Sunday, January 30, 2005

Roddick and MasterCard

Just wanted to mention this smart advertisement for MasterCard. (They're a major sponsor of the Australian Open.) It shows Roddick hand-carrying his trophy on the plane, and getting into all sorts of tight spots. He and his trophy would be obstructing the in-flight movie. His ceremonial cheque would be blocking the corridor. The person in front of him would tilt his seat all the way down, squashing him and his trophy. The stewardess would "assist" him in jamming his trophy into the overhead compartment, and later on it would come crashing down on his head.

Next scene shows Roddick making plane reservations. This time he insisted on having two seats on the return flight, paid of course with his MasterCard. Normally, the ad would should him seated comfortably with a gleaming trophy beside him. As Roddick lost to Hewitt just a few days ago, the MasterCard ad now shows Roddick shaking his head slightly, and the seat beside him empty. Then this beautiful girl walks by and asks him if the seat is taken. She proceed to seat beside him. Now I'm thinking, what if Roddick never made that second ad - would he have won against Hewitt in the semi-finals?

Safin-Hewitt Championship Match at Australian Open

Tonight, the Australian Open closes with Marat Safin winning 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 against Lleyton Hewitt in the men's single championship.

The first set went pretty bad for Safin. He was sluggish; his balls kept hitting the net, or going out of bounds. The second set is pretty much the same, but Safin managed to win that one. Don't know what happened to Hewitt because he was playing well and consistently. He was so confident we didn't get to hear his customary "C'mon" until the second set. Too bad Safin found his rhythm and dominated the rest of the match with aces and accurate groundstrokes. Hewitt missed his date with destiny and Safin was third time lucky.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Hewitt-Roddick Match at Australian Open

I had such high hopes for Andy Roddick. He is undeniably the master of serves, but it always helps to have other tricks up your sleeves. When Hewitt started catching on to his superfast serves, Roddick's in deep trouble. Hewitt just wears him down until he makes an unforced error. Roddick did make 31 aces, but he also had way too many double faults.

Hewitt won the match 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, becoming the first Australian men's singles finalist in 17 years. Now ranked number two after this win, Hewitt faces Marat Safin on Sunday night.

Safin-Federer Match at Australian Open

Knowing that it's Marat Safin's 25th birthday, I should've figured that he's gonna want this match to be a birthday gift. Instead, I've decided early on that Federer is going to win, given his ice-cool rock-solid performance, compared to Safin's unpredictable temperament. Wrong analysis.

Federer played things safe at the start of the match. Safin is keeping his temper in check pretty well, too. By the third set, cracks started appear in the Swiss armour. Federer's unforced errors are starting to pile up. Safin's returns are becoming more consistent and accurate. At one point, Federer threw down his racket in frustration. He started grimacing with every error, and cheering himself up with every point. He managed to save six matchpoints, but at the end of 4 hours and 28 minutes, Safin won 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 9-7, ending Federer's 26-match winning streak.

The match is so intense and evenly matched, I got a headache just watching. Happy birthday, Safin!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hewitt-Nalbandian Match at Australian Open

I only got to see the last set of this match because I was at Darling Harbour watching the Australia Day fireworks. Apparently, another kind of fireworks is happening at Melbourne Park's Rod Laver Arena.

Judging from the scores (6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 3-6) and the playing times (41min, 35min, 30min, 38min) of the first four sets, it would seem the last set would be an easy win. It turned out to be anything but. Watching the epic battle that is the fifth set is to know what suspense means. With multiple deuces and matchpoints, there's not way of telling who will win. Today being Australia Day, Hewitt is dead set in giving the record audience something to celebrate, but David Nalbandian is a fine fighter, and won't go down that easily. The match dragged on for four hours and 5 minutes with a final score of 10-8.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Federer-Agassi Match at Australian Open

For this match, I even went all the way to Sydney Opera House to see it on the outdoor big screen. The match didn't disappoint. Agassi was playing his best, but Federer was even better. The man's a machine. He doesn't get flustered when he misses a ball, he doesn't get angry when he makes mistakes, he doesn't react when he wins a point (except for the final matchpoint).

