elb's hovel of thoughts

Monday, May 30, 2005

Le- computer? La- computer?

I had received the following via email and have no clue as to its origins:

A French teacher was explaining to her class that in French, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine. "House" for instance, is feminine - "la maison." "Pencil" however, is masculine - "le crayon."

A student asked, "What gender is 'computer'?" Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether computer" should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for their recommendation.

The men's group decided that "computer" should definitely be of the feminine gender ("la computer"), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;
3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and
4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your pay on accessories for it.

No chuckling ... this gets better!!!

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine ("le computer"), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;
2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;
3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and
4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize; that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

The women won.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

'Hello, can you take a picture for us....?'

Earlier, while on the way to the gym, I noticed a small group of tourists looking around anxiously. The man caught my eye, and approached me.

'Hello, can you take a picture for us....?'

I nodded and gave a smile.

He handed to me his SLR camera, and gestured to me:

'You look through here, and press the button here. And oh, please don't include those bicycles'

After making sure the aperture was correct (he had already set it to the correct setting), I gave the routine 'one two three' bit and snapped the shutter, and gave a thumbs up.

As I continued to walk along the river, I mused to myself: Why does every tourist who apprehends me for aid in getting their perfect holiday picture need to tell me where to look (be it the viewfinder of a typical lens camera or the LCD viewer of a digicam) and where to press the button? Doesn't everyone know the basics of operating a camera?

Then I wondered further: Perhaps they just wanted to make sure that the picture comes out well. Especially if its a film camera where they can't look back at the previous pictures on the fly. Or do they not trust others to know how their camera works? Any opinions? Would you entrust your once-in-a-lifetime picture to a strange on the street?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Taking the Caucasians to lunch

A couple of months ago, I brought a few friends along with me for lunch at an Oriental buffet restaurant. There was Matthew, who works as an engineer in the neighbouring city; there was Gary, who works as a city planner with the local council; there was Tina, who gets married next weekend (why is everyone getting married????); there was Vicky, who works as a nurse; there was Urenna, who is currently reading pharmacy, and Nana, her coursemate. And of course there was me.

It was basically a choice between two Asian buffet restaurants: Feast and the Oriental Pearl (OP). Having eaten at both before, I recommended Feast, mainly because Feast dealt with Asian cuisine as opposed with OP's Chinese focus. And it was a lot less oilier and salty. Hint: Cheap buffet restaurants use plenty of oil and salt to make you full faster.

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The waiting area of Feast is remniscient of Sudanese architecture, and wood dominates the interior. Seating is on both typical Western seating as well as long wooden tables with long wooden benches, quite like banquet tables. Or rather, Malaysian canteen tables, if you can't picture.

The rear has three long tables; the left and the right have the starters and the main course, while the desserts occupy the center.

The food selection? Over 80 types of food. For lunch, around 30-40 of it is presented and rotated every day to ensure that there would be something for everyone.

We ordered our drinks and the ladies went to grab their round. Then it was time for the men to get rocking, and we walked around plates in hand and I pointed out to them some of the items which I was familiar with.

Then my eyes spotted in a tiny corner: BEEF RENDANG. The gastronomic floodgates were opened. All the rest of the food, the duck in orange sauce, the tomyam soup, the sweet and sour chicken, the fried wan tans instantly became oblivious. And it was good. The flesh was so tender and melt in your mouth. It was a hit with the rest of my friends who tried it out, although they were busy trying out other samples as well. My only complaint was that it was not hot enough; there was spiciness all right, but no hotness. Typical dumbed down food.

After some tea at the end of it, most of them had mentioned that they had enjoyed the meal. Whether or not they had really meant it, or said it because there was an Asian with them, I have no real clue. But Vicky did mention that she would definitely be back, so I suppose that it is safe to go with the former :)

This post was inspired by MrKiasu's entry here: http://www.mrkiasu.com/main/2005/05/restaurantinsin.html#more

Undergraduate days: Closing another chapter

After 2 and a half weeks of working my ass off, I finally submitted my last assignment of my undergraduate days. Fingers crossed that it would find favour in my supervisor's and the cross checker's eyes! It is not however, the end of my studying yet; I plan to move on to continue my studies at a Masters level. Just waiting to hear back from the universities concerned.

