Friday, April 30

Long Weekends Are The Bomb (And I Am Freaking Tired)

Finally. The weekend's here and I finally get to have some down time before all hell breaks loose on the 5th. I'll have several days of non stop work which means I may not even be able to blog much. In much better news, I finally forked out some dough for a sub RM 20 keyboard. Not state of the art, but I figure I don't need the built in wireless network adapter just yet.

Trawling through some of my favourite sites today I'm amazed at how intense the search engine wars have become. Where we used to be satisfied with Google and its seemingly unending wave of features, we get other contenders like a9, and most recently, Ujiko. Taking a user centric approach to its searches, Ujiko may have that customisability Google lacks. For now.

In any case, testing Gmail has proven to be rather uneventful. I'm still trying to get as much mail as possible to test out their filters and stuff. For one thing I have to commend its use of a conversation-like thread to keep track of replies to particular e-mails. And for now at least the text ads don't really bother me. Maybe because most of the e-mail I get/send is relatively harmless anyway (and no, I don't get porn in my inbox). On an unrelated tangent, you may want to check out this interview on wired with the founder of j-list, a popular online retailer dealing in anything Japanese (read weird). It may provide an insight into the weird world of Japanese sub-culture (and those irritating mosaics you get in their porn).

Well, I'm off to vegetate, blow up some enemy mechs in Mechassault, finish up with a good book and generally be lazy. Have a good weekend, and like I always say: If you can't be good......


Thursday, April 29

Ranting And Raving As Usual

Bloody pissed off. Very bloody pissed off. You know what, sod it all. Freakin sod it all. There comes a time in a person's life when he's bloody had it with being unappreciated and generally treated like a sodding coolie. You get bloody sick and tired of self important righteous bastards who think it's just dandy to dump all the work on your arse and take the fuckin credit. You try to make a difference but all it does is make it easier for them to grind your face in the dirt. I've just about enough. The system can go screw itself where the sun don't shine, and by God I'll be happy when I can finally run off.

Right. I was angrier, but thanks to Yahoo! (and a phone call) I am now feeling much more appreciated. The power of friends indeed. Moments like these, you're bloody thankful you have them on your team. Anyway, today's entry will be fast, since i have to turn in early for tomorrow's convocation thingie with our ex premier. I've had a shitty day (doesn't it just show?).

Having dinner with my sister today I noticed kids nowardays have it really good. Passing by a table as I went to the counter to pay I saw that most of them were using mobile phones which would have cost three quarts of my monthly salary. And these kids are what, 18 or 19? One starts to wonder just how much these kids get for their allowance anyway? I'd bet a hefty sum it'll be something more than what I earn in a week, or even two. Near my apartment building live two kids who drive to college in a blue and white Mini Cooper. That baby costs more than I earn in 2 years.

I mean, are parents spoiling their children more or what? Time was when you couldn't even ask for more pocket money for fear of being scolded, and I'm not even past 26. Have times changed so drastically? I worked my arse off for the better part of a year before I could afford my phone now, and here you see these kids with more money in their wallets than you would think they need.

Maybe in a sense some parents are trying to make up for their own poorer childhoods. They think because they grew up not being able to have certain things they can make it up to their children by giving them everything, which does make sense. I mean don't all parents try to give their children the best in life?

Perhaps there has to be a line somewhere. What I've learnt is that if you get something for free, you won't really appreciate it. Maybe it's my lot that I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and that I've had to work hard for just about everything I have (or have had). It's not too bad once you get used to it, and heck...I don't think I'd have it any other way.

Except for those times when you see the kids in the Mini Cooper. Darn.


Hellboy Reviewed!

Note to self: when confronting hideous tentacled demigod from the nether dimensions, remember to stuff a packfull of grenades down its maw. Resulting explosion will blow self clear, and will drench room in blue bits of (now) deceased god. Also, Ron Perlman IS Hellboy. No doubt.

With the above spoiler (yes that is how the movie ends) my review of Super Sapiens(!!) a.k.a Hellboy kicks off. It's been a long time coming, but this week has proven to be an increasingly work-laden week for this Ox, with only the thought of a long-ish weekend to console myself (well, those personal ads didn't work...and that doll is only shipping next month). Anyway, I said it once before, and I'll say it again: Hellboy may just be one of the most important comic to film adaptations ever made, and I don't give out compliments like these too often.

Director Guillermo Del Toro (Blade 2) had a lot riding on this movie. The expectations of the legions of fan boys, not to mention the studios and producers. Still, the result, though flawed in places is an excellent example of an adaptation that not only dazzles in its interpretation of the source material but also manages to bring to life the humour, wit and general feel of the comic books, something not many directors have managed to do well. I dare say this little baby surpasses even the X-Men movies in terms of general "feel", and is a close contender after Spiderman. What it lacks in polish, del Toro makes up with in soul, and of course, Ron Perlman.

That Ron Perlman IS Hellboy (I've said this twice I think) is a given. That the rest of the cast performs equally well (with several exceptions) is an added bonus. The world of Hellboy mirrors our current one a little too well, perhaps, with its tabloids and government denials on talk shows. Brought into our world by a mad Nazi sorcerer (Rasputin, played by Karel Roden) during the final days of the second world war, Hellboy is rescued by Professor Broom (John Hurt) and absorbed into the mythical Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (masquerading as a clean up service). There he is brought up with Abe Sapien (the voice of Frasier's David Hyde Pierce), an underwater-dwelling empath and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) a natural pyrokinetic. They, as Prof Broom puts is "bump back" those things normal law enforcers can't handle.

When Rasputin comes back to life and begins his search for Hellboy to (what else) open a door to a universe of evil gods, all hell (is there a pun?) breaks loose. Aided by the Nazi wolf-woman Ilsa and a clockwork assassin with retractable blades (one wonders what the world would be like if Hitler really had one of these guys) the mad monk brings in a host of Lovecraftian tentacled demigods into our world. And guess who has to clean up after? Our cigar smoking, beer swilling, food gobbling demon, of course.

I could write a dozen pages on why this film works, as a whole. Suffice to say the strength of this movie is not in the story, though it borrows heavily from Indiana Jones and almost every other B movie cliche out there. Rather, it's in the characterisations of its players. From Hellboy's personal issues (and unspoken love for Liz) to Broom's love for his adopted son, these characters are real. They have problems, and get hurt (noticeably Hellboy, who gets pummeled every other minute). And yet they face their fears and make their choices consciously, knowing full well that it is always, ultimately, a choice.

There are weaknesses of course. Some characters feel more fleshed out than others, and there are some gaping plot holes in the story. But who cares, when the characters are genuinely likeable and the action fast and furious?

Hellboy could have been another mediocre movie tie in. Instead, thanks to a good script and taut directing (not to mention good performances all around), it now stands in my opinion as one of the best adaptations I've ever seen. Whether it's the wit, action, or the fact that a Russian reanimated corpse can be very funny, you'll find something to like about Hellboy.

Just try to forget the whole "Super Sapiens" business.

Ash.ox gives Hellboy a 4 out of 5.


Tuesday, April 27

Free? I Think Not

My colleague said it best when he wondered aloud: "Empangan kerja pecah ke hari ni?" Literal translation: Did the work dam break? In a way I think it did. The whole day I've been running along at a breakneck pace, trying to get several dozen things sorted out, with none of them having any actual bearing on my career as an academic. Ain't life grand? To top it all off, another long lost "friend" suddenly called me up to rope me into her "aura water purifier" business. Bleh.

I'm tempted to rant about this today, but I'll store up some more angst first. Maybe tomorrow. Anyway, during my lunch break today I played local internet lore expert at my faculty. The reason being I noticed a lot of anger directed at this site. It purports to provide free SMS service to anyone with a mobile phone. Sounds great, but recently several people have directed complaints about the site, and how they've been saddled with outrageous mobile phone bills. I've had the opportunity to test out the service myself previously while trying to locate my mysterious admirer/stalker, and I'm only too happy to say that those claims of heavy costs incurred, while true, arose simply because the so-called victims never paid any attention to the Terms and Conditions of the service.

You see, simply registering for the service does not charge your mobile account in any way. This is explicitly stated in this page and I quote:

What is the AutoPay QuikCredits service (Premium SMS)?

In networks that currently has Premium SMS, when you activate your phone, you are permitting to automatically add smsCredits to your account each time your smsCredits balance goes below zero (0).You will not need to purchase smsCredits on our website each time you run out because the AutoPay QuikCredits will show on your monthly mobile phone bill sent from your local mobile carrier. You can view all transaction records by visiting the "myCredits" page on our website.

You can opt out at any time from this premium service. However you will no longer receive your 8 FREE Introductory smsCredits. To opt out from the AutoPay QuikCredits service, sign in to our website, and go to the "myAccount" page on our website and turn OFF this premium service.

Now by simply reading the T&C, and choosing to opt out (or in my case, specifying manual reloads) one will be informed that the service is not in fact free. Sending SMS messages use up credits that you purchase by charging your mobile account in addition to the free 8 credits you receive everyday. Those of you who have received the widely spread disgruntled email (which includes a scanned Maxis bill) will notice that on the bill itself, the mobile account is charged every two days on average. We can safely infer that the person, unaware of the T&C, continued sending the so called "free" SMSes until he/she ran out of credits and the system promptly billed the amount for recharging to his mobile.