He made 22 aces, and managed to return almost every ball that Agassi delivers. Final score is 6-3 6-4 6-4, making this Federer's 26th consecutive win.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Molik-Williams Match at Australian Open

Venus wasn't herself when she played the first set. She practically gave it away. She came back on the second set with all cylinders firing, but Molik was ready for her. Venus played aggressively, but she made too many errors. Molik hang on till the end, and won the match 7-5 7-6 (7-3). Too bad for Williams - she could've won this one easily.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

No Australian Open Matches Today

Actually, what I meant was, I didn't get to see any matches today. Tough luck. Channel Seven's match coverage usually starts at 8:30pm. I dutifully tuned in at that time, but didn't see any matches going on. Turns out today's coverage is from 11am to 6pm. No Federer, no Agassi, no Sharapova. Bad.

Roger Federer def. Marcos Baghdatis 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4)
Andre Agassi def. Joachim Johansson
6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4
Serena Williams def. Nadia Petrova 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
Maria Sharapova def. Sylvia Farina Elia 4-6, 6-1, 6-2

Instead I watched Legends of the Fall.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Hewitt-Chela Match at Australian Open

I have to say I'm not impressed with tonight's match. Seems to me the "new and improved" Hewitt needs some additional work. There's nothing spectacular in the way Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Ignacio Chela played. To Chela's credit, he did force the match to go into the fourth set. The guys were just keeping the ball in play for as long as they could, until one of them gets unlucky and makes an unforced error. And there were lots of unforced errors. Lots of standard shots that didn't cross the net. Hopefully, a different opponent for Hewitt will up the level of play.

Hewitt really has to tone done his "Come on!" shouts. Blake and Chela aren't the only ones who find them unnecessary. Sometimes he uses his trademark shout even when his opponent makes a simple mistake. I mean, it's not like he made this difficult shot and he's rewarding himself with a pat in the back.

Hewitt defeats Chela 6-2 4-6 6-1 6-4.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Agassi-Dent Match at Australian Open

Living legend Andre Agassi shows that he still got what it takes. He doesn't work himself too hard anymore, but can still chase a ball if needed to. Taylor Dent kept the match exciting with his net-rushing and serve-and-volley style of play. Worked at first, but Agassi got wise to it. He started countering with lobs and sending the balls to the back. In the end, Dent just made too many errors.

Agassi won three straight sets 7-5 7-6 6-1.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Molik-Nakamura Match at Australian Open

Tonight, it's the Molik-Nakamura show. Alicia Molik is an excellent player, but she's not consistent. She's making way too many unforced errors. It's a good thing Aiko Nakamura made even more. It's such an effort watching the girls play. It's a grunt fest for every serve and return. Nakamura is obviously overpowered by Molik. She started doing two-handed returns. There were times when she can't hold her racquet steady, and the ball fly off wide. Nakamura must be the first Japanese I've seen with so many pimples. She has great form, though. Alicia Molik wins 6-2 6-4.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Federer-Suzuki Match at Australian Open

Finished watching (on TV) the match between Federer and Suzuki at Melbourne Park, Australian Open. The match was just awesome. So entertaining, I was cheering every time a point is won (or lost). Roger Federer is the picture of precision and power, while Takao Suzuki is a worthy opponent with his 210kph serves and relentless net-rushing. There were times the guys had to smile because of the fantastic shots they were making. For example, Suzuki made a winning drop-volley. It looked hopeless, but Federer still chased it down, and returned it around the net for a service break. No wonder the guy is No. 1.

