Thursday, October 27, 2005

I'm Pondering Over Whether To Buy This Dictionary...

So I pondered up and down, left and right, over and under... hahaa sorry Tym... ;p I love dictionaries, even if I cannot claim to know many words found in the Englishphere. I still remember that by Primary Six, I was probably the only person in class who had a dictionary (I used the Little Oxford Dictionary) prominently displayed on the desk; I could beat anyone at the time trials when it came to looking up a word. Sure, it was little, but the title's just a decoy; it has many, many words, with short and concise explanations.

The next dictionary that I used was the Oxford Paperback Dictionary. It's so good I'd been using it for over 15 years. It has words like Stephan Hawking, George Bush, Seneca, Gaza Strip, Madonna... the so called 'encyclopaedic entries'. These are words that other dictionaries are loathe to include since the 'importance' of proper nouns is really subjective and it's difficult to decide which ones are more 'worthy' to be included in the dictionary. As I'm going to take the CELTA course (to improve my blogging) next month in Siam (so probably no blogging for the entire month), I thought it'd be good to buy a 'learner's dictionary'.

Now, most people who have learnt English as a second language would probably have come across the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Heck, on the fascinating history of the OALD website, it says that it's probably the most pirated book in the world LOL. I looked at the copy that my parents used; it was a 1974 edition with Chinese translation (not pirated, as far as I can tell!). AS Hornby wrote the first edition in 1948, in wartime Japan. Since then, the dictionary has sold 30 million copies, and is still selling at the rate of one copy every minute. Now I've had the impression that the OALD is fine for 'learners', or 'beginners'. It not only has the usual definitions, it includes sample sentences to illustrate exactly how a word is supposed to be used. The only thing that a more 'advanced' person might be concerned about is the relatively fewer number of headwords it includes compared to a 'non-learner's' dictionary.

The lastest 2005 Seventh Edition paints a different picture. It now contains 183,500 British and American English words, phrases and meanings. Now, it is unclear how many headwords this actually represents, but the numbers sure look formidable. So what I did was to go to Borders for a couple of hours and randomly picked pages, and see how it compares to the newest edition of the Paperback dictionary. My findings were favourable; the OALD doesn't lose out much, and in fact it includes headwords that the Paperback doesn't. So that was a pleasant surprise.

There are a few competitors in the 'learners' dictionary market. Coming in a close second is Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English. Third place goes to the very new Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary. I think that the bad thing about the Cambridge dictionary is a problem with the user interface (UI). It's like comparing the UI of a Palm and a PocketPC, or an iPod with a Zen; it's about how the whole thing is put together. And to this end, the OALD is tops. The fonts, font size and colour, symbols, example sentences, parts of speech etc. are all exquisitely presented in an intuitive manner. It's simply a joy to read. (Off topic: my favourite online dictionary is the Merriam-Webster. I've included a link to it on the right margin.) So anyway, I've decided to use the OALD as my 'default' dictionary. It's too bad 'Cartland, Dame Barbara Hamilton (born 1901), English writer of romantic fiction.' isn't listed. Well, you win some and you lose some... So I'd highly recommend this if you're looking for a new dictionary. It's OK even if you're not exactly a 'learner'. Also, get the cheaper International Student's Edition from Kinokuniya, and remember to choose the version with the CD-ROM. Here're some screenshots. :) Update (!): Just a short note on my new findings. The Longman dictionary has one remarkable feature: audio entries of tens of thousands of sample sentences on the CD-ROM. The OALD also has audio pronunciations (both British and American English), but only of headwords. I still prefer the latter though. The Longman cannot hold a candle to the OALD in terms of extra help in grammar and other useful information. As for online presence, the OALD, Longman, and all provide plenty of good stuff...

2013 Update (!): My favourite online dictionary is now the OALD., the paper version is now in its 8th edition.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Singapore Skyline Featured On Civilization IV Website!