Simple, isn't it? Anyway, this person then proceeded to get incensed when receiving his/her bill, and demanded recompense from the company involved, which of course does not make sense since they had already stated their terms! I guess what happened was simply the user got excited by the thought of being able to send "free" SMSes and promptly clicked on "I Agree" (face it folks, who really reads the EULA anyway in this day and age? Guess how most of the spyware gets on our PCs). What many internet users still don't get is that internet transactions can have consequences like any other transaction in the real world. Just because it's done virtually doesn't mean you're totally protected.

Think about it. Would you buy a car or a piece of property without analysing the small print? When you click on that "I Agree" button, you're essentially signing off and accepting any consequence (good or bad) of the product. Simple as that. Hopefully this example will teach us a thing or two about madly rushing into anything with the word "free", which unfortunately seems to be a still prevalent disease in our evolving society.

Like my father says: There's no such thing as a free lunch.

As I write this, I've just finished posting a reply to the purported RM 250.00 Famous Amos Cookie recipe, an old hoax that somehow altered itself Malaysian style. I'll probably comment on it later, and yes, this is how I spend my lunch breaks: trying to light some candles in the still dark recesses of the Malaysian internet user's mind.


**Update: In case anyone else receives the Famous Amos email, lookie here:

Trend Micro's explanation of the hoax

Popular urban legend site does the same


Because Good Food Is For Sharing

Yesterday, it was Gmail. Earlier today, the new and improved Yahoo Messenger, which simply rocks. I really do NOT have any words to describe this beauty except these two: Go download!

In other news, apparently the Ox is now part of yet another cabal to take over the world. Called MakanSakan, the aim is simple. Collect, collate and finally conquer good food spots just about anywhere. It's still a work in progress, so we need your input. And your taste buds, of course. So give it a looksee, and maybe you'll find that little slice of gastronomic heaven.

And who knows, maybe you'll find me there, too.



Monday, April 26

In My Head

Three days and counting after PPS goes down, and for some strange reason I feel disconnected from the rest of the blogiverse. There's the blogroll, but for now at least, gone is my ability to analyse and "feel" trends in the posts. It's strange because this is what it was like BEFORE PPS, and I should be used to it. How quickly we forget.

This came sometime last night:

She was warm and wet, just the way Cheshire liked it. He let himself soak in her warmth, feeling the slick heat wash over his senses. As he plunged yet again into her, Cheshire absentmindedly swept a lock of damp hair from her eyes with one hand. He liked it when they looked at him like that. Oddly, he fancied he could feel the slight flutter of her heart under his moving fingers. This elicited a chuckle from his currently well shaped mouth (a rare and ugly sound), since it was impossible. He'd already taken it out to put into his Coleman CoolMax along with her eyes. Cheshire smiled, satisfied. Things were starting to get funnier every day, but some things never changed, not even in this new millennium. They got smarter, but easier to catch.

She had wanted him so badly at first (as they all had), the both of them barely able to contain their passion as they entered the small, well furnished apartment. He remembered how they both stumbled their way onto the sofa, her breath coming in gasps as he whispered the things he intended to do to her, and how she blushed. She blushed as he nibbled her earlobes, blushed as his hands freed her straining, youthful breasts from her clothes. Then she started moaning as his fingers worked under her skirt, making her tell him to do things she'd never even knew she wanted. Cheshire always marveled at the human ability to assign so many sounds to a single act, but he didn't complain. He never did.

And after they had rutted, like animals, and she was cooing sweet nothings into his ear (you were the best, Chesh, the best) he had smiled (his impossible one, the one with too many teeth) and then she had stopped cooing, and started bleeding. He remembered how she had parted twice for him that night, once between her legs (where even God knew she needed it) and once more from her navel to the collarbone. A straight, clean cut that spouted a crimson stream into his face and opened her up like a blazing little flower.

He'd been called many names in the past and had forgotten almost all of them, except this one and Jack. He preferred Cheshire, actually (since it sounded so innocent, even Alice had said) and used Jack only when he was feeling frisky. As he walked out of the dark apartment, careful to leave a light on (even the dead get afraid of the dark) Cheshire the Cad thought he had had a good day indeed.

And Alice, when he finally found her, would make an even better one.
You can bet your jubblies on that, he thought.


Eats Shoots and Leaves

It's past midnight and I know I need to sleep. Instead what I've done is sign up to be a Gmail tester. Yessirree folks, I now have 1 gigabyte of online e-mail space. It's kind of intriguing, and I'll be posting impressions and what not as I further give this service a whirl. In the meantime, if you're so inclined, mail me there. Feel free to forward me 419 scams, forwarded "Don't Delete This Or You Die" mails and whatever other flotsam you feel like sharing.

Anyway, enough of poorly disguised pr0n requests. I've had an uneventful and generally vegetative weekend, which in this case is a good thing. I've also managed to watch Super Sapiens, aka Hellboy and was generally impressed. Since I'm too bloody lazy to write a proper review right now, why don't I just go out on a limb and say that Hellboy may be one of the most important comic to film adaptations I've ever seen since Richard Donner first made Superman: The Movie. And all this before the unsullied trash that is the remake of The Punisher arrives on our shores to deluge us with more of John Travolta.


On a brighter note, this coming weekend will be a long one for the Ox, simply because I don't have to work till Tuesday and in about 2 and a half weeks it's my birthday! Huzzah! As of now I'm thinking of what to give myself since no one gives better birthday presents to myself than I do. Only question is, can I afford whatever it is I want to give myself? Humph. As John Cleese would say, enough of this gay banter.

I am off to bed. And if you're still awake reading this, I suggest you do the same.

P/s: with the exception being if you're a female of the species who finds me moderately attractive, you DON'T have to do that alone, you know *wink wink*.



Sunday, April 25

Sunday Morning

So PPS is offline for the moment. Interesting. For the next week, the faithful denizens of the blogtal will be effectively disconnected from each other (in the sense that their posts will not pop up in a common page) but in any other sense, it's business as usual. Which brings to mind the wonders of RSS but that will be material for another post.

Trawling through my blogroll I realised that today is a rather somber one for bloggers, as we reflect on tragic events past and possibly future. There are emotions and anger, sadness and indignation. Heavy thoughts to be carrying. I wrote part of a short story to post, but somehow it doesn't feel like being published (stories are like that). They have their moments of glory, and more often of irreconcilable bull headedness.

I felt like telling it to go do something physically impossible, but I thought maybe I was being hasty. Besides, what possible good story could come out of a half dream involving a grown up Alice, the Queen of Hearts (yellowed around the edges), a white Rabbit named Robert (who died of bullet wounds, tragically late) and Cheshire, The Smiling Cad? Not to mention Dorothy's Ruby Red Shoes (which she lost a long time ago and should be considered fair game) and other Carollian miscellany?

Something involving sex, I suppose. Hmm.

Anyway, it's technically Sunday. And I have to get some sleep (technically).

Before the edges start to melt again. Lovecraft doesn't have a clue.


Thursday, April 22

April DVD Digest: Get Your Whips Out!

I tell you, Malaysians sure have it good when it comes to DVDs. And yeah, I'm referring to the pirated versions, better known as "Durians" locally. I mean, I've lost count of how many times I've had to answer people (on or offline) who are looking for a good copy with the special features intact, audio commentary, true DTS soundtrack, the works. Sometimes it just ends up being funny. Here we are, purchasing movies that normally would cost us 20 USD (about RM 80) at RM 12/13! Is that a steal or what? For those in the know, it used to be easy. Different suppliers (or manus, short for manufacturers) would have their own identifying mechanism on their products. Therefore in the early days, one could easily distinguish a good DVD9 copy from an isometric "captured in cinema" version simply by looking for a specific sticker! Sadly, every other manu started attaching copies of the original stickers to the packaging, leading to many buyers getting frazzled and confused.

Right now, buying DVDs in Malaysia is still a bit of a gamble (unless you happen to know the vendor personally). Sometimes you're lucky and find one who actually knows his movies, or is just able to get the ones you want. Most times you'll have to try your luck at the draw. Be that as it may, many buyers (myself included) insist on surfing sites like these to read reviews and make an informed decision before purchasing. Maybe it's our kiasuness, or out tendency to insist on not being cheated (which in itself is a good thing). Whatever it is, it's a good time to be a DVD aficionado in Malaysia.

Anyhow, I thought I'd be good and share some tips on getting the best bang for your buck:

* Always use the internet. Sure, your heart may leap when you see that Hellboy DVD at your pasar malam, but always make it a point to check if the original's released yet. If it is, chances are the disc you're buying will be a direct copy. If not, expect distorted picture quality and the sound of someone munching on popcorn right next to your ear.

* As a general rule, any movie more than 6 months old will already have a DVD version out, in which case you're safe.

* Be careful when buying box sets. Sure, it's tempting to own the entire Season Six of Sex and The City, but most of these early appearances on the market are from digital copies downloaded off the net and put together by some kid in glasses on a PC with PhotoShop or Nero.

