Friday, April 29, 2005

Marathon Filibuster at Princeton!

This is just so bloody inspiring. Princeton U students and faculty are doing a Filibuster and they've been at it for more than 80 hours. A filibuster is "a time-delaying tactic associated with the US Senate and used by a minority in an effort to delay, modify or defeat a bill or amendment that probably would pass if voted on directly." More from wikipedia:
A filibuster is a process, typically an extremely long speech, that is used primarily to stall the legislative process and thus derail a particular piece of legislation, rather than to make a particular point in the content of the diversion per se. The term first came into use in the United States Senate, where senate rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose. Under Senate rules, the speech need not be relevant to the topic under discussion, and there have been cases in which a senator has undertaken part of a speech by reading from a telephone directory. Legendary segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond set a record in 1957 by filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes. Preparations for a filibuster can be elaborate. Sometimes coats are brought into the hallways or cloakrooms for senators to sleep on. According to Newsweek, "They used to call it 'taking to the diaper,' a phrase that referred to the preparation undertaken by a prudent senator before an extended filibuster". Strom Thurmond visited a steam room before his filibuster in order to dehydrate himself so he could drink without urinating. An aide stood by in the cloakroom with a pail in case of emergency...
"It works like this: If at least 41 senators strongly oppose a bill or nominee, they can block a final vote until at least 60 senators override the filibuster, the filibustering senators drop their objections, or the vote is abandoned." (There are currently 55 Republican and 44 Democrat Senators.) "We were meant by the framers of the Constitution to have the minority have influence." — Arizona Senator John McCain "As long as it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, the moderates on both sides of the aisle are always going to be in a key position to bridge partisan differences." — Maine Senator Susan Collins
It's fun, outrageous and wacky. But it serves an important check-and-balance function: it ensures that the majority party (nowadays, the Republicans) doesn't control everything, all the time. So now the Republicans want to end the Filibuster tradition because a few of Bush's conservative judicial appointments were blocked by the Democrats, and they are angry. Those who are against the nominations are now labeled as against 'people of faith' in an event held this past Sunday called Justice Sunday with keynote speeches by people such as kingmaker James 'focus on our own darn family' Dobson. If they abolish the Filibuster tradition, all their nominations will then be able to go through. But it would also mean the one party would then have absolute power. And some might say this could lead to absolute corruption. In this regard, Singapore is still doing well, the separation of Church and State. So, the Princeton folks are doing this to protest against moves by the Republicans. Click here to go to the constantly updated webcam covering the proceedings. It's booked solid till at least Sunday... More from DailyKos.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Comics time!

If you're stuck in your assignment, there are people who understand your predicament. Check out!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

We Were Soldiers Elephants

The first time I rode on a real horse was when I visited my cousin in Indonesia 10 years ago. They lived in the countryside where it's possible to call up the neighbours to bring their horses and they would give us a ride around the surrounding areas for around $5. I was astonished when I got up the saddle. It's one horsepower, but there's just so much power and grace combined in an elegant unit. And as I was riding on it, it felt like two storeys up, and I thought to myself, "Why doesn't this thing just kill me?" One slight twist of those gigantic muscles and I'd have flown and landed very many metres away. But it doesn't do that, it just followed the leash of its keeper and gave us a very nice tour. A horse Two months ago, I visited the zoo. The elephants exhibit is so good. There's a small enclosure beside the main viewing gallery that plays a repeating documentary about the lives of elephants. One can see the majesty of these animals and then the video describes how the animals need to be tamed, and 'broken' first, before they were of use to their human handlers. Broken, in spirit. Luckily, the horses have it better than the elephants in this regard. A few elephants I have often wondered how we do the same thing with people. How do governments and superiors 'tame' and 'break the wills' of people? You can't physically beat them up, you can't force them to listen to heavy metal for 24 hours, and other related 'physical abuse' methods. So I figure if I were in charge, I'd probably use social segregation methods, labelling a segment as poor and another rich, a section of the students clever, and another section 'less clever'. With enough labels and roles, you're able to do very good product differentiation, and everyone 'knows their place' in society. And they know what to do, and what not to do. I have another unproven and unknown hypothesis to achieve such aims, especially in the context of Singapore. You litigate. Which was what happened with AcidFlask, having the dubious honour of the first Singaporean blogger to close down his site due to a threat of litigation of defamation from a division of the establisment called A*STAR. A few hours later, another LJer, nilsinelabore, decided to follow suit. I have no facts about this matter. I don't personally know the participants involved nor the circumstances which led to this. I only know that probably one side has the funds to carry out legal proceedings, and the other do not have the same resources (nor the time or will) to respond appropriately. Even though this isn't strictly 'government' bringing forth charges, precedents of government legal action against rival political opponents in Singapore, are, should we say, interesting, to say the least. I'd just like to talk about why I think suing another guy's pants off is not a good thing, especially when there's a huge disparity in the ability to respond. My main complaint for these sorts of things, even if there really is a reasonable case for it, is that it's a little like taming elephants. One doesn't reason with an elephant, one beats it until it breaks, and that, I fear, might be what's happening. But we're humans, not elephants. Humans are open to reasoning, to debate, to rational argument. And humans shouldn't hit another human. In legal cases like this, there isn't even a debate to speak off. It's ended before it's begun. Fair enough, bringing charges against someone doesn't involving actual physical harm. But I can't imagine the psychological and morale damage to a person in that situation, with the whole weight of Authority bearing down. And not only that, I think people will be cowed. And it's this sort of insidious way of controlling and taming people that worries me. How can this society progress if it's continually put down? Again, I'm not saying that my taming hypothesis is true or correct, I'm merely suggesting that this is one possibility. And it is a frightening possibility. Maybe we should be horses instead... More from SingaporeAngle. Update: Say it ain't so! It's so, unfortunately. Gilbert, ex Deputy Public Prosecutor, closes his excellent Singapore law for the laymen blog. But he'll be back, in another identity. So that he becomes untraceable. Which is bizarre. And funny! RegrabMoor is right, the satire continues, even in disclaimers and anonymity!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Lest We Forget

