elb's hovel of thoughts

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Help Fund a PhD

In recent years, I have seen many people trying to raise money via the Internet. One of the earliest cases that I recall happening was when a boy asked for strangers to mail him 50 cent coins to him so that he could reach his dreams: buying an iPod. Somehow, he managed to pull it off. Since then, other cases include boob jobs and an effort to pull out of debts. One of the most recent ones happen to be an appeal for help with a PhD.

Jikon Lai's pedigree include alumni to some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning around. And on scholarship, which make it all the more commendable. Unfortunately, he is unable to secure funding beyond the first year of his PhD at the Australian National University, and he is appealing to the public for help.

Come on people, please help to bless the man if you are able to. Help invest a small fraction of your private equity to Jikon, if you can spare any. If people can help a teenager buy something like an iPod, I do not see why people cannot help with this. His contribution to knowledge and society in return are worth far more than insecure women wanting you dough for their boob jobs.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I Kissed Life Goodbye

Kat soothsayed doom for me when she told me a previous alumni who did my course was 'busy as a bee'.

I must say that its true, and it has the potential to be even worse.

1) Assignments pile on faster than you can finish them

2) Most companies close their graduate job applications in a week or so and I have just only completed my CV after weeks of modification. Not to mention half of the applications require a complete set of various details, including competency and situation questions. And oh, I haven't done a single cover letter yet!

3) A presentation to do in 2 weeks time. We have barely started. Together with number 1 and especially 2, this will pressure cook me for the next two weeks. If given the choice, I would concentrate on #2 and stuff the rest, but 1 and 3 are groupwork and I need to put something in.

4) My research project needs attention. The literature review is due in 2 months. I did my very first experimental analysis today, sans PhD supervision (such was his faith in me after only shadowing him for a couple of hours a few days ago). 8 months earlier than the official starting date. Did I also mention that I have barely read up on previous work done on it?

5) Every day that passes, more and more revision needs to be done. Unfortunately I am backlogged to the day that I started the course.

How on earth am I going to go for a holiday? Thankfully (or rather, not), my budget has gone haywire, leaving me with even less cash than I thought I had, so I can't even afford one to begin with. So yes, my slightly existant social life needs to take a backseat for the time being.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Commenting System Altered

Just to inform you all that I have reverted back to the old system where anybody could comment. However because word verification has been enabled as well, you would have to go through this step. I have also put into place the comment moderation system used by blogger; I didn't know where (and totally forgot about it as well, oops) to find your comments until a short while ago, so apologies if I took forever to approve your comments!

Flooding the Laboratory

Part of the requirements of a Masters encompasses a research project in the final semester (starting July of the next calendar year of enrolment), of which preliminary work is expected to start during November of the year of enrolment.

So there I was, sitting down with my friend and PhD supervisor, Ram. He got me started with a lab book (It was free! I didn't have to pay for it unlike last year!) and my own personal spanking new lab coat. Both of which I should label. In addition, I have my own desk and my own lockable drawer and computer with a kitchen area. All in a room which I share with two other MSc students.

One of the things that need to be done when repeating a series of experiments is to recycle stuff whenever possible. Which means cleaning of containers, lids, et cetera.
Which he does, by cleaning the contaminated glass test containers with 98% pure sulphuric acid (this would literally dissolve and eat your bare flesh, ladies and gents) followed by soaking in soap for a while.

The first round, we left the stuff to soak while we went to get my labcoat. This sink happens to be in a temperature controlled, sealed off room with rubber gasket like thingies at the edges which is accessible from our lab.

We came back to find the sink empty. This time I gave the stopper a little push with my finger, and Ram turned the water on again. We then went to fiddle around with some cool gear like centrifuges and stuff for a bit, then went back to the lab.

Then lo and behold, another PhD student opened the door to that room, and water literally flowed out of the room, flooding most of the lab with water. Okay well, it wasn't that bad, at the most maybe half a centimetre. But the floor was slippery and my new labcoat got drenched. Anyway, we had to spend the next half an hour scooping up the water using a broom and a dustpan (we couldn't find a mop). And hoping no one else came in and discovered what had happened :P

That was some experience! As Ram said later: We are men, we cannot multitask like women...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Elb's advice to be a good eBay seller

Updated. From my observations as an eBayer with over a year and half of experience behind me:

1) Be honest. This is especially so if you deal with 2nd hand products. If your watch has a scratch, tell it. If your 'brand new' product is being sold cheaper because it was an ex display unit or something, tell it.