* A new trend these days is to bundle two movies on a single disc (Bad Boys, Star Wars). Usually these are quite safe, but every once in awhile some manus may decide to pull a fast one by including one good version and the other seriously degraded. Again, check with a trusted vendor.

* Sometimes you get lucky and get a screener copy. Screeners are preview versions (on VHS or DVD) that are distributed to preview audiences or even for the purposes of awards nominations. A peculiar characteristic is they'll almost always have that "If you have rented/bought.." disclaimer roll across the screen.

That should be enough for this week. After dinner just now I decided to pop by the friendly neighbourhood seller to see the wares. Here's a list of the DVD releases I'm psyched about:

Dead Or Alive 2
Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi The Killer) brings a tale of crime and friendship to you now on DVD. I've only watched the first DOA years ago (and even then I didn't realise it for what it was). There's copious amounts of blood, cool Yakuza gangsters and a storyline that never lets you go. I'll be reviewing this soon.

Dead Or Alive Final
This may be the weakest of the three, garnering only average reviews. I'll be borrowing this off a friend sometime next week.

Battle Royale
The ultimate reality show is finally here! Brought to you as a Hong Kong category III release, this version of BR doesn't skimp on the gore, and is a worthwhile addition to any fan of Japanese cinema. Heck, it's got Beat Takeshi!

Battle Royale II
The director, Kinji Fukasaku died halfway through filming, and his job was taken over by his son. It shows in this average sequel that picks up where the first one left off. I wouldn't really recommend this one, unless you're a completist.

Salon Kitty
Warning! Exploitation film alert! Here's a snippet from IMDB:
"Kitty runs a brothel in Nazi Germany where the soldiers come to "relax". Recording devices have been installed in each room by a power hungry army official who plans to use the information to blackmail Hitler and gain power himself. A girl named Margherita discovers the little ploy and with Kitty's help plans to take on the dangerous task of exposing the conspiracy..."

By the same people who brought you Caligula, so be warned!

And finally...Ilsa is here! The Ilsa Box set contains the first three (and probably best of) movies. The set contains:
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974)
Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) and
Ilsa, The Wicked Warden (1977)

In case anyone's remotely interested, the Ilsa series is about a female prison warden who is convinced that by experiments she can prove that women are more suited for battle than men. NOT porn, although there is a fair amount of nudity and gore. I have a feeling I'll be picking this up soon.

Man this has been a long post. DVDOx out!


My Secret Window

This inspired by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and the trash that floats in my eyes when I screw them tight.

3 am

Amazing what goes on in your head this time of day. It got too quiet till I had to switch on the Astro outside and tune to MTV (God knows I don't really watch it I'm not cool enough), the quiet was getting under my skin (into my brain, into that small secret place you thought you could hide but here it is, sonny and you know what, that place is wide open) and even though I'd closed the bathroom door I'm still inexplicably scared (and lonely you dipshit), and Kylie's outside asking us to go slow with her and just for once, for once you think you would be alright if you were weak for a little while and wish for something.

Reality's a bitch and she wears stilettos.

Tasting that line in your mouth, all the way to that part of the brain (I forgot what it is don't expect me to remember not at 4 frickin AM) that makes everything make sense and you think wow that sounds catchy I wonder if anyone will rememem- remember me for saying it, for putting it down, and then you realise all you wanted was not to be forgotten for someone to remember you.

I was there. I was part of something. You look at your snapshots, all 20-30 megs of it and you realise you're in less than 20 of them. You're scared you'll look ugly and sad and lonely, that you don't belong. So you trawl through the photos of places and people, remembering some things, trying to forget others.

What started this, you wonder? I was alright, and doing fine so what the hell started this? It's the bleed through, that little window that only opens at 3 am, when you can feel the edges (do you know what edges are?) come together and melt and blur into something awful and dark, and you wish there was something you could do to fall asleep and dream (or maybe not, because dreams are painful).

So tomorrow you put on your clothes (and your face, always your face) and you say it's alright and I'm fine but you always remember that dark spot in your brain that can make all your resolutions turn to mush and all the king's horses (forget about the men, they were all useless anyway) can't get you back together again.

Inside the eggshells of our psyche, what do our yolks look like?


Tuesday, April 20

I'm NOT Mentioning Dallas or Dynasty

Gah. My keyboard's on the fritz (actually my spacebar's sticky), my Palm won't Sync (even after working beautifully earlier today) and in a related incident, I suspect my USB ports are broken. Murphy's Law? Probably. What this means is I won't be able to sync the PDA, my mobile or my digital camera OR type properly. This sucks.

Anyway. I just finished watching the latest instalment of Law And Order: SVU on Star World (I wish they had multiple episodes of Law and Order back to back like they have overseas) and realised just how complex television series like it and others have become in the past decade or two. Gone are the days when you just plonk yourselves mid episode and be reasonably sure of the plot points (and in the case of Airwolf and its ilk) and possible outcome. Nowadays TV series have story arcs spanning several months (or maybe seasons) and woe betide anyone who decides he/she wants some quick chop socky spy action and tunes in to Alias on the telly. Get Smart or the Man From UNCLE this ain't.

Growing up in the 80s really spoilt me I guess. I had a humongous selection of TV shows to tune into. Let's name some off the top of my head:

BJ and the Bear, Chips, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, The Fall Guy, Get Smart, The Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man, Shazam!, Knight Rider and its copycat Streethawk, Airwolf and Blue Thunder, The A Team and McGyver..I could go on for ages. These were shows where you knew what would happen everytime:

A family trust/missionary school/(insert do gooder name here) gets attacked/threatened/beat up by a gang of drug dealers/mob henchmen/school jocks. A teary eyed female/or blue eyed blond representative contacts our heroes and they proceed to deal out some vehicular thematic butt kicking.

Ahh the good old days. Nowadays, the hero/heroine turns out more often than not to have a Dark Past (or a family member with one)/close ties to the Criminal Element, fighting the good fight while at the same time embarking on a journey of self discovery to find out who he/she really is: Fox Mulder, Jared from the Pretender, Dark Angel, Alias, The Agency. We learn through cryptic clues dished out during specific cliffhanger points that the hero has special powers/the bad guy as his/her dad/was a victim of abuse (you get the drift). Try sitting in on an episode of The Shield sometime. Although not all of these series have succumbed to the curse of the indomitable story arc (notably CSI, which still manages to offer us tantalising glimpses into the characters' lives) most have, and as a result we require religious viewing (or at least a DVD box set) to figure out.

The price of progress? As viewers get more intelligent and demanding, writers and producers have to ensure that a series is profitable enough to maintain on air AND be viable for rerunning through syndication. Get a show that thrives on syndication, and you're laughing all the way to the bank. The X Files was one of the earliest examples of this type of TV show, with an overarching storyline that provided the backdrop for all the weirdness Mulder and Scully had to endure.

I won't even get started on Star Trek and its many spawn, er offshoots. Maybe it's a good thing. No longer are we content to watch the Bad Guy of The Week get trashed just because he's bad. We need a reason, a motive, a twist. And as long as the viewers demand this, things can only get better.

Ultimately, couch potatoes have it good (except for the fat count).

Have a good midweek folks!


So What Will YOU Do?

Something this highly respected blogger said in this blog set me to thinking. As I write this entry, the TV's blaring another round of bad news into the air in my apartment, courtesy of Astro, PPS is abuzz with the latest atrocities in...well just about anywhere, and the world looks like we're all poised to kick the can big time.

What a tumultuous time to be living in. Ironic, that when the human race has tamed almost every conceivable plague and disease, sent robotic vehicles to Mars (!!) and generally finally managed to find a somewhat comfortable niche to breathe in, some of us decide we need to blast each other to bits. Nowadays it seems the plotline of every other apocalyptic future B-movie/paperback I've ever read is slowly but surely coming true. Dickens might just agree with me when I say:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Anyhow. This post is not meant to add to the already ever expanding body of literature (formal or informal) on how the world is progressively going to heck in a handbasket. Take a gander at PPS, and look at how many blogs are already discussing and dissecting these unfortunate happenings, and at this stage I've decided that almost everything that an intelligent person can say has been said.

Some of us say so what? We can talk about it all we want but it won't make things better. GW won't listen. Hell, most of the time the bleeding slack jawed double chinnies who sometimes run THIS country won't listen. So what's the bloody point? Like Najah, I'm inclined to answer thus:

There's always something we can do. True, in the immense scale of the Big Picture, each of us are perhaps nothing more than flecks of dust. But then again, a well placed speck of dust can make the strongest person sneeze, or his eyes water. That same speck can ruin a whole silicone wafer. I guess what I'm trying to say is we can all change something, somehow, within the limitations of our jobs and other responsibilities.

So it can be as simple as sending an email, or donating some old clothes to charity. It can be as simple as calling someone up to say you care. Everyone, regardless of their job, has something to give. So I may not have the billions to finance my own cause for justice (or put together a kick ass team of commandos to kill someone) or the influence to make my opinion heard and taken action upon. In my case, I've been entrusted with the responsibility to direct and mold young minds. Not in any telepathic sense (although that would be highly desirable) but in the sense that through my vocation we have a chance to stuff something of substance into these kids' heads.