Today is ANZAC Day when Australians and New Zealanders honour their fallen in WWI (the War to end all wars), WWII, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts. I think the two most noble vocations that we have are those who give lives (doctors) and those who are prepared to give way theirs (soldiers). They do so in the hope that their wars are just, and their enemies worthy. Just wars seem to be rarer nowadays. We owe it to our soldiers to put them in the line of fire only as a last resort. Lest we forget.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Oops I did it again: Louis Armstrong's 1932 version

Oops! Turns out that Britney Spear's song was originally recorded by Armstrong a long, long time ago. Download the original here; it's pretty hilarious. (via SarongPartyFrens.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Eyewitness fallibility

In yesterday's intro to CSI:Psychology, Stephan L. talked about ways to reduce eyewitness testimony errors because people easily remember things that's not there if they or the police are not careful. Especially me. I think I bumped my head too many times on the double bunk bed above me when I was serving in the military in Taiwan. I can't remember much these days, short time memory stuff. I can't remember a name 5s after an introduction. I don't do much better with faces. So next time I don't recognise you, forgive me. I really have forgotten. But sometimes I can remember ancient stuff. I remember this one time in the forum when I was discussing The Passion of the Christ with another person. He was saying something about how Mel Gibson wasn't true to the original script and that he got some inspiration from another source. It's quite true, Mel based the imagery and the emotions from the visions of a Catholic nun, I think. Still, I argued that the essense of the story wasn't lost, and that's the most important thing. The person mentioned several 'inaccuracies' in the film like the fact that Mary Magdelene was under the cross when it's clearly mentioned in Mark 15:40 that she was far away looking at the horrific cruxification. Naturally I was intrigued by this, and so tried to find out more myself, emphasis mine.
There were also many women there, looking on from afar...among them Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. ~Matthew 27:56 There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome... and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. ~Mark 15:40 But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" ~John 19:25-27
The Gospel of Luke is neutral; he doesn't mention anything. So there's a clear discrepancy here. We have an eyewitness issue. For some reason, their accounts don't match. There is just no way both versions can be correct. Either one is correct, or none is correct. My guess is at least one is factually correct. Given the tremendous and unthinkable horror that happened, anyone would be forgiven to give a less-than-stellar account. The person never replied after I pointed the above out. For a while, I worried whether I had destroyed his/her faith, or at least brought about a crisis in faith, about the so-called 'infallibility' of the Bible. Especially fundamentalists who dissect each word and refuse to believe that human errors can creep into scriptural texts. There's nothing wrong with human errors. I'd be worried if there were no human errors, it means some editorial committee was trying to be funny, to edit the whole thing to be 100% clinically correct. So where do we go from here? One problem I have with conventional teachings is that they stress that they need to maintain this 'every word in the Bible is the word of God and every word is infallible' belief. I wish they'd stopped teaching that. It's very easily shown to be untrue. I'm not sure if anyone reading this has 'infallibility of individual words' as one of your pillars of faith. I'm sorry if that's the case. I think the pillars of the faith should consist primarily of two things. Love your God with all your heart, soul, mind. And love your neighbour as yourself. If we can even remotely get these two things right, inaccuracies in the Bible should be the least of our concerns... Back to your regular CSI:Miami... :)

Friday, April 22, 2005

Corrinne May releases 2nd CD!

