Saturday, April 30, 2005

Choreography Subject to Change

I've always been a fan of Vanessa Mae. First heard about her during my first job after college (which isn't that long ago). Child prodigy, alternates between a 1761 Guadagnini and a Zeta electric violin, played with the Philharmonie Orchestra when she was ten, three classical albums by the time she was 13. Oh, and one of her albums showed her half-submerged in water, wearing a wet shirt and playing the violin.

I listened to almost all of her albums - from The Violin Player to The Classical Album to Storm to The Four Seasons to The Classical Collection. Things became interesting when the all-pop Subject to Change came out after a long break. I'm not sure whether to like the album or not. The pieces are very different from her usual work. Still impressive and powerful, but repetitive. Each of the tracks has its own style - as if Vanessa is experimenting or trying to satisfy everyone so she included all possible genres.

I get the same feeling with her latest album Choreography. Vanessa goes back to her classical crossover style with some multicultural world music thrown in for good measure. Check out the track listing and you'll know what I mean:

Choreography (2004)

  1. Sabre Dance (new and ...)
  2. Roxanne's Veil (by Vangelis)
  3. Bolero For Violin and Orchestra (... improved ...)
  4. Tango De Los Exilados (tango)
  5. The Havana Slide (cha cha)
  6. Emerald Tiger (Celtic?)
  7. Tribal Gathering (potential soundtrack for Survivor)
  8. Raga's Dance (only Raga knows)
  9. Moroccan Roll (Mediterranean?)
  10. Handel's Minuet (... now with beta-carotene)
I'm switching to Bond for the meantime.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Nokia 6680

After more than a year of using the Series 40 classic 6230, I've now moved on to the Series 60 smartphone 6680. I wasn't that happy at first because I've grown quite accustomed to the small 6230, which fits into just about anywhere. And that stereo FM feature is nice for long train rides. It's just so much hassle to transfer all those contacts, saved SMS messages, notes, to-do lists, profile settings, bookmarks, and WAP/MMS settings. But the 6680 comes with some much more:

  • It's a 3G phone, which means browsing the Internet is way faster than 2.5G GPRS or EDGE.
  • It has a 1.3 megapixel camera that comes with flash, 6x digital zoom, self-timer, night mode, and sequence mode.
  • There's a VGA camera in front as well for video calls. (Suggestion: Don't take video calls if you're some place inappropriate.)
  • The display is crystal-clear and supports 256k colors.
  • It supports Push-to-Talk, like a walkie-talkie.
  • The phone comes preinstalled with a couple of games, QuickOffice (for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents), RealPlayer (for movie clips, audio files, and streaming video), a WAPxHTML browser, a photo editor, a video editor, etc.
  • To extend the feature set further, I installed DorisBrowser (for real Internet browsing), OggPlay (to play my OGG files), AgileMessenger (to do Yahoo!Chat), eBook (to read Palm DOC ebooks on the train), Torch (for use in the dark), etc.
The only downside I see for this phone is the lack of an FM tuner. Also, IR is gone - replaced by Bluetooth. Good enough for file transfers, but you still need IR to make your phone function as a remote controller. It also lacks a dedicated volume control button, but that's ok.

Technical specs are here if anyone's interested.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Wollongong the Gong

It was a long Anzac Day weekend, so we decided to take the car to Wollongong for a spin. People here usually go farther than that, but 100kms to anywhere is far enough for me.

Going to Wollongong is no problem. Just take Princes Highway all the way south and that's it. Speed limits range from 70kph to 110 kph. We took a detour at Lawrence Hargrave Drive and headed for Stanwell Park. There's a nice park and beach, but that's just about it. Next, we went to the Bald Hill lookout, a known haven for hangliders. A few hangliders are set up and lying on the grass, but I didn't see anyone hangliding.

On our way back to Princes Highway, we stopped by the Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple. I understand it's Australia's first Hindu temple. I took off my shoes and was able to take a look inside the temple. Unfortunately, picture-taking is prohibited inside.