That's a scary responsibility. In the brief moment that I meet these individuals, I will have the chance to impart something more than just their lectures and assignments. Perhaps that is all I can do in this lifetime. If I can make even some of them think, then maybe, just maybe we'll all have a chance.

So that's my contribution. Sometimes I falter, and heck I dunno if it even means anything in the end, or if I'm even cut out for this gig. I do know this, however. I will have tried, and sometimes there's nothing more a person can give than their best, no matter what they do.

And I trust at least some of us will do the same.


Monday, April 19

Tempest: A Poem In Script Form


It is raining.

You see, he tells her
There are always things (inside things)
And as she feels the raw
Where the rope eats into skin
She wonders if she is inside someone else

we fade to

He often wonders
(as he drives)
why the lights
are better at night
(like people)

It's still raining.

"Do you know pain?"
He pants
his breath hot on her skin
(oh she feels so filthy, and it hurts)
hoping (wanting) she will
do you know pain?


It would have been good, she says
and he nods
I would have been good
Two inches to go
She kisses him (on the lips this time)
and lets him fall

cut to


(same shit, different day)
and the coffee still sucks
but five bodies in five states
each tell their own stories
of a butterfly kiss
and a razor blade smile

Photo taken on jetty in Jerejak Island, Penang, circa new year 2004.


Sunday, April 18

Sated, Yet Not

Wonderful weekends shouldn't end, I thought this as I drove home after an impromptu meet late this afternoon with some blogger-friends of mine. The company was loud (as usual) the coffee strong, and the conversation excellent. I don't think I could have asked for very much more. The Ox likes his pleasures simple, though they always turn complicated for some weird reason. And I have also learnt another important lesson: always be careful of mineral water prices. They can kill. Really.

Early this morning I sent my brother off to the Puduraya Bus terminal, for him to catch a bus home. He'd been spending the past couple weeks with me and it was only last night that I realised how close we've been getting in the past few years. As we chatted before we slept, he was downloading and playing songs from video games we'd played as kids, and it struck me at being amazing how we could still relate to almost every level from every game we'd ever played together, just from listening to the songs. There was Ninja Gaiden III and all those NES games we used to borrow from our friends...

It occurred to me then as I realised he'll be starting his matriculation/A levels soon, and if he does get the scholarship he's applied for, I am going to miss him very very much. He may not be my confidante, but he's been my partner in crime since we were both kids experimenting with Lego bricks. Always smarter than I'd ever been, he's got a bright future ahead of him. And right now, whatever society may say about video games making kids violent, I know for a fact that in the case of my siblings at least, they're dead wrong.

There's my sister, who concentrates solely on platform and driving games, my other sister who's an RPG freak and me and my brother, who are both what we like to call cross genre gamers (although if he were here he'd interject and say I hardly finish my games, whereas he usually finishes them all). We get excited when a game is coming out, and we trawl the same sites looking for clues and guides. Strange how things work out sometimes.

So it's almost midnight, and it's been a good week, and an even better weekend (even with all the work). Tomorrow's a brand new day, and I guess I'm a little curious to see what this week brings.

Drive safe, people..and God bless.

Song of the day: Swallowed, Bush


Friday, April 16

Darker Ox and The Smug Marrieds

Disclaimer: Sometime during this post, I'll let a part of myself called Darker Ash out for a bit. He hasn't been let out in awhile, so I'd advise those readers (if any) with weak stomachs to brace themselves. What he says, I have no control over.

Right. So first things first. My mum gave me a call early this afternoon, and she sounded panicky (which is getting to be a habit nowadays). Apparently she was worried about my dad, who now seems disinterested in everything except the political group he's in (which I shall not name). According to her, he's not reading anymore, not working properly and has no motivation to do anything but engage in what we shall call "the good work". Work's piling up, there's money troubles all of a sudden, and my mum's quite literally at her wits end.

So there I stood, trying to think of something to tell her that would make her feel better, and honestly I couldn't think of anything. I gently reminded her that I'd cautioned them about this early on, that the group of people who'll choose to surround my father will have their own agenda, and they'll take advantage of my father's trusting nature. As of this time I'm planning a trip back. I need to see what's going on, and if there's anything I can do about it. When things like these happen, I just wish I had some money to buy them a house and relocate them somewhere in Selangor, where we'll have relatives around, and my parents will have a chance to mingle with professionals, like they used to.

*sigh* That conversation DID achieve something however. My mum felt decidedly better, and we laughed as she asked me the golden question: "So when are you going to get married?" Thanks to my extensive practice in evading the question, we left it unanswered, and that was that.

Okay. Time for Darker Ash to come out now.

Later today as I was on the way to a meeting, the phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, so I was slightly apprehensive when I picked it up. Turned out to be an old classmate from my secondary school days, asking how I was, that kind of thing. He's now living near my campus, and everything went fine until he suddenly asked me why the hell I wasn't married yet. I gave my stock answer, but apparently this bloke wasn't satisfied. He kept pushing me, and I was getting bloody irritated and was glad when I got to my meeting. He had this supercilious tone going all the while and I-

Oh, bloody fuck.

You know, I've had it up to here with you Smug Marrieds. I mean, I know not all of you're like that, but what the hell makes you think you have the right to judge me just because I'm still single? Granted, you have a wife to come home to (and if you're lucky, bang once or twice a month) but heck, is it a crime to be 26 and unmarried? I don't diss you for being docile and paunchy, so why diss me? Every week one of you buggers will call me and ask that stupid, stupid question. And you think in 7 days I'll have fallen in love and shown a ring to some girl who I'll knock up and then lose all interest in?

(This goes to all you Smug Marrieds out there who think it's a national sport to make fun of Singletons)

Look. I used to appreciate the "concern". Now it just pisses me off. I am unmarried mainly because of the following:

1) I have no one to marry. Kinda makes sense, doesn't it dumbkopf?
2) The way my life is going right now I can't even afford a roof over my head, let alone the responsibilities of a family.
3) I don't see myself settling down, yet.
4) Right now, I am in NO MOOD for a relationship.

I've come to realise that no matter how envious I sometimes get of other people in relationships, right now I can't imagine myself being in one! I know, the way God Almighty works is He'll make me fall head over heels the moment I step out after writing this entry, but for now, the idea of a relationship just makes my blood run cold. 2 years ago if you'd asked me I'll be all ready and willing. Right now, I have myself, and that's just dandy. The idea of having someone else so close, and being so vulnerable to that person just does not make sense anymore.

It's over. I'm tired, and I can't envision myself going through that whole gauntlet again. Maybe I'm scared, or cynical. Whatever the explanation, I'm quite happy to be by myself until I decide otherwise. True, it may be too late by then but at least I'll have no one to blame for my unhappiness but myself. So for all you Smug Marrieds who insist on taunting my Singlehood, bear this in mind:

I know your weaknesses, and you can bet someone out there knows how to get to them. Your husbands are only men, and they'll always have those little holes. There are always chinks in your so called "happy lives", just waiting for someone to jimmy open. Oh yeah. Everyone has those, don't they? Does your spouse look at you the same these days? Are your nights just 10 minutes long now? What about that look he gets when he sees that girl pass by? Don't you ever wonder what if you were with someone else? Is it really love, or are you together for the kids?

No one is immune, babies. You build em, someone else can wreck em. So live your bubbly TV sitcom lives, have sex once or twice a month and make sure to clothe and school the kids. Live, and let live, please.

**The above used to contain severe threats, but I've since taken them down. Here's a hint: replace the word "someone" with "I" and you'll get a picture of what I can do.

Oh yeah.


Thursday, April 15

Around The World In Eighty Days

This is going to be one of those weird posts where I talk about everything at once.

Talking to newly colleague newly returned from her PhD reminded me of something I'd very nearly forgotten about. As she urged us younger members of staff to pursue our doctorates overseas, she overcame a few objections from some other colleagues about the difficulties of leaving spouses (or is it spice?) and children behind with a simple little statement:

"Well, in the old days every other explorer/scholar would leave home for months, maybe years with no way to bring their families for the simple reason that they love knowledge.."

And she went on talking about Ibn Battutta and several other well known Muslim scholars. Thinking about it now, I have to admit what she said made a lot of sense. I remember growing up reading stories of explorers and adventurers and scholars of every colour, type and creed, and how they left behind their secure homes and risked everything in that pursuit of enlightenment (related reading: Neal Stephenson's Necronomicon). They didn't have airplanes, internet access or anything of the sort, and letters if any would take months to reach their homes. But somehow they persevered, and it's almost darkly funny how in the age of fast airliners and mobile phones with global roaming and e-mail some of us still shirk from leaving our families behind, even for a little while. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating anyone to just up and leave (this before anyone thinks I'm all for breaking up families) but think about it. Would it be so bad if a postgraduate candidate had to leave first before shifting his/her whole family along? This got me wandering: what exactly makes it more difficult for us to do the same in this day and age?

Is it because there are so many more risks abroad than in the old days? Does it have anything to do with the amount of trust we can invest in someone? Or are we just less passionate about knowledge and just go because we have to?