Heads up for Corrinne fans, her new CD Safe In A Crazy World is out!! The new songs are making my nose's bloody good. Previously wrote about her here and here. Listen to the songs... The album is available now in the US, and will be in Singapore in the first week of May.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I am being discriminated in my own country

Oh wait, I have more to say. I was just posting on the forums about how wonderful my experience at Malaysia's Genting Highlands was a few years ago. The casino was BIG! Everything glittered, the clanking of the coins, the ecstacy of the gamblers throwing the dice, the dizziness of it all. It was a fantastic experience. I believe I spent $5 playing slot machines. I lost it all in a few minutes. But it was great! But now, I can't do this in Singapore's casinos anymore. There'll be a $100 entry fee! So, to experience the same thing like I did in Genting, I'd have to fork out $105! What on earth is going on here?! I don't think foreigners need to pay the entry fee. I believe a casino should be an equal-opportunity personal wealth depreciator. Everyone should have a fair go at emptying their pockets. I'm not trying to be sarcastic here; I really feel this is a matter of principle. What? The government thinks we the citizens are not mature enough to gamble responsibly, but foreigners are more mature to do the same?! Don't you think this is insulting? Of course it is! And it makes me angry! Grrr... From the point of view of 'letting people being exposed to temptation', I think there's something hypocritical going on too. We want to shield our citizens from the casino, but we're willing to let foreigners gamble away their money? Isn't that... bad behaviour? Why are we treating foreigners in such a mean way? Ahhh! Nothing's going right...

The casino issue is really just a big poker game between the government and the gaming companies

Hui Chieh is calling for papers from the local blogsphere on reactions to the casino issue over at Singapore Angle. Do take a look if you want to contribute your thoughts. Here's what I think. Personally, I don't mind the lifting of the ban on casinos. I do know for a fact that because of the existence of a casino, many families would be hurt, the social and personal cost can't be quantified; monetary value or otherwise. However, from a public policy point of view, I would not object against a casino, per se. For example, we do know for a fact that if we ban cars on the road, there will be less people getting killed on the roads. Despite this, we don't ban cars. The problem I have is that MM Lee's press release seems to suggest that the government is in the defensive, rather then being in offence. He stressed that "we cannot afford not to have the casino". That's a reactive position. (For non-Singaporean readers, MM stands for Minister Mentor. MM Lee is the founder of modern Singapore who currently runs a mentorship program for new ministers.) What led him to say that? Well, he mentioned that in the 19 proposals that were received, the foreign gaming firms did say that they aren't just going to be only interested in Singapore. Like it or not, they're going to set up shop in neighbouring countries. If you don't agree to our proposals, you'll become an also-ran when the neighbouring casinos are built. Essentially, this whole setup is like poker. The gaming companies have uped the ante very cleverly. Here're our cards. Do you wanna fold? Or do you wanna call our bluff? And we decide to call their bluff! To be fair, there's nothing wrong with that, if indeed it's justified. But the negativity and lack of confidence disturbs me. Prime Minister Lee (for non-Singaporean readers, the PM has the surname as MM Lee because he's his son) says,"
"If we proceed, the IRs [integrated resorts, politically correct term for shopping malls + rides + casino] may not succeed, or the social fallout may be worse than we expect. If we do not proceed, we are at serious risk of being left behind by other cities. After weighing the matter carefully, the Cabinet has collectively concluded that we had no choice but to proceed with the IRs. As Prime Minister, I carry the ultimate responsibility for the decision."
I have a problem with that. Why is this casino so important for the continual survival of Singapore? Do tourists really look at whether a country has a casino before planning their itinerary? (I know I don't!) How big is this market anyway? I'd love to see some numbers. Also, he says 'we have no choice'. If that is indeed true, then gosh, I think we're in really big trouble here! If really no choice, haiz, no need consult anyone already lah! 越快建起来越好! Something smells fishy, and it ain't the chips. I fear we may be paying the price for not being good gamblers; we might have just lost the first round of poker with the big gaming companies...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Symphonic orchestra plays music from Sonic the Hedgehog

