Saturday, October 30

Saturday Night Live - At Home

It's a cold, wet Saturday night, and I'm glad I'm home. This weekend is a long one (one of the perks of working in Selangor) and I'm relishing the thought of having a night to myself without worrying about what time I need to get up tomorrow or whether I've put in enough fuel for the 35 km trip to work (which I have).

There's still Return Of The Jedi to watch, Black Hawk Down to test my audio setup with, the Xbox primed and ready and I even managed to get my Hitchikers' Guide to The Galaxy Omnibus back (which DOES include Mostly Harmless, Sashi).

This week has been quite an interesting one for anthropologists everywhere, with the discovery of a new species of humans barely a metre tall. As I read the oodles of related news that have been popping up on the subject, I remember the old fairy tales my I used to hear when I was a kid, of the little people, and "Awang Kenit" (lit. Tiny Awang). The latest developments indicate that the researchers may have gotten their hand on actual hair (free registration required to access the article), which makes DNA testing possible. It's somehow exhilirating to imagine that in this hyper-developed world of ours a species of small, tool-wielding and bamboo raft navigating humans have been existing alongside ourselves all this while. All of a sudden I feel like picking up my copy of Conan Doyle's Lost World again.

The downside of these quiet weekends is that if I'm not careful I can be very easily sucked into a depressive episode (which happens every once in awhile), and this is an occurrence I'd like to hold off for as long as possible. We can't win em all, I guess.

So have a good weekend, and I hope you find yourself doing the things you enjoy the most (or failing that, being able to pretend that the things you're doing ARE the ones you enjoy).

It's all in the delivery, remember?



Thursday, October 28

Briefs, Er, I Mean News

Looks like Big Business over in the US is preparing to sic the power of PR on bloggers.

(Via BoingBoing): Popular Silicon Valley blogger Dan Gillmor received a PR pitch that contained some freaky insight into The Empire's (read PR and oldschool journos) take on the new Rebel Alliance (read bloggers). Here's a quote:

"(PR client) is working with F1000 companies who are using our services to Manage and Monitor Digital Influencers (such as blogs, message boards, user groups, complaint sites, etc.) as an intelligence and threat awareness tool. (Person's name), CEO could talk to you about 'What F1000 Companies are doing to take action against bloggers' and 'How companies are taking steps to protect their corporate reputations from bloggers/digital influencers.'"

If you surf over to Dan's site, do read the comments. They're very enlightening. So what happened to discourse with these bloggers, instead of planning active "action" against them? Most of us are human, last I checked.

On a totally unrelated note, Nintendo is apparently suing softcore website Suicide Girls* for mentioning several of its products in a feature on the site. They're in the middle of clearing things up but clicking on the link will take you a transcript of Nintendo's letter on the site. Pretty crazy stuff.

Anyway, I'm a bit pissed now because someone at work didn't do their job right, I have to clean it up, and the documents I sent to myself have YET to arrive (thank you oh so much, you stupid university network) so I'll bid everyone a slightly tepid adieu.



*NSFW - or in layman's terms, Not Safe For Work. Click at your own risk.


The Watch

When a colleague asked me for the time this afternoon, as usual I pulled on the lanyard holding my mobile inside my breast pocket, held the volume button down for two seconds to activate the external LCD screen, and then told her it was about three p.m. The whole operation took slightly more than ten seconds.

"So why don't you wear a watch?" She asked.
"I'm planning to get a new one, soon," I lied.

The truth of the matter is that I've got a perfectly serviceable watch, minus straps and battery, in a little compartment inside my dresser. It's located next to a ring I haven't worn for more than a year, and several other knick-knacks and dustballs. The watch was a gift from someone who spent a whole lot of time, effort and money on it, and it was given to me on a first anniversary. On the underside there is a brief inscription, along with the date of said anniversary. I still have the box the watch came in, though I've not opened that compartment in a long, long time.

Sometime in the early months of 2003, during the days when it seemed my relationship at the time was on the verge of breaking apart, I was getting ready to go to work when all of a sudden, as I was putting it on, both straps broke and the timepiece fell with an undignified crash on the bedroom floor. I remember staring at it as it rested mutely on the parquet, and how suddenly I had this sudden premonition of loss, as if it signified the end of everything. I'm not usually prone to superstition, but at that period in time I was so hypersensitive everything was taken as an omen.

The following afternoon I got my first confirmation of the bad news.

After that, I just didn't feel like getting the straps fixed. To me it was as if putting it on required an act of make believe, and at the time I just didn't have it in me to pretend. So in the dresser it stayed, while the familiar lighter strip on my left wrist gradually disappeared until I just got used to not wearing a watch, and the thought of getting a replacement never even crossed my mind. I didn't need a watch, nor did I feel like owning one.

Some time back, a friend forwarded her theory on why I am still watch-less. Apparently, my reluctance to commit to choosing and buying a new one to put on my wrist corresponds exactly to my newfound (at the time) disinterest in relationships. "When you finally decide to be brave enough and get into a relationship again, that's when you'll want a watch," she said.

I think she's probably more right than she ever intended to be. Somehow the old watch printed an indelible mark on my psyche, linking it irrevocably to my feelings toward relationships. So while sometimes I may want a watch, more often than not I realise I don't actually need it, and that I can find other solutions for timekeeping.

Yes, I'm screwed (in more ways than one), but you already knew this before coming here, eh?

So maybe one day the desire will hit me and I'll be able to muster up the courage to actually start something again, and when that happens I think that a watchstore owner somewhere will be very happy...

..and my wrist can finally get a timepiece, right near where my pulse is.


Insomniac Somnambulist

Long day, and for the first time in awhile I actually don't have anything much to say. I did manage to finish my colleague's copy of Zhang Yimou's Hero, though, and for the life of me I can't figure out how he managed to screw House of Flying Daggers up so badly. Perhaps it's true, that too much of a good thing ain't really a good thing.

So what's a semi-insomniac-aspiring academic-mediapath-gamer-geek to do at a quarter past one in the morning? Ursula K Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven is next to my pillow, and I suppose I could spend some time reading, but it's such a thin book, and I need something to sleep with, so it'll have to do.

In the meantime, my travails about the net have unearthed some interesting results:

The CORDZ Multi Connection Survival Tool looks to be one of the must-have accessories of the year for any travelling geek. Housing 7 feet of Cat. 5 cable in a compact hard body, it features a ratchet mechanism so you can be sure no accidental "retractions" occur, plus in addition to a standard RJ 45 connector on each end you get four different adapters to turn it into a crossover cable or a regular RJ 11 phone cable, among other things. I dunno about you guys, but I'd like one (if I ever get a laptop, that is).

On a related note to my previous rants on DRM, here's a funny little anecdote. Seems that printer manufacturer Lexmark sued a company called Static Controls for making compatible printer cartridges. The gist of their suit was that a printer cartridge is a copyrighted work, and by refilling it you were committing piracy. Sound unbelievable? Click here, for the full story (via BoingBoing).

I think by this time everyone and their pet turtle will have heard of the new photo-friendly Ipod, so there's not much sense in talking about it, except to put up the obligatory link here (via Gizmodo). The sudden change in temperature you're probably feeling is the millions of geeks in the world letting go a humongous, needy, sigh. So before I bugger off, in case you haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11 and are too poor to shell out the RM 13 for the disc, head over to this site where you can download it for free. Oh, and it helps if you have bittorrent. Finally, if that doesn't give you a buzz, maybe you'd enjoy a blast from the past here. There's Jason Bateman and (gasp!) Alyssa Milano!*

That's it for tonight, I'm outta here. Have a good one, folks.


* It's a 15 MB file, so you have been warned


Tuesday, October 26

DRM: Some More Thoughts

Hot on the heels of last night's (or was it this morning's) post on the creepy implications of Digital Rights Management and how they can seriously affect our way of dealing with media (purchased, rented or recorded on TiVO) comes this article, via BoingBoing again, on the more immediate threats DRM promises to bring to our tables. In his article, Mitch Wagner makes some pretty accurate statements on consumer awareness of DRMs:

"My attitude is typical of most consumers. If DRM gets in the way, they hate it. Otherwise, they don't care.