Deep questions for late on a Thursday night. I know of at least 2 people who are married or in a relationship and one spouse/partner has to leave for his/her studies. As of the time of writing, they're holding on even through the difficulties, and to these people I tip my hat. I'll never know what I would do until forced into the same quandary, but that talk with my officemate has certainly opened my mind up a bit.

So it boils down to the question: what would we do to satiate our thirst for knowledge? Ultimately it is up to us to see if we can uphold the proud traditions left to us by those intrepid explorers, and seekers of truth. Heck, personally I'd be happy if I were one-fifth as noble as they were.


Wednesday, April 14

Pre-Post Doctoral Blues

Pickyin's latest post inspired this little entry.

If you're still here, Constant Reader, I'll assume you'll have at least skimmed through her post for some context on this one. And if you haven't, well I don't mind. That is, if you're still here.

Ahem. Anyway. Unfortunately for me, I was one of those people who couldn't really get a regular job (due to several circumstances), which led me to half heartedly submit an application to my university for a tutoring job. I say half heartedly, because I heard they were short on male staff and thought what the heck, posted the bloody thing and promptly forgot about it until they replied about 4 months later.

Yup. That's right. I am now an academic through no conscious design and no altruistic little motive for the betterment of humanity. I applied, got the job and found that I could do my Masters en route. Financially, I was desperate. Mentally, I was naive and thought a uni job would provide the security I so sorely needed.

Well har-bloody-har. Fast forward several years, and I'm on temporary status with no possibility of confirmation, I've realised I actually like teaching/research and I desperately need to find a place to continue my doctorate ASAP. That's life for you. I sometimes wonder if it's actually worthwhile going ahead and pursuing my PhD in the next 2 years, before my contract expires and I'm out on the streets.

You see, Pickyin's little post made me ask myself a question that's been waiting to be asked for a long time: Why the hell do I want to do a PhD? With a little clinical detachment, let us examine my answers:

1) I want to get my status confirmed.
2) I sorely need a pay raise.
3) Going overseas is exciting.
4) I'll be an expert in my field, and have a nifty little "Dr" title in front of my name.
5) Because it's essential for my survival.
6) Refer to reason (1)
7) After reading David Lodge, I am tempted to try out the life of a lecherous academic.
8) Refer to above.

So there we have it. I am now actively embarking on a life of academia mainly because life gave me lemons and I'm trying to make darn good lemonade out of it. Of course, in the past few years I've come to realise that it isn't such a bad gig, and the rewards (though few and far between) are as satisfactory as anything else I might dip my finger in. Funny.

I've been having weird flashes of temptation lately. You see, I have only 2 more years left on my contract. If I so wished, I could use those years to prepare myself properly, apply for a good scholarship, and leave the country for my PhD then. It may be late, but I'll have no one to report to, and no one to tie me down.

If my plan to leave this year DOES come to fruition, I'll come back after 4 years with several kids, and ex-wife and bondage (oh how I wish it was THAT kind) for 7 years. I'll still get the nifty little "Dr". I'll also still get the incessant stupid bureaucracy and patronage system that's so inherent in our academia. It boils down to what I want, I guess. And right now I have no damn idea what that may be. Friends tell me it'll get better when I get my doctorate, and I can change things. Problem is, I've been thinking: so who looks out for me?

Gah. Too many things to think about. I'm off to bed.


Zatoichi Reviewed! (Well, Almost..)

I'm supposed to be sleeping. There's a meeting I'm supposed to be at early tomorrow morning, but for some reason the bed's just not where I want to be yet. It's been a long but fruitful day at work, capped off with a surprise during dinner: my brother managed to sniff out a bootleg VCD of Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi.

We rushed home, slid the disc out of the wrapper and gingerly inserted it into the player. Lo and behold! Instead of the isometric captured "in-cinema" footage I was expecting, it was a clear, pristine transfer from what I can only guess is a master DVD. Murphy's Law still prevailed however: there were no subtitles.

So it was left to me and my brother to gingerly piece together the story from what we already knew from the net, and through our rudimentary Japanese (although he caught more words than I did). It'd be an injustice to post a review this early, since I don't have the complete story yet, but trust me, Kitano's latest masterpiece already does well without the subs. Think Kill Bill, but with a return to the samurai roots. Oh, and there's lots of blood, too.

Watch out for my review as soon as I can get my grubby hands on a suitably subtitled DVD. I may decide to post a double feature along with Kitano's earlier 97 hit, Hana-bi (Fireworks).

DVD9 releases this month that may be of interest:

Big Fish: Good story, a nice transfer and subtitles that actually make sense await you if you decide to bag this one. No extras though, but worth it just for the amazing story.

Kill Bill Vol 1: Forget the earlier shoddy D5 release. Several manus (manufacturers) have come up with differing versions of the real thing. You get mostly the same stuff, but with better quality picture/sound, and excellent subtitles. Get this now!

The Rundown: The Rock shows he can be an action hero, with heart. A not too bad outing and a must for action comedy fans. Extras are so-so depending on the manu, but better get this than spend your hard earned cash on what you KNOW will be a shoddy release of Walking Tall in KinoScope.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003): This remake is one of the better ones, and worth picking up if you're a fan of slasher/horror films. Now if only they'll release the Dawn of The Dead remake..

Foreign releases:

Thesis (Spanish): Spanish students investigating snuff movies. Haven't had the chance to see this yet, due to budgetary concerns. But am working on it as we speak.

Fireworks: Kitano deals out more than just violence in this touching tale of revenge and redemption. Extras: next to zilch, but the movie itself is worth the price of admission.

Katsuhiro Otomo Presents Memories: A trio of short anime flicks, each barely over 30 minutes long, but together tells us why the Disney and other western animated features still fall short of our Asian magic. Otomo's next anticipated release, Steamboy, has reached near vapourware status.

Well, I'm off. Have a good week!


Monday, April 12

Old Men In Dank Cellars With Chastity Belts

I'm tired, cranky and I have several bajillion things to do. Folks, I'm going to rant. Expect some profanity and adult content. You have been warned.

A long day at work saw me arriving home, slumping onto the sofa and drifting into a dreamless half sleeping state (mistake number one) while waiting for the rain to stop so we could get dinner. The first thing I saw when I woke up was the trailer for Super Sapiens. Yup, you got that right. Super Fucking Sapiens. What in the hell convinces anyone that they have a right to change the title of any movie based on how many purgatory influences it has (for those of you out of the loop, Super Sapiens is Malaysia's own take on the movie adaptation of Mike Mignola's Hellboy)? What the hell is wrong with Hellboy? Does maintaining the title make us all hellbound? What's interesting is, most if not all of the Hellraiser movies made it with their titles intact, so did the seminal slasher sequel Friday the 13th: Jason Goes To Hell. I don't see any of them changed to weird sounding euphemistic claptrap.

I mean seriously folks, if a movie was titled Fuckwit: The Great Fucks of Jebediah Jones or Fuck Me Silly, Sam, then I wouldn't give a rat's arse if the robe and cowl wearing, underground cave dwelling censorship board decided to tone them down a little. But then again, do I expect anything less from the same people who gave Daredevil the boot (nevermind it wasn't such a gem, anyway)? Although the official excuse was that the film contained questionable violence, part of me still wonders if they thought by allowing it in, the hordes of unwashed moviegoers would proceed to become DareDevils or God forbid, Satanic cultists!

Sometimes I wonder, do Malaysians still need BM titles for every other movie that comes into our shores? I'm sure a lot of you out there have noticed the sometimes unbelievably stupid translations that get slapped on movie titles. Granted not all of us are proficient in English, but hey, can't we just enjoy Die Hard/Independence Day/Hellboy without them being turned into Mati Keras/Hari Kemerdekaan/Budak Neraka (although admittedly Budak Neraka does sound cool). And don't get me started on the snipping. Makes me want to tell these people they might as well forget the whole rating system if they're gonna butcher the fricking movie anyway. I mean what's the point in having them if everything still ends up the freaking same?

Times like these, I am thankful for the DVD pirates. Yes, they may be indulging in a criminal act, but think for a second. Without them we wouldn't be able to enjoy all those foreign films we can pick up without a second thought at our friendly neighbourhood vendor: Amelie, Trois Couleurs, Lone Wolf and Cub, countless Japanese anime, The Devil's Backbone, Run Lola Run, The Man on The Train..the list is endless. By severly limiting the scope of what we CAN watch, all the Censorship Board has managed to do is force us tighter and tighter under a new and improved "tempurung kelapa" (that's coconut shell for non Malay speakers). I have no idea where they're headed but if things continue this way, I won't be surprised if Yusof Haslam scores yet another hit with Sembilu XXIII: Noktah Cinta, or Kuliah Cinta 22: Taburan Noda. We reap what we sow. And right now, all we're sowing is ignorance and the inability to see beyond our own noses.

I admit, not all of these films are suitable for everyone. Gaspar Noe, David Cronenberg, Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kitano, Guillermo Del Toro. These are directors who have dared challenge the establishment, bringing about sometimes distasteful products. Like everything else in life, moderation is the key. When I watch these films, I filter them through what I've learnt in life, and what has been taught to me so far. Sometimes, there are lessons to be learnt, sometimes not. The conscious ability to separate the wheat from the chaff is an essential part of us being intelligent humans, something I fear the Board is so afraid of us being.