A couple of days ago, I was looking at this excellent webpage (via serialdeviant) with 25 years of Sesame Street memories (plus downloadable number song!), and I was thinking, won't it be great if some arranger could do something for a full symphonic orchestra one day? WOW!! Imagine, People In Your Neighbourhood with strings and percussion! And it's really happening! OK, not SS songs, but video game music performed by the Los Angeles Philhamonic with choir this July! (via theoryisthereason). I can't attend this, I wonder if they will release a CD.
Concert Program Halo® Metal Gear Solid® Warcraft® Tron® Myst® Medal of Honor® Tomb Raider® Advent Rising® Sonic The Hedgehog® HeadHunter® Beyond Good & Evil®
Speaking of video game music, Theory mentions this video clip with an excellent performance by a Uni of Wisconsin capella ensemble called Refined. Their website has been swamped the last few days due to the Nintendo publicity.
1) Mario Bros. "Flag/Stage Clear" 2) Super Mario Bros. Main Theme 3) Dr. Mario 4) Mario Bros. 3 5) Mario Bros. "Star" 6) Tetris 7) Mortal Kombat 8) Mario Bros. "Dungeon" 9) The Legend of Zelda 10) Mario Bros. "Game Over"
There's another video with Mario music on the piano. And another, The Italian Plumber, arranged for violin, cello, and piano. And another in jazz arrangement; SuperMarioBrosSuperBuckJazz. And Robosexual has the original songs taken straight from the game! My favourite is Super Mario Bros. 2 Level One. It's the same song in the SuperBuckJazz clip. I remember playing this level so many years ago in my cousin's house in's so good. More from /.. I especially like grand original music in computer games. I'm not sure if other popular games have this sort of thing, for example, the kind that's found in Rome: Total War, by Aussie composer Jeff van Dyck. Forty five minutes of epic stuff. Well, the games demand no less an epic soundtrack. And, it's already done in in-house symphonic style. We do cover versions of Bach, Mozart etc. nowadays because they were pop music in their time for the rich and famous. In 200 years time, video game music (and dare I say Sesame Street and Wiggles songs?!) might be de riguere in concert halls too! Yeah!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


For the third day in a row, I've no idea what tomorrow' weather will be after watching Channel 9's weather report! The weathergirl is outrageously cute...the only thing I remember is FIRE RISK: HIGH... I think the station should fire her...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Local blogsphere, meet mainstream media

