Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Gong via Great Pacific Drive

There's a new marketing effort for the Grand Pacific Drive - a scenic coastal route from Sydney to Wollongong. Took me a day to get to Wollongong and back. Here's how I did it:

  • Hacking River at AudleyGet on to Princes Highway. I made my entry from Marrickville.
  • Turn left into the Royal National Park via Farnell Avenue.
  • Pay the vehicle entry fee of $11. Don't forget to leave the receipt on the dashboard.
  • Stop at the Visitors' Center to buy a park map and use the toilet.
  • Take the 30-min Bungoona Path at the end of which is a great lookout of the Hacking River and its banks.
  • Drive along Sir Bertrum Stevens Drive and head for Wattamolla to see the beach and the lagoon.
  • Wattamolla LagoonContinue along Lady Wakehurst Drive. Stop at Otford Lookout and Bald Hill for magnificent views of the South Pacific Ocean.
  • Turn left when you hit Lawrence Hargrave Drive.
  • Further south is the newly-opened 665-metre Sea Cliff Bridge linking Coalcliff and Cliffton.
  • Continue south along Scarborough, Wombarra, Coledale, Austinmer, and Thirroul.
  • At Bulli, turn left at Point Street, then left at Blackall Street for Sandon Point and Bulli Beach.
  • Otford LookoutTurn right at Farrell Road, left at Carrington Street, right at Park Road, then left at Railway Parade.
  • Follow the road and you'll pass by the Science Centre and Planetarium, North Wollongong Beach and Novotel on your right.
  • Take a left on Bourke Street, then turn right at Cliff Road/Marine Drive for the Wollongong Harbour and the lighthouses at Flagstaff Hill.
  • Stop by the WIN Sports and Entertainment Centre for a late lunch.
  • Nan Tien Temple PagodaTake a left at Corrimal Street, which later becomes Springhill Road.
  • Take a right at Five Islands Road, then left at Glastonbury Avenue.
  • Follow the signs to Nan Tien Temple.
  • Get back to Five Islands Road, and right at Princes Highway.
  • Turn left at Cordeaux Road, then right at Harry Graham Drive.
  • After a lot of twists and turns, take a right at Mt. Keira Road.
  • Turn left at Queen Elizabeth Drive for Mt. Keira lookout with the best views of the whole Wollongong.
  • Head back to Mt. Keira Road, left at Princes Highway back to Sydney.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Krisworld Movie Marathon (The Return)

I, Robot

Felt a bit like Michael Bay's The Island due to the copious amounts of product placement. Quite an entertaining film though with Mr. Smith providing all the wisecracks and the action. Not too heavy on the plot, lots of wham-bang action scenes - just like how a summer action flick should be like.

Movie is set in 2035 AD where robots are everywhere, working as assistants (read glorified slaves) for humans. Everyone seems to take their presence for granted, except for Chicago Police Detective Del Spooner, who have this nagging suspicion that they're can't be trusted. Never mind that all robots are hardwired to follow Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. For those who haven't read the book (or watched the movie), I quote:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
A murder and a series of "accidents" lead Spooner to believe that the new NS-5 robots being rolled out by US Robotics are not as innocent as they seem. Together with psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin, Spooner tries to find the culprit behind the conspiracy plot. Was it Sonny who is not bound by the three laws? Was it CEO Lawrence Robertson who wants Sonny terminated? Was it the murdered Dr. Alfred Lanning who designed the NS-5 robots and created Sonny? Or was it someone else?

Chicken Little

This movie has the potential to be as good as Finding Nemo or Madagascar, but it failed to deliver. Too many characters who are poorly developed and a plot that is so thin they had to feature a baseball game and a fat pig in a karaoke bar singing Spice Girls' If You Wanna Be My Lover (from start to finish). It tries too hard to be cute and funny. Too many winking allusions and self-congratulatory in-jokes. This movie should not have made it to the big screen. It shouldn't even go straight to video. It should probably be done as an animated short, and forgotten.