So there we have it. This is ONE reason why I'm so angry tonight. The other one has to do with life, but I've got a metric tonne of work that prevents me from bitching about it now. So until I manage to scrounge enough time to myself for a change, the Ox is off.

And still angry. Oh by the way, visit this site. I guarantee it's worth your while.


Saturday, April 10

Karma And Trekking

The Ox had an action packed Saturday (no not THAT kind of action). I got out of the house at about 6.30 am, trying to reach the faculty as early as I could. Having met up with several other early birds, we arrived at the University forest reserve at the appointed time (before 8am) only to find that nobody was there. How typical, we thought. However we didn't have much time to muck around as all of a sudden the VC (who was the guest of honour) popped up and we had to offer profuse apologies (and a rather weak explanation as to why no one else was there). Visibly huffed, he left "to get breakfast".

Several phone calls later, the rest of the faculty filtered into the area, and the Dean managed to wrangle the VC back to officiate the proceedings. That done, the rest of the morning went by about as close to planned as possible. Breakfast, some light warming up exercises and finally the trek into the surrounding foliage.

Two hours in a slippery, mucky wet jungle really makes you miss the creature comforts you surround yourself with. It was good, and the Ox got some much appreciated exercise out of it. Everything went well, except for one notable event near the end (well to me anyway).

I suppose everyone's at least heard of karma by this time. To put it simply, what goes around, comes around. Why I'm suddenly talking about cosmic justice has to do with the incident, 15 minutes before the end of the trek:

A female colleague (which I'll call B) suddenly collapsed and fell on her arm as we crested the final slope. When the medic and myself got on the scene, B was on the forest floor, clutching her arm and almost in a fetal position. She refused to move, and everyone could plainly see she was on the verge of tears. Several of us shooed the stragglers back towards base camp with instructions to bring back a stretcher. As I watched her friends try to soothe and talk her into getting up and walking back, I have to admit I didn't feel as sorry as I felt I should have.

Maybe I should explain. 2 days ago, a final year student I was supervising called me up in near tears. Her evaluator for the presentation of her project was B. I knew that the student really put in a lot of effort into her work, and I was expecting a walk in the park for her. I couldn't be more wrong. According to her, B came in, took a cursory glance at her work and asked in a tone which said 'I could be anywhere else but here': "Is that all? I'm going."

Now imagine you're a student and you've put in 3 months of solid effort into your project. Come the big day and you're raring to show your results, but the evaluator simply treats it as if it were a bit of fluff. Granted, you may say I'm biased toward the student, but I've generally been very strict with these kids, and I know this one deserved a chance at least. As I told the hapless student not to worry, I suddenly had a flashback to something I saw a day earlier. While I was evaluating several other kids, B walked in, apparently to finish up with a student of her own. Her face as she did so was mired in distaste (I'm putting it mildly). It looked like the kind of face I would have if someone told me to clean the septic tank with only a brush and a pail. I didn't really think anything of it then but as I heard my student's story, something clicked in my head.

I called my tutor on the phone. He was one of the best students in his year, and also had B as his evaluator. When I asked him how his session went, he told me the same thing: B didn't even give his project a look through, and she was very brusque. All of this pointed to a pattern in her work. She always seemed busy (although I know for a fact that I have at least 10 times as much workload as she does) and for some reason I never COULD get along with her very well, even during my trip to Germany last year (she was whining for rice after day one). Which brings us back to today...

As I looked at my colleagues trying to comfort her, I couldn't help but berate myself silently for not being more sympathetic. I tried, but the knowledge of what she'd done to students in the past few years filtered the sympathy, and set me wondering: was it just bad luck on her part, coupled with fatigue? Or is some of that bad karma coming back?

I'm no judge, and I don't know the way the world works. All I know is I've done some bad things to people in my time, and I was reminded today that there's no escape. We pay, in one form or another. Sometimes we pay in cash, othertimes, the debt sits quietly, waiting for that one slip we make.


Thursday, April 8

A Life of Crime (And Why I'm Not Living One), by Ash.ox, Age 25

Some time ago, I sat down and had coffee with a couple of friends. We talked about a lot of things, and finally the topic swung around to killers, rapists and the crimes they commit. This post was directly inspired by that conversation.

WARNING: This post contains some content which may be disturbing, and is to be taken with a healthy dose of mature thinking.

After the aforementioned conversation, I began to mull over some things in my head. The talk the other day revolved around rapes and murders (among other things) and how most times these are crimes of opportunity. Being an amateur student of crime literature myself (and please, I mean really amateur), I've devoured copious amounts of true crime accounts and analyses, notably the adventures of Vidocq, the Frenchman who was singlehandedly responsible for the Surete (the French espionage network) as well as other well known (and some less well so) cases involving Crippen, Cream, Burke and Hare and the like.

What struck me the other day was how true my friend's opinion might be: given an opportunity, a person with a propensity for criminal acts will unhesitantly commit them. A rapist may decide to assault a girl who frequently uses a deserted alley (regardless of dress) and a kleptomaniac may not be able to stop himself from pinching something that's in plain view. Thanks to Hollywood, we've formed the impression that a serial killer, rapist or any such criminal needs a motive, be it similar abuse as a child or some other deep seated psychological root (with the notable exception of Brian DePalma's oft-overlooked 8mm).

We've come to expect this motive for any crime: was the suspect sexually abused? Did he/she come from a broken family? Could it be a genetic propensity for violence? Whatever the explanation, we'll readily accept it as long as it can tell us a particular WHY. The thing we often miss is, it doesn't HAVE to be like that.

As difficult as it is for us to imagine, there are instances of crimes being committed by otherwise sane people simply because they CAN (case in point, the Leopold and Loeb case of 1924, and more recently Ted Bundy). These are ordinarily decent, intelligent citizens who all of a sudden decide to direct their efforts to a life of putting grievous injury to people. As we progress higher up the Maslow chain, we find that we do not commit crimes for food, or shelter. We seek something more. Like Christian Bale's American Psycho, the 21st century killer does not necessarily need a reason. To him, it was catharsis. To these real life criminals, it is an escape from a humdrum existence into something new, and forbidden.

Which brings me to my point in this: So what stops me from committing a rape or murder, besides my sense of morality (which some may argue is subjective)? What stops us from any crime, full stop? Thinking about this, I've realised that besides my sense of right and wrong (which thank God is alive) it all boils down to two simple questions:

1) Can I do it? and
2) How do I get away with it?

My theory is simple. Find someone who knows the answer to both questions, and most probably he or she will have a recipe for a crime, and a successful one at that. Let's talk about our everyday work lives. If you knew you could get away with surfing "restricted" sites on your work time, would you not do so, even if it is just one site? If you know noone would miss that Milo 3-in-1 packet in the pantry, would you hesitate to take it? In other discussions with other friends, we've often pondered on the difficulties of becoming a serial killer in Malaysia (committing a murder is easy, it's getting rid of the evidence that's a bummer). Of course, a harsh penalty helps in scaring off anyone who even considers walking this path. So my contention is this: somewhere, there is someone whose life feels unfulfilled. He/she will be of above average intelligence, and can hold a good respectable job. He or she does not HAVE to commit a crime. But he/she CAN, and if apprehended, we will ponder the reasons behind the act.

What we need to remember is that there may BE no reason. Like Leopold and Loeb, the person may be fed up with a boring straighforward life. If you think this is farfetched, I remember when I was working in Midvalley when it first opened. According to the house detectives quite a few shoplifters were girls who had loads of cash in their purses! They were looking for a thrill, something exciting. These girls could have bought any item they wanted. Instead, they chose to steal them.

Again, this may not be true (as they're only the ravings of a mad ox). But if our country were to develop this type of criminals, our police force may not be prepared to handle them. There are those two questions I wrote earlier on. Go ahead, ask yourselves. What would you do, the next time that sexy girl you've been eyeing crosses your path, or that old lady leaves behind her purse.

What would we all do?


Wednesday, April 7

Publicity Stunts And Yahoo Messenger

Yes folks, it's official. On this coming 30th April, my ugly mug may be plastered all over national telly. The reason? Simple enough. My university has decided to honour our ex-premier with a special convocation ceremony as he is granted another honorary doctorate. Since we're hosting this marvellous occasion, the uni administration has seen fit to "ask" each department from each faculty to send 5 representatives for a special parade.

Guess who's on top of the list in my department? I'd already anticipated the job, simply because :

*Including my head of department, there are only 3 other men, and of that 1 is away abroad.
*I'm one of the youngest, and still single. Hence these things fall to me by default.

I don't really mind I guess, since I've seen it coming, and also because I've always wondered what I'd say if I ever met him. In my line of work, I've learnt to expect my name on almost every little letter of appointment, simply because I've gotten so used to it. Case in point: this Friday I'll be overseeing the registration for a programming competition my uni is hosting with IBM, and the following day I'm in charge of a faculty wide jungle trek with the Vice Chancellor.

So you see, there's no escape.