But DRM certainly isn't a selling point. As cyber-rights advocate Cory Doctorow said, "No Windows user rolled out of bed this morning and said, 'I wish there was a way that I could get Microsoft to deliver me tools that allow me to do LESS with the music I buy.'"

Which is essentially, why this worries me. Any technology that has been purposefully designed to be limiting profits only ONE side of the equation: the company who makes it. The very notion that there will only be one party who can decide what the user may or may not do with the gear they have is frightening, to say the least. It seems to me at least that these people are scared of the very innovation that contributes to the evolution of digital media everywhere. Look at the leaps and bounds we've come since .mp3 first appeared, and the fact that the consumer has the possibility of benefiting the most from these advances must make these guys very uneasy. As Mitch puts it:

"DRM makes it harder for consumers to invent their own ways of using technology. A user wishing to listen to digital content on a new type of device needs to go to the media companies first, and ask, "Mommy, may I?"

Hell, if that's not freaky, I don't know what is. And that's not even talking about the Induce Act yet. On the other hand however, it sure looks like the RIAA isn't being as effective as they'd like in chasing after file sharers, as evidenced by this article on Wired. In it, a study by the University of California seems to show that while P2P users may be hiding, they're not stopping their activities for anyone, which translates into good news for me.

Finally, since Halloween's around the corner, I thought I'd do my bit and promote the following legal, hassle free zombie movie media idea, courtesy of the folks at Creative Commons. All you have to do is download a copy of George Romero's 1968 zombie fest Night of The Living Dead (which is free and more importantly, LEGAL), mix it up with another legal download of a 2003 student film called Amid The Dead, and let your creative juices run wild. When you're done, tag it with a special flavour of the Creative Commons copyright, and let it go on the 'net!

This, is how it's supposed to be. Well, at least for me. That should be enough mediapathic ranting for one day. I'll see ya tomorrow, folks!


Digital Rights Management: We're Screwed

Thanks to BoingBoing, here's a link to an article on how the record and media companies are screwing the hell out of the consumer by implementing their so-called DRM policies and "fair use" laws. I quote:

"When he bought the media centre, it did the thing he wanted it to do with the shows he wanted to do it to: it's like buying a VCR to record the World Series, taking it home and satisfying yourself that it works. It worked.

Then, months later, it stopped working. He could no longer record his favorite shows. Why? Well, because the cablecaster decided to remove a right from him. And because Gateway, the company who sold him the equipment, decided to collaborate with the cablecaster in screwing him out of that right."

This article partly explains why P2P apps and bootlegging is so damn ubiquitious these days. No one's looking out for the consumer, and in the end the power remains concentrated in the hands of the rich execs who in turn decide which lip-synching artitse (intentional) we want to fawn over next.

Fun? Yeah, definitely. Welcome to the future, folks.


Monday, October 25

Scattered Brains

Mondays are never the best day for me to be thinking too much, but these are some snippets gleaned from my travels and observations during the day:

On Relationships

Today I received news that another acquaintaince split up with his long time girlfriend, bringing the grand total of breakups I know about this whole weekend to two. I know that a breakup probably occurs at least once every hour or so (I'm being optimistic here) but still, as cynical and pseudo-hardcase as I am, I still get a little sad whenever someone I know has a falling out and has to give up their happy place for whatever reason.

Probably because I too know what it feels like, and how disorienting (and potentially debilitating) the whole business is.

On Shopping

I played a bit of hooky with some colleagues during lunch hour and visited MidValley to scout out potential Raya buys. Sadly though, there were either a) no sales, b) nothing I liked, or worse still c) something I liked but was too expensive OR didn't come in my size. Now bearing in mind that I am as of yet no where near King Kong Bundy dimensions it's a little annoying that a lot of clothes on racks these days seem to be tailor made for waify men with the dimensions of a stick insect. Of course it didn't help either when the ONE item I felt absolutely at home with turned out to be an RM 700++ jacket from Zara that I absolutely didn't need. To make matters worse, apparently G2000 in MidValley doesn't stock shirts my size anymore! What, bigger people don't work?


On Fasting

Whilst making our way back to the parking lot, we ran into a group of Malay teens happily puffing away on the staircase near our exit. The funny thing was, the moment they saw us they scattered to all points of the compass, leaving us puzzled. Now I am no angel (as plenty of people will attest to) but what struck me was the fact that they deemed it necessary to run. Did the sight of me and my colleagues awaken some sort of unrealised guilt complex for not fasting, or would they have stayed put if we weren't Muslims? I'll not judge here (since it's way beyond my job description) but the little encounter gave me some food for thought that I'll probably elaborate on in a later post.

On Academic Responsibility

Working in an academic institution, I understand that some people assume we academics know pretty much everything there is to know about everything. While it's flattering to think so, the truth is we don't, and part of the price we pay for having a few members of the public thinking thus is that we have to be very careful when issuing statements of any kind. This applies to vocalised statements, printed ones, and even (or shall I say especially) those in cyberspace. One thing about us is that we ALWAYS have to attribute what we say to an empirical source unless it's a personal opinion, in which we have to explicitly state that it is.

Otherwise, there is a danger that whatever we say/print/blog about will incorrectly influence someone else's point of view, which in turn starts a whole messy chain reaction with mistaken inferences, wrongful assumptions..well you get my drift. Another large part of any respectable academic's life is defending his/her writing. It's inevitable that as you publish scholarly work someone will take offense or disagree (and if you don't believe me, look what Newton and Franklin had to go through, among others). Therefore it's very important for any member of academia to maintain a level of objectivity, or in layspeak "keep their cool".

This is, of course, easier said than done. Our emotions are funny little things, and it's always disheartening to have someone else discredit what we've spent a sizable chunk of our lives researching (or what we personally think is gospel). One way to prevent attacks is by trying as much as possible to adhere to a rigorous scientific methodology before publishing anything on any medium, which helps with our perceived credibility.

However, regardless of what we do, attacks will come. How we react to them sometimes means more to our reputation than any number of works we've published anywhere. Get affected emotionally, and all your hard work will be for naught, and there goes your credibility out the window. It's a huge responsibility, something like Spider-Man, but without the cool powers.

Which brings me back to a favourite saying of mine (okay I stole it from an ex):

If you can't be careful.



Sunday, October 24

Lazy Sunday: Taekgukgi Reviewed

Despite my general dislike for its overtly melodramatic serials and hormonally charged horror films, Korea still scores brownie points with me today for managing to keep me on the edge of my seat with its answer to Saving Private Ryan. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Taekgukgi (The Brotherhood of War).

Recently released in theatres AND DVD (suprisingly), Taekgukgi retains the dramatic flavour Koreans are so fond of but makes up for it in spades with killer action, strong performances, and some of the best battle scenes I've seen since Black Hawk Down (and no, Windtalkers doesn't count). We open on an excavation scene, somewhere on a hill that seems to be the place of a significant battle during the Korean War. As the excavation team contacts the families of those whose remains are identified, Lee Jin-Seok, an old veteran receives a call. The team may have found his brother's remains.

The rest of the story is then told Saving Private Ryan-style, in flashbacks. We see Seoul in 1950, before the war, and how two brothers' lives are changed inexplicably when North Korea starts marching on its southern counterpart. Before long, they are drafted, find out the harsh realities of war, and how nothing is sacred, or safe.

In essence, Taekgukgi is not unlike those Hindi movies we grew up with, where two brothers get separated as children, and then meet again on different sides of the law. Where it differs, is how it portrays the fact that even when they DO start out on the same side of the equation, there is no guarantee that things will always be that way. The Korean war in Taekgukgi is a fluid landscape, with no clear borders on good or evil. Everything is limned in shades of grey, with the soldiers not even really understanding why they're fighting, and the horrible consequences of the fighting is evident everywhere we look.

One thing that simply blew me away (heheh) were the battle scenes. It's as if director Je-gyu Kang (Shiri) decided to pull out all the stops and come up with something that definitely rivals Hollywood's best productions. There is nothing beautiful about war, according to Kang. Death is plentiful, and oftentimes fast and brutal. Limbs get severed, brains scatter, and explosions rock the battlefield without respite. The camera work is rock on, never flinching (or taking the safe way out) by cutting away when someone gets killed or mangled, and are none of those jittery, MTV-esque jump cuts we're so familiar with (yes Tony Scott, I'm talking about you). You will be immersed in the war when you watch this.