Upon getting to Wollongong, we didn't explore the city centre anymore. We headed straight for Nan Tien Temple in Berkeley. It is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. First thing you see is the temple main gate which looks similar to the archways you see in Chinatowns around the world, except that this one is bigger. Further on is the 8-storey pagoda, which is actually a resting place for the cremated ashes of devotees and their relatives. In the Pagoda's atrium are some Buddha statues and a wishing bell. Beside is the Pagoda is the main temple. The Front Shrine (a.k.a. the Great Compassion Shrine) looks imposing enough. Inside in a prominent statue of Guan Yin. Here, she is portrayed as having a third eye and multiple hands holding various instruments. Behind the Front Shrine is a vast courtyard, then the Main Shrine (a.k.a. the Great Hero Hall). On either side, you'll find the Drum and the Gong. Inside is a giant altar with the Buddhas of the Five Directions.

There's also a 190-seat auditorium, a museum cum tourist shop, a reception room, a dining hall serving vegetarian meals, a meditation hall, a lotus pond, and the 3-storey Pilgrim Lodge with 100 suites.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Magpie and the Pigeon

Yesterday on my way to work, I saw this magpie, pecking away at something on the side of the road. I thought it was a piece of rag or something. I took a closer look, and it turned out to be a brown pigeon. I shooed the magpie away. The pigeon was actually still alive! The magpie had been plucking out its feathers one by one, to get to the meat I guess. I was so angry I could've struck out at the magpie if I had a stick or something. I mean, it's not even dead yet!

The pigeon was injured and couldn't walk/fly away. And the magpie was just standing there - staring at me, waiting for me to leave the scene of the crime, so it can continue its dastardly deed. I approached the magpie until it finally went away. I picked up the pigeon, and left it on a grassy lot. (Pets are not allowed in the office.)

Today, I passed by the same place, and the pigeon is still there. But it's not moving anymore. Goodbye, bird-eat-bird world.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Of Breath Tests, Mobile Power and Lawnmowers

I got my second alcohol breath test yesterday. The traffic police flagged me down and asked me to blow on a portable breathalyzer. It's 9:30 in the morning! You're not getting any alcohol reading from me. (Not that you'll get anything even at 9:30 at night.) My first breath test works differently. Instead of blowing, the officer asked me to count from 1 to 10 into a machine. Afraid that he might find out that I was not drinking 8 glasses of water per day, I counted while holding my breath. (Is that even possible?) I was let off without any incident.

Ever notice that the battery of your mobile phone becomes flat just when you need to make that very important call? Forget about hand cranks. I saw this shop selling this nifty thingie that you attached to the port where you normally attach the charger. Apparently, it's an external battery that feeds power to your phone's battery, so you can at least make a few minutes (or hours) worth of calls. Why can't they just attach solar panels on the phone covers, huh?

The grass in the backyard is running wild, so it's time to look for a lawn mower. After going through the 2-strokes, the 4-strokes, mowers with mulchers, mowers without mulchers, etc. I decided to go for the simple hand mower. No, it doesn't mow hands. It simply means the mower runs on human power and not on petrol. I figured it would be good exercise, and it isn't that hard to operate when the shopowner demonstrated it to me. Ah, but things are different out in the real world. After an afternoon of handmowing, I think it's time to seriously consider a "real" lawnmower.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Are You Happy Now, Charles?

I normally don't do current events, but I think these are worth a mention.

Pope John Paul II, who headed the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, died on April 2 of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse, but had been struggling with declining health for many years. His funeral was held on April 8, and his body will buried in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope John XXIII lay before he was brought up onto the main floor of the basilica.

The next day, April 9, Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles, his long-time love, in a civil wedding ceremony at a register office. Then off to Windsor Castle for a blessing ceremony attended by 750 VIP guests.

Que sera sera.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

SecondHand Saturday

SecondHand Saturday is a giant neighbourhood garage sales held in individual households to promote reuse, on the Saturday prior to the Council's General Household Cleanup. Residents register with their local Council, who will then publicise all of the sales in the local media to maximise turn out. Participating households display signs out the front of their homes advertising their sales. Any items which are not snapped up by neighbours and bargain hunters are collected by the council's general household cleanup the following day.

Stuff I bought, was given, and picked up:

  • a pair of Infinity desktop speakers for $10 (The lady is selling a perfectly working color Canon Bubble Jet printer including cartridges for the same amount, but who needs printers at home?)
  • a Seiko Corona Melodia mantel clock (Wind it up and it plays Zigeunerweisen.)
  • Happy Meal toys from The Muppets, The Incredibles, Monster Inc., McDonald's and Winnie the Pooh for $1 (The lady asked me to get another handful for free, but I don't want to be greedy.)
  • a 5-level timber bookshelf for $25
  • a suitcase travel alarm clock from Merrill Lynch for $1 (Some online stores are selling it for US$50.)
  • a set of National Panasonic hi-fi speakers
  • a Teac portable AM/FM radio with CD player
  • a small particleboard table
  • miscellaneous PC parts and books

Third Swatch Lucky

They say a watch says a lot about a person. I wonder what my Swatch Irony says about me?