Thanks to Wandie for catching this in a previous comment. It's true! The homepage of the Civ IV website features local buildings! (Click below for bigger picture.) Walking along the paved Roman road, you'll reach the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The White House is beside it. The buildings above the WH are, from left to right, Singapore Land Tower, Maybank Tower, OUB Centre, UOB Plaza 1 and 2 (separated by the road), and OCBC Centre. The real life view is here. Way cool! :)

Google As Cultural Anthropology

I've just spent a second day yesterday at Borders reading The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. The book had me at page four when author John Battelle described Google as having the potential to store this Database of Intentions when we are able to analyse what people are searching for, and what results are being returned. And I was like....whoaaaa! Prof Battelle was a co-founder of Wired magazine and studied Cultural Anthropology in uni, so his angle on the story, apart from the obvious technological and business phenomenon that Google represents, is utterly fascinating. The philosopher in Sophie's World asks Sophie to think about these questions: Who am I? And why am I here?, I've always wanted to know What do you want? Google has the potential to provide this answer because the things that people are searching for on their computers mirrors exactly what their intentions are. Substitute 'intentions' for 'desires', 'wants', 'hopes', 'lusts', 'meaning of life' etc. And these intentions are like archaeological layers that we can then dig up and analyse. The Google Zeitgeist is a good superficial example of this, teasing us with some idea of what folks in various places are searching for. From that website,
"We should note that in compiling the Zeitgeist, no individual searcher's information is available or accessible to us. What you see here is a cumulative snapshot of interesting queries people are asking – some over time, some within country domains, and some on – that perhaps reveal a bit of the human condition. We appreciate the contribution all Google users make to these fascinating bits of information.
Internet surfers might not have found what they're looking for (well at least I know Bono hasn't), but Google knows what folks are trying to look for to a large extent. And it's not telling, partly due to technical reasons (there are so many interesting ways to present the Zeitgeist, and some really require lots of brute computing force!), and partly due to ethical ones like their Do No Evil ethic. But who knows what evil is? The book also covers the history of the search engines, a little more on how LarryPageRank came about, the constant battle against folks who try to work around the system, some legit, others not so legit, the innocent folks who suffer during Google Dance, the question of doing business of China... And oh, incidentally, Google has stopped addressing Taiwan as 'province of China' after getting complaints for the description in Google Maps. It has now taken away the description entirely, which I thought was a clever and reasonable way to sidestep the issue hahaa. Do no evil, Google! You have the Database of Intentions, and the authority to decide what country belongs to whom, in your hands!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Eye Candy: Hercules C-130

10 years ago, I boarded a C-130 for Taiwan to work for a local defence contractor. The experience beats any trip on economy, business, or first class. These screenshots are from CaptainSim.

Monday, October 17, 2005

October: National Cyber Security Awareness Month

Last night, an MSN friend told me two of her friends' hard disks were progressively being erased due to some virus while we were chatting. Don't let this happen to you. Always use protection! Microsoft has declared this month National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Apart from the tips given, here are mine.
Best Practices To Prevent Bad Things From Happening 1) Use Firefox, and Internet Explorer only when necessary (free of charge). 2) Install Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. Turn on Window's Automatic Updates (free). 3) Use a firewall such as ZoneAlarm (free). 4) Use an antivirus software and engage the automatic updates (free). 5) Use a spyware and adware detection program like Ad-Aware (free).
These are the essentials. Of course there are other things that can also be weak links, like ezy-to-guess passwords, non-VPNed WiFi, opening attachments when they are not expected... I hope I haven't made you paranoid hahaa Update (!): In other news, gssq struggles with spyware...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Civilization IV Music: WOW!

I don't play many computer games, though there are some I spend quite a lot of time on. A few of my favourite are flying games (Aces of the Pacific, MS Flight Simulator), strategy games (Civilization, SimCity), serious war games (Operation Flashpoint), grand epics (Total War) and the odd promiscuous game (Sims 2, contains nudity on my computer because I added a 'remove pixelations' line in the config.file hahaa).

As all strategy games know, the Civilizations franchise is like an institution. I mean, Sid Meier is like some deity... What's fun about this game is that one learns so much about history and human progress throughout the centuries. It's one of the few more 'educational' games around. I don't like shooting games like Quake et al. (yewl, so much senseless violence, blood and gore! hahaaa) When music is added to a computer games, it brings so much more to the experience. Two more recent works that come to my mind are the music from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Rome: Total War. The Stars Wars game had a plot and musical score that rivals (and some would even say surpasses) that from Episodes I and II.

And now comes Civilization IV, the game that will immediately occupy the weekday nights and weekends of all self-respecting strategy gamers... But first, you can listen to some of the soundtrack at the Civ IV website, in the 'media' section. I can't wait for this game to appear next month...