2) Be clear. Make sure you describe your terms and conditions clearly, method of payment, how much to pay for P&P and insurance, and how long it will take to deliver items (and whether you are willing to post there in the first place). Also how would you deal in the event of faulty goods, warranties, refunds and the like. A warranty assures people into better state of mind to buy your goods.

3) Pictures. The more the merrier, although it costs more to put more pictures. This can be circumvanted by means of setting up a HTML page (if I am not mistaken!!). Accompany your advertisement with decent pictures, and send proper UNEDITED pictures which highlight the strong selling point (or defects) in the product you wish to sell. You have a lesser chance of products getting sold if you have no pictures.

4) Website/ eBay shop. More variety keeps customers coming back for more especially when your reputation as a clean honest on-time seller is established.

5) Get the balance between product availability and maximum profit. Widely available products with a defined widely accepted price should be under 'Buy it now'. Memory cards, cabling, etc etc should be sold to the consumer asap.

Stuff like clothes should be on for no more than 5 days in my opinion. More expensive units like mini Hi-Fis (and cars etc) should be put on auction for the maximum amount of time available. Remember to put a reserve price if you feel that your item is worth more than a certain amount especially if the opening bid is low. Also, remember that the price of a product is no indicator as to how long it should go on auction.

6) Use PayPal! It is easy and convinient and fast and you don't have to worry about bounced checks or wonder when the payment would ever come in. I never ever buy from merchants who don't use Paypal unless I really want their product, and there are traders who exclusively use Paypal only.

7) Improve your English. Do you want a global market? Strengthen your communication skills. Enough said.

Okay, that's about it for now. Please refer to Part one: Elb exposes eBaying cheating tactics

Elb exposes eBaying cheating tactics

(I mistakenly believed that) My comment got wiped while I attempted to post one at Enrii's blog regarding eBay Selling/ Auction tips, so I have decided to redo it here and further elaborate on it, from the perspective of a UK eBayer. Please note that I am writing this out of experience of using eBay UK for over one and a half years.

Also, please refer to Elb's guide to become a good eBay seller

What NOT to do as a seller:

1) Hidden Charges. This can come in many forms. Let me share with you how sellers do this:
i)Expensive postage. Ever wondered why one item costs 7GBP whereas another person is offering it for 24GBP? First of all, neglect variations such as location etc. Let us assume that both sellers bought it for the same price. Which means that seller B is overcharging, right? Wrong! If you take a closer look at seller A, he had set a postage price of 30 pounds whereas seller B had put his down as 6 pounds! This means that overall seller B is cheaper!

Very misleading, isn't it? It pays to look closer at the grand total instead of the item cost, you might get it cheaper! In fact if I am not mistaken, easily 60% of eBay sellers admitted inflating postage prices 'to make some extra dough'. I know of many items which should by right cost less than 1 GBP to post, going for 3GBP easily.

ii) Tax/ Customs Evasion. If you import items, you have to pay tax. Labelling items as 'gifts' is risky, and usually the onus is on the buyer to deal with the tax should the pack of Christmas gifts be discovered to contain a brand new mobile phone.

2) Use the wrong keywords. When I search for 'Canon lens', I expect to only see Canon lenses displayed on my eBay list. I DO NOT WANT TO SEE NIKON. Few things irk me more than to see the title as 'Nikon lens not Canon' when the item is clearly a Nikon product. What the fuck!

There are exceptions though, i.e. 'Nikon to Canon lens mount exchanger'. Sure, you get a higher chance of potential customers finding your product, but they will be so pissed off that you can forget any chance of a sale. Why should a Canon user buy Nikon anyway? :P

3) Advertising 'Pyramid schemes'. I'm sure you've heard of those stuff where one person gets on the list for a small fee, and when another 50 or 100 get added on, the person at the top gets an iPod Video or something. Well I'm sorry but when I want to buy an iPod and click on the item 'iPod Video unbelievable price', I expect a rebate or a sale, not one of these pyramid schemes. Label your service appropriately dammit!