Well, what does one do to celebrate the end of 16 years of pain (from getting caned for not wanting to study while at primary school), academic subjugation (bossy teachers in secondary school who think they know better. Let's see who knows more now!) and insomnia (courtesy of all nighters while trying to finish undergraduate projects)?

In my case, the first instinct was to get some sleep. But I mean, with the past two months practically lifeless, that was not a very viable option. So JW and I went to play mini golf by ourselves when two others decided to pull out. We were experiencing weather similar to Malaysia, with a high of 24 celsius minus some of the burning sun.

Fast forward to the evening, and three of us decided to have a good dinner here:

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Me because I had just finished my basic studies, JW because the girl hardly eats out, and CL because he had been eating basically junk food for the past week and needed something good to compensate for it.

We quickly found out that we were underdressed. I mean, when the seats and the table mat are made from leather, something tells you that a t-shirt and jeans don't fit in. Oh dear, if we only had known that earlier!

But that didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves. We averaged at around 17 pounds per person while we discussed our impending trip.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Mal ysia in Zara

Literally. I saw this at Zara's London Knightsbridge outlet when I was there a few months ago:

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I seriously wouldn't waste my cash on that!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A different kind of busy

Just when I thought that I would be free after Friday, I have realised that I would have plenty of things to sort out over the next week or so.

In no apparent order (except maybe number one), they are:

1) Watch Star Wars. Arghhhh it is so difficult to browse around anywhere without hitting spoilers. Pah.

2) Sleep. I would need to remove my panda eyes.

3) Clean my room. I am too ashamed to let anyone into my room as it is right now. To be honest, even I can't stand the sight of it; I usually walk with my eyes fixed at the mantlepiece to avoid seeing the clutter. But I can't help it, I have absolutely no time to clean it.

4) Sort out my holiday plan! Yeay!

5) Start chucking out stuff. I need to reduce my burden in anticipation that I will shift come September.

6) Cancel an overdue mobile line.

7) Arrange for an advanced driving course, simply because I haven't gotten my hands behind the wheel for ages so that I can get cheaper insurance when the time comes to get a car.

8) Modify my site a bit and become a more active instead of remaining almost passive as I have always been.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Forgotten food

Yesterday night when I was rummaging through my fridge I chanced upon a packet of yoghurt which I had left inside almost two weeks ago. Thankfully it was still edible! Then I remembered that I had some sambal belacan inside a container, which I haven't used for a long time. And a container of some herring preserved in a dill marinade. Erk! I wondered how on earth could I have forgotten about the sambal which I brought with me; its difficult to come across good sambal belacan here.

But it wasn't as bad as the last time when I was staying in student accomodation. Back then, it would be common to come across packets of liquefied salads a couple of months past the expiry date. Disgusting! Or other vegetables while had been totally forgotten about and were then rotting.

The problem was that nobody wanted to touch and to throw away the items not belonging to them. Who knows, maybe the owner had purposely let his/ her food to 'ferment' for a while before consumption! But of course when the stench got to you the offensive food had to go, no question!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Boat lifts

I'm sure most of you are aware of how boats are carried to different levels in a canal - by temporarily damming parts of the river to flood a small enclosed section of a canal to raise a boat to a higher level, and to lower the boat, we first flood the said area before loading the boat and then draining it off.

If you recall from my post 'My route home', I did mention briefly about parts of the river that I pass through which have locks for this purpose. It so happened that on the same day I took the pictures, a couple of boats were going through some of the locks.

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The first of the two boats approaching the bottom of the lock (already opened)

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The second boat can be seen here.

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The second boat entering the lock next to the first.

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The two boats side by side inside the lock. Note that the river is not completely blocked; some of it is allowed to flow through

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Next the gates where the boats entered are closed; otherwise there is no chamber to flood.

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Turning the pump to flood the chamber.

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The boats rising up.

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The insides of the holiday boat.

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The exit gates are opened and the boats continue on their journey.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Cheap air flights - do customers really gain?

I'm sure many of you have heard of budget airlines - no frills airlines which are often nothing more than a bus with wings.

Over in Europe two of the largest of these airlines are RyanAir and EasyJet. Now that summer holidays are almost here, it is time to recap whether chosing a budget airline or a 'proper' airline is better and/ or more economical. I can almost hear half of you shouting 'BUDGET!!'