So I've always been interested at the relationship of the online and the offline world, and how the 'fringes' of online debate can spill onto the traditional media like TVLand. CBS' Dan Rather's final nail in the coffin was supplied by rightwing bloggers when they did an amazing job of fact-checking and debate about the faked Bush memo. The vast left wing conspiracy is also now a force to be reckoned with; the founder of the most popular US political blog, DailyKos, gave an excellent interview recently on C-SPAN describing what blogging is and the direction the medium is progressing towards. Last month, Margo Kingston of the Sydney Morning Herald's WedDiary (and what a remarkable webdiary this is despite its generic name) came to Uni to give a lecture about blogging ("The citizen as a journalist", online streaming lecture). So, things are on the roll, well, at least, it's a start. Journalists know that the blogsphere isn't necessary a competitor, but a partner that can supplement their work. Readers would want this arrangement too to ensure a separation of powers between the corporate/government and objective reporting. This is particular urgent in Singapore which has essentially only one popular broadsheet The Straits Times, where there is no 'free press' and views are generally skewed towards government's position. The Information Minister has announced that 'special circumstances' require such measures. And we, the citizens, believe it. Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years, but there's still much to be desired. Anyhow, we wait for the day when the local online presence and blogsphere will create an impact on local mainstream news media! Yeah! Well, it has just happened. Unfortunately, the news that was broken is not a particularly happy one. It involves the revelation of particular strong and crude racial remarks from a state-sponsored PSC scholar studying in the US that's found in his blog. The guy, being a maths major, probably underestimated the power of Google and did not provide enough password protection to limit access. The PSC is now investigating this 'incident'. So, the story broke from one local blog to another, and to the SPUG forum where I'm the chief forum moderator, and finally to the Sunday Times yesterday. I'm not exactly sure whether the reporter from the newspaper picked up the story directly from our website, but a forum member was misquoted in the article, so maybe that is a possibility. Possible progression of news at Singapore Angle and AcidFlask. If it's any other kind of news story, I'd have gone, like, "Oh, great!" But this one directly involves the possible future of a young adult who isn't aware of the implications of his words (yes, I know, my understatement of the week.) and who is totally unprepared for the explosion that might happen. Anyway, mob mentality naturally results, with people demanding the termination of his sponsorship, understandably. (Singapore has its own variation of the tall poppy syndrome.) Others prefer to discuss the context of those remarks, the unexceptional racism that implicitly exists, the other sorts of discrimination that's explicit in our society, and related privacy issues. Personally, if I view this from the context and perspective of a blog as an artist's canvas (having done online things for more than seven years myself), I'm not convinced that the guy should be destroyed. It has not passed the threshold of 'beyond a shadow of doubt'. In stats terms, p > .05. For bloggers and online diarists, this has quite a few levels of ethical issues intertwined, and there is no precedent for us to rely on. The judgment that we as bloggers pronounce may one day come back and haunt us. To what extent do we need to secure our online speech? How much free speech should there be? Is, say, LiveJournal's 'friends only' protection enough? What if one 'friend' leaks it to the press? If I'm in the 'circle of trust' of a scholar's online journal, should I report something I don't like about his or her opinions to the press? Should I be doing what the folks in the Cultural Revolution did, report my friends and families? Should I be reporting my friend's illegal stash of songs in his iPod to get the reward? Should I call up Microsoft's piracy department to discuss my boss's weird software in his PC? So, I think, let's not be too hasty to hang the guy, and ourselves at the same time. Amidst all this confusion, I think one of the more important problems is this: OK, I would go underground with my racist statements, but I'd still continue believing the stuff. This last outcome is probably the worst that can happen in our story. Two justifications for a severe punishment that some are advocating are that, one, he's using taxpayers for his education, and two, that in the future he might become a Minister, and woe to the country if we have racist ministers. So, to investigate if current ministers have considerable racists views, I went to google the library. So these are quotes, done in a very academic/rational/calm/sophisticated manner, from a still-serving, top local civil servant. Actually, it's Minister Lee, who currently conducts a Mentorship program for new ministers.
The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85% on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more... the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow. (Emphasis mine.) (Han, Fernandez, & Tan, 1998, p. 153) "Now, we did try wherever possible, wherever more would bring about better performance. Never mind if it brings about equal results. If better housing, better health, better schools can bring about better results, let's help them. But we know that we cannot close the gap. In other words, this Bell curve, which Murray and Herrnstein wrote about, became obvious to us by the late '60s." (Han et al., p. 157) "I started off believing all men were equal. I now know that's the most unlikely thing ever to have been, because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently, had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils... I didn't start off with that knowledge. But by observation, reading, watching, arguing, asking, that is the conclusion I've come to." (Han et al., p. 175)
So, if my skin colour is #000000, I'm expected to be more silly and stupid. If my skin colour is #FFFFFF, it's good, but not good enough. If my skin colour is #FFCC33, then I'll be the most clever! Actually, kudos to the ST editors for providing freedom of speech, and not editing out the controversial bits. And I applaud Sumiko and company for their sensitivity in drawing out this aspect of his persona. The thing is, most of us, if not all, hold racist (and other discriminatory) opinions, one way or another, to a greater or less extent. It's just human nature. My point is, come on, let he who...something something...throw the first stone. At the very least, let this not be a lynch mob, but a chance to debate the issue in our heads with ourselves, and with others, instead of just doing away with the fall guy. This is a tricky start for the relationship between the blogsphere with the mainstream media; we'll see where this goes... PS. Boys and girls, don't believe the Bell Curve hypothesis, OK? It's been largely debunked!! ------- Han, F. K., Fernandez, W., & Tan, S. (1998). Lee Kuan Yew: The man and his ideas. Singapore: Straits Times Press.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The power of the Dark Side is strong in

I was at Toys "R" Us yesterday to get myself a cheap rear bike light. Someone stole my old one, or maybe it just dislodged itself from the chassis. Anyhow, as I was queueing up, the 4 year old kid before me was holding a large box with a Darth Vader inside. There was the da da da dada da dada da music coming out, and the Light Saber was glowing. It was very real, and I could immediately sense a disturbance in the Force right there at the cashier. I said to the father, "That's bloody cool!" He replied, "It's a ripoff! For his birthday..." It costs $60. Wow! The Dark Side really is strong in that one... Another Dark Side story is the casino which will open in Singapore soon. Just yesterday, the announcement was made. So today, Channel News Asia released a 6000-word essay by a former finance manager at APB (the folks that make the famous Singaporean Tiger Beer), currently serving a four-decade sentence for cheating banks more than $117 million to fuel his gambling habit. It's essential reading. Personally, I'm not against a casino. I think it can be a nice place where people go and have fun, just like any other entertainment venue. The problem is when folks misunderstand the purpose of a casino to mean a place to raise revenue rather than a place of entertainment. I've seen friends who are devastated by this simple misunderstanding; addiction can then result from this, leading to very much worse things. What intrigued me about the finance manager is precisely the fact that he's a finance manager. He's an expert in the technicalities on money. He should be familiar with basic statistics. And yet he fell to the Dark Side. In his essay from prison, he recounts the critical point when 'he lost it'. I think at this point, no amount of intellectual analysis can rationalise things. Actually, nothing seem to help, the desperation, despair, depression. So please, everyone, read up before you try your hand at the dices. And never, never underestimate the power of the Dark Side...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Thoughts on the Death Penalty