Federer won the match 6-3 6-4 6-4.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Lazy Kings

The Lazy Kings (Les Rois Faignants) is an extravagant street parade performed by the French theatrical entertainers known as Transe Express. It is based on a French fairytale, with characters such as the Witch on Wheels with her coven of Bicycle Witches, Suzerain of the Alps - searching desperately for his true love atop the Royal haystack, Mortibus Orgiac - a monarch who travels in a luxuriant hearse followed by giant skeletons and wailing burlesque mourners, Prince Hiero Nemo whose clam shell chariot is followed by a truck bearing a swishing mechanical fish in a large tank of water, Stabilof Padock - the gypsy voyager with his numerous offsprings on a rolling bed, etc.

The event has three simultaneous parades starting from different parts of Olympic Park, winding through the avenues, and converging at The Overflow. At first, I followed Padock, then Suzerain, then jumped to the other parades to maximize my photo output. I was pretty close to where the action was, but had to back out from time to time because the flares where spewing out so much ash, and I don't want to damage my camera (and my eyes). Come 9:15pm, I had to get away to join a conference call. I must've walked half a kilometer before the noise level is acceptable. The supposedly hour-long telecon dragged for another half-hour. (Great battery, that 6230.) By the I got back to The Overflow, the culminating finale involving the lazy kings atop a 20-meter-high rig is over.

The Lazy Driver

Yesterday night was the final performance of The Lazy Kings at the Olympic Park. We didn't go on premiere night because we were lazier than the lazy kings. On the second night, we missed the bus, and instead of waiting for another hour, we crossed the Harbour Bridge to take a closer look at the mirror ball. So last night, we definitely had to go.

I got home from work a bit late, but a quick look at the bus timetables show that if I do it right, all the connecting bus rides should get me to Olympic Park on time. I ran all the way to the bus stop, but apparently the bus I was after has gone already. I hopped on the next bus to come along. It was the slowest bus in the whole of Australia.

Maybe it's just because I was in a rush, but I have a feeling that the driver is intentionally driving slowly just to spite me. He never went beyond second gear. He stops when the light turns yellow. (Yellow means go faster, man.) He stops at every bus stop. (Yeah, there are people getting on and off, but that's not the point.) He negotiates each roundabout properly and very slowly. (Go over 'em, mate!) At the rate we're going, he'll never encounter an accident during his lifetime. I know there's nothing I can do about it, but I can't help getting agitated. Two minutes to get to my connecting bus. I was staring hard at the back of his head, thinking Faster! Faster!, using my hidden ESP powers, but his will is too strong.

I actually saw my bus driving away, as we turned into the main road. Oh well, so much for my ESP.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Asian CDs

About time I review some Asian CDs. These are pretty rare at the library, but I managed to grab some.

YG Family. Never heard of this group before, but their CD cover featured a baseball mitt and a mic (instead of a baseball), so I thought that was pretty cool. Turns out YG Family is a Korean rap/hiphop group. I've heard a few Chinese rap songs, and I have to say it's not pleasing to the ears. Same goes for Korean rap. My personal theory is that rap/hiphop is not traditionally Asian, so somehow it doesn't go well with the language. Or maybe I'm just old-fashioned. I tried listening to YG Family 2 and YG Family Remix. Only one of their many songs remain in my collection (Get Ready Part 2). Avoid these American hiphop poseurs at all cost.

Elva Hsiao (a.k.a. Xiao Ya Xuan). Billed as Taiwan's Queen of R&B, this girl doesn't disappoint. Listening to her Red Rose CD, I'm not too sure about the R&B part, but the girl can definitely sing. For a Taiwanese, her Mandarin AND English are very very good. The representative work of the CD is the track called Rose, but I like Movie Preview more. In the song Movie Preview, she likens it to being in love. "The movie is just starting, but it feels familiar. Just like an art film, even when the movie is about to end, you still don't understand it. Love is like a movie preview; all you see are the exciting highlights. You're not sure what nice things the future will bring; all you want is to experience them now."

