Friday, June 30, 2006

World Cup 2006 Germany vs. Argentina

Germany didn't manage to score during the first half, in spite of the insistent cheering from the home crowd. Argentina's Ayala managed to score a goal on the 49th minutes. Ten minutes before end of regular time, Ballack's cross was flicked on by Borowski, then Klose put it in with a header to tie the game. Thirty minutes passed by, and it came to a penalty shootout. Germany's boys sunk all four balls in, while Lehmann managed to save Ayala's and Cambiasso's attempts.

Germany beats Argentina 4-2 on penalty shootout after the game ended 1-1.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

SQ Movie Marathon (Outbound)

Having paid premium fare for a Singapore Airlines flight, it's just right that I spend all my waking hours on the plane catching up on the movies.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This slow, slow movie runs for two hours and twenty minutes. Thank heavens for the fast-forward button. Even though I kept the movie on fast-forward mode, I was still able to make out the overall story. Probably because I've already read the seven books that make up C.S. Lewis' classic work. Still, if a movie doesn't engage the audience, in spite of all the special effects and grand battles scenes, then it's no good. I just can't feel for the characters. The kids keep bickering, the dialogues are awfully cheesy, everything feels scripted. It's like you know everything will work out in the end anyway. The only interesting part of the movie is when Santa Claus showed up in his sleigh bearing gifts of potions and weapons. Very convenient. The scene I dislike most is when the Ice Queen "killed" Aslan. Has a Roman crucifixion feel to it. I don't know about you, but when I kill someone, I make sure he's dead. Quartered preferably, and remember to throw the pieces to the dogs and wolves so there's no chance in Narnia that he will be resurrected by some mumbo jumbo "Deep Magic" or "Moral Law".


Crash comes highly recommended by a colleague, and I'm happy I took her advice. The movie is about racial stereotypes and how it affects all of us - from the perpetuators to the victims. There's quite a number of characters in the movie. They all have their own stories to tell, their own insecurities and prejudices, and it's wonderful how the movie manages to bring them all together in the end.

You have the redneck patrol cop with an ailing father, the African-American TV director who's trying to blend in, his uptown wife, the Latino locksmith and his family, two young blacks who carjack on the side, the Persian family after the American dream, the black detective and his Puerto Rican girlfriend. In one scene, the two black teenagers emerge from an Italian restaurant. One kid was (Guy A) complaining to the other (Guy B) about the treatment they get. They had to wait like an hour before they got their spaghetti. While other white patrons are waiting, they get served coffee, but not them. Guy B commented that they don't drink coffee anyway. But that's not the point, Guy A insists. And to think the waitress is also black. Maybe she knows we're lousy tippers, suggested Guy B. Did you leave a tip?, he asks. For that kind of service? No way, says Guy A. Guy B chuckles. It's not funny, says Guy A. But it is so funny, I say. Black humour, pun intended.

Further down the road, we see Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser walking, fashionably dressed. As the approach the oncoming black teenagers, Sandra Bullock walks closer to George and clutches his arm. Guy A sees this, and again he complains to Guy B. See that? Just because we're blacks. There's a chill wind; maybe she's cold, reasons Guy B. In a street full of white people, we should be the ones who are afraid, counters Guy A. Now, why should people be afraid of us, asks Guy A. Um, because we have guns?, says Guy B. Right! The two swings into action and drags Sandra and Brendan out of the SUV, and off they go to the chop shop.