So watching the nightly news with Australian woman Schapelle Corby crying and fainting almost everyday in the Indonesian court has been heartwrenching. She's an Aussie tourist who went to Bali only to have the customs officials find 4.1kg of marijuana in her luggage, loosely packed. The death penalty for her is not out of the question. It's not uncommon for the bad guys to put in a loose packet into unsecured or compromised luggage. They can then pick up their stash outside the customs area. The problem is, she may not be able to clear her name even if this actually happened. The other question is, what if she is guilty and the drugs were really hers? Do people who smuggle drugs need to be killed? And do those who kill her need to be killed as well? In Singapore, the same thing goes on. There's an article two days ago on Shanmugam Murugesu who is to be hanged, and his kids are now on the streets distributing leaflets to passers-by, hoping people would help them and their father. The guy's lawyer is working pro bono on this case. More power to the lawyer. My home country is Singapore; a place where probably most people believe that the continual existence of the death penalty is about the only thing that keeps society together. If the death penalty were to be abolished, the country would sink into some sort of lawless swamp. Most people won't even bat an eyelid because this is a way of life, you put people who smuggle drugs to death; it's a given. Now I, on the other hand, feel the complete opposite. I think that the death penalty is one of the most, if not the most, shameful policies that any country can have. It's probably the stupidest thing around too. There's this time I attended one of those short courses conducted by the Uni for students from non-English speaking backgrounds, and this particular one was on presenting arguments in essays. So the instructor tossed out the 'death penalty' question since it's a relatively contentious issue, and everyone was like 'yewl... what government in its right mind would advocate the death penalty?' The death penalty has been abolished in Australia 20 years ago, hence the sentiment. So, I proceeded to apologize to the rest of the class the follies of my country's ways and to beg for their forgiveness. The real question remains: is the death penalty a punishment that's really necessary? It's clearly not. There are two aims for this punishment. The first one is simple: the objective is to remove this person from the rest of society. Locking the guy up in prison forever (rather than killing the person outright) does the exact same thing. The second point is more fuzzy wuzzy. It involves the deterrent effect. Hopefully would-be criminals would think twice about doing something silly if the threat of execution is explicitly on their minds. My problem with this is, again: is there a significant difference between execution as a deterrent, and a lifetime of jail time as a deterrent? I don't think there's a difference, but the most I can go is 'we just don't know.' And if we don't know, why are we adopting the most drastic measure of willful violence against criminals? The punishment of willful termination of life is grossly not commensurate with the severity of the crime. The disparity is so huge, it's hilarious. On the other hand, there is a definite difference between the effects of the death penalty and other forms of punishment. The former involves state-sponsored murder and the removal of a person from the Earth; the latter does not. The death penalty should be the talk of the 17th century, not the 21st. There is an attraction in believing the story of cause and effect relationship between the deterrent effects of the death penalty and low crime. However, I think it's just an attractive myth. A myth in false inference. For example, ask any Singaporean if they think Singapore is a clean place. Sure, they'd say, Singapore is a clean city. Why is that so? Well, because we fine unlucky people $1000 if they litter and are caught. It's a convenient story, and it warms people's hearts. But it's just plain wrong. Singapore is a clean place because the roadsweepers do their jobs diligently, not because people don't litter! This can be easily verified by observing the streets late at night, say, at Orchard Road. It's messy, and that's because the cleaners start working very early the next morning. So a desirable outcome need not necessarily come from the huge deterrent, per se. The outcome can be affected by some other factors. Sure, a huge fine like being executed tends to wake people up. I just think the exact same thing can be achieved without resorting to willful violence, such as locking folks up for a long time. But I'd have to admit, it's not an easy thing to turn away from believing the convenient story. Frankly, I don't see how the situation can be improved. Maybe if in twenty years time a more liberal/progressive government comes into power, some changes in both legislation and attitudes can be made. In the meantime, if I could, I'd apologise to Murugesu, again, for the follies of our country's ways. Optional Reading: Ex-Deputy Public Prosecutor Gilbert Koh has been talking about the same topic these past few days. OK, it's not optional reading. It's a MUST READ. Others covering this include AcidFlask (contains .pdf of appeal letter), Singapore Serf, WannabeLawyer.