The actors perform commendably well, which is more than I can say for other similar efforts where the love theme is thrown in (Pearl Harbor), bringing the emotional toll of the war to us very clearly. I can't say I'm very familiar with the actors (since I hardly watch Korean serials/movies) but in a sense it helps, because we can't peg them into a particular role.

Taekgukgi is not without its flaws. Some reviewers have commented that it's a bit too melodramatic, and that it tends to focus on the filial theme a bit too much. For me, I have to say that for it's an Asian thing, really. The film was made for an Asian audience with its values in mind, and it does show. I'm willing to overlook these minor quibbles because at the end of the day Taekgukgi is good entertainment, and it does so without making us hang up our thinking caps.

Oh by the way, if you have a decent sound system, you'll want to pick the DVD up. It's one of those discs you'll want to show your friends when you demo your setup. Seriously.

Ash.ox gives Taekgukgi a 4 out of 5


Friday, October 22

Thursday Turd Telly

Some things I noticed throughout the week:

1) A certain local education centre's radio ads stress the fact that their learning system doesn't discriminate age-wise. Instead, they focus on specific individual abilities, which sounds about right pedagogically (although some traditionalists may disagree). What they don't tell you outright (subliminals! You gotta love subliminals) is that by sending your children there not only will they gain the knowledge of algebra by age nine, but they will also miraculously develop a crisp British/European English accent! E-gad! Now pretentious parents from all over will be able to complete the package! No longer will their offspring have to suffer in silence even while wearing the latest Burberry visor cap/shirt. All they have to do is attend the centre's classes and voila! Instant accents to complement aforementioned shirt/cap and the obligatory parental BMW.

Score one for portraying what the centre thinks our parents want. Diversity? What diversity?

2) Is it just me, or is Star World's Thursday lineup just a wee bit too celeb-centric for its own good? Last night it was Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie's comedy-farce-reality show A Simple Life, followed by Young, Posh and Loaded (a pseudo-documentary about rich spoilt brats). Now I can accept that some people just have the good life, but somehow the whole concept of this lineup sickens me, as if we're too starved for any dirt on these sodding rich people that we need programmes like these to make us feel good about ourselves.

Besides, I've seen EVERYTHING our little Ms Hilton has to offer (thanks to her boyfriend, and even then all she was interested in was posing for the camera, just have sex goddamnit) and somehow the whole point of A Simple Life seems like an amateurish pandering to a mediapathic (thanks Neal Stephenson) audience grown and fed on pointless celebrity trivia.

At least there was Smallville, and even my cynical side can accept that. Well, rantings aside, I DO hope you'll all have a smashing weekend, and if you're a blogger and feel up for some righteous bashing, do visit T-Boy here. I swear it's worth it.

All this fuming has made me hungry.



Thursday, October 21

Internet Milagros, and Jantelov

Last night I dreamt that Giorgio Armani, Carrie Bradshaw and Samantha from Sex and The City were having nasty threesome sex on my bed.

This resulted in me waking up late today, and I ended up coming into the office a little after nine. No, I don't know why they chose to use my particular bed for the romp either, and -

yes ladies and gentlemen, I watched. It's amazing the little details you remember from your dreams. Other than that, it's been a pretty much uneventful week, with the most exciting thing happening being -

wait, nothing's happened. It's as if life has slowed down to a near permanent state of Bullet Time, and even the office internet access reached a record 45kBps download speed, the fastest I remember since I started working in the university four years ago. Which reminds me, here's something mildly amusing I found whilst trawling the net. It's called the Jantelov (or Law of Jante in Danish). Supposedly, it's every Dane's subconscious way of facing the world, and potential visitors to the country would do well to bear these 10 commandments in mind:

1. You shouldn't think you're anything special
2. You shouldn't think you're as much as us
3. You shouldn't think you're smarter than us
4. You shouldn't think you're better than us
5. You shouldn't think you know more than us
6. You shouldn't think you are more than us
7. You shouldn't think you're any good
8. You shouldn't laugh at us
9. You shouldn't think anybody likes you
10. You shouldn't think you could teach us anything

If I remember correctly, Idlan found a slightly gay-oriented page that somewhat explains the concept of Jantelov. You may ask her (surprise, she's a girl!) for the details of that. Now, if you'll all excuse me, I'm off. I wonder what celebrities will grace my bed with their antics tonight.

Cheers, people.


Track of the day: Red Right Hand, Nick Cave


Wednesday, October 20

Story Hour: Enforced Conclusion?

Dear readers; due to some unforseen circumstances, I am no longer authorised to continue this narrative to its ultimate conclusion. However, after several conversations with H__, he has agreed to allow me to at least bring the current section to a semi-proper ending. Whilst this may raise the ire of the readers out there, I do apologise for this abrupt change in course, but please trust that I will bring any other parts that I can publish to light as time goes by. Here then, is the last part of Mr H__'s misadventures, condensed and edited for clarity.

"When I got into the office the next day, I got a harried IM from K__ who seemed to be all upset about something. In between getting some actual work done I'd managed to get her to calm down and tell me what was wrong, which led to me spending almost an hour listening to her rant about some kind of rut her life was in, and then trying to calm her down. Yeah, I was still way in apologetic mode," H_ grunted, noticing my incredulous expression.

"Anyway, long story short, I felt kinda bad for her so I promised I'd take her along to some functions I was supposed to go to. You know, so she can mix and maybe get some new friends. It so happened that I had some things scheduled for the next few weeks, so I said she could tag along with the rest of my friends. Big mistake."

"She seemed to be able to mix in kinda well at parties and stuff, which I thought was a good thing. I did get some of my friends asking where I found her since they thought she seemed a bit weird and contradictory, but generally she was sociable, and to me that was that."

"It wasn't until much later that I actually found out what my friends meant, and even then it was accident. I got an IM from one of my buddies asking me if I'd given his email address to anyone recently, to which I said no, I hadn't. He called me up later and told me someone had been emailing him asking some questions about him and me. The person seemed to know me well, and he got a little spooked out by it. I wondered about it for awhile, but since the questions were harmless I let it slide. And then at my uncle's birthday I saw my cousin, and K__ was there. My cousin, being the smart girl that she is, decided to intro K__ to my mum, and apparently they hit it off or something, I never really found out."

H__ blew out another cloud of smoke and grinned. "Man, was MY mum impressed. She actually went on and on about K__, and how nice she was, etcetera etcetera that I got a little worried. She even asked me to take her out more, and my mum NEVER does that. Since I did have some company functions to go to anyway, I decided to entertain her and asked K__ to come with me."

"I picked her up from her parents' place that evening, and we split up at the dinner, since I had some people I needed to see. When it was time to send her back she had this sly look on her face, as if she'd done something really clever."

"Her parents weren't home, and I somehow got the message that she'd like me to come in, so I did and just as I was starting to pick up the courage and think of what moves I should make, all of a sudden she turned cold on me and accused me of trying to take advantage of her. Before I knew it she'd kicked me out of the house, and I spent the drive home trying to nurse my ego. And no, I didn't even try anything!"

He seemed a bit upset, obviously realising I thought he'd gotten up to no good.

"Things took an even stranger turn. My cousin got all upset at me the next day because K__ told her I was behaving really inappropriately and was only interested in getting into her pants. What made it worse was that my mum found out as well, and she gave me a stern scolding. I thought that was the end of it, and a few nights later as I was talking about this to my mates a couple of them mentioned that she'd been talking to them as well, asking questions not only about me, but of a whole lot of other people as well. At first they just put it off as harmless, but some of the questions got really personal, and she was telling one guy one thing, while turning around and telling another person something else altogether! The only reason they didn't tell me was she told them I was actually considering getting engaged to her, and she wanted to keep it all hush hush."

My eyes were wide open by now. H__ didn't seem like stopping, though.

"It doesn't end there. I started avoiding her, you know, because I didn't know what to make of it all, and a couple days later my cousin was scolding me again for apparently promising K__ one thing and then blowing her off. K__'d been calling up not only her but also some of their mutual friends, trying to find out about me, my family, how much we earn, that kind of thing."