Back at the couple's house, we see Sandra berating Brendan within an inch of his life. They got this Latino guy to change all the locks in the house. Right in front of the guy, Sandra tells Brendan to get another locksmith to change the locks first thing tomorrow so "the gang-banger doesn't sell the keys to his amigos". The Latino guy probably has received this kind of treatment before, as he didn't react. Incidentally, he's also the locksmith who fixed the lock of this Persian guy's store, who keeps getting robbed by the neighborhood thugs. The locksmith was telling the Persian man that he already put in a new lock, but the problem is the door. The Persian insists that there's nothing wrong with the door, and wants the man to fix the lock. Fix the door! Fix the lock! Fix The Door! Fix The Lock! Obviously, the cheapskate Persian guy is not gonna pay for the lock, so the locksmith left in frustration. The Persian man must be feeling smug because he and his daughter recently bought a gun and a box of bullets. (Now, there's another very funny scene with the gunstore owner insisting he won't sell guns to 9/11 Iraqi murderers. But later he still did, for a profit. Long live capitalism!) Next day, the Persian man comes to the store to see it totally thrashed. Insurance man comes in and declares they're not paying because it's the owner's negligence for not fixing the door. With his American Dream crumbling right before his very eyes, he reacts in the way he knows best. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the robbers didn't steal the gun in the drawer. With the gun loaded, our Persian friend goes to the locksmith's house and lies in wait. The locksmith later comes home to his wife and daughter. Persian man pulls out the gun and demands the locksmith give him back his money. The locksmith offers him everything in his pockets, but the Persian man says that's not what he wants. Greedy bastard. Just as he fires, the little girl runs up to her dad to protect him. (The locksmith told her that she's wearing a cape of invincibility. The lies parents tell kids.) And the shot takes her squarely in the back. This is the Oscar moment of the whole movie. The look of confused remorse on the Persian guy's face, and the look of hopeless anguish on the locksmith's face. Now that's powerful drama!

I can tell you the story about the redneck patrol cop and how he sexually harassed the African-American director's sexy wife, how that incident caused the couple's breakup because the wife thought the husband should've defend her honor, but they both knew nothing can be done, and how later the same redneck cop saved the very same woman in a fiery car accident, and all was well, but I would rather you watch the movie yourself.

Before I forget the punchline. The Persian guy's daughter (intentionally?) bought the wrong type of bullets - they're blanks - so the locksmith's little girl never got hurt. I guess she'll keep on believing she's invincible and join the armed forces when she grows up.


Not sure which animation company produced this, but this movie is so hilarious. Concept is very similar to Shrek - take a familiar tale and turn it on its head. For this movie, it's the well-loved story of Little Red Riding Hood. Red, as she is called, is a delivery girl for her granny's goodies business. She doesn't know that Granny Puckett has a secret identity as an extreme sports athlete. And the Big Bad Wolf is an investigative reporter. So if he's not the bad guy (know as the Goody Bandit), then who has been stealing the recipes of the goody makers? Is it Kirk the woodsman who sells schnitzels and yearns to be a champion yodeler? Is it Japth the mountain goat with detachable horns who sings all his lines? Is it Twitchy the photographer squirrel who doesn't drink coffee? Is it Boingo the innocent-looking wide-eyed buck-toothed bunny? Flippers the inspector frog interviews them all to pinpoint the culprit. As each one tells his/her story from his/her own point of view, we slowly see the whole picture come together. A novel concept.

The songs used in the movie are very well-chosen, just like in Shrek. Special effects abound, and they're used quite effectively. The movie's a bit short, but tightly edited. And the jokes are downright funny.


Started watching this French movie called Ole!, starring Gerard Depardieu and Gad Elmalah. Gerard plays this French tycoon, while Gad is his Spanish chauffeur-butler-buddy. By the middle of the film, still nothing exciting is happening. Good thing the plane has already landed in Changi Airport.

KLIA to KL Sentral

Once you touch down at the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), you have quite a number of transport options to KL Sentral. All the guys at the arrival area will tell you taxi is the way to go, but don't mind them. Taxi is probably the most convenient one, but I personally don't trust people who actively try to sell me anything. I always take the KLIA Expres, although I believe there are regular buses going to the city.

A one-ticket to KL Sentral via KLIA Expres costs RM35. If you're sure you're flying out again, get the round-trip one. It costs RM70. (Figure that one out!) The trip takes only 20 minutes, and you get to enjoy the views of rubber plantations and building and highways under construction. Hop off at KL Sentral, cross the street, and you're now at Hilton and Le Meridien. Take your pick.

If you're saving your pocket money for fake DVDs, there's a cheaper way to get to KL Sentral. No, it's not called walking or hitchhiking. From KLIA, instead of taking the KLIA Expres, take the KLIA Transit. Pay RM6.20 and get off at Putrajaya. Nice place to have a tour, but not if you have luggages with you. Buy a ticket for KL Sentral for RM9.50. Total cost: RM17.50 instead of RM35. Satisfaction from having beaten the system: priceless.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Career Management Workshop

Anything to break the monotonous routine in the office, so I signed up for this course. The company also offers courses on web authoring, Word, Excel, presentation skills, but with our division merging with a similar division of our competitor soon, I thought this is the right time to get some tips on career management.