The Wiggles beat Kidman and Crowe

Some fluffy news involving top Australian acts. The Wiggles have outearned Nicole Kidman and Russel Crowe last year. (Gross income of A$45 to $40 to $27 million.) Truly bizarre. What would Kidman think?! "I lost to 4 old men in colourful shirts!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Monsters, Inc. prayer

So today at the auditory lecturer, the Canadian guy let us listen to a prayer which I thought was quite good. Personally, I'd prefer Psalm 23:4 for related situations, but this one isn't bad either.
From ghoulies and ghosties And long-leggety beasties And things that go bump in the night Good Lord, deliver us! ~Old Irish prayer

Monday, April 11, 2005


This is a floating clock I've just installed. You can get it at These guys make Windows PCs look like Apples...

Tiger is out of the Woods!

The only spectator sport I think I'm clever enough to enjoy watching is television golf. I don't understand the details of cricket, nor Australian footy, nor American football. I am a little familiar with baseball, most of tennis and soccer and swimming. But golf, on TV, is something else. It's almost always magical, at least when the good ones are playing. Tiger has been in a drought for soooooo long, it's great to see him come back and win the Masters again. I didn't think I was watching golf, actually. It was more like a series of accidental miracles, like the crazy shot on the 16th. The ball stayed at the lip of the hole for three seconds before trickling in. But kudos to Chris DiMarco, never gave up, never surrendered. If you don't understand golf, but feel you're dying to find out more because you think anyone with a cute name like Tiger demands further exploration, here's an explanatory writeup I did many years ago...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

My old adversary is dead...

As I don't have many enemies, I treasure those that I have. As the years go by, one by one they fall and die. The latest who has passed, or at least is missing, is not human, but a bird. This bird lived among the trees on Goderich Street near the YMCA. Without fail, if I took this route on my bicycle, it would attack me by swooping down and pecking at me. With a razor sharp beak and velocity as fast and heavy as a falling arrow, it's a threat I didn't take likely. If I hadn't been wearing my helmet and sunglasses every time, I'd most probably have been blinded or killed. Like a WWII bomber trying to manoeuvre a nifty fighter plane, I usually tried to swerve or pick up speed, but it would just do it continuously, wave after wave of flapping of wings and crashing into my helmet. I wondered why it would attack me, perhaps my helmet and big, black eyes reminded it of a predator. For the past three years, it attacked cyclists along the street. Even the YMCA reception folks knew about this. But this year, it never appeared. It's most probably died, or may have migrated somewhere else. In the heat of battle, I never had the chance to turn my head and study which species it was. And that has been my greatest regret...

Friday, April 8, 2005

Windows Media Non-Player

I've just spent the last hour trying to figure how to use the default Media Player to play .mp3 songs located in my music folder. Actually, the last half hour was spent trying to get out of Choose Skin Mode.
Don't-Try-This-At-Home Public Service Announcement: In Media Player Version 10, click on View, then Skin Chooser. Then activate your desired skin. And try to get out of Skin Chooser. You most probably can't.
So I couldn't get out of skin mode; when I pressed the 'dot Skin Chooser', nothing happened. I finally got around it by some undocumented method that I won't mention because I don't want to spoil the fun. So the next thing I wanted to do was play a song, and be able to choose other songs from my music directory. In Winamp, there's a playlist, and you just click a song on the playlist to hear the song. But in Media Player, yes, I was able to access the playlist, but when say I played a video, or double clicked on an individual, external music file, I couldn't go back to my playlist. I couldn't see any button to do that, and I was stuck!! I finally got it after a long time. The way to play a simple song is that I need to go to View, then Go To, then Library. But this is completely unintuitive. What does 'view' have anything to do with 'going to the library' or 'playing a song'? 'View' is more about changing appearances and looking at something! I don't consider myself a technological doofball. I am quite good at tech support and troubleshooting, can program the PalmOS, do simple websites, and take reasonably good photographs with a 2-megapixel camera. And I know the main difference between a star and a planet. But I can't figure out how to play a song with Windows Media Player! What's wrong with this picture?! Three words: User Interface Design. UI design is one of the things that Microsoft folks are weakest at. It got much better with XP, but some aspects of it are still way off. But the frustrating thing is that I believe they relish this, turning a 'weakness' into a 'feature'. Why? Because folks tend to like things that look complicated because it gives them a sense of importance. Just like a messy desk signifies a hardworking person, that sort of weird logic. I'd let you in on a secret. I don't really know how to use the latest version of Microsoft Powerpoint that's found in school. At least I'm quite slow at it and have to keep thinking about what to do next. On my computer, I have Powerpoint 2000 produced half a decade ago. This older version will beat the pulp out of the latest Powerpoint. Why, again? Because it's easier to use. The designers need to keep thinking up of new features every year. Do most people need the new features? No. More eye-candy, yes. But more illogical, unintuitive, frustrating features just for the sake of 'looking busy'. Especially when I just want to do a simple thing like play a list of songs with the Media Player...