"You have to realise this took place through months, and it got so bad that when I tried to explain to my family no one believed me. I -" At this point, H__'s phone rang. He picked it up, made a face, and spoke very tersely into it. When he finished, he lit another cigarette and took a long drag.

"The point of the matter is, Ash, is that it's not over. She's been digging up stuff on my family, and then bitching about it to other people, not realising most of these people are my friends. I have to sort her out. One way or another."

H__ stretched, and got up. "Look Ash, maybe you can write about this. There's some more I wish I could tell you, but it'll have to wait. All I can say to finish is this - there are some really weird people out there, and you won't notice them till it's too late. I have your number, be prepared for me to call you so we can continue this, yeah? Thanks a lot, dude. I'll be reading your blog to see how it goes."

And with that, we shook hands, and he left. I stood there, partly choking on his leftover cigarette smoke, and scratching my head. It was intriguing, and I could only foresee what else went on as being even stranger. As I walked back to my car, I wondered who called him, and why he had to leave.

There are some things, we have to wait to find out.


Tuesday, October 19

Story Hour: Part III

By this time the oppressive heaviness of the air had escalated to the point where one could just make out brief flashes of lightning in the distance. H__ didn't seem inclined to move, besides our position wasn't really in any danger of getting ourselves wet, so there we stayed, two slouched figures on those oh-so-fashionable little chairs. H__ was still puffing away, and I was already halfway through my second coffee of the night.

"So anyway. I called her, made a really horrible apology, and insisted that I take her out the following weekend. She agreed, which made me feel better, and I even let her choose the place for us to meet. I thought I'd made a good show of it, and when I turned up at the G__ that night I was pretty much confident I had control over everything."

H__ suddenly seemed jittery at this point, as if talking about it was something he didn't particularly relish.

"When she showed up, I was very relaxed. There weren't that many people, and over dinner we started talking. You know, the usual stuff, and catching up on things we didn't really get to talk about the first time. What struck me at first was that for someone who'd supposedly spent a lot of time abroad, she was still very much traditional. I'm no angel, and I think a lot of people would agree, and I told her so. I didn't expect her to agree with a lot of the things I'd done, but I also didn't expect her to react so strongly to them. Still, I guess I was just too much into save-my-own-ass-apologetic mode to realise. Man, thinking back about it, she had some really strong opinions."

I asked him to give me an example of these so-called opinions. He looked a little taken aback, and continued:

"For one thing, she insisted that I was living this whole westernised idea of life, and that it was very wrong. She made it sound like I'd been living a life of debauchery, and when I told her what some of my friends got up to, she positively freaked! I mean, sure I've fooled around while I was over there, but she gave me the impression that she never did, and got really high and mighty about it to me. Normally I'd have at least defended myself, but you know what? I couldn't make up my mind, because all the signals she was giving me the whole night pointed to her being at least a little attracted, but the way she talks, man, it's like there's a whole different person in there."

"So did you sleep with her that night?" I didn't really have time to be sidestepping.

H_ laughed. "You know, I think could have, if I could actually have seen a chance. The problem was she was being all coy and all that, telling me stories of her previous flings with guys all over the globe and flashing me a little cleavage every now and then but at the same time projecting this serious vestal virgin vibe that I couldn't really dig. It's like I can feel there's some sexual tension, but either she's too naive to use it or she's actually got me fooled, and I don't get fooled easy."

It was my turn to laugh. "Pardon me, dude, but I don't think it's strange for her to flirt, you know."

"Honestly, the whole coy/hard to get bit I could take, as with her strong stance on marriage and what not (all the while I was thinking, man a virgin in KL? my mum would love her) but it was what happened after that that should have rung those alarm bells."

"Some time after dinner, she began to ask me about some other people I knew who were at the party where I first met her. Most of these people were friends I'd picked up in the last couple years, so it's fair to say I know quite a bit on their private lives. Strange thing was, she got to asking some questions I knew my mates wouldn't be happy with me disclosing, so I kinda skirted the issue. She DID seem kind of pushy at the moment, but I guess something must have gotten through because she changed the topic."

"In hindsight, all through that first date she asked me a whole lot of questions about people, some of them I have no idea how she knew about in the first place. I'm mostly a keep to myself sort when it comes to stuff (God knows my parents would kill me if they found out) so when someone I barely know comes up to me asks questions about these things, I'm like..uh-oh, you know?"

I could only nod at this, having some secrets of my own I don't wish my parents would find out.

"So the date thing ended, I walked her back to her car, and I drove home. On the way my cousin called, and I gave her the short rundown of the whole thing. I did ask her where she knows K__ from, and it turned out she doesn't even really know the girl, they just have mutual friends. My cousin DID mention that she was a bit on the nosey side, but she attributed it to K__ being curious."

"I thought everything was settled. There wasn't much of an attraction in the first place, and I conveniently put everything out of my mind. There was work, and all that. I had no idea though just what I'd gotten myself into until the next day.."


Part Three ends here. For the gentle reader, perhaps an aperitif would be suitable to soothe the frayed nerves from having to wait for the next continuation of this ultimately embarassing saga. Stay tuned, and renew your RSS feeds!

to be continued...


Monday, October 18

Story Hour: Part II

"I was never one to get settled down, you know, but you know how it is, the moment we stop planning, that's when something hits us." H__ shifted comfortably in his seat and took another long drag of the cigarette. Around us, the crowd had grown somewhat to include several other couples and a family of five. The air was beginning to get a little humid, and I could almost smell that sticky, heavy feeling that usually foretold rain. I didn't really mind, however. I had promised my time to this guest from my past, and he was going to make sure he got to use every minute of it.

"Back in the day, I used to go out with M__. Remember her? Man she was the hottest thing on two legs at the college, yeah? Anyway, that didn't really last more than a year or so, and after that my family decided I needed to be sent abroad, so -"

At this point he began his account of his tertiary education, which wouldn't really interest the reader if I recounted it verbatim, so I'll just summarise it here. After completing his fifth form education, he was whisked away for his A-levels, almost failed but was rescued by his father (or rather his father's money), scraped through again, got enrolled in a certain business school, sped off with a degree, did some time in banking (largely through his father's contacts again) and is now settled down in a rather cushy job with a firm I am not at liberty to discuss (this inability to pin down exactly where he is can be blamed squarely on H_, who turns out to be extremely paranoid about what kind of details I publish).

Having meandered about this path for nearly half an hour, I think he caught the glazed look in my eye and stopped abruptly, nearly choking down his sentence (it was about some other girl he got laid with during his second year) and then started apologising profusely.

"Sorry about that, Ash. You know how it is with memories, and all that."

I told him I knew, in very concise terms. I also asked him to please very kindly continue the story before I ran out of coffee, at which he laughed and told me I could have any number of coffees I liked. Hearing this, I relaxed and let him slip back into his narrative.

"The trouble started about a year and a half ago, after I'd broken up with this girl I'd been seeing. She was pretty and all that, but she just came on a bit too heavily for me, and I didn't think I could take it, you know? So in order to "forget" her, I took sometime off, visited my relatives overseas, that kind of thing. When I came back, I wasn't really looking for anything, but then a nosey cousin of mine decided that I was moping too much and arranged for this barbeque to be held at her house in S__, where she invited some girl friends she knew. It was nice of her and all, so I went anyway (besides my mum would have killed me if I didn't). Thinking back, I should have just faked being sick. At least I wouldn't have met K__ there. And boy, was that ONE big mistake."

H__ took a long breath, squashed the remnants of his now mostly-grey cigarette into the ashtray and got up to get some more coffee while I fought to stay awake through the caffeine induced lethargy that had set in. I stretched my legs and pondered why of all people this mostly successful man decided to choose me to tell his story to. I barely even knew the bloke save for some time we spent together in one of the many motivational camps I got shipped off to in my youth. He wasn't such a bad sort, only our backgrounds were far too dissimilar for us to create any particularly lasting bond, and as I moved away, I pretty much forgot about him, and a lot of other details as well.

"So what happened next?" I asked when he got back with the two tall lattes. "I gather you met someone at the barbeque, asked her out, and found out she was an axe-murderer or something, after which you tried to dump her unsuccesfully but she wound up getting even at you and your family instead."