I have had the experience of flying with RyanAir before, to and from Frankfurt during December 2003. These flights operate almost exclusively out of London's Stansted Airport, which is a couple hours out of North London. I shall hereby recall my experience:

I remember I had to leave my place to catch one of the earliest coaches to Heathrow. I had to change coaches here to leave for Stansted. Note: A ticket to Stansted had cost an additional 16GBP or so for a single. Approximately two hours later I was there, and I had an hour or two to burn before I could check in. I had left around 9am for a 6pm something flight, whereas I would only need to leave at around 1pm if I were to fly from Heathrow.

Boarding passes: Seats are not assigned. Instead, you are issued a number when you check in. First come first serve style. At the gate, you are asked to board in groups according to your numbers, i.e. numbers 1 to 20.

The flight was uneventful. It was a brief two hour flight, landing at the Frankfurt Hahn airport. It was a bloody 40 minute drive from Frankfurt, and less than 5 minutes from the city we passed the main airport. &_)*$_"!@

Here are the price comparisons:

Flying London Heathrow - Frankfurt Am Main (correct me, Andreas? :P) on a full fare:
100GBP airfare inc taxes etc
Godly hours of departure most of the time.
Less travelling hassle.

Flying Stansted - Frankfurt Hahn on a budget airline:
around 65 GBP air fare including taxes etc
additional 35GBP spent on getting to/ from Stansted. No charges to and from Hahn because my friend turned up.
Reasonable hours of departure (for that price)
PLENTY of travelling hassle
PLENTY of additional travelling time

Alright, you can argue that I paid a lot for the no-frills flight. But they're supposed to cost less than 10GBP!!!, you shout. I agree. There are a couple of flights which are that cheap. But here's the catch: These seats are limited, and the flying hours are something like 6am or 10pm. Getting the 6am flight basically requires you to travel to the airport the day before or staying in London overnight (please add another 50GBP here), if you're taking the bus. Taking the 10pm flight when you're on holiday? Forget it.

The next time we flew to Amsterdam, we took a full fare flight, and it was a heck lot more enjoyable and less stressful.

So really, eventhough it appears that you could be onto some massive savings with the no-frills flights, please take into consideration the hidden costs and inconvinience and wasted time travelling. If you were travelling as a tourist, you could just very well find yourself paying the same price for flying a full fare airline which gives you food, and you save several hours of travelling. If you were a local/ had readily access to land transportation, you could save your money by flying budget.


Just the other day I was searching for a suitable pair of shoes to attend a wedding in (sigh I'm growing old), when I realised that all my pairs of shoes were grouped together. So why not, take an impromptu picture:

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They are from top left, clockwise:

Timberland shoes which I usually wear;
Clark's All Terrain Leisure sandals which I use indoors (and very comfy, I might add);
Clark's SuperLite GoreTex shoes (no longer used);
Asics Gel Kayano running shoes (second latest model) for use at the gym;
Blake's semi-formal laced shoes;
and a pair of Valentino loafers, of which the soles are made from wood, giving it a very noticable click when I walk. Unfortunately this needs some padding added because the bottoms of my feet were sore when I wore it to the wedding.

Which made me realise: I don't have a good pair of walking shoes to compliment all the walking I've been doing, and plan to do over the next couple of months! Argh!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

My route home

Sometimes if you take the car or the bus home you can miss out on so much. I mean sure, the bus could be much faster, but you really miss out on the countryside. Like this for example, I would probably have never discovered the real beauty of my area had I not chosen to walk home and explored some different routes.

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The city centre as seen from the hills

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See the bird flying?

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Breath taking

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The path I had just trodden upon

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Look at that tree

Its such an amazing thing watching the clouds roil as they move along turbulently. Pity the clouds in Malaysia crawl slower than a snail to be able to see any effect.

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Even the sky was perfect

Also along the way I would pass through an alcove of trees, which reminds me a lot of those magical time tunnels.

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What lurks beyond there?

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It looks safer now :)

And I would pass through parts of the river, which has locks to raise and to lower down boats.

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A set of locks
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Notice the difference in level?

There were some kids fishing as well:

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I need to add on more pictures (which compromise some of the slightly less scenic sections) towards the end, which I don't have yet.