It's a two-day workshop handled by an American HR consulting firm. The course comes with cool binders and handouts, morning juice, sandwich lunch, and afternoon coffee. Not bad at all. After two days of the course, I found out that:

  • Mindmaps look great on the whiteboard using coloured markers, but not on a mindmapping software.
  • I'm an ISTJ kind of person, based on the Myers-Briggs personality test.
  • I'm well-suited for my current job role, which requires me to be detailed, analytical, logical, meticulous, and patient. A troubleshooter with a sense of responsibility.
  • I seriously need to think about my future and how to reach it. Darn it!
  • Just because everyone orders the Feng Shui, doesn't mean it tastes good.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

World Cup 2006 - France vs. Togo

Nil-nil at half-time. France trying their best, but Togo is not letting up. They have a few almost-sure goals, but they just can't deliver the goods.

Good thing birthday boy Riviera (30 years of age) and Henry Thierry sunk in a goal each to put France in the Round of 16.

Friday, June 23, 2006

World Cup 2006 - Australia vs. Croatia

Another crucial match I missed. I did wake up at 5am, but thought another 5 minutes wouldn't matter. It did because I didn't wake up until it was time to leave for the office. From what I've heard and read later, it's Australia's most exciting game yet. Australia needs only to draw to get into the Round of 16.

Guus Hiddink surprised everyone by making Zeljko Kalac the goalkeeper of the match, instead of the ever-dependable Mark Scharwzer. It proved to be a costly mistake. Srna of Croatia made an easy shot. Kalac fumbled and the ball rolled over him and into the net.

It was such a bad move, I'm sure Kalac would like to kick himself in the head, if that's possible to do. Moore put Australia back into the game by scoring an penalty-shot equalizer at the 39th minute. A bit of a scuffle ensued, and Croatia's Suminic was given a yellow card, then another, but the referee somehow forgot to take him out of the game. Suminic didn't behave himself, and earned his 3rd yellow card. Three strikes and out.

At the 56th minute, Nino Kovad of Croatia scored another superb goal. Just when things are getting a bit desperate, Harry Kewell stepped up to the plate and kicked in a superb goal at the 79th minute, ensuring Australia's inclusion in the Round of 16 with a 2-all draw.

Monday, June 19, 2006

World Cup 2006 - Australia vs. Brazil

Very critical match for Australias as they are playing against the inventors of the Beautiful Game. Too bad I didn't manage to stay awake to watch the game live.

Anyway, it's quite an exciting match. The Australians played very well, too. Twice Harry Kewell had very clear shots, but somehow he failed to deliver. Plus a very nice acrobatic shot from Bresciano. Too bad it was saved by Brazilian goalkeeper Dida.

Brazil won the match 2-0, courtesy of Adriano and a soft nudge by Fred into the net at the 90th minute.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup 2006 - Brazil vs. Croatia

Despite all the hype about mobile TV, I just don't see it taking off. I've had access to mobile TV for quite some time now via Optus LiveTV. Technically, it's not the real DVB-H standard, but simply a "real-time" video stream of the free-to-air channels. So I woke up at five in the morning to catch the Brazil-Croatia match. My whole bedroom was so cold, and my bed was so warm that I didn't want to get out of bed, even if that meant missing the kick-off. So what's a techie guy to do? Well, you fire up RealPlayer on the 6680, and tune in to the SBS video stream via 3G.

Everything works fine except for a couple of things:

  • Even at 3G speeds, the phone still keeps on buffering.
  • Shrinking the whole stadium to mobile-screen size means Ronaldo and Ronaldhino are mere moving pixels.
  • By half-time, the battery level has gone down to one bar.
With the score at 1-0 in favour of the Brazilians, I'm sure the Croatians will make the 2nd half more exciting, so I went to the living this time. I expected more from the Brazilians, but they're not delivering. Every time they mount an attack, the Croatians always manage to get possession and drive them back. Ronaldo was not doing his thing, so he was bundled out. The Croatians are doing a very good job in offence and defense, but in the end Brazil won 1-0.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Albert's New Shoes

The human psychology is a mysterious and fascinating thing. You can always fool other people, but you can't fool yourself.