He grinned."You have no idea how close you are, except for the part about her being an axe-murderer of course. There are worse things, you know." The damn fool knew I was too curious for my own good, but still he drew it out. "How it turned out was, I'd already met some pretty cool girls at the BBQ, and was already halfway asleep when my cousin turned up with this other girl in tow. She wasn't pretty, but she wasn't ugly either (which helps things) and I'd found out she'd done some really extensive travel of her own. So we chatted for a couple minutes, found out we'd gone to some of the same places, and liked the same things, and then well, one of my buddies found out his girlfriend was fooling around with another guy there, and well, things got a bit rowdy."

"The point being, of course, that I totally forgot about the girl, except that her name was K__, so it came as a slight surprise when she called me a couple days after and we chatted for a while, but it was nothing serious. I WAS busy, so we ended up chatting and swapping IM addresses (which I generally do anyway) and well, there was a really huge deal coming up and I had to fly out, with the result that I wasn't online for months."

"What I didn't count on was what would be waiting for me when I got back. I'd already been back a week or so, I was surprised when at this thing I went to with a couple mates who would I meet but K__? She was friendly, but somehow cold at the same time, as if I did something really bad to piss her off. I didn't get that at all, until my cousin called me up the day after asking me why I was treating K__ so badly when all she wanted was to get to know me better. You're surprised? Imagine how I felt!"

I really couldn't stop myself from smirking at this point. "Well, you DO have a way with the chicks, eh?" I said, but he quickly cut me off.

"she told my cousin that I gave her the cold treatment at the do, and she apparently went on and on about how some people are just snobs who drop their friends just like that, and well she just managed to make me feel guilty. So guilty in fact, that I ended up calling her up to ask her out the next weekend."

"I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, but that call was probably the single most idiotic thing. Ever."


Here ends the second part to the story. I'll probably post the continuation when I'm a little less rushed, but for those curious people out there rest assured there will be a point to this rambling madness, and that Mr H__'s story only gets more disturbing from this point onwards. Perservere, gentle reader!

to be continued...


Sunday, October 17

Story Hour: Part One

"Sometimes I just think it would be easier if I just had someone to blame."

H___ sat back and exhaled. The smoke from his cigarette curled lazily in a grey curlicue that wasn't much disturbed by the gusts of what passed for wind in this place. The night was warm, and in between the semi persistent honking of someone who had the misfortune to be parked on the wrong side of a double parked car and the sub-audible drone of the other patrons at the establishment, there wasn't much else to listen to.

"Well, you could blame yourself, you know," I said. "I mean, if you're counting yourself as a someone."

He greeted this remark with a laugh. "You know what, suddenly I remember why I drove all the way here to meet you in the first place," he replied. "All these years, and you're still pretty much you underneath all that, er, sophistication," he said, dragging out the last word knowing as well as I did there was no way in hell I'd be half as sophisticated as he was. I let the bait flop, however. I'd known H__ for about two years in secondary school, and by known I mean I knew of him and talked to him a couple times (about the same frequency I talked to girls back then). We were pretty much on opposite sides of the tracks, him being the rich spoilt brat who was always in trouble, and me being the deer in the big city nerd with the big glasses and the RPG fan club.

Yup, it doesn't get any more opposite than that. So you can bet I was surprised when all of a sudden this gravelly voice calls me up on my mobile, says he's been trying to get in touch with me and would I be kind enough to turn up at the C_____ in T____ at sometime after eight. My curiosity stoked (and the promise of a free coffee sounding very intriguing) I drove myself to the appointed place and met a ghost from my past, 10 years aged, but pretty much the same ghost.

I'd had no idea what he'd gotten up to in the past decade (especially since when I saw him last it was on the receiving end of an "official" school reprimand) but apparently he'd done well for himself, bearing most of society's accepted marks of prosperity, except that this was one man with a lot on his mind, and with only one person he could talk to (or so he said).

"So let me get this straight," I said, after taking a long suck out of the branded iced coffee, and clearing my throat. "You got screwed over by a girl, are in danger of committing strange acts of insanity and so you decide you need to talk to me? Man you're more screwed than I thought."

He actually guffawed at this, drawing the attention of the couple seated behind him, and the old lecherous-looking man with the liver spots on my right. That's it, grandad, I managed to think. Look at how young we are, and maybe tonight you'll need some more of whatever herbal pills you ordered from Amazon. I have a mean streak, sometimes.

"Man, I think, in order for you to fully appreciate the beauty of how I got screwed, I'm gonna have to borrow your time for a couple hours." H__ had lit another cigarette while saying this, and as he puffed the stick to life I could see some of the lines on his forehead that seemed a tad out of place on someone only a year older than I was. He was dressed simply, in a dark blue collared tee that didn't really hide the fact that he was getting soft in the middle and a pair of jeans that looked worn, but reeked suspiciously of being expensive. His hair was slicked back, the jaw was still well defined, and he had that overall skin tone of someone who put in his time on the golf course and tennis courts. In short, I was looking at what success would look like.

I grimaced (inwardly, of course) since I knew I'd be forfeiting my TV time that evening, but I acquiesced. He took another couple long drags on the cigarette before continuing. "I guess the reason why I'm telling you of all people is because I heard you have an audience on the net, or something, and there's a certain breed of woman out there who not only damages your sanity, but takes a bite out your life as well, and people have to know, you know?"

I nodded, and gestured H__ to go on. "The amazing thing about this is that I didn't see it coming at all. Normally all kinds of alarm bells would go off in my head, but this one just slipped under the radar. She had all the trimmings: good family background, well to-do, been abroad, in short everything my family would have loved in an in law to be. What we all didn't count on was the fact that she was a scheming bitch who'd wreck my personal life as well."

And so H__ went on with his story that night. I reproduce it here with some edits, but this is mostly what passed through his lips, and into my ears. The story will continue, and maybe more than one of us can learn a few things from H__.

to be continued...


Friday, October 15


Time DOES fly, no matter what we have to say about it.

Case in point: it's Ramadhan again. All over the world people of the Muslim faith observe abstinence from food, drink, ciggies (probably the toughest of the lot), sex, and most other fleshly delights during the day. It's said that the Devil and his minions are shackled throughout the month, which basically means that if you mess up, it's your fault (although honestly, I don't buy the "devil made me do it" excuse ANY time of year, I'm just one of those people big on self-responsibility) and nobody else's.

There's always a difference in the air whenever this month rolls around (yes, this may be purely psychological, but what the hell), as if suddenly everything moves in slow-mo. The days feel longer, afternoons seem hotter, and the last fifteen minutes before breaking fast feels like forever (try sitting in front of a sweating mug of something nice and cool and look at any clock around 6.45 pm tonight if you're in KL). It's always interesting to note how my perceptions of the fast and the things I relate to it change as I get older.

When I was 7, days used to feel EVEN longer, and I'd get excited because I knew I'd be able to spend some time at my grandparents' in Kuala Selangor. I'd usually be sprawled out under the fan, my nose buried in a new Hardy Boys mystery (or failing that, The Three Investigators). We'd go to the night market just opposite my dad's clinic (we lived upstairs) to get food.

When I was 10, the best thing about coming home from school on a weekday was the Smurfs, and Yeo's Soy Cubes (sold in tetrapacks, and damn delicious when chilled). The kids at school would go ga-ga over swapping festive Raya cards (available for about 10 cents a pop), although these days no one really does that, with all the e-cards and online greetings available, or maybe it's just not the same.

From the ages of 13 to 18, I spent a lot of time fasting in dormitories and having mass "buka puasa" outings with teachers, homeroom mates and God knows who else. I think I did the most tarawih in my life during this period.

After that, it was the undergraduate years, where most of my fasts were in absurdly long lectures and pasar malams (one HAS to show off the long mane somewhere). There's a whole period of time I won't go into here, or at least not just yet. One has to keep the readers* guessing, and interested.

Last year, I only spent a couple days here for puasa, because I had to fly somewhere to straighten up a part of my life that until now, has left me a different person than I thought I was.

As I think of the different periods in my life, I remember just how subtle the change in perceptions took hold and how some illusions and beliefs were changed while others stayed, and at the center of it all was the one month period we call Ramadhan.