Most of you have probably already heard of Chicken Little and his claim that the sky is falling, causing massive chaos in the town of Oakey Oaks. To redeem himself, he joins the local baseball team and won a major game, even though he can barely lift the bat and see out of his helmet. The town hails him as a hero, and all is well. Along come a fallen piece of the sky and a lost alien boy. Chicken Little and his friends try their best to keep this knowledge from the town. Next thing you know, the aliens are tearing up the town a la War of the Worlds looking for the lost kid, and it's up to Chicken Little and his dad to save the town. The only good part is the alternate Hollywood-style ending for the movie. Such a riot!

Aeon Flux

Don't bother watching this film. Oh, there's a plot all right. The problem is, it doesn't make any sense. It's the year 2011, and 99% of the Earth's population is wiped out by a deadly virus. For 400 years, the rest of the population lived within a walled nirvana called Bregna, lorded over by the Goodchild dynasty. The rebel Monicans send their best agent Aeon Flux to kill the ruler Trevor Goodchild. Aeon Flux hesitates at the last moment, and they kiss and make love. We are later told that the cure that saved the remaining 1% made them sterile, so they had to clone everyone to come up with the next generation. However, for some reasons, people are starting to become productive again. Nature will find a way. Yeah, right. The Monicans have a big showdown with the Goodchild army. Aeon Flux manages to put bombs on a library balloon circling the city. It crashes into the city wall and creates a gigantic hole to the outer world. Aeon and her boyfriend Trevor then have a cheesy dialogue about now being free and living only once and dying and making way for the new generation, etc. etc.

This movie is really bad. All Charlize Theron does is to strut around in her skintight costumes - a smouldering stare here, a supermodel pose there. The other characters are totally forgettable - and so is the plot.

Last Day in Singapore

Chinese GardensWoke up late. Did some preliminary packing. Had a late buffet breakfast. Rushed off to the Japanese and Chinese Gardens. Skipped lunch. Back to Orchard Road to pick up some pants I left for alterations. Rushed back to the hotel before they charge me an extra half-day. Did request for a late check-out, but the front desk seems to have forgotten about it. Final packing. Dropped off luggages at the concierge. Parkview SquareVisited the new National Library, then further on to Parkview Square and Sultan Mosque. Passed by Bras Basah and bought some books and stamp albums. Picked up bags from hotel concierge. Taxi to airport. Boarded plane. Time for another movie marathon.

Tips for the expert junketeer:

  • Do not unpack everything if you can help it. Leave everything in the luggage. Take out stuff as needed. Saves you time packing when it's time to go. Use the extra time to do something else.
  • If you have to, just use one or two drawers. Saves you the hassle of going through every drawer and cabinet and nook and cranny looking for stuff you might've left behind and worrying on the plane.
  • Sultan MosqueArrange for late check-out the moment you check-in, regardless whether you'll need it or not. Trust me, you'll need it. Confirm that your late-checkout is in the records.
  • Don't bother bringing home all those training materials, brochures, and tourist maps. They're heavy and take up valuable space. Nowadays, everything is available online in case you need to refer to something.
  • If you're into last-minute shopping, there are two things you need to remember. One, set aside enough cash to get to the airport, in case you get carried away. Two, have an extra bag handy. Plastic bags are not strong enough, and they're unwieldly.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Night in Italy in Singapore

Singapore Symphony OrchestraGot nothing better to do after the training course. Rather than stay in the hotel and watch cable TV, I walked over to Esplanade to see what events are on. Bought myself a ticket for A Night in Italy featuring the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) conducted by Lan Shui with solo violinist Jin Li. According to the programme, SSO first violinist Jin Li is a former protege of the legendary Yehudi Menuhin. Born in Guangzhou, Jin Li began violin studies at five and studied at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Primary School before he was selected bMenuhinim himself to study music at the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of 11. The former child prodigy played alongside Menuhin at the United Nations 40th Anniversary Concert together with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, and has performed with the master on a recording of Bach's Double Violin Concerto.