Lee Hyori. Another Korean artist that I have never heard of. Her Stylish...E album features a girl with golder hair and golden tan skin. That's one way to get your CD noticed. Apparently, Lee Hyori is the hottest thing to come out of the K-Pop scene. Just 25 years of age, she's already into singing, concerts, movies, TV drama series, hosting gigs, multimillion ads for mobile phones, beverages, lipsticks, beds, etc. I don't understand Korean, but the songs in her album are quite nice - lots of catchy tunes and a few mellow ballads. Take a look at her picture and tell me she doesn't look like J.Lo.

Stephen Hawking for Beginners

Finished another For Beginners book today. Stephen Hawking for Beginners tells the story of how he started out in the world of theoretical physics, his research into black holes and quantum gravity, how he does research in spite of being afflicted with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), plus some funny anecdotes.

Stephen Hawking first noticed something's wrong in the spring of 1962 when he found it hard to tie his shoelaces. He had contacted ALS, the motor neurone disease, and doctors gave him two years to live. That was his last year in Oxford. It is said that he spent he next few months in deep depression, drinking and listening to Wagner. Near the end of his term at Oxford, he took a bad fall down a staircase (probably due to ALS). He temporarily lost his memory, and couldn't even remember his name. Worried about a possible permanent brain damage, he took the Mensa test for individuals. He scored between 200 and 250.

Another anecdote goes that the class was asked to work on thirteen problems from Electricity and Magnetism by Bleaney & Bleaney. His classmates have been working on the problems for weeks, but only managed to solve one or two. Hawking left it to the last day, spending one morning doing the problems, but managed to finish only the first ten.

The guy is obviously a prodigy, but what makes his achievements even more remarkable is his paralysis. Unlike other scientists, he can't draw out his ideas. He can't perform page-long calculations on equations, writing down intermediate results and referring back to them. Everything has to be done in his head - all mental pictures and mental equations.

At the latter part of the book, the author makes a case as to why Hawking deserves to go to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and pick up his Nobel Prize. It's not going to be easy because the award calls for theoretical discoveries to be verified by experiment. And for cosmologists like Hawking, who deal with theories involving the whole Universe, this might take forever.

2005 Week 2 Happenings

Went to Watsons Bay last weekend. The unobstructed view of the Sydney skyline is just fantastic. The Gap, which is opposite Watsons Bay, provides fantastic clifftop lookouts to the Pacific Ocean. While waiting for my bus back to the city, I noticed this girl. I got off after a few stops to take some pictures of this weather monitoring station. From there, I walked about an hour all the way to Rose Bay. I passed by a lighthouse, a cemetery, Vaucluse (which I didn't explore anymore), and the great lookout near Rose Bay Convent.

Come Wednesday, I was queuing up for the bus to the city. Guess what? The girl I saw in Watsons Bay is also there. What a coincidence. So there's this guy at the back of the bus singing songs. He was way off-key, so I guessed he must have his headphones on or something. Just as I was about to get off, I can hear him talking to someone. I take a look in his direction, I see him without headphones, and talking to himself.

K-Mart is having a 3-day 15%-off sale this weekend. Most of the shops in Westfield Burwood is still having stocktake sales. I passed by this pet store which have cute puppies displayed at the shop windows. Posted is a sign saying "50% OFF". Wow, even lives can be discounted nowadays.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Holiday Reading

Managed to finish a couple of books during the holiday break.

Faster: The Acceleration of Just about Everything is a really, really wonderful book. I've been wanting to read James Gleick's Chaos since college, but never managed to get hold of a copy. His Faster doesn't disappoint though. In a world where everything is moving faster, he asks us to slow down and think about what and why we're rushing for.

We have microwave ovens, but we still get impatient waiting for the "Ding!" One-hour photos are not fast enough; it has to be processed by 30 minutes. Pulse phones gave way to touch-tone phones. Now touch-tone phones need to have speed-dial. The gaps of silence in between CD tracks are shortening. Even fastfood stores have express lanes and drive-thrus. We switch channels with the commercials come on. We don't wait for the credits to finish rolling anymore. We press the Door Close button on elevators and Walk button at street corners way too many times, even if subconsciously we know those are just placebos. Time is too slow, so we buy our jeans prewashed, prefaded, and prepatched at the knees.