Do you really need a new pair of shoes? You've got three pairs of rubber shoes: one for walking, one for light wear, one for strenuous activities. You have two pairs of loafers: one for regular use, one for carpeted/minimal walking. You have three pairs of office shoes: a brown one for light pants, a black one for dark pants, and another black one for load-balancing. So do you really need another pair? Boat shoes at that?

This shoe outlet store is having a sale, you see. And it's not just any sale. From the discounted price, they're still giving another 50% off. It's true that Colorado is selling THEIR boat shoe for half THAT price (AND it even has a washable insole with an Energy Return System), but it's still not a Sperry. Not that I'm obsessed with brands and stuff, but I truly believe that certain things are expensive for a reason. So I found the model I wanted, and it happened to be the last pair, too - in my exact size and in the exact color shade. In the weird way that my mind works, I thought that there could be some other model with is better and/or cheaper, so I put my pair back on the shelf. The moment it left my hands, this Japanese tourist picked it up, tried it on, and took it to the cashier. Talk about timing. It was at this point that I decided that I HAVE to buy a pair - any pair - to replace the one that slipped away.

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup 2006 - Australia vs. Japan

Australia's first game for World Cup 2006. The first half ended 1-0 in Japan's favour. The Japanese side made a goal attempt. Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer rushes out to block it, but the Japanese striker was obstructing him, and the ball went it. No way that ball should've been counted, but it's good enough for the Egyptian referee, so the controversial goal stays. I started to get bored at this point because Australia's attempts kept being thwarted by the Japanese who are always milling around the goal area. The Aussies are playing well, but their defense could've been better. And there's too many close calls with the Japanese constantly coming near the penalty box.

Come second-half, Gus Hiddink called in Cahill to replace Bresciano. That's proved to be a very good call, as Tim Cahill went to on score two goals for Australia in the last 10 minutes of the match. Even before the Japanese had the time to say, "What's going on?" (in Nihonggo), John Aloisi put in another goal for good measure.

Australia wins 3-1.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Stars and Planets at the Opera House

Not 100% pleased with tonight's Stars and Planets concert at the Opera House. For one, it was raining - hard. Two, the only reason I bought the concert ticket is violin soloist Akiko Suwanai. I listened to her Dvorak/Sarasate CD before, and was very impressed, so this time I wanted to see her perform live in person. Guess what? She can't make it due to health reasons, and Mirijam Contzen was requested to stand in. Apparently, it's not a last-minute decision, as the programme had Ms. Contzen's bio in it. I'm just irritated that ticket holders (who registered with their email addresses) were not informed earlier. I could've at least managed my expectations a bit better. What's more, yesterday's concert was broadcast live on ABC Classic FM. It says so on the flyer. Had I known.....

Akiko Suwanai was supposed to play Vaughn William's The Lark Ascending and Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. For Mirijam Contzen, she chose Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 2 in D, K211 and Ravel's Tzigane. I have to say I prefer Ms. Contzen's repertoire more. Here's the complete set:

  • Georges Lentz (born 1965): Ngangkar
  • W.A. Mozart (1756 - 1791): Violin Concerto No. 2 in D, K211
  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Andante
  3. Rondeau
  • Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937): Tzigane - concert rhapsody
  • Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934): The Planets, Opus 32
  1. Mars, the Bringer of War
  2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
  3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
  4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jolity
  5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
  6. Uranus, the Magician
  7. Nepture, the Mystic
The first piece was terribly boring. Ngangkar (an Aboriginal word for 'stars') is supposed to represent the vastness of the Australian landscape and its beautiful night skies. To me, it sounds like random instruments taking turns playing a short sample. Almost all instruments in the orchestra were used, including the gongs. I half expected a didgeridoo to sound out - fortunately not.

Mirijam Contzen played well, but not as good as I expected. She has great control when playing fast movements - remarkable in Tzigane - but played quite a few double notes in the slow movements. Funny, but almost all female solo violinists I've seen wear off-shoulder numbers.