Below is the programme:

  • Rossini The Italian Girl in Algiers: Overture (9Â’)
  • Paganini Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 7 ‘La CampanellaÂ’ (31Â’)
  • Allegro maestoso
  • Adagio
  • Rondo a la clochette - "La Campanella"

  • Intermission (20')
  • Respighi Fountains of Rome (15Â’)
  • Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 (15Â’)
Singapore Symphony OrchestraJin Li came onstage to play Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 2. He plays quite well, but he struggles in the more technically-demanding parts. This is just my opinion, but in some sections, he's just way out of tune. He redeemed himself though in his encore piece right before intermission. Just the same, I was at the head of the queue at the stall foyer to get his autograph.

Most of the pieces are new to me, so I quite enjoyed the performance. My only complaint are the two ladies beside me who were whispering away while the orchestra was playing. These two can't take a hint. The other guy sitting on their other side was so annoyed he left before the concert was over.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Up Close with the Philharmonic Winds

View from Raffles the PlazaI thought the Sunday concert of the Philharmonic Winds start at 3:30pm, but I was wrong - it started at 3pm. I actually got to my hotel room at Raffles the Plaza around 2:30pm. Thought I still have an hour to kill, so I spent a bit of time exploring my room and enjoying the great views of Marina Bay with the Merlion, the Fullerton Hotel, Suntec City, and of course the Esplanade. Inside the EsplanadeBy the time I finished unpacking and strolled over to the Esplanade, I was already 20 minutes late. Understandably, the usher wouldn't let me in during mid-performance. I was quite lucky because there are only two free seats left in the Concert Hall - right in the front row.

The whole thing felt like a family affair. Majority of the audience is made up of moms and dads and the kids, all dressed very casually. The orchestra's uniform is black and red. Everyone got the black right, but the red ranges from blood red to maroon to violet to outright pink. Esplanade Concert HallIt's quite a rousing performance from the Philharmonic Winds and the Philharmonic Youth Winds though. They performed some Chinese favourites such as Mei Guei ("Rose, Rose, I Love You" in English), Muo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), and Teresa Teng's Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart). There's also Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Mama Mia, and for the encore, I Will Survive.

KrisWorld Movie Marathon

KrisWorld is having a Harry Potter festival with all four movies in the franchise being shown in-flight. I watched Goblet of Fire first. Personally, I think each iteration of J.K.Rowling's books are getting worse. It's the same for the movies. It doesn't help that they keep on changing directors. The film comes with an MPAA rating of PG-13. That probably means only for those aged 13 and below, as this is definitely a movie for kids and tweens. Take the Christmas dance ball for example. All these fine wizards worrying who to bring, what to wear, etc. What about the comeback of Lord Voldemort? What about the threat of the Death Eaters? Doesn't anybody care anymore? Then the dance ball becomes a rock-and-roll concert. Where did that come from?! If this is a movie about the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, then concentrate on the them. Don't populate it with too many distractions like the Yule Ball, Hermoine's spat with Ron, Harry's romance with Cho Chang, Harry's fling with Myrtle in the pool, etc. And then that encounter with Voldemort is one long boring monologue. I was, like, can you just zip it and kill Potter already? Rowling did kill off the champion of Hogwarts Cedric to spice things up a bit, but it's not enough. The three tasks assigned for the 1994-1995 Triwizard Tournament is a little bit interesting, but great CG alone is nothing without a good plot.

Next up is Prisoner of Azkaban. At this point, my patience with bad movies is wearing thin, so don't expect any glowing praises for this. Ok, first rant. What's with the bloated aunt sequence? Is it even relevant to the story? My guess is that it's put there only because it was in the book. And it makes for cool special effects. The whole film feels like a mish-mash of extended sequences - the floating aunt, the magical Night Bus, the biting book, Professor Sybil Treelawney and her divinaiton class, Buckbeak the Hippogriff, more Quidditch matches (for the nth time), spells class, potions class, and other inanities. It's a good thing we didn't have to watch the kids brush their teeth in the morning. The only good thing about the movie is the time travel angle, which explained everything neatly the second time around. Then again, using time travel as a deus ex machina to resolve all the loose ends is not good storytelling. I don't blame Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, A Little Princess). That's just how the story goes. At least he was able to extract some better-than-average acting from his wards.