CIA / FBI Hoax: Beware!

If you have received any email from cia.gov or fbi.gov or something similar, DELETE IT IMMEDIATELY AND DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT.

Please submit a report to the Internet Crime Complaint Centre at http://www.ic3.gov if you have received it!

The hoax goes like this:

Dear Sir/Madam,

we have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal Websites.

Please answer our questions!
The list of questions are attached.

Yours faithfully,
Steven Allison

++++ Central Intelligence Agency -CIA-
++++ Office of Public Affairs
++++ Washington, D.C. 20505

++++ phone: XXXXXXXX
++++ 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., US Eastern time

Dammit, I have already received it 3 times! Please not that the FBI/ CIA did not send these e-mails and does not send any other unsolicited e-mails to the public, as said via an agency statement.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wien Part 2: Strauss and Mozart Concerts

One of the 'must do' things if you ever travel to Bohemia / Austria is to attend one of the many classical concerts. Most of the concerts held at Austria are of the 'King of Waltz' Yohann Strauβ (or Johann Strauss when Anglicized) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; arguably two of the most influential composers of all time who originated from Austria.

We attended two of these concerts. The first was at the Wien Kursalon, where the great Johann Strauss himself used to perform during the 19th century. Naturally, the vast majority of the compositions were Strauss, with a couple of Mozarts and Lumbye's Champagne Gallop.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
People dressed up in period costumes who sold us our tickets to the first show at St Stephansplatz!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The interior of Kursalon's concert hall.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The orchestra :)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Undeniably the two stars of the orchestra. Both of them were very obviously emotionally attached to the awesome music, to the extent of half-standing half-sitting in the air while playing their violins and plenty of head movement. They deserved the standing ovation at the end for their virtuoso performance :)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A waltz was performed, in addition to polka and some soprano style songs.

It was so good, that we decided to come back for a second one: at the Hapsburg's Summer Palace, the Schonbrünn (wonder if got my accents correct there!).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The Schonbrünn

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The second concert we attended.

This one was much more formal and stiff; I must admit that if we had been to this one first, we would never have felt like going for a second concert. Yes, the Kursalon one was that good. It has atmosphere, wonderful acoustics, cultural legacy (Strauss performed there whenever he was at Vienna), at one end of a massive park, and the free flowing style of music is extremely absorbing and enjoyable.

I highly recommend going for it if you happen to be at Vienna. And get the best tickets. Its worth it, all 40 Euroes of it. Be warned though, that seating is a problem, especially as it is popular with tour groups who turn up en masse and get some of the best seats, so turn up early and get the best seats in the house! And dressing isn't a problem, just turn up in a T-shirt and jeans. A local joke goes 'if you're dressed casually, you're a tourist'. Be warned though that there are a couple of concerts around which are strictly formal!

However, if you wish to listen to music by other composers, such as Vivaldi, Handel, Pachabel et al, you would find a greater variety at other cultural hotspots such as Prague, at the Czech Republic. 80% of the concert time at Vienna was devoted to either Strauss or Mozart. Unfortunately due to lack of time there (and having spent too much on concerts!), we did not get to cover these.

Monday, November 21, 2005

MPH '05 Show (Part 1)

We went to visit the MPH'05 a visit over the weekend. It was held at Earl's Court Exhibition Centre; we arrived there and made a beeline for the performance. It was being hosted by none other than Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond (both of Top Gear fame), as well as Tiff Needell (Fifth Gear; formerly Top Gear as well).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The trio, after making an entrance in a Vauxhall Monaro, TVR Tuscan, and Honda NSX respectively.

We were treated with some awesome demonstrations throughout the show, which were interspersed with some car parades (and getting to hear the revs of some of these babies).

There were doughnuts, front wheel burnouts, drifting 350Zs, and so on:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Pinpoint accuracy needed for this maneouvre considering the high entry speed!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The Vauxhall VXR is bloody flying! With someone inside! To my best knowledge no swap was done as the car was just involved in the tractor weaving a minute earlier! Jeremy himself said that no cables were used and that Vauxhall had really built a 'flying car'. Hmm...