The Sydney Symphony did a splendid job with Holst's The Planets. Mars is loud, overbearing and brassy. Venus is tranquil and serene. Mercury is lively and spirited. I particularly liked Jupiter - wave after wave of happiness. HK-TVB uses a section of Jupiter for the opening sequence of its movies and TV series, much like THX' Deep Note, so it somehow got stuck in my head. Saturn sounds like a march - slow and solemn. Dunno how Uranus the Magician got its name. Neptune is truly mystical. At one point, I thought I heard human voices singing. I figured it was some instrument making a pretty decent simulation. Then it became clearer and clearer. I tried to locate the source, but it's coming from all around. It was only when a spotlight shone at the far left end of the dress circle did I see the choir. Great acoustics this concert hall.

One thing I'd like to mention. I've been to the concert hall a couple of times, and this is the first time I saw (and felt) the Grand Organ in action. It's supposedly the world's largest mechanical tracker action organ, and only 12 people in the world knows how to operate it. A guy went up to it, and played it during The Planets.

Swan Lake on Ice at Star City Lyric Theatre

This is my first time to watch an ice-skating performance, and I'm really impressed. I've seen ice-skating competitions on TV and the ads for the show, but the real thing is better than I expected. For one, all 26 members of the Imperial Ice Stars are accomplished ice-skaters, and it shows. Imagine skating at full speed, in tune with the music, trying to remember the routine, interacting with the other skaters, and emoting, in a space that is only a tenth of a standard Olympic skating rink. That's gotta be hard.

The sets and lighting are simple yet effective, and the music and the cast's actions and expression drive the story forward. The show opens at a palace courtyard where we see Prince Siegfried (Vadim Yarkov) and his sidekick Benno (Andrei Penkine). It's the day before the Prince's 21st birthday. Everyone is dancing in pairs and having such fun. The Queen arrives and tells him that he is to choose a bride during his birthday party tomorrow and inherit the kingdom. Count Von Rothbart (Anton Klykov), who acts as mentor to the Prince, introduces him to his daughter Odile (Olena Pyatash). The Prince is not interested, and goes hunting with a crossbow.

After a quick set change, the stage is now a dark, bleak forest. The Prince and his hunting party comes to an enchanted lake where they see the Swan Princess Odette (Olga Sharutenko) and her flock of swans (in human form). Olga Sharutenko is definitely one of the highlights of this show. Her ice-skating and dancing skills are so good and graceful. As the pair dances, Prince Siegfried declares his love to Odette and tells her to come to tomorrow's Grand Ball with his ring, which she strings on her neck. Just what she needed to break the curse that made her into a swan. After the Prince left, the evil Count Von Rothbart swoops in and snatches the ring from Odette. Anton Klykov is another great dancer - cocky, forceful, powerful. He did a couple of 360-degree backflips (on iceskates) that left the audience gasping in wonder, including me.

Second part of the show opens at the Royal Hall, where Prince Siegfried is supposed to choose his wife from among the princesses. He dances with them one by one, but doesn't show much interest for he is smoothen with Odette. The princesses and their escorts must come from different parts of the world, judging from the costumes they were wearing. You've got Spanish matadors, Russian Cossack dancers, flamenco dancers, etc. with each set of dancers doing special routines, like tap dancing and gymnastics. Very nice. The evil Von Rothbart arrives with his daughter Odile, who is magically transformed to look like Odette. Of course, as Odette and Odile are played by different persons, they don't really look alike. That's just how the story goes. Anyway, Odile is a wonderful dancer herself. Fooled by Von Rothbart's sorcery and mesmerized by Odile's beauty, the Prince declares his love to Odile. At this point, the Count produces the royal family ring, and the Prince put it on Odile. Meanwhile, the real Odette was watching from a window, and she flees brokenhearted. Realizing his mistake, the Prince gives chase.

Back in the woods, Odette confronts the Count and later dances mournfully with her swans. They were dressed in white, the stage lights were turned off, and the UV lights turned on. It was a magnificent sight. Prince Siegfried arrives later, dances with Odette, and begs her for forgiveness. Odile, seeing how her father orchestrated everything, and how the couple truly loves each other, relinquishes the ring to Odette. Again Von Rothbart, together with his goons on stilts, arrives to break up the party. (I never knew you can ice-skate on stilts.) They had a big fight with thunder and lightning. The Prince and Benno cross swords with Von Rothbart, and he was later struck down. Thus, Odette was freed from the curse, and lived happily in human form with her Prince. The end.