But seriously, when everything looks so tranquil and the weather is great, a longer walk is worth a hundred dreary bus journeys. And its good for health, too!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Energy Integration

Oil is one of the biggest driving factors of an economy. The price of anything that relies heavily on the transportation of goods would invariably be affected if the price of crude increases for whatsoever reason (at least until fuel cells or electrical powered materials gain mass acceptance). Therefore it is in the best of interest to keep the prices of oil as low as possible. This is unfortunately, not possible because oil is a limited resource, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to extract the remaining oil. Hence it is of particular importance to be able to integrate processes to maximize the use of energy. How can we use energy sustainably in the chemical industry, in relation to Malaysia?

As a developing country, it can be generally said that the majority of the processes run in Malaysia are outdated and inefficient. Not to worry, even plenty of the industries in the developed countries are outdated (due to the reluctance to test new technologies on a massive scale), and that plants are generally meant to last for at least a couple of decades.

In terms of energy ineffectiveness however, the internal workings of these plants can be redone such that waste energy from a process could be used to heat up a second process. Savings can be massive especially for industries that are heavily dependant on energy intensive processes (such as oil refineries).

Sounds like a good idea, right? If not for several problems. First of all, energy integration of a process is not easy. This I can tell you based on my experience at attempting to design an ethanol plant. It reduces the flexibility of a process because different stages of the plant become more dependant and intimately connected with the other. A small change upstream could drastically affect the downstream. But it is possible. The question is, do we have the skills necessary? Are the engineers competent enough? Is management willing to accept a longer time for the drawing board to be finalized for some good savings later on?

Which is linked with a second factor: the need for open tendering. I shall not elaborate further here, just use your imagination. I shall state however, that it is in the best interests of the environment, the public and the business for a good well designed plant to be in operation compared with a shoddy one which made the cut with some help.

I am sure that there are sufficient competent enough engineers in Malaysia who are capable of doing this necessary job. But are they allowed a fair shot at tackling the problems? Also, the Malaysian government can not keep the prices of petroleum heavily subsidized and low forever, and oil is quickly becoming scarcer. The subsidy money could be better placed elsewhere. People, and the industries need to realise the need for conserving energy.

Stop blaming the goverment entirely for these price increases. Do your part as well.

-If you are to quote this little impromptu essay elsewhere, please have the courtesy to credit me. Thank you.

50 hours

How much can the body cope with without sleep?

Here is my experience roughly documented over 50 hours straight without sleep:

Note: Before the start of the documented time, it should be noted that the subject was coping with an average of 4 hours of sleep for several days before that.

Zero hour: Approximately 10am on day 1. All other times are approximate.

Hours 1-20: Nothing much. One can of Red Bull consumed somewhere during the day.
Hour 21: Fell asleep for roughly 30 minutes during a lapse of concentration. Go woken up by a groupmate though.
Hour 27: Started to get really sleepy. Accuracy of thoughts and calculations become questionable.
Hour 31: Knees began to grow numb.
Hour 32: Finally managed to take a decent break and had a good chit chat with group members over a dinner of sandwiches and crisps.
Hour 36: Department design studio closes down for the day; we shift to the library for an all nighter.
Hour 38: Consumption of another can of Red Bull.
Hour 41: Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on the go. Screw library rules.
Hour 44: Began to get very very sleepy. Took a swig of a friend's watered down version of Red Bull.
Hour 46: Got myself a cup of coffee. Early signs of a pounding headache set in. Difficult to maintain a posture, and almost lost my balance on several occasions
Hour 47: Felt like puking. Could hardly do any more work; the screen look as if it were swirling and hardly anything made sense.
Hour 47.5: Adrenaline rush as deadline loomed restored some lost functionality.
Hour 49.5: Deadline! Bloody left the project in the library. Had to sprint 200m both ways to retrieve the project. Had the great opportunity to bump into the unit manager on the way back. Urgh. Nibbled on some biscuits. Body was barely functioning at this point.
Hour 50.5: Went home and fell asleep immediately for 19 hours.

Monday, May 09, 2005

If I could be...

Oops, I got tagged by Fazri. I'm supposed to pick 5 of the listed professions below and complete the sentence that follows it? Oh well.