You can't hurry love. You can't hurry a souffle. It's still 9 months before you can make a baby, but nobody said we can't multitask. Our TVs have picture-in-picture, allowing us to watch two channels at the same time. We telecommute at the nearest Starbucks shop. We have waterproof shower radios, car phones, magazine trays on exercise machines, TV dinners and Energy Bars, Quick&Hot faucets, etc.

In closing, the author has this to say: "Saving time is a complex mission. Some of us say we want to save time when really we just want to do more. To leave time free, it is necessary to leave time free. It might be simplest to recognize that there is time - however much time - and we make choices about how to spend it, how to spare it, how to use it, and how to fill it." "Death may be an absolute but time is not. Our ancestors may have considered time to be divine property, but we know better - we who have created jet lag, slow-motion instant replays, methamphetamines, the International Date Line, the relativity of physicists, leap years, and leap seconds. Even if you feel yourself rushed by the sheer plenitude of things, even if you eat when the clock says to, you can remember that time is defined, analyzed, measured, and even constructed by humans. It may help to think of time as a continuous flow, rather than a series of segmented packages. Or to find aggressive ways of squandering the time you save. Or at least to recognize that neither technology nor efficiency can acquire more time for you, because time is not a thing you have lost. It is not a thing you ever had. It is what you live in. You can drift in its currents, or you can swim."

I also finished Quantum Theory for Beginners and Newton for Beginners. Sounds like heavy reading, but they're not. The books are filled with illustrations and anecdotes and humour, which makes understanding the complex ideas easier. (Not saying I'm now a quantum theory guru.) In Newton for Beginners, the book started off by introducing us to the scientific ideas put forth by Zeno, Archimedes, Aristotle, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, etc. It was then up to Isaac Newton to sift through all the accumulated knowledge of centuries, toss out the mistaken beliefs by mathematically proving them wrong, and single-handedly make enormous advances in mathematics, mechanics, and optics. The book also shows the little-known side of Newton - the terror of coin forgers as England's Master of the Royal Mint, an alchemist, and a secret heretic. He learned Hebrew and retranslated the Bible from original texts, where he discovered that Athanasius doctored key passages in the Bible during the 4th century. The falsified text elevates Christ on a level with God and the Holy Spirit in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, when Christ is simply another prophet like Moses.

In Quantum Theory for Beginners, the book gives us a step-by-step tour of how quantum theory came about. It's a wonder quantum theory is even formulated given how long classical physics has been entrenched. It's a good thing there were still some experiments and phenomena that can't be explained by classical physics, such as the blackbody radiation, the photoelectric effect, and bright line optical spectra. These were separately explained by Planck, Einstein, and Bohr by assuming that energy came in discrete quantities (quanta). Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Dirac would later build on these initial concepts to make Quantum Theory what it is today.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's Day TV Shows

uSBS is showing Train of Life on NYE. Too bad I can't stay at home and watch. Now that I think about it, I could've watched it on my mobile as SBS channel is available on Optus Zoo Live TV as streaming video, instead of inhaling second-hand smoke while waiting for the fireworks.

The first time I watched Train of Life is during a film festival back in Manila a few years ago. Story is about this village idiot who comes up with a brilliant idea on how to save the Jewish town from being sent to the concentration camps during the Holocaust. His plan is to buy a locomotive, train some of the villagers to be Nazi officers, then head for Palestine. It's a bit far-fetched, but it does allow for some very funny situations, until you get to the surprise ending. That's when you realize what the movie is really about.

For New Year's Day, SBS is showing part three of Midnight Circus, The New Year's Day Concert 2005 live from Vienna, and the best of Eat Carpet 2004.

