote, it is rather interesting that I tagged this post as 'Productivity Tips', because all it allows me to do is to waste time more efficiently. Hmmm...

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Friday, July 07, 2006

What Colour is a Mammoth ??

By examining the DNA extracted from a mammoth bone, researchers have determined the colour of the fur coats of woolly mammoths. This is simply amazing!

I wonder what is next thing they are going to do. Are they going to clone the mammoth (which may be technically impossible for now) ?

Some links and further reading:
BBC article on Mammoth Colour
Article on Mammoth Cloning
Another one on Cloning

** As a disclaimer, I don't think Jurassic Park will happen yet. There's a lot of difference between 65 million years and the Ice Age.

Although I think that perhaps Dodos are better targets for cloning than mammoths.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

To Interpret

We always interpret. That smile from the cute girl at the bus stop, that sudden pause in conversation when someone enters the room, the absence of a particular person at a important event. We take all these happenings to mean something, and in our minds we interpret to shed light on characters and events.

He shakes his head. Why? Is he being dismissive? Does he not like? Is he showing disapproval? All are possible interpretations. All are useless, absurd.

It is only human to read deeper into things. I believe that this is a limitation, not a strength.

~~ Wei Liang ~~

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Mr Brown is under attack !! But Relax, guys.

mrbrown was recently criticized in a letter from MICA (Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts). Since mrbrown is probably one of the most respected bloggers in the Singapore Blogosphere, the letter evoked quite a response from many local bloggers as well. This turn of events is, in my opinion, rather unfortunate. It does little to reconcile both sides (the Govt and the Bloggers), and only succeeds in polarising the already poor relationship between the two.

I understand that I may appear to be wuss or worse, a government lackey, but surely, there must be some more measured and reasoned response to this. We may be enraged, but we must always remain engaged to the issue at hand.

Having said the above, I think it is time to look at MICA's letter and pick out some useful points which we should take note of.

I will only look at the later part of MICA's letter, because the earlier half refers only to mrbrown's article which I do not have at hand.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.
I think MICA is correct in that all political satire tends to breed a sense of cynicism, and also a corresponding lack of faith in the authorities. But it is also valid to note that satire cannot arise from nothing- there must be both an issue to parody and an already-cynical audience. In this sense the question becomes pretty much of an chicken-and-egg problem, which certainly is useless and effort-wasting to even argue about.

What should be clear is that cynicism cannot be fought by clamping down on negative satire. This is foolish and probably only creates more resentment. The Government should focus on fixing the problematic issues, while satirists should not, if possible, bring up issues which are in the process of being fixed. Excessive and unneccessary parody when something is being done is certainly not wanted and only worsens matters.

Besides these points I would also like to question MICA's use of the word 'calculated'.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.
MICA accuses mr brown of not providing useful alternatives and constructive criticism. I agree that a useful political column would not only point out flaws but offer ideas to overcome these problems. But mr brown is a satirist, not a political columnist.

Wikipedia's article on political satire says
By its very nature, it rarely offers a constructive view in itself; when it is used as part of protest or dissent, it tends to simply establish the error of matters rather than provide solutions.
Besides this rather obvious point which MICA seems to have missed, MICA also does not seem to know the true identity of mr brown, which is strange at best.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.
I can understand the idealised concept of a newspaper being truly unbiased. The role of a newspaper is to inform, hence letting readers form their own views. But the problem is that sometimes, one cannot raise the awareness of some news issues without appearing to champion the issues themselves. For example, it is very easy to be mistaken for an animal lover when you write about the mistreatment of stray animals.

Another problem which is evident is how everything seems to have to take sides for or against the Government. This kind of thinking is rather George-Bush-ish in nature. One particular quote from a blog stands out in my mind : "If I complain a lousy initiative, I'm a partisan player?"

I realise that my analysis seems to be quite violently against MICA's views. But I think this was because the first part of MICA's letter was more reasonable (perhaps?).

In anycase just relax, people. Although from the 42 trackbacks on I don't think that many are relaxing.

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Transformers are coming !

There will be a live action movie for Transformers. It will be released in one year's time (on Independence Day).

Of course, I think that a live action Transformers movie is almost going to disappoint. But thankfully the robots themselves are not going to be done with actors in boxy suits - that'll certainly cause fans to roll over with mouths foaming- but rather CGI. Still, don't expect too much.

The teaser poster doesn't show any details.

This absence of detail is also reflected in the movie teaser (a pre-trailer, if you will). I think the producers are deliberately keeping all the things secret. In fact, according to the wikipedia article, even the cast of robots is being kept secret.

Hopefully this wasn't done because they did something stupid (like renaming the transformers or changing their robot modes). Anyway the movie teaser can be found at the movie website here.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Singapore, Politics and Clowns

Increasingly, I think that Singapore needs a few more clowns, a few more jesters, in order to raise a few highly political issues. But of course, the word clown evokes seemingly negative connotations- we are reminded of a person who talks nonsense, someone who cannot be taken seriously. Hence, is it even concievable for a clown to bring up serious issues involving the country? Or am I just talking rubbish?

There are very few people in this country that will stand up openly to point out the flaws in the running of our nation. This might be because of a fear of repercussion (of all sorts, imagined or otherwise). But there is one person who is rather remarkable, in that he made a number of films portraying the Singapore system in a light which might be considered unfavorable, and yet was able to publise the films and win acclaim from the Singapore public, and even the Government. In a sense, it is like slapping a person in the face and yet being praised for it. It is sheer genius.

Now, it may dismay you to know that this 'genius' I am talking about is Jack Neo. Yes, you may cringe at his movies, which tend to be lame, but you have to admit that it is a remarkable proof of concept. We should use humor to sheathe issues which would otherwise be dangerous to point out.

The idea of using satire to disguise political issues is certainly not new. I have just learnt that there was a jester named Stańczyk who used his job to criticize and warn his contemporaries, and whose witty jokes often pertained to current political or court matters. In recent times, there was the Bar Chor Mee satire which was even well recieved (or well tolerated) by some government figures. It appears, then, that humor is a good way for people to talk about important issues without any fear of being dealt with.

I must admit, though, that in a truly mature society the use of humor in such a fashion may be redundant. It may even tend to trivialise the issued so parodied. But in a less than mature society, any publicity of the issues tends to be for the better rather than for the worse.

Hence, to the clowns !

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