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

There's a microphone in your ear

So today's auditory lecture was quite wonderful. The lecturer, a new Canadian guy, was describing how the ear works, how different frequencies were picked up by the hair follicles(?), how the gears inside would operate like a real Hi-Fi speaker, the Fourier Transforms done inside which affected the feedback mechanism that heightens sensitivity, and so on. And I was, like, son of a mother!

As I've just programmed my tuning fork application last week, I was naturally very interested in this topic. It is, essentially, a considerable engineering feat. The logical, sensible, intelligent ponderings that go behind the construction of the ear. I'm sure the eye and brain are very much complicated and exquisite, but because I know a little bit about music production, I'm more 'convinced' about the functions of the ear. So this lecture is almost like a theology lesson, because one is tempted to think that God is very clever to do all this. However, it's not theology that leads us to our understanding, it's actually science, which can be ironic when we think about popular notions about the supposedly zero-sum-game between science and 'religion'.

I think the power of science is the fact that it acknowledges its fallibility, as compared to the infallibility of religious dogma. Science says, "What I tell you now is most likely correct, but it can always be wrong." Ahh...what sweet sounds to a scientist. That's what I like a lot of our lecturers and tutors. More often than not, they're very skeptical about their own field of expertise, and they make it a point to express it, folks like D. Milech and the current 315 tutor. I think that's very, very cool.

There's a school of thought that believes science should be relegated in favour of religious dogma. Probably the most famous one is the 'creationism' or Intelligent Design. These guys want the theory of evolution to be removed from high school textbooks. They want to teach that an Intelligent Being (most likely, God) is behind the creation of the universe since there's no way such exquisite things (like the ear) can happen out of pure chance. Although I'm of the personal opinion that yes, there may seem a divine intent in creation, I think those creationists are just on the wrong track. Science does its best work when it's untainted by dogma. Schools should teach science, not articles of personal faith. But the most important thing that folks would do well to understand is that science isn't an enemy of 'religion'. On the contrary, it's probably its best companion and sidekick.

Today's optional theological reading: Bible Stories Told With Lego™ Bricks

Sunday, April 3, 2005

What is it, really, that keeps an airplane in the air?

In the latest issue of Australia Flying magazine, columnist and flight instructor Jim Davies talks about what keeps an airplane in the air. He discussed the same topic two years in what I thought was an incredible article: no one really seems to know for sure how lift works! It's really bizarre. The Bernoulii effect is one of the main explanations, but it's actually wrong. I remember my junior college physics teacher saying to us, 'We can use the Bernoullliiii effect to describe how planes fly...' A reader commented in the Letters section in the following issue: "Forget all the grand Newtonian theories, Bernoulli wind flows, action/reaction relations. They are all invariably wrong. A plane stays in the air because of money." Davis talks about how the Aussie authorities still refuses to accept the errors of the traditional explanations of flight. The nonsensical 'two air molecules will wave each other goodbye and move apart when they hit the wings, and then be reconciled together at the end of the wing' traditional theory. NASA has a 'myth-buster' webpage here.

Friday, April 1, 2005

Liam Neeson on Sesame Street

Mr Neeson is one of my three favourite actors. I can't remember the other two. Anyway, I was watching Sesame Street today, and he was a guest! He's doing some filming and is directed by The Count. Neeson counts up to 20 or something, and The Count is so pleased that he asks him to do it again. "Why? Wasn't that good enough?" The Count says he wants him to do it again because he does it so well. And then the second time round, his performance is so good... har har harrrrr, the lightning strikes, thunder claps and the rain falls. And so they're counting in the rain...get it?! Oh, never mind... More pictures here.

Culture of Hypocrisy

Terry Schiavo has passed. God will take care of her now. George Bush offered his condolences:
"I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life™ where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others,"
Pandering to the ChristianReligiousPoliticalRight, Bush rushed back from his holiday to sign a bill to 'save' Terry, and to gain additional political capital on the way. Scores of people dead in Indonesia aren't able to pull Bush away from his vacation. He has not attended a single funeral (as far as I know) of the 1500 US soldiers who have fallen in iraq. A 'culture of life'? A culture of rank hypocrisy is more like it. In 1999, Bush signed a bill which directly contradicts his current position. Terry may have died, but the religious/political circus has only begun. Optional commentary from Jon Stewart: here, here.