Interesting, how most of the life changing events I went through occurred during this time, and how..apt some of them were.

There'll be other people blogging about the religious and personal significance of the fast, and I don't think I can add much except to say to me, it's always been personal.

And that more often than not, it turns out to be a very interesting time for me.

Selamat berpuasa to the muslims, and again to my readers**, the Ox will still be churning out entries albeit a little hungrier.


* yes, hello again, you three
** you do know I mean YOU, don't you?


Thursday, October 14

Today's Top Ten

It's almost 1 am, and there's a stack of exam scripts I just finished marking on my bed.

There are about 70 more to go through tomorrow.

At the post mortem meeting for the recent 10th anniversary fiasco, I learnt some new things (and got reminded of some old ones):

10) Academics throw the biggest, silliest hissy fits over an RM 75 seminar fee, especially the ones who drive the yellow Celica, or the Kia. Yes, you.

9) Some people just never learn to work together.

8) The people who actually do all the dirty work are much nicer.

7) Those who don't generally come only for the meals, and then take some food back to feed their hellspa- I mean children.

6) It's nearly impossible to find a respectable chocolate wafer (anyone remember Snap and SuperSnap?)

5) A person can make several new research contacts in the space of one night, but this is considered to be a superhuman effort for the people in (7).

4) The Complete Monty Python Movie DVD boxset retails for GBP 14 on Amazon. I have made the necessary arrangements, thanks to a certain UK-dwelling, Milo-swagging friend.

3) "Innate biological factors influence GLB speech patterns indirectly by causing selective adoption of certain speech patterns characteristic of the opposite sex.." - taken from the abstract of a paper titled The Influence of Sexual Orientation on Vowel Production, full text available here.

2) There's a new book on game theory out, which looks to be much fun to read. Amazon again?

And finally...

1) After unravelling a hamper, ALWAYS get the Pringles away from the women. That is, if you like Pringles. OR, failing that, learn how to write a bestseller fantasy novel here.

Aheheh. See you later, folks. I've got one more day to pig out before I enter "good" mode. Now where did I put all that porn...?


Wednesday, October 13

Hard Sell, And Dinner


I don't really hate them (since they also have a job to do) but there are times when I just feel like reaching into the phone and strangling the bloke on the other end. Case in point, this morning. The telemarketer who called me claims he is working for a certain global financial institution that I shall not name, since it's rather closely affiliated with a certain friend I have down south. In any case, since the conversation was in Malay I reproduce it as best I remember, here.

Him: En. A******, selamat pagi. Saya ni dari S_________k, nak tanya abang ni ada kad kredit tak?

Me: Ya, saya pakai kad J_________k (another banking institution) *

Him: Dah berapa lama pakai kad tu?

Me: Adalah dalam 3 tahun.

Him: Ha abang, saya ni sebenarnya nak promote kad baru S__________k, bang ada 2 tahun free lepas tu dapat free gift lagi.

Me: Tak apalah, saya tak berminat, lagipun saya memang dah gunakan perkhidmatan J________k tu.

(This is when it gets interesting)

Him: Alaaa bang, ambik lah bang, 2 tahun free ni haa. Ada free gift lagi!

Me: Tak apa, saya betul-betul tak berminat, terima kasih lah.

Him: Alaa bang tolonglah saya bang, kenapa abang tak nak, ni..ada free gift bang, tolong lah bang ambiklaaah..

(At this point I was really, really getting annoyed)

Me: Mana awak dapat nombor saya?

Him: Oh, itu saya tak tau bang, itu kerja orang marketing, diorang ada kumpul banyak banyaak, lepas tu bagi saya, orang marketing kita memang cekap bang, abang itu memang betul diorang cekap.

(Rrriigght. I asked for a simple answer, not a treatise on your marketing people)

Me: Okaylah, saya rasa awak tak payah buang masa lah, saya memang tak ada rancangan nak apply -

Him: Ala baang, tolong lah bang tolonglah ada free gift ni bang, lagi dua tahun free...

Me: Tak apa. Cukup takat tu. Terima kasih.

And with that, I hung up. Now if anyone doesn't understand what went on, let me put it to you nice and simple. That conversation was nowhere near professional. For God's sake, the guy was wheedling for my custom. I've had my fair share of people calling me up to sell everything from get rich schemes to direct selling to other credit cards, but so far this one takes the cake for being the single most unprofessional call I've ever had the displeasure to take. Any well trained operative would see the opportunities to explain the strengths of their product over others, instead of whining like a baby.

Makes one wonder what kind of training S______k Malaysia gives its telemarketers, if at all.

Anyway, since that's over the rest of the day went rather well. There was a surprise invite for a very nice dinner at the Sheraton in Subang where I got to meet some really interesting people (and also someone I'd not seen in almost a year, hee hee), strike up some interesting conversations and generally have a good, fulfilling time (appetite and intellectual-wise).

Now if you'll all excuse me, there are some hilarious exam sheets to mark.



* names have been changed to protect privacy


Tuesday, October 12

Snoots, And Child-Blogs

If it's one thing I can't stand, it's childlike, immature behaviour from supposed "learned" people. Sure, I grant that everyone needs a moment to entertain their inner child every once in awhile, but when you are in charge of a blog (that unfortunately has its fair share of readers), and said blog reflects huge amounts of ignorance, prejudice and downright mean-ness, I say that personally, you're no better than a 3 year old child who throws tantrums just because no one thinks he should get the candy.


In other news, I got a call from a friend early this evening. He's about to get married in December, but he's in a bit of a bind because his fiancee comes from a well to do family, and he doesn't. So far he's gotten hints from some of her relatives that he's just not good enough for her, and that there will be a whole set of different, unspoken "rules" he will have to adhere to.

How wonderful.

I couldn't really say anything to allay his fears except just listen and tell him that if he has faith in the union, he should go on. Knowing a little about the wife to be, I understand that it's not her fault, but it's just another one of those things that people in Malaysia seem to excel at:

putting on airs.

Once, I was there as well. I remember what it was like, coming in between an arranged marriage that not even the daughter knew of until it was too late. There were threats, full blown tantrums, secret, furtive dates.

Needless to say, that didn't work out. It's been brought to my attention again and again that for some families at least, it's important to maintain the status quo, at all costs. If you're living in an affluent area, have lived overseas for a number of years and the son/daughter (though as far as I've seen this leans heavily towards the latter) has finished a degree or worked overseas, you can expect a certain level of..snootishness. What's funny sometimes is the fact that some of these new "snoots" conveniently forget they were once, like all us others out there.

And then there's the unspoken code of conduct that you're expected to follow, especially if you're unattached (don't talk to these people, don't go there, don't eat here, don't shop there...) Times like these, I'm very glad I'm me.

So to my friend out there, I wish you the best, dude. It's gonna be tough, but they DO say love (and effort) can go a long way.

Or so they say.

Ash.Singleton.Ox over and out.


Monday, October 11

Superman: Remembrances

Sometimes the inevitable strikes, and more often than not we realise just how tenuous the connection is to our lives, and even more so, our generation.

Each and every one of those generations before us have had their icons, those people who, while not completely defining the era, helped give a sort of meaning to their lives. A living marker, if you will.

Christopher Reeve died today.

To many, he was probably just another actor who got big in the movies, dropped out and faded away especially after his near fatal riding accident about 9 years ago. To others like me Reeve will always be remembered as the Real Superman, on and off-screen.

Even after his accident, he continued to be bigger than life much like his Superman persona. It was as if the super hero character bled out of the screen and into real life. A staunch lobbyist of stem cell and spinal cord research and of the push for Hollywood to make more socially focused movies, I've always marvelled at his good humour, vitality and above all, enthusiasm for life.

I've tried to keep track of his major public appearances, and at each one he exuded that unspoken sense of "I may be on this wheelchair, but it doesn't stop me from living" feeling, inspiring the people who see him to live, and live well.

Maybe I'm just biased because I always wanted to be Superman (most of the kids I grew up with did, too) and he was the single best personification of the character I ever saw. In some ways he represented the best of my childhood, and hearing of his death suddenly reminds me that time inexorably moves on, and that many of the things I am familiar with are fading away.