Update (!): A website called Civilization Anonymous is now warning people not to buy this game because it's too addictive. It's both funny and serious. Most gamers would be able to identify with this. You need to click all the links to get the whole story! George W. is apparently a member of the support group. I'm very excited by the role that religion plays in this new version of the game, and here's what he has to say about this.
"If religion has taught us anything...uh... throughout the centuries, it's that sometimes, to achieve peace, well, got to start by killing a lot of people...uh... it's just the way it is. But also...but love. You have to kill them with love, and understanding... and kindness..." ~George W.
Update (!!): New music is now available from Christopher Tin's website. The theme song is sooooo goood! The other Civ IV song is Coronation.
Baba Yetu (from Civilization 4) The opening menu music from the highly acclaimed Civilization 4 features Talisman A Cappella, the award-winning singing group that Chris used to music direct. The lyrics are a Swahili adaptation of the Lord's prayer: "Our Father, who art in heaven..." This version, available for download, is the original 'Composer's Mix', as remastered by award-winning engineer Casey Stone.
The original version of Baba Yetu can be downloaded from The lyrics are here.

Update (!!!): Woohoo! I just found the lyrics of the version in Civ IV after a long search.
Baba Yetu (The Lord's Prayer in Swahili)
CHORUS Baba yetu yetu, uliye Mbinguni yetu yetu, amina! Baba yetu yetu, uliye Jina lako litukuzwe. (x2)
Utupe leo chakula chetu Tunachohitaji utusamehe Makosa yetu, hey! Kama nasi tunavyowasamehe Waliotukosea usitutie Katika majaribu, lakini Utuokoe, na yule, milelea milele!
CHORUS Ufalme wako ufike utakalo Lifanyike duniani kama mbinguni. (Amina)
CHORUS Utupe leo chakula chetu Tunachohitaji utusamehe Makosa yetu, hey! Kama nasi tunavyowasamehe Waliotukosea usitutie Katika majaribu, lakini Utuokoe, na yule, simama mwehu Baba yetu yetu uliye Jina lako litukuzwe. (x2)
"Here is a rough translation. Everything is mixed around, so I had to compensate. Tin added a bunch of extra "yetu"'s ("our"'s), so I took them out in the translation. I didn't understand some of the grammar, so I looked up key words in a dictionary and pasted corresponding Lord's Prayer from NKJ version of the Bible."
CHORUS Our Father, who art in Heaven. Amen! Our Father, Hallowed be thy name. (x2) Give us this day our daily bread, Forgive us of our trespasses As we forgive others Who tresspass against us Lead us not into temptation, but deiver us from Evil, and you are forever and ever!
CHORUS Thy kingdom come, thy will be done On Earth as it is in Heaven. (Amen)
CHORUS Give us this day our daily bread, Forgive us of our trespasses As we forgive others Who tresspass against us Lead us not into temptation, but deiver us from Evil, and you wake the dead (?) Our Father, who art... Hallowed be thy name. (x2)
Update (IV)!: I emailed Christopher Tin earlier today to ask for the lyrics (before I found the above), and he just replied me!
Hi Jeffrey, Thanks for your email. It's a pretty standard Swahili translation of the Lord's prayer, except that there are some mistakes. For example, the Swahili words for Jesus ('Yesu') and 'our' ('yetu') are very similar....and the text SHOULD be reading: Baba yetu, Yesu uliye mbinguni Yesu, Yesu, amina. Baba yetu, Yesu uliye Jina lako litukuzwe. The extra 'Yesu's', which mistakenly became 'Yetu's' in the final version, were inserted to make it work rhythmically. There were a few other syllables here and there that were altered, with a liberal dash of artistic license, to make it work musically.
By the way....if you feel so inclined, I would love it if you would email the people at 2K games and tell them what you thought about the music, and what you thought about the song. I'm trying to get more video game work, and every kind word helps. :) Best, Chris

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Art Of Writing Press Statements