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
What do you do with old cars? Car sumo, of course!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The new Volvo C70's hard roof retracts with style. And it does so pretty quickly too!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Car football! 3 vs 3. With plenty of scrapes and dents as the aftermath.

The new Jaguar was also launched at the show.

Also worth mentioning was a sequence where a Lotus Exige dodged an army helicopter (remake of a similar TopGear experiment) successfully. For safety and physical space limitations however, a huge 3D Apache (complete with cheap flimsy 3D shades) was simulated using the actual military targetting software in the Apache (or so they told us) was used in lieu of the real deal. But it was still sweet nonetheless, with huge flames ripping off in place of real missiles.

However the car was too bloody fast and too agile for my camera to get a decent picture in the poor lighting, but here you go:

Image hosting by Photobucket
Presenting the Exige

Image hosting by Photobucket
All the smoke from the live bursts of flame and burnt rubber.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Time to move again... after only two months!

Update: The landlady didn't seem to care when I told her yesterday that I was handing in my termination notice. 'The gas people are coming in later this week.... I'm sorry if things are happening too slow for you....'. Which took me aback, because I was prepared for an arguement with her. But no, she wants me to deal with her son. I prefer to deal with her because I had signed my contract with her and not her son.

Anyway, I shall be moving to Fulham! Further away and even more expensive, but its going to be much much better.

Original post:

You know that it is time to move when:

1) The Internet line, which was supposed to have been up 2 weeks ago, is still not functioning. And the landlady's son (who is in jointly in charge) takes 2 weeks to call up a technician. (This shows that there is lack of

2) The annual Corgi gas inspection failed. Twice. And the landlady did not inform us when we failed the first time; finding out required a neighbour sending a note informing us that he would be letting a second engineer in. And she lied to me when she said that there had never been a problem with the gas before (a previous person who lived there told me that there was no gas certificate for 2/3rds of a year last year!).

And she has no idea when the gas is going to be restored (the engineers cut the supply), which means cooking with a temporary hot plate, which is crap.

3) When you plug the heater into the socket and the fuse trips. Whoops. I remember that just my computer and several chargers were enough to trip the fuse (as I unpleasantly found out several times). So I remove all the electronic burdens and plug in the heater alone. The electricity trips.

Landlady: 'Well, there's the duvet, that should be enough'. I was flabbergasted. Who wouldn't be?

4) The place is falling apart. We were promised that the place would be cleaned and tidied when we moved in. There is still dust almost an inch thick at certain parts of the room. The bathroom and parts of the kitchen are uncleanable because several years worth of dirt and grime have fused to become part of the furniture.

The door handle of the living room broke a few days ago. The microwave is fucked. My chair's back keeps falling off. At least the sofas are comfortable.

5) The most major fuck up of all: when I came back home a few days ago, opened the door to the lounge, and to my shock, found an opened bed in the living room. And the landlady was lying down in the bed. What the fuck?

I pay my rent for use of my bedroom, the lounge, the kitchen, and the bathroom. I expect free access to the lounge and kitchen at all times, for obvious reasons. Our license agreement does make the provision for her to enter the flat when she wants to, but to our understanding that is for basic stuff like checking the mail, seeing if the flat is all right, and AT THE MOST maybe having a quick meal or something. NOT SLEEPING THERE. And for 6 nights this week! Fuck! Not to mention that she or her son or ex-husband never leave a note beforehand informing us that anyone of them would be coming.


So there you have it. A psycho environment, a crazy landlady who lies and covers up, and basically don't give a shit about the flat and don't give a shit about crucial issues for the tenants. I much rather pay more rent, and stay further away as long as don't need to worry about the electricity getting cut off in the middle of the exams.

Its such a shame really, because its a great location with great potential. I mean, its at Sloane Street (or Knightsbridge, if you're not familiar), one of the most prestigious addresses in the world and London's designer central. But I don't quite care, no amount of prestige can make up for this mess. All I want is somewhere reliable and relatively convinient; somewhere I can go home and know for sure that I don't need to get stressed about anything untoward happening.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The PhD worthy thesis in 6 weeks

I called up my old supervisor back at my first university earlier, to find out some questions about some issues I had, and for a little chit chat.