I bought my first Swatch in Manila back in 2003. It's a Once Again, and I bought it at a discount. Swatch prices are pretty much the same everywhere, and they rarely give discounts. They had a sale that one time because it's their 10th anniversary in the Philippines. I liked the Once Again model because the design is very simple and classic. Black plastic strap and body, white face, black markers and hands. The hands and markers are glow-in-the-dark, and there's even a magnified day/date window. A few weeks later, the plastic groove holding the battery cover in place started to crack. There were more cracks after a few days, and the cover came off, rendering the watch useless. Thinking maybe it's an old stock, and the plastic becoming brittle, I had the watch replaced. After a few weeks of normal usage, the same thing happened again. Applying super glue on the affected areas didn't help. It took weeks of persistent nagging before Swatch agreed to a refund.

And it's not like these Swatches are cheap. For the same amount of money, I could've bought a pretty decent classic Seiko or Casio (with a metal strap too, although I prefer leather). But I have to have a Swatch. To make sure nothing breaks apart this time, I bought an Irony. I was supposed to buy a Twirl Black when I was in Kuala Lumpur, but I ran out of shopping time. It turned out to be even cheaper at the Changi Airport Duty Free. Solid stainless steel casing, black face, silver markers, luminous-white hands and digits, bright-red second hand, and date function. Hope this one lasts longer.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Stephen Hawking Special

Finished two Hawking-related books. I said finished, not understood. A lot of the stuff just went flying over my head.

First is Kitty Ferguson's Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything. It's not really a biography - more like an introduction to the man, his family life, how it all started, past discoveries and recent research. People who haven't read A Brief History of Time or had a hard time understanding it should probably start with this book. Kitty devotes most of the pages explaining in plain English Hawking's theories and how he arrived at them.

I would be surprised if Kitty really understood everything written in the book. I mean, I understand fermions and boson, strong and weak forces, the uncertainty principle, general relativity, quantum mechanics, singularities, black holes, event horizon, entropy, etc. But when the discussion starts going into arbitrary elements, the cosmological constant, wormholes, superstrings, four-dimension space-time, my mind just can't take it anymore.

I'm surprised to find out at the end of the book that Stephen later separated with his wife of 20+ years. Jane has always been a devout Christian, and Stephen, well, let's just say he believes the moment of Creation started with a singularity. Then, there were grumblings that Stephen has been putting more priority on international tours, media outings, and his research than his family, which ultimately resulted in the breakup. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

I also finished The Universe in a Nutshell, Hawking's sequel to A Brief History of Time. Did you know that:

  • Time is pear-shaped? Einstein's theory of relativity shows that time and space are inextricably interconnected. One cannot curve space without curving time as well. And this time is bent back by matter in the early universe. The whole universe we observe is contained in a region whose boundary shrinks to zero at the big bang, which gives time its pear shape.
  • The universe has multiple histories? I myself didn't know this. I just know that it has something to do with uncertainty principle, anthropic principle, and the universe being inflationary. Next.
  • We can actually predict the future, as postulated by Newtonian determinism. Even with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, we still have to wave function to tell us how probable it is for something to happen. However, if information is being lost in black holes, then that would reduce our ability to predict the future. Question is, does part of the wave function get lost in black holes, does all of information get out again, as the p-brane model suggests?
  • Time travel might just be possible. It has something to do with wormholes, cosmic strings, time travel horizon, time loops, negative energy flowing back into black holes, etc. Hawking didn't give a blueprint for a time machine.
Hawking also talked about the inevitability of DNA tweaking and growing embryos externally to speed up evolution. Pretty cool stuff, even if I didn't understand half of it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Gmail Invites, Anyone?

Found out just recently that Gmail is slowly opening up its doors to the public. Gmail invitations used to be so hard to get that you have to be somebody or know a somebody to get one. They're so scarce, was set up to facilitate exchange of Gmail invites from people who have them and people who'll do just about anything to get one.

So now what do I do with my 50 Gmail invites?