As visitors to this blog might know, I love to read, and sometimes write, press statements/releases. Press statements are like structured prose that have their own unique blend of style and substance. They usually contain 'spin'. There's a difference between this and say, op-eds. Op-eds are spin too sometimes, but press statements are 'higher degree' spins, in the sense that the reader, before reading the piece, assumes that some sort of spin is imminent! Nonetheless, my sympathies are with people whose jobs require them to do write press statements. I can imagine the same dilemma I myself would experience if I happen to have a PR job. Most of the time, press releases are an essential source of information (like iPod press releases, for e.g.), and at other times, it can also be used for more interesting purposes... Now one thing about PR stuff is that it's not easy to write good spin: it takes practice and repeated training. One important skill is 'remembering what you've written before', especially if the spin is conducted over a period of time. So there's this interesting ongoing exchange in the ST Forum between Cherian George and Chen Hwai Liang, Press Secretary to the PM. You can read the full context at Mr. Wang's. Now the very interesting thing is that on Wednesday, Hwai Liang says...
IN 'MANAGING civil disobedience' (ST, Oct 10), Dr Cherian George regretted that the PAP Government's 'calibrated approach to coercion' and its self-restraint had made it harder for 'pro-democracy activists - (to) remind Singaporeans that they should care about political liberalisation'... ... Third, zero tolerance for law breaking does not equate to zero tolerance for dissenting views. On the contrary, we encourage people to speak up and express their opinions on national policies and community life, so that out of the diversity of views a consensus can be forged, and a better decision made for the good of the nation. Dr George's critical article was published in The Straits Times, contradicting his own claims.
Cherian wrote a letter to the newspaper again on Thursday, and on Friday (today), Hwai Liang responds with...
DR CHERIAN George, in his letter 'Govt shouldn't equate analysis with advocacy' (ST, Oct 13), regrets that the Government had 'cast (his) article ('Managing civil disobedience'; ST, Oct 10) in partisan terms'. His article states that it was 'based on an academic paper on calibrated coercion'. This paper, titled 'Calibrated coercion and the maintenance of hegemony in Singapore', describes Singapore as an instance of 'authoritarian rule', declares that 'the normative thrust of this essay is directed at democratisation', and claims to offer a 'sophisticated understanding of what makes certain kinds of authoritarian rule endure - the better to resist and challenge them'. These statements, which show Dr George's true intention, were omitted from his Straits Times article, which was a sanitised version of his original paper. Is this being non-partisan? ...
That's why I say lah, not easy to write press statements.
And statements are easily contradicted by their own claims! hahaa... So yes, the article was printed in the ST, but the critical parts were 'sanitized' and not included. Maybe Cherian might want to include it in the next printing of his book, Singapore: The air-conditioned, sanitised nation : essays on the politics of comfort and control. Update (!): SingaporeClassics, which recently celebrated its first month of wholesome blogging, has lots more on this snafu, here and here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I Love Op-Eds III (Yet Another One About Pr0n!)