*skips boring questions*

Me: Just curious, Dr., what has happened with the research project that I did last (academic) year?

Dr: Oh, I'm going to be creating a computer model to try and simulate your results

Me: *puzzled* You mean its being offered as a modelling project?

Dr: Nope, Mr. and I went through your thesis and we decided that your work would be too hard for someone in an undergraduate course to be able to understand in a short period of time

Me: Not even for a Masters? (I did my project at a Bachelor's level)

Dr: Nope, its too complex. It is something that I would need to do (he's a brilliant guy with a PhD from Cambridge, no less).

My mind: 'Gee... thank you so very much for making me do something probably even more difficult than warrants a PhD in 6 weeks...'

Dr.: *continuing as if he could read my mind* The problem was that it was a new area of research and we didn't know how difficult it was going to be. (Okay, to be fair, it was a very interesting project even though it was difficult!)

Me: Yup I was finding it quite difficult at times, because it was a very dynamic system with chaos theory and bifurcations and that kind of stuff which I could never quite get my head around. Although over here they do offer a few modules on dynamic systems and chaos theory...

Dr.: Ahhh! Are you taking those modules then?

Me: *areyoukiddingialmostdiedandlostallmyhairthankstothat* Not exactly... (I prefer learning about nuclear engineering...)


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Guy Fawke's Night

I'm not going to bore you all with the history of Guy Fawke's Night, I'm sure many of you have heard of it time and time again. Its the perfect excuse for a night of fireworks though!

Over the previous years, the fireworks display at my old place was held right at my doorstep - all I would have to do was to exit the rear door and watch as the rugby field barely a hundred metres from my house was turned into a carnival. I could feel the deep bass as the humongous fireworks exploded (my own room would shake), and the sound and the light were perfectly in sync with each another because the show was so near. The only sad thing was that some trees obscured part of the view, but it was nothing I couldn't handle.

This year though, I had to travel to see a display. No longer was I being served a melange of colourful sparkles at my doorstep. The show was due to start at 5pm at Waterloo Bridge. Or so said Mien (okay okay, it was the Internet brochure thingajig, not your fault!). Other friends had gone to Victoria and Battersea etc. We huddled in the freezing wind for an hour easily, while I took some panaromas with my camera, which came out shit because 15 second exposures doesn't go well with a strong wind.

So we dispersed towards the National Theatre for a cuppa after sometime of waiting, where we found out that it was to start at 7.30pm. I quickly called Karissa and asked her to change her mind about not coming.

'Fireworks! 7.30! Embankment! Come!'
'What? What movie is that?'

It turned out later that she had heard Wallace and & Gromit or something (which was why she didn't want to come initially). How on earth does fireworks sound like it is beyond me!

How were the fireworks? A disappointment I would say, considering the time we had waited. They were at the next major bridge further along the river, so all we got was a distant view. And like I said earlier, the wind ruined most of my shots, so I'm not terribly happy with them. But the company was great; it was worth shivering in cold with the girls, and dinner at Chinatown was yummy too! Better than Wagamama (where a few of us went on Friday)!

Friday, November 04, 2005

My Current Flatmates

I stay with two people now. Both are female. ‘OMG you lucky bastard!’ I can hear the males going. But nah. One is taken, and the other I do not like one bit.

Anyhow, let me introduce the first girl: she’s French. We both get along pretty alright, she’s a pretty girl and all that. Nothing much to say about her; the lucky woman just got a job offer a couple of days ago to start work as an investment banker from July! But she isn’t happy about it because she wants to get into the ultimate – GoldmanSachs. Goodness. I’ll gladly take the CitiGroup offer!! Kidding, I think that investment banking would probably be too deep for me. Just give me a good, commercial banking career. She and her boyfriend are sorted for life; he also got a very good job offer on the same day. Congratulations Solage!

The other girl, well, she’s a Hongkie. And I can’t say that we get along very well. Mainly because she doesn’t know how to clean up after her. Few things piss me off more than when I get to the kitchen sink, and I find it difficult to be able to use it because it is half blocked with plates and pans and what not. Grrrr.