Perhaps this is what our forefathers felt when they saw their way of life, and of their grandchildren changing. Finally here we are, getting older and the markers going away one by one.

So here's a final farewell to one of the biggest childhood heroes I had, even if part of him was fictional. Perhaps we can remember some of the lessons for when it's our turn, without having to be injured first.

Rest in peace, Supes.


Good Buys

It ain't easy being a mole. Nose down in the dirt, digging your way through God knows what, elusively tracking the next tasty nugget but knowing that you'll have to surface anyway.

One does one's best.

Having said that, it's also very nice to see what RM 8 can buy these days:

Ursula K Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven

Roald Dahl's Switch Bitch (hee hee), and

Ed McBain's The Heckler (okay, so I couldn't find anything else to get, and it's only valid if you buy three)

And all three for a measly RM 8? Ahh, now I have reads for the rest of the week.

Have a good week, folks!


Sunday, October 10

1602 Out

My wanted book list has now expanded by one.

I've just found out that Neil Gaiman's re-telling of the Marvel comic universe, 1602 is finally available in hardcover. I'll just let the blurb from Amazon do the talking:

"In Marvel 1602, award-winning writer Neil Gaiman presents a unique vision of the Marvel Universe set four hundred years in the past. Classic Marvel icons such as the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Daredevil appear in this intriguing world of 17th- century science and sorcery, instantly familiar to readers, yet subtly different in this new time. Marvel 1602 combines classic Marvel action and adventure with the historically accurate setting of Queen Elizabeth’s reign to create a unique series unlike any other published by Marvel Comics.."

Aiee. A search on Amazon reveals the collection to be sold at about 25 USD. As a Gaiman fan, this is a must have for me, even if I haven't been reading that many comics. They never run out of things to make me spend on, do they?


Saturday, October 9

Jazzed Up Vengeance

It's been an interesting weekend, thus far.

There's been jazz, Singaporean actress/singer/performer combos, Big Spender (ahh), friend meetups, vastly enlightening tidbits, stalker alerts, meetups that didn't happen, and Malaysian Idol, among other things.

In case anyone doesn't already know, Jac won.

Anyway. There's a lot brewing in the mind of the Ox this weekend, and some of them are very unpleasant. Scratch that. Very very very unpleasant. But what's life without cause for revenge?

Anyway, I've finally finished the first episode in the Star Wars original trilogy boxset durian version (read: pirated) ie Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and I have to say that:

1) If there's truly a movie that withstands generations, this is one of them, and

2) Damn I really need to get myself the original set.

Maybe I'm just too much of a nostalgic fool, but there's something in the formula Lucas came up with those 20 odd years ago that still works, even on this cynical mean geek. I mean, I've probably seen the whole trilogy in almsot all its versions (TV broadcast, VHS, VCD, LD, fake DVD and now finally on the official release) but after every few years when I re-watch them it still strikes me that though the effects will seem more and more dated and the holes in the science become bigger and bigger, the essential story works, and that perhaps matters most of all.

I'll have a piece on the trilogy posted once I finish watching all three episodes again, so until then have a good weekend, and remember:

If you can't be good, be bloody careful.

Drive safe, and cheers!


Thursday, October 7

Slow Days

It's been a very slow day.

It's been so slow, in fact, that the most interesting thing that's happened so far is the fact that I've gotten my Sony PS2 EyeToy to work with my PC. The damned thing works even better than some other PC-cams I've tried before (take that, Logitech), leaving me with a working webcam but nothing to use it for....yet.


That capability does not come with a price, however. Whenever I switch it on I am reminded several times in perfect clarity how much weight I have yet to lose.


Anyway, I'm buggering off. There's got to be some excitement somewhere.


Wednesday, October 6

When Students Strike, And Giving Things Back

One thing I noticed when invigilating exams (especially the ones I teach for) is how nicely the students look when they turn out. This is no coincidence, thanks to our weird (read: almost draconian) university dress codes, the poor kids have to show up as if they're attending a Raya function two months early. Gone are the jeans, the sandals, and the almost-but-not-quite baby tees. Instead, one sees a sea of baju kurungs and many, many boys with their shirts tucked in (and some ties).

If you must know, I just came back from such an exam.

All in all there are about 450 students in the first year paper I teach. Thanks to some smart delegating however, I only see about three quarters of them. This is something new that I observed today: when I'm in kick-their-arse (read: teaching) mode, I see them as little more than empty heads on shoulders. Something must have changed today because horror upon horrors(!!) I actually saw some who were, if not eminently shaggable, then by my standards cute.

This makes me uncomfortable, probably because so far I've never really equated them to being fully functional human beings in that sense. In class I have a job to do, so I try to do it well, and though I'm aware these kids have lives of their own, I generally always see them as well, kids. Unfinished products.

When I start seeing them as potentially sexual beings, that's when I know something's wrong. Sure, I know of people who've done the whole date-your-student thing, but my personal Jiminy Cricket has a thing or two to say about that. For one thing, their parents trust me to stuff some knowledge into their noggins, not date them. Secondly, it's just unprofessional (not to mention very very risky)*. Of course, if they were students from some other faculty or uni, I'd be a little more tempted to bend but still...

Oh well. In any case, I suppose I'll just take them as eye candy (and trust me, sometimes you need that, badly). Forbidden fruit may be tempting, but there's no guarantee it'll taste good, or if it won't make you puke really, really bad.

* On the other hand, I have no problem with people pretending to be students, especially in those itty bitty little er, okay, I'll stop now..

During a short YM conversation with the Ex today, we discussed her coming over when she returns to the country in a month or two to collect the rest of her things, as well as going through the unpleasant business of deciding who gets what (for those readers who are new to this blog, I'll just say that I lived with her for most of two years) of our shared belongings amassed over those years. As she rightly pointed out, it's sticky if only because before this everything was "ours", not "mine" or "yours".

I foresee an emotionally draining, even painful little session, but there's no way around it. Things have to be wrapped up, personal issues aside. Besides, it'll probably the last I see of her before she flies off to her new life, and it'll be good to say a final goodbye face to face. I may not agree with the path she's choosing, but like most things in life, it's better to let go.

I've been asked by some people what to do to protect themselves from ever going through something like this. It's simple, really -

1) Never fall in love, and
2) Never give out of yourself more than necessary, or if you DO happen to break 1),
3) Try and make sure the other person's more in love with YOU than you him/her

If you can practice this (God knows if it's even possible!), come back and see me. I'm still working on number 0:

0) Get a life.

Till later, people. I'm off to be retrospective.


p/s: I've been seeing a trend in people I know of going out with foreigners. I personally haven't tried that but hey, anything's worth a try before old age catches up..


Tuesday, October 5

Vox Oxana

Someone should tell the people who employ me that electricity cuts and non existent internet access do not a comfortable work environment make.

Sure, it may not be a big deal if the nature of my work involves site visits or mostly letter-writing, but when you're expected to check up on academic resources, do a bit of research-oriented reading, or just reply to faculty emails, the very concept of internet access needs to be stressed beyond measure. Oh, and the aforementioned electricity helps too. Working in a corrugated iron structure that's been reported as unsafe several times (not to mention is currently being claimed back by the faculty that owns it), one needs all amenities to be available, especially electricity.

As I ranted and raved to my officemate this morning I couldn't help but think what must have gone through the minds of the people from a certain local computer games publisher who agreed to open a booth at our so-called exhibition. Practically no-one came (it's a long story) and to top it all off, the internet connection some people have boasted as being 40 gigabits wide (I kid you not, this is what he said) failed utterly every 20 minutes or so throughout the duration of the exhibit. Of course, since said company relied solely on their online games to be able to function, as a result there was nothing left for me to do but look sheepish and apologise. Again, and again. I know there'll be at least one company we don't have to invite for next year.

What's a semi academic on contractual basis to do? Since I can't even log in to work, much less do anything related to it, I took half the day off and visited KL for a bit. Call it playing truant if you like, but that sure as hell beats being in the office for the sake of being in the office.

Along the way I gave my mum a call (since I see her rarely enough) which led to her asking me for something I never thought I'd hear:

"If you ever get the chance, get the hell out of this country, and take your brother and sisters with you."

It was one of those things that made me grip the steering wheel a little harder.