In the previous installment of my current serious I Love Op-Eds, we came across a funny Op-Ed that was pr0nographic. In today's episode, we'll explore yet another comely Op-Ed. It involves pr0n as well. I love sexed-up op-eds...
Blogs: A medium in search of a role By Koh Buck Song For The Straits Times MORE people are becoming agog about blogs. But this frenzied excitement will subside to a new equilibrium sooner than expected. For instance, last week's conviction of two bloggers in Singapore for posting racist remarks online is just the latest development to knock the wind out of the sails of the blogging euphoria. [1] This is, indeed, an age in which anyone with access to the Internet can say anything to everyone else on the planet... But the litmus test will always be: Who will listen? How to gain and sustain a big enough audience? ... I think the more important questions have to do with durability and enduring value - how long they can last, and what special service they can continue to offer. First, durability. Blogs that make it big depend on other 'content aggregators' to give them that push into fame among the less digitally active segments of the population. Without key content aggregators in the mainstream media - like this newspaper - it will always be harder to achieve a tipping point in galvanising action. [2] ... Blogs are generating such a buzz now mainly because of their novelty value. [3] But as more blogs are set up, their scarcity value will drop. Like all other modes of communication before, they become victims of their own success. Remember when websites first came upon the firmament? People thought they would revolutionise the world, so they invested money in dotcoms. We all know what happened after that... Now, what about value? ... Successful blogs today work on one of two main business models: that of Donald Trump or Annabel Chong, the Singaporean girl who moved to the United States and made headlines by breaking a world record in a pornographic act... [4] Mr Trump's approach - that 'there is no such thing as over-exposure' - succeeds because the author is already famous; that is, what is sought-after is the message, not the medium. Ms Chong's model was to throw caution, clothes and all else to the wind. But where is she now? The market for attention, like human beings, is driven by three things: money, sex and power. Mr Trump is money; Ms Chong is sex. For me, the best way blogs can contribute to society is to serve as whistle-blowers against any abuse of power... [5] ... Blogs may soon become just another marketing channel for the Donald Trumps and Annabel Chongs of this world... [6]
Now, in the first sentence, 'aGog' means excited and very interested to find out something. I didn't know this before... [1-3] are the usual things used to... uh... 'discredit' blogs. Key talking points: fame, euphoria, novelty. These are still quite OK. Things turn unbelievably weird a short while later... At [4,6], Koh thinks that successful blogs work on two business models: 'over-exposure' Trump, and 'sexed-up' Chong. Now, I've mentioned before that it's really so bizarre to equate pr0n with blogs. I mean, almost no reasonable person would do this. And here and the previous op-ed, we have two instances of a senior editor and writer doing exactly this! So my question is: why/how/where did this association come from?! My answer is simple: there's no answer, simply because there's no logic to it. It's loosely similar to classical conditioning on a totally strange scale. This is how it works. We normally have a negative reaction such as disgust when we see words that refer to pr0n. That's just natural. Now, the trick is to present 'pr0n' and 'blogs' at the same time. In a short while, every time someone sees 'blogs', he or she will subsequently have a reaction of 'disgust' (and all ancillary reactions to 'pr0n'). It's really quite a powerful effect. Does it work? Yes, I think it will work. It would be even better if the initial pairing (pr0n->disgust) was bizarre enough to prevent further inquiry for a person reading this op-ed. For example, if we equate blogs with kids' homework (for the purpose of making blogs look like amateurish enterprises), people might say, "Oh, that sounds cute, perhaps it's good for kids to blog; it'll just be like doing homework." So, 'homework->not so extreme reaction' is not bizarre enough; this will backfire because more people will then blog. On the other hand, let's associate blogs with pr0n. A person might then say, "Wow, pr0n! That's really something! Hmm... so since the newspaper is linking blogs and pr0n together, there must be some truth in it. I'll just accept this since there's no way for me to verify whether this is reasonable or not as I don't know enough about the pr0n industry. Better safe than sorry!" I find this way to 'discredit' blogs to be quite elegant. The classical conditioning stuff works, make no mistake about it. Say it enough times, and people shall believe it. In the meantime, I'm still trying to get some sort of euphoria as I end today's entry. Maybe I'll get it when [5]'s done...

Monday, October 10, 2005

World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day. According to WHO, "450 million people worldwide are affected by mental, neurological or behavioural problems at any time." Some people's problems are more serious than others. Some fulfill DSM criteria, others might not. Nonetheless, I think folks are generally getting a raw deal, at least in the local context. Apart from the inherent difficulties associated with any illness, mental illnesses come with extra baggage: the totally unnecessary stigma attached to it. Much of it comes from the mass media (especially Channel 8 Chinese shows!) that often uses some sensational scapegoat to juice up proceedings. Another is the question seen in some job applications: "Have you ever had the occasion to see a psychiatrist?" I wonder how many people have thought twice before seeking help because of that question. In my opinion, it's really irrelevant, and truly racist discriminatory. (I've heard that this line of questioning is illegal in the US.) Perhaps there's hope yet with more awareness and less hype. I volunteer with the SG Association for Mental Health, and they have two talks this Wednesday afternoon and night. There's a talk about recovering from mental illnesses from 2-5pm, and the session at night focuses on myths about schizophrenia and caregivers from 7-9pm at the IRAS Auditorium. Call 62831576 for more info. I guess generally, we still fall far behind more 'developed' countries in terms of welfare and social support. Still, that's not really surprising since it was only recently that we realised that building lifts at MRT stations is actually a good thing! Just to see what how other countries are doing, I was looking at the events organised in Australia, and just hopping to the Western Australia section (WA's population is half of Singapore's), there are more than 60 events scheduled this week. Also, mental health isn't just about mental disorders. For example, Gilbert posted a sad poem about pre-teen suicides a few days ago. WHO estimates that 2,400 people take their lives around the world per day. It's quite a shocking statistic. So please, take care of yourselves, and your mental health too...

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Repainting Aircraft

Phew! I'd finally finished repainting this airplane. This is like the digital version of the traditional 'airfix' where one uses spraypaint or paintbrush to do the plane's liveries. Nowadays, it's Photoshop! (Or, in my case, Fireworks!). Get this plane from Aeroworx.