In other news, I've since realised that living without the internet at the office does have its share of perks (as I've outlined in previous posts). However, even with the net back on now(one day and counting), I've been going through most of this week without what may be considered a staple in the work environment: Yahoo Messenger. The changes have been tremendous. I'm getting more work done, and I've actually gotten used to not having it around. Not to say I don't miss it (since it's the only way I can get to talk with my blogger/overseas friends) but I know now that I CAN work without it.

Wow. I'll borrow this quote from a fellow blogger that sums up the situation perfectly, I guess:

"If I ever become PM, one of the first things I'll put in my motto would be: Work with the PM, not the YM."

Here's to better productivity (but please don't be too shocked if you see me online. I miss my friends ;-) )


Tuesday, April 6

Digging Up The Dirt, Ox Style

Okay. I know I've just posted, but several memories shook loose as I was writing the previous entry, and I think I'll share them with you. Please, feel free to berate me (or call me whatever you want) after you read this, and the only defense I can offer is that I was naive and trusting.

The year was 1999. I was in my third and final year of university, and the pressure was on to finish up my thesis. Being locked in the house in front of the PC most of the time, my only escape was getting online and (guess what?) hitting the IRC channels in between my 12-13 hour long stints at work. At the moment I'd already had several regular IRC friends and had even met up with some of them, so it was nothing new when I chatted with this girl who claimed to be in Damansara. But first, a word of warning: at this time I was firmly ensconced in Bangi, and my knowledge of KL was rudimentary to say the least. As the conversation went on, I kind of got the idea that this girl was rather well off, and when she offered to give me a call I didn't think twice about giving her my number.

We got along great on the phone, and I didn't think anything of it until a couple days later when she called me, asking if it would be alright if her "pet" brother (yes, I was a fool) wanted to hang out with me and my friends. When we met, he seemed like a nice enough guy, pleasant and very worldly. As our friendship progressed, he told us that he was trying to save this girl (whom we'll call Anne) from an unscrupulous public figure intent on keeping her as his mistress (man I'm blushing as I type this). Every once in awhile Anne would call, and we'd get closer on the phone, even though we never actually met.

Anyway, to make a long story short (details I'll share over coffee or Chocz) this "brother" whom we'll call Bob, started getting into all sorts of trouble. He'd disappear for a couple days during which Anne would call and inquire as to what happened to him, and then reappear with bruises all over his body. The bruises would be caused by the Datuk's henchmen trying to force Anne's location from him. Yes, we swallowed it whole. Hook, line and sinker.

Bob was never stingy with money, though, and he said he survived mainly through his trust fund, provided by his late father. He did impress upon us that he was trying to pay off some lawyers to save Anne (again, us nincompoops believed him) and after awhile he started getting into financial difficulties. Being the sympathetic starving students we were, we quickly helped him secure a job and even a flat near mine in Kajang. The financial woes got so bad he started borrowing, and for some reason all his excuses made sense to our ears (of course, Anne's repeated calls and promises she'd pay all of us back helped as well). In the end he'd borrowed about RM 3,500 from all of us.

Skip forward some more chapters, and we finally found out that we were being conned (through a series of mysterious coincidences). Bob had disappeared by then, and we found out through a network of mutual friends (and a lot of detective work) that he was active in Melawati, this time using Anne to dupe another unsuspecting guy. We realised we needed to act fast. Acting on the tip, we estimated the time he'd be back in Melawati and arranged for him to meet the potential victim at a warung around midnight. I had a friend wait in the car, his pedal on the accelerator. As Bob got down from the cab he was in, he caught sight of me and walked briskly towards a nearby phone booth.

He was dialing rapidly as I approached, and I gently put my arm on his shoulder. I said "Bob, you need to come with me." By that time, my friend had brought the car around so that it was directly behind the booth, and we whisked him back to Kajang that same night.

6 hours later, he was gone (after we'd filed a police report that proved fruitless). Whatever grievances we'd had we had gotten rid of during the night, and we ransacked his flat (with the police's cooperation), where we found the following:

*Several folders worth of pictures of naked men, and gay porn
*Several gay porn VCDs
*A diary (which I'll come to later)
*Letters from men, addressed to various girls. Some even had their naked pictures attached.

If you're still wondering what it all means, here's the gist of it. There was no Anne. There never was any of the other girls, either. Bob was a born impersonator of voices, and he was the talent behind Anne's pleadings for help. During his stint as a conman, Bob assumed the identities of several girls, drew up detailed profiles of their fictional lives, and used them to get money off unsuspecting, gullible guys like me and my friends. His life was long and read like something out of a paperback thriller, and all this was found in the diary (we had to have live proof of his impersonations, and he wonderfully cooperated that night to satisfy ourselves).

In any event, the police couldn't help (since they weren't sure how to file the charges) but I'll leave you to fill in the blanks yourselves. The Ox has had a long day.


Wool Over Our Eyes

Internet access was finally restored to my workplace today at around 11 am (albeit intermittently). As I scrolled through the many posts on PPS, I found with a shock that a score of users at the popular geek-spot had been conned out of approximately RM 70 000 in cash, courtesy of a repeat online fraudster. To make a long story short, the conman promised a bulk import of high end graphics cards to some of the forum users, with cash up front. The cards never arrived, but the perpetrator disappeared with the money.

As of the time of writing, there were some disturbing comments made on Jeff Ooi's blog. Some readers put the blame wholly on the buyers for being too gullible. Others twisted the topic around to blame (what else?) video games. One "astute" reader even suggested a link from video games to Mohamad Farid's death recently, which honestly disgusted me. I'd love to rant about this, but it's not the issue at hand today (I'll get round to this one day).

Right now, the victims of this hoax are scrambling all their resources (including private investigation firms and bounty hunters) in order to apprehend this fraudster. They have not only lost their money but also their dignity and standing as technophiles in Malaysia. I for one, cannot totally blame them. Having been a victim of a similar hoax before, I can understand how convincing some of these people can get. Everything makes sense, no matter how outlandish the hoaxers' claims seem to be after the fact. As they say, hindsight is always 20-20. These victims have paid the price for their folly, and I don't see the point of rubbing any more salt in their wounds. Which brings me to my point, I guess..

In my observations in the past year or so, I've seen several internet communities blossom in our country (including PPS). These communities (like usually spring out of a common goal or shared interests among its members. As it expands and grows, they learn to communicate freely, and trust begins to form. It's not unusual for people who have never met each other in real life to have strong and concrete faith in their fellow members. I see it as an unavoidable social dynamic as society embraces the internet. Look at eBay and other succesful online trade forums. One of the most important factors in any of their transactions is how reliable or trustworthy a particular seller is. Those who cheat or do not deliver will usually be shunned and slowly fade away. It's nearly impossible to police these traders, so in the end, good word of mouth is all that a trader can hope for.

I fear that this unfortunate incident may scar the landscape of our internet communities for some time to come. The members of are angry and aggrieved. Their relationships within the ecosystem will take time to recover. And perhaps worse yet, incidents like these give ammo to detractors of these new ways of communication and entertainment. On the plus side, we now learn to be more careful and vigilant. I don't blame the poor users who got cheated. They were just doing what anyone else might have done under the circumstances. By labelling them as stupid and naive, we're forgetting that no one is invincible from these fraudsters and parasites. Who knows what form they may take when they decide to hit you? Are you THAT prepared? Will you be able to see right through it?

To the victims, I am truly sorry to hear of your loss. Though it may be of little consolation, at least the worst damage suffered was to the wallet (and perhaps to a certain degree, your reputations). You made it with your lives, and with enough information that I truly hope will lead to the arrest of this filth.

I wondered aloud today, what kind of stupid, ignorant fool would risk pissing off almost a hundred geeks from so many walks of life and with so many means at their disposal? I'm no vigilante, but I have a feeling if he's caught, Mr Shahrilwan will be in for a long night.

I can't wait.


Monday, April 5

Being Ash Dot Ox

What the inside of my mind looks like sometimes at
three a.m
, or when I've had an extended gaming session.

Inability to grasp in jokes is not covered by disclaimer.


One Year, And Counting

It's amazing how much work gets done when the internet's out. As I looked out the window of my office at the rain pouring outside, I couldn't help but think that though there are many, many things I can't do (research, emailing prospective supervisors) there were also other things that I could. The only thing I really miss is PPS, since that's where I get my entertainment (and more often knowledge) for the day. It's absolutely ghastly to finally be able to log on at night and realise that approximately 50 000 posts have gone by and I have to trawl the whole length of the page to catch up on the bits and pieces of other people's lives that I am so happy to push my nose into.