I can understand, in a sense what she means. From where I'm standing, I can see that the system is vastly unsympathetic to anything resembling originality. Even my students, no matter how much I try to make them think for their own, ultimately get dragged back into the abyss of rote and routine by individuals who take delight in making them follow rules. My future is as uncertain enough, as it is. As of late there's been many murmurs of discontent among other members of staff, with the more astute departmental heads not knowing what to do about it, except agree that we're not taking care of our own.

Interesting how this seems to be the norm these days. Preserve the status quo. Crush any dissenters, even if it's just a voice asking to look at a situation from another perspective. I sometimes wonder what the hell was the point teaching us lateral thinking skills or sending us to do our doctorates when all that's really wanted are people to say "yes", and "I agree"?

What indeed?

I for one, have no intention of staying to find out, but we'll see.


Monday, October 4

Takashi Miike's One Missed Call: Reviewed!

I was feeling good today, and the vibe only continued when I found not only a really good version of the remastered Star Wars Trilogy DVD set at my neighbourhood vendor, but a copy of Takashi Miike's foray into horror Chakushin Ari (One Missed Call). I'll get to the Star Wars Trilogy after I've gone through all four discs, but for tonight, I'll just share what I thought of what may be Miike's most commercial and mainstream-friendly flick in a while.

For the uninitiated, Takashi Miike, also known as the Rabid Dog of Japanese Cinema, is one of the youngest and most prolific directors to ever begin a career in that country. While his films often toe the line between pure unbridled violence, gore and good taste (case in point: Visitor Q and Audition, also reviewed in this blog) more often than not there is something else he puts in, a touch that makes his creations as identifiable as anything by Fulci or Bava (to the horror geek) or even Hitchcock.

Most audiences will probably feel that One Missed Call is just another tired rehashing of the Japanese ghost-with-long-hair genre. In a sense, they may be right. The past few years has seen a major overflow of horror movies from Korea and Japan, ranging from the criminally stupid (Wishing Stairs, The Phone) to the majorly enjoyable (Ju-On and Korei). Where OMC doesn't really shine with its plot, it makes up for it somewhat by packing in tons of atmosphere, some pretty unexpected twists and turns and an ending that will likely have more than one person smacking themselves on the head asking "what the hell was that?".

The story begins with schoolgirl Yoko who receives a strange message on her mobile, apparently from herself two days in the future. When the appointed date comes around and she dies under horrific circumstances followed by several other girls, it's up to friend Yumi to find out the cause of the deaths and maybe also prevent her own.

Ordinarily I'd pass up on something like this, but seeing Miike's name splashed on the cover made me reconsider, and I have to admit OMC proved to be entertaining even to this jaded horror geek. True enough, he reuses almost every other Japanese horror cliche that we've seen, but he adds enough twists to them to make it interesting. For instance, one girl, Natsumi, gets the mysterious call as well and then proceeds to cancel her account and discard her mobile. When she gets home, she finds a TV crew waiting for her after hearing about the mysterious deaths related to the calls. They offer to stay with her up to the moment of her supposed death, even providing a priest to exorcise any spirits. Her final day is then telecast to a live audience (shades of reality TV ala Visitor Q, or a nod to Romero?) complete with a countdown clock to the precise moment she's supposed to die. This in itself is a rarity in horror cinema, the sense that the victims are part of the real world and not isolated in some surreal pocket of existence.

I won't spoil the fun by revealing what happens to her, but suffice to say the "twist" is well worth it. As much as I like it, there are also times where the horror feels a little contrived and manufactured, which hurts it a little, in my opinion. The audience is also asked to suspend their disbelief a little longer than necessary (especially near the end) but then again we're talking about a movie with a vengeful girl's spirit using mobile phones to warn her victims...

Long story short: completists will probably watch this one anyway, newcomers will find this is a startlingly light introduction to Miike's work, and as for everyone else it's just an average horror flick. As for me, it's good filler material until Gozu and Izo come to our shores.

Ash.ox gives Chakushin Ari a 3 out of 5.


Sunday, October 3

Peter Molyneux Says Sorry, and Women in Games

If there's a word to describe my general lack of energy today, I think I'll choose *yawn*.

Anyway. As any gamer worth his/her salt will be able to tell you, very often features that are promised in upcoming games have to be dropped out of the final product, for many reasons. Some of these are technical in nature (current PC limitations), while others are rushed out to meet a particular deadline, like Christmas for instance. In any case, very rarely do established game designers/developers apologise to their buyers who find that the hype rarely lives up to the final product. Fewer still even acknowledge said flaws, hoping that the positive buzz they generated months or even years back will help smooth over any hiccups buyers get once they actually play these games.

Not so with Peter Molyneux, developer of the recent RPG hit Fable, and the older Black and White. Recently Molyneux posted an open apology to gamers in his development studio's message boards, and I quote:

"For example, three years ago I talked about trees growing as time past. The team did code this but it took so much processor time (15%) that the feature was not worth leaving in. That 15 % was much better spent on effects and combat...I have come to realise that I should not talk about features too early so I am considering not talking about games as early as I do."

The full text can be accessed here.

If only more developers were as quick to apologise as they are to hype up a product beyond reason (Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter, anyone?) or just plain relax about their products, we'd get less people complaining about how this-and-that feature was never implemented, or if it was, how shoddy the implementation was. Fable is already a good game, if not great, but it's good to see that the developers are aware of the negative consequences of their pre-release hype. Maybe this will lead to other apologies as well (I'm still waiting, Eurocom). Yeah right, but one can hope.

One more thing, I've gotten some interesting responses from people who insist video games are exclusively the domain of adolescent males with fantasies of half naked women in leather running around. Just so you know, one of the first major game designers in the world was a woman. Her name is Roberta Williams, and she was responsible for some of the best adventure games I've ever played since I was a kid. Just ask anyone who's ever played King's Quest (if you don't know what that is, then stick to your CounterStrike servers, kids). Like anything else, stereotyping never helps, and since I'm feeling charitable, here's a link to an old interview waay back in 2000.

Right, I'm off. Laters, people.


Brilliant Stupidity

Amazing what can happen in the space of a week.

Here I am again, typing in my chair, with the familiar orange tinged light bathing my room and the soft burr of the fan behind me. I expected to come home to a relatively unchanged world.

Sadly, this is not the case.

Apparently the past few days have been filled with an overwhelming assault on the sheer intelligence of the Malaysian citizenry. It's always amazing to see how powerful a tool ignorance is, and how blind, silly ambition makes fools out of (ordinarily foolish enough) people. Sad, sad, little players.

I'm talking about the Berita Harian fiasco regarding Jeff Ooi. Some of you may have heard of this, or even followed its course. I won't comment on it yet, since I'm only beginning to scratch the surface of what's been happening so far, but I'll post some links for the interested reader. It's the least I can do.

To paraphrase: Jeff's site made it into the main page of the Berita Harian, after an anonymous reader made a report to the daily of a comment posted on the blog. I'll leave it at that for now, for I'm a bit incensed, and it's never good to blog when in that state of mind. Anyway, here are the links so people can see for themselves:

Idlan's first alert
A newer alert, also by Idlan
The web version of Berita Harian's "report"
Jeff's responses

One last thing. If we can use our homegrown technology to catch the culprit who wrote the malicious emails to national treasure Siti Nurhaliza, why can't the authorities just ask Jeff for the IP of the commenter and track him/her down? Or do we persevere in the mentality that to kill a mosquito we have to burn down the whole house? I leave it to my readers to make their own conclusions. Who knows how much longer we have before we need licences to think?

Over and out.


Saturday, October 2

The Return Of The Ox

One last night.

I'm typing this in the stillness that is Bangi, and I can't help but feel a little excited about the prospect of finally coming home to sleep on my bed. Granted that there isn't much else to look forward to (a warm hug, ach, how DOES that feel again?) but coming home will be bliss.

It's been a riproaring ride, this week. There's been elements of high drama, betrayal, sheer brilliant stupidity, embarrassment, and a whole lot more. Too much to tell, actually. Who knew life in academia beats Knots Landing hands down?

Anyway. Civilisation looms, and I think I'll finally be able to drag my sorry arse out to meet people, once I've gotten the kinks out of my system.

Now to see if I have any readers left.