And she has a weird logic as well. I mean, who else would dry a wet umbrella on the carpet? *smacks head against the wall*. And when asked to dry it along the wooden hallway, all she does is to mumble ‘its not that wet anyway’. Hello! A wet umbrella and a carpeted floor aren’t best friends! And to think that a student at one of the top universities in the world should have some brains! (not that I exactly have much to begin with anyway heh)

By the way, we don’t have an Internet connection at my place. Because of some shitty DACS problem which BT are trying to resolve. For almost one month already, but to no avail. Useless bastards. So anyway, we have the good fortune to be able to leech some bandwidth from an outside line. This is a good thing, because I need to get job applications and research work sorted out. However it is quite frustrating trying to connect to this line, and I take great pains to not abuse it. It is after all, not our line, and it crawls like a snail half the time anyway. Loading something as simple as Google can take as long as 10 seconds.

So anyway she goes for a shower, leaving her door open. I could not help but notice that BitComet was running on her laptop, leeching 10kB/s. Dammit!! That was where all the bandwidth was going to! No wonder I couldn’t access no shit! I wait for her to come back and a few minutes later knocked on her door


‘Hello, I was wondering if you were using the outside line for the Internet’

*Shakes head and gives blur look* ß Lying bitch! I saw you browsing! And if you didn’t know, you’d be asking me 2120481290 questions about it!

‘Oh, well, just to tell you that there is an external line you could use, but it moves very slow, and I hope that you don’t use it to download anything and all that because I do need to deal with my job applications and stuff’

*Cue frown and shake of head* ‘I don’t use the Internet’ ß Yea sure, just the other day you were getting all excited when I was trying to configure the line because you thought a permanent connection to download all your CantoPop was imminent.

‘Well, if you do, I hope that you wouldn’t use it to download anything to slow it down any further. And it isn’t even our line’


Phhft. And I have 8 months more to go with her. The only good news about her is that she doesn’t openly show off her wealth. At 20, she has amongst other things: Burberry, Gucci, Prada, Armani, Helmut Lang, DKNY. And not just the cheap stuff either. But I haven’t seen one occasion where she has tried to flaunt it, unless you count an episode when she left a whole stack of designer paper bags in the kitchen, waiting to be thrown out.

Add-on: I forgot to mention one incident which really irritated me: One day Hongkie girl was trying to get the washing mashine working (the power which switched off), so I helpfully switched it on for her. And what she do? She just walked out of the kitchen without even the courtesy of saying 'thank you'! I tell you...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Abortion link with crime?

I had just finished reading a book on economics. Not just any book though, this one was entitled 'Freakonomics'. Why freakonomics? Because the person behind the book sees economics differently. For example, what do a teacher and a sumo wrestler have in common?

Does it sound absurd? One would think so, except that this book won the Quill Prize, the book was recommended by Wall Street Journal, and so on. And the man behind the book, Steven Lewitt (of University of Chicago) has won the John Bates Clark Medal (given to the best economist under the age of 40 every 2 years), et cetera.

But what I found most interesting about his book was a section which dealt with the following statement: that abortion accounted for the sharp decrease in crime in the USA in the 1990s, completely the reverse of projected scenarios where crime was predicted to spiral upwards.

I shan't go into great detail, because I'm not supposed to (you're supposed to buy the damn book!), but he basically states the following points:

1) Abortion was legalized in the 1970s (I'm too lazy to look it up!)
2) Women who felt they could not afford to have a child (usually from poor areas etc) aborted their children
3) Crime was predicted to increase dramatically in the 1990s
4) A generation of would-be criminals have vanished (i.e. the aborted children were supposed to have filled in the gap)

Plus, he presents research to back up his claims. Previously before this no one has attributed a fall in crime rate to abortion, believing instead that better policies etc have done the trick. Also, perhaps now some people can now see from a previously unknown angle that God used no-good into a good purpose?

Anyhow, Freakonomics retails for 20GBP. Its a bit short on thickness for the price(but not quality!), and be prepared to see some things differently!