Something rather momentous (well to me at least) passed me by a couple weeks ago: The Insane Ox turned 1 year old on the 23rd of March. I didn't even realise that until April 1st (that's typical Ash for you). This means, ladies and gentlemen that I have been consistently working at this little nook for more than 12 bleedin' months. This blog has evolved from simply being my online venting post to something more complex and meaningful than I could ever imagine. In the past year, writing in this blog has found me new friends, a social life that is actually viable and more mental stimulation in one day than you can shake a stick at. And for that, I'm thankful. I remember when I first started out, some of the more established bloggers were arguing about what makes a real blog. I didn't really understand the intricacies of it at the time, but now I realise that some of the blogs dearest to me (and you can see them on my blogroll) have nothing in common with the supposed "real" blogs. Most of them are written by real people (like me and if you're reading, you) and are about everyday things and everyday hurts. There are also moments of happiness, and more often than not, great drama (I'm a voyeur, so sue me). However, the best ones are those who exceed the call of duty. They don't just stop at telling you how their day went. They also enlighten you on things you'd never have seen or head of (or maybe not till later). These are, to me, the real blogs: places where we write of our struggles and achievements, loves and hates, and all the other itty bitty little elements that make up our lives. As for links, there are links galore. Here's a thought: Blogging may even be one part of a solution towards a context-aware internet experience.

And why not? When we share links (and chuckle over them) are we not surfing the same thing via someone else's page? Are we not tuning into like minded people with similar interests who we in turn feed them with little tid bits of our own? Short of Google developing self awareness (which may be possible, I'm just waiting to go underground) blogs are little paradoxes. They are self contained little nodes complete unto themselves, but also collectively making up the vast network of axons and dendrites and what have you that in turn form the 'Net. As a worker in an increasingly information centric society, this is intriguing beyond belief.

It is my amateur opinion that we bloggers share the same tasks and duties of librarians and other knowledge keepers, whether we like it or not. We unknowingly sift and collate bits and pieces off the 'Net and redistribute them with new value added (which can be as simple as making a little summary). I may not be making sense (it HAS been a long day at work after all) but I guess what I'm trying to say is blogging changed my life.

No, scratch that. It saved me. And until I find out differently, I'll always hold this little technology close to my heart. There are a lot of things I'm thankful for, and right now The Insane Ox is one that holds a very high place in the ranks.

Have a good week, folks.

Song of the day: Corduroy, Pearl Jam


Sunday, April 4

Movie Review: Big Fish!

As an amateur writer, I always find it hardest to write the preamble. I guess that's why I'm an amateur. When reading this review, bear in mind this question: How much do you like stories?

And when I say stories, I mean them in their most basic, archetypical way. Be they fantastical, mythological or interstitial (that big word simply means inter genre) if you have ever heard a story told so well that for a moment your natural disbelief is suspended and you actually see it in your mind's eye (and you like it) then Big Fish is the film for you. Don't worry about the many symbolic references to Americana. Tim Burton's Big Fish is a tribute to the story tellers and listeners in all of us.

Pity that most of us will have to miss its run in our local cinemas. At the time of writing, only two cinemas are screening it, and it may be over by Monday. Pity indeed.

Big Fish marks Tim Burton's return to form. After the lukewarm reception towards his reimagining of Planet of The Apes, Burton once again proves that he is indeed the master of mixing fantasy and reality, grostequerie with beauty and humour and sadness. It seems he has reached back into his humongous bag of tricks (printed and on film) in order to craft this one. If you remember Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas (and the lesser known Oyster Boy), you'll find yourself quite at home here. The main storyline revolves around Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), a successful self made businessman famous throughout his hometown for his funny, often fantastical stories of himself while growing up. It seems as if everyone is charmed by these stories except his son, Will (Billy Crudup). As Will grows up, he finds it difficult to accept a father figure who never tells him anything truthful, and they drift apart. When Will finds out his father is slowly dying of cancer, he decides to break their silence and returns to his hometown with pregnant wife (played by Taxi's Marion Cotillard) in tow. Once there he embarks on a search to understand the person his father was and also ascertain the truth behind the stories he told once and for all...

Big Fish is not a single narrative. Yes, there is the main plotline where Will struggles to make his father cough up the truth once and for all: that his stories were made up fakes, nothing more. But intertwined in it are also Will's relivings of his father's stories, those fantastic tales that he grew up with and which the father defends even as he lies on his deathbed. In these stories-within the story, we see how young Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor) gets born, grows up, finds adventure and the love of his life all through the process of him telling them to different people. We see the indomitable spirit and ambition of a young man determined to shine in the face of adversity and mediocrity. We see acts of kindness, of love, of compassion, and of humanity. And finally we see that though this is a film about stories, ultimately the stories themselves do not matter. It is the idea of the story, that mythopoeic journey towards manhood (and through life) that resonates with the viewer hours after the credits have rolled and the cinema has darkened.

From the beginning of the film to Edward and Will's final reconciliation (and very King Arthuresque redemption) Big Fish is a nonstop ride into our hopes, dreams and ambitions. It is about the power of words, how they shape us and eventually the people around us into our world. And most importantly (to this reviewer at least) it is about how through these stories a father's love of his family and of life is passed on.

In the end, as always, this film will mean different things to different people, and perhaps just as well. Take it as you will: a whimsical story of filial duty, a so-so morality play or even as a modern day fairy tale. However you wish to do so, please remember one thing: Here there be a giant, a circus ringmaster that turns into a werewolf, a two headed singer, a very big fish and sliding babies on hospital floors. You have been warned. So kick back and enjoy yourself as Tim Burton once again proves that he is master of this particular domain.

Ash.ox gives Big Fish a 4.5 out 5


Friday, April 2

Closing Of Accounts

There I was, my copy of Dawn of The Dead in my hand, ready to pop it into the DVD player, when I switched to channel 17 on Astro. Instead of Ripleys or Now See This, I saw My Best Friend's Wedding. Guess what happened next.

Yup. I sat down, made myself comfortable and watched. There is an unspoken understanding in my head that an important test to see how far I've progressed in the past year is to be able to watch that movie without breaking down midway, or ending up all wistful and whatnot. The good news is, I think I passed. As I watched that delightful little tale, I realised that I've grown out of the sad soporific cloud I've been in for the past 13 months. There was no regret and no pain. What there was, was acceptance, and a little nostalgic buzz in the left side of my chest.

I've finally let go. As much as I miss what I was a part of, I know now that the person has found her peace, and that I should finally accept mine. As the credits rolled, I was amazed at how much I didn't really feel anything, except that little buzz I talked about earlier. Like Will Hung says, I tried my best, and it didn't work. Of course, there were those moments that I sensed that familiar distress peeking out, but otherwise the Ox is officially closing that book.

No one can know where the paths we walk in life take us. If we did, it wouldn't be any fun. So for tonight, I'll chalk this up as a Personal Milestone Achievement Moment. Funny how it takes a Julia Robert flick to act as a gauge, but hey, it worked, I passed and I'm damn proud of it.

Have a good weekend, people.


Thursday, April 1

Take A Chance Take A Chance Take A Chan-Chance..

Okay, okay. So I know it's ABBA, and extremely uncool. Well, so's Olivia Newton John, but I like my 70s icons. It's been an exhausting week. Non stop work, running about looking for internet access (since the whole uni network is officially down due to a schmuck letting loose some kind of nasty worm) and thesis students who disappear on me all contributed to a very fast moving 7 days (one highlight of next week is me stringing the bloke from a tree and poking him with a pointed stick). Latest news is my parents coming down to have a weekend with me, which pretty much puts a dent into most of my plans for the end of the week. However, I'm not too upset, since I haven't seen them in awhile. Filial duties and all that. As an added plus, my brother will be spending a couple days with me. Yay! This means I have someone to put some multiplayer hurt on my Xbox. Mmmmm.

In other news, I've found a P2P search tool that DOESN'T have spyware! Thanks to Kevin of The Screen Savers, I am now happily enjoying safe and fast downloads with Warez. Yup, it's spelled exactly like that. There's a pretty good user base, and downloads are lightning fast. There's also a spiffy listen while you download feature that works pretty well. They DO caution you that this might be a trick by the RIAA in order to nab file swappers, so caveat emptor!

Finally, I've found that I'm fast approaching a condition I like to call relationship apathy (something I secretly blame on Jikon's posts). As time flies by, his posts make more and more sense to me. Looking around, I now realise that it's getting more impractical to hope and look for the elusive One. Not to say that this mythical person does not exist (since obviously some people have found him/her), but banking all my hopes on this person to magically whisk my troubles away is downright unrealistic and ultimately painful. So the solution (at least for now) is to simply pass through life amoeba-like and see if I can snag Miss The One For Now or Miss The One That Seems Like A Good Idea At The Time. There are no guarantees that I can even find these people, but hey, it's a lot better than forever holding out for The Ultimate One That Proves True Love Does Exist. Which brings me to...

Speed dating! Yes, thanks to TV Smith's recent post, I have been entertaining the idea for several days now. Even as I blog this, some friends of mine are finding out the details of this extremely intriguing idea and I'll be making plans to join the flock sometime in the coming weeks. I'm not really out to get me a date (or laid, for those of you who think I think of THAT only =P) but since the nature of my job makes it somewhat difficult to meet new people, I figure 5-10 minutes playing 20 questions with a group of strangers can't be ALL bad. The worst that can happen is someone thinks I'm really repulsive and keeps quiet. No worries there, for friends know I can talk, and talk, and talk. Fear of rejection? Not when you're not looking, heheh.

Well that's all for tonight. My arms are aching, and I wanna catch American Idol before it ends. Have a good Friday, people, be safe and God bless!

P/S: For those of you born AFTER 1980, the title of this post was taken from an old ABBA hit Take A Chance On Me. The End.