If [Reader] could be a scientist
If [Reader] could be a farmer
If [Reader] could be a musician
If [Reader] could be a doctor
If [Reader] could be a painter
If [Reader] could be a gardener
If [Reader] could be a missionary
If [Reader] could be a chef
If [Reader] could be an architect
If [Reader] could be a linguist
If [Reader] could be a psychologist
If [Reader] could be a librarian
If [Reader] could be an athlete
If [Reader] could be a lawyer
If [Reader] could be an innkeeper
If [Reader] could be a professor
If [Reader] could be a writer
If [Reader] could be a backup dancer
If [Reader] could be a llama-rider
If [Reader] could be a bonnie pirate
If [Reader] could be a midget stripper
If [Reader] could be a proctologist
If [Reader] could be a TV-Chat Show host
If [Reader] could be a pariah...
If [Reader] could be an actor
If [Reader] could be a judge
If [Reader] could be a Jedi
If [Reader] could be a mob boss
If [Reader] could be a backup singer
If [Reader] could be a CEO
If [Reader] could be a movie reviewer
If [Reader] could be a monkey's uncle
If [Reader] could be a bible archaeologist
If [Reader] could be a househusband

X If [Reader] could be a gardener he will capture the top prize at the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show
X If [Reader] could be a househusband he probably would be bored to death
X If [Reader] could be a backup singer, glass will most definitely shatter
X If [Reader] could be a chef, he will have his own 3 star Michelin restaurant
X If [Reader] could be a movie reviewer he'd be a useless critic

Nothing out of the ordinary, I can't think much these few days.

Can I have Juliana, Yuen Li and Jingy to continue? :D

Sunday, May 08, 2005

'Mr. Lonely'

Just the other day while working out I caught a catchy sounding tune playing in the background. It went: 'Lonely, I'm so lonely, I have nobody, to call my own' in a high pitched, chipmunk-ish voice. I was captivated, and I searched for it.

It came up as Akon: Lonely. Fair enough, I downloaded it. It was okay overall, although that it was hip-hoppish which scored minus points. But then I had gotten more information: that that chipmunk chorus had been sung by Bobby Vinton before in a song called 'Mr. Lonely', albeit without the high squeakiness. I promptly downloaded Vinton's version as well.

How were they different? Akon was 'singing' about a girl who had deserted him and all that. Yawn. More minus points. I listened to Vinton's, and it was beautiful. It was a song about how leaving to battle during World War 2 had affected the love lives of (some?) soldiers.

Once I knew the background about the original, I couldn't help but to feel that Akon's version was nothing more than a cheapened version of Vinton's, and took away the true meaning of the original song. Yet another pathetic exploitation of a classic? Or a cash cow copy-cat attempt, especially with the catching (if annoying) chorus?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Living hell

Our design supervisor told us this almost two weeks ago: If this isn't the hardest the you have ever worked in your lives and the most difficult thing you've done, something is wrong.

We gave him nervous grins and giggles and thought he was joking. Surely nothing could be worse than the research project we had just completed?

Wrong. How we wish he was being sacarstic!

It's living hell. My daily routine is as follows now: Wake up around 9am, get my ass up to university by 10.30, and work and work and work until 7-8pm. Go home, have my dinner, and work until 4am. Sleep. Repeat everyday of the week with little variation. I usually eat my lunch on the go.

On the blissful side, before you'd know it several hours have passed. Too fast actually, with little progress most of the time. And the frustration when several hours of calculations become suddenly redundant is uncomparable.

Things would be so much easier if not for the fact that my group is running at 75% efficiency, if you get what I mean. It is still insane though; its no easy task trying to design a theoretically operating ethanol plant from absolutely nothing in two and a half weeks for even four people.

But that's for another time. End of my short break.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Refuse refuse

There is something I don't understand.

See, the problem is like this. Every Monday the refuse collectors collect the waste from my area. Unless of course, its a public holiday (we call it Bank Holiday here). Then it won't get collected for an entire weeek. Like duh, right?

So why is it that my housemates dump their bags of trash outside on a Sunday, knowing that it is a public holiday and that it won't get collected? It leaves a bloody eyesore for the rest of the week. (We're supposed to dump any garbage bags between Tuesday- Saturday in the basement collection area)

Are they just plain bloody stupid? Or are they ignorant and don't give a damn about the rest of us? This is not the first time.