Midnight Circus is a compilation of short arts and entertainment segments from arts companies from around the world. I caught only the latter part of the show. Hong Kong is represented by Symphony of Lights. It's basically a 14-minute lights-and-sound show incorporating architectural lighting, laser effects and pyrotechnics on selected building fronting the Victoria Harbour. Then, we have a seductive tango number with a bit of electronica from Argentina. From Samoa, we have a high-powered percussion, dance, and fire show. As usual, China did some acrobatic ballet number. From Finland, we have an outdoor synchronized ice-skating program called "Jekyll and Hyde on Ice". From Slovakia is another kinetic group dance number involving sticks and axes with some shouting from the dancers.

Next up is the New Year's Day Concert telecast live from Vienna's Musikverein. With Lorin Maazel conducting, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performs classical works by Strauss (Johann and Josef) and some other composers whose names I forgot already. The conductor is obviously is having fun - sometimes acting bored, sometimes animated, always closing the piece with a flourish. The waltzes and polkas were so soothing, I actually dropped off to sleep. When I woke up, it's the Best of Eat Carpet 2004 - a collection of short dramas, documentaries, and experimental films from all around the world. I'll mention a few good ones below:

Gridlock from Belgium - A guy is caught in traffic, so he calls home using his new Motorola mobile. A little girl picks up the phone and says that Mommy is in the bedroom with Uncle Wim. The guy thinks, "What Uncle Wim?!" So he tells his daughter to knock on the bedroom door and tell Mommy that he's already home. The grunting and panting inside stops, and a naked lady runs out into the bathroom, slips on the tiles, and knocks herself dead. Uncle Wim crashes out of the 2nd-floor window into the frozen swimming pool outside. All this the little girl reported over the phone. And the guy realizes his house doesn't have a swimming pool. Can't say whether the Internet joke came first or this short.

Violin from Australia - This is an animation using pencil sketches showing a nude pregnant woman traveling on a ship, a baby wearing a loose suit, and a violin floating around. No dialogue, just violin music in the background. I didn't get what this is trying to say, but I hope his/her Mom gets it because the short was dedicated to her.

La Femme Ballon from USA - A parody done in the French noir style. A man is left by his wife, but he later finds love with a blowup sex doll. They make passionate love, take baths together, ride bikes, go to parks, have nice dinners, etc. Things were going great. As time went by, the man felt that something is amiss. There's a distance in her eyes, a coldness to her touch. She starts ignoring him. One day, the man comes home to find clothes strewn in the living room. Driven by jealousy and rage, he bursts into the bedroom to find his blowup doll having sex with a black man - another sex toy. He chops off his head, then stabs his doll, air blowing everywhere. He takes her limp lifeless body to the beach, and commits suicide. So sad.

NYE 2005

Instead of going to the NYE site 8 hours ahead of schedule like what some people did, we decided to go to The Rocks after the 9pm fireworks display. We even managed to squeeze in a dinner party at a friend's house in Lane Cove. Most of the people there are old-timers, so the opted to watch the midnight fireworks on the television.

We got to The Rocks area about 9:30pm. By then, the whole area was already packed with revellers. Most of the non-tourists are drinking beer and wine and smoking. I observed that when people get drunk, they tend to sing a lot. A group was singing Spanish songs (think Macarena), complete with dance steps. Another group was warbling Christmas songs. Still another guy was singing whatever song he can think of. I've seen a few guys and girls trip and fall down on the floor. A guy was standing on top of a garbage bin to get a good view, and he fell down, too.

At the stroke of midnight, a wave of excitement surged through the crowd as the fireworks display came on. Some people at the back started throwing beer in the air. A guy in front of me popped open a champagne bottle and proceeded to spray everyone in sight.

The fireworks display was great as expected, but definitely shorter than last year's. The giant mirror ball was there all right, but nothing extraordinarily special about it. The bus ride home was pretty exciting. I guess the bus driver was in a hurry to finish his shift, so he was driving way too fast. He was making some hard turns and sudden brakes, causing the ladies at the back to squeal in delight. A woman went up to him to ask for directions, I think. The driver stopped the bus in the middle of the road, refusing to move until the woman went back to her seat.

Anything goes on New Year's Eve.