I got so fed up with Harry Potter, I decided to go for some old-school Chinese martial arts flick like Seven Swords (a.k.a. Chat Gim or Qi Jian in Mandarin). In summary, it's another nonsense movie in spite of the big stars and the cool trailer and the massive hype. I mean, what ever happened to Tsui Hark? This is the guy who gave us classic series such as A Better Tomorrow (a.k.a. Ying xiong ben se) and Once Upon a Time in China (a.k.a. Huang Fei-hong). Seven Swords is set in 17th century Western China, where the long-ruling Ming Dynasty was overthrown by Manchurian invaders from the North. To prevent any possible uprisings, martial law was declared. All martial art practitioners are to surrender all weapons to government officials, or else face immediate execution. Fire-Wind and his Goth goons have been on the rampage, and their last port of call is Bowei Fortress. Knowing their days are numbered, retired executioner Fu Zingzhu and villagers Wu Yuan Yin (Charlie Young) and Han Zhi Ban (Yi Lu) travels to Mount Heaven, and came back with four master swordsmen as reinforcement. Seven of them against Fire-Wind's hundreds. Yeah, right. Each of the swordsmen comes with a specially-designed sword. Seven SwordsWhen the rouges come knocking at the village doors, Charlie Yeung doesn't even know how to operate her sword. RTFM, girl. Surprisingly, she didn't end up as dead meat. You know how it ends: good guys and bad guys have a final climactic battle. One side wins. Honestly, I don't see anything good in this movie. Leon Lai can carry a tune, and he acts not too bad in Infernal Affairs, but in this movie, he's made of wood. Charlie Yeung is as cute as ever, but that's all there is to it. So-yeon Kim is a looker, but too bad I don't understand Korean. And her actions make no sense. Donnie Yen is a solid martial artist, but he doesn't get to show off his sills much in the movie. There's lots of fighting scenes all right, but the camera work is such that you can't see much of the overall choreography.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Radio.Blog Me

radio.blogAfter days of research and trial-and-error, I've finally got my own up and running. Just what is a From, " is the first stand-alone player that lets you stream sound on your website." A nifty tool for people who can't have all their songs on local storage, or if you simply want to share music. For now, I'm putting up my Top 5 Super Mushy Love Songs Best Played in the Middle of the Night when It's So Quiet You Can Hear a Pin Drop, which I mentioned before.

I tell you, setting up a is not an easy task, even for a geek like me. The Flash app and the back-end scripts are straight-forward. The hard part is getting a webhost to host the program and media files. There are literally hundreds of free webhosts out there, but most of them are useless as host. One webhost has a 300kB filesize limit. Another one doesn't actually support PHP. And all these details I only got to know after I've signed up. I can just imagine all the spam I'm gonna get in the coming months.

What to look for in a webhost:

  • Free hosting. Why pay if something can be had for free?
  • PHP support. runs on PHP scripts and the player uses Flash.
  • Storage space. The more megs, the more files on your playlist.
  • Bandwidth. No point having lots of hosted files if users can't stream it off the host.
  • Max filesize. This is one of the fine-print details they don't tell you about. What good is a host if it only allows 300kB music files?
  • Direct-linking. If you're going to use the webhost simply as an online storage and put the player somewhere else, this is a must.
  • Browser and FTP upload. Some hosts offer one or the other. Two is always better than one.
One thing you also need to remember: Only mp3 files encoded as 64kbps 22.05kHz joint-stereo or 32kbps 22.05khz mono are allowed. Tweak the settings a little bit and your RBS files will play back double-time.