elb's hovel of thoughts

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Oriental City

Am not feeling terribly well (have not been for the past week or so), and I'm in no mood to type (plus I have assignments), so minimal commentary.

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They had a lion dance troupe

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Durian buffet!

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Close up. Not willing to pay for it.

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Omg wtf mamak mee.

To summarize: my skylight filter is shit. I need to put aside £70 quid for a good filter to match my L lens. And I grabbed my yee sang, at an overinflated price compared with last time

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

春节 - Spring Festival

春节. Chun Jie. Spring Festival. What does the term invoke in you? I admit that I was not very well acquainted with that term, being used to hearing Chinese New Year for the majority of my life. All that changed last week when one of my Chinese friends pipped the question: What would you be doing for Spring Festival?

My mind quickly assumed that he was referring to CNY. Thankfully for me, I was right, and my mind has more or less assimilated the relatively new term for me.

EF just had to say this when I was talking with her earlier:

You are being Chinanized.
Spring festival.
Damn communist.'

LOL. I can't help it my dear :)

Another Malaysian friend, GC, being the guy he is, immediately went:
'What the hell is that?'
'That's what the Chinese call what Malaysians refer to as Chinese New Year'
'Doh. Dumbass gwailos'
'Err? The China Chinese themselves call it spring festival, what gwailos?'

Goodness. Please read carefully before making such statements. It would help if you free your mind a little bit; after all you're going to be studying in the States in a few months. Not good.

How would you respond to the term 'Spring Festival'? Does CNY mean anything to you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Latest Body Fad/ 新年 Shopping

What a way to start the new year: losing my mobile phone (but getting it back!), having my latest pair of shoes eat into my ankles, injuring my shoulders at the gym, and now this:

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Presenting the latest fad in body fashion. Ouch.

On the bright side, I could have been in the hospital, with my whole face eviscerated with sharp shards of ceramic. So thank God for that! And I managed to purchase something new to wear for CNY too before the latest injury :) Goddamn, I now have a stylish wool overcoat, which makes it even more urgent to grab that sling bag!


Where the hell can I find yee sang in London? I couldn't find it in Chinatown. And with my leg injury from my fall, Oriental City is a bit out of question :(

Meanwhile, I engaged in friendly conversation with an elderly man who was in queue behind me at one of the supermarkets:

*Gesturing towards the lap cheong (preserved sausages) he was carrying* 'Is that for spring festival?'
'Oh! No no no no. Its for anytime! Spring festival means nothing to me. I came from China as a little boy and I schooled here and worked here.'

I nodded. I share the same sentiment. Chinese New Year holds little place in my heart. In fact, LQ was surprised when I mentioned that I 'celebrated' CNY - albeit as an excuse to shop and to have some fancy food.

'In fact, its too commercialized. 恭喜发财. Huh! Cai this, cai that. Money isn't everything!'
'Thats why I would use 新年快乐 instead'
'Money...Its better to have not too much, otherwise you'd become the target of kidnapping etc'

I smiled.

'You must think that I'm being crazy aren't you?'

I shook my head. 'I know what you mean. Sometimes people can be too materialistic.'

(This is the first time I have put Chinese characters into a blog post. A new milestone crossed in my journey to shake off the banana peels.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Salt-Crust Baked Duck Breast

I bought some duck breast from Harrods the other day, and raked my brains trying to figure out what to do with them. I came across a very simple recipe that calls for only salt (lots of it!) and a bit of oil


Duck breast with skin (300g)
Salt (lots of it!)

Cut a criss cross pattern onto the skin.
Fry the skin side of the breast for a minute or so until brown
Preheat oven to 250 Celsius
Arrange salt onto a oven proof dish to make a bed around 1/2 cm to a cm deep.
Place duck breast onto the bed of salt, skin side up
Cover and rub the top generously with salt
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from oven
Allow to stand for 5 minutes
Remove as much salt as humanely possible because it will be extremely salty if you don't!

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The duck breast, freshly removed from oven and covered with lots of salt

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The succulent duck breast cut open to reveal its juicy interior, topped with wonderfully crisp crackling!

Tip: You might want to keep the salt aside for later use! It has lots of wonderful flavour seeped into it!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lost Mobile (Now Found)

Argh!! I think I lost one of my mobile phones :(

Update: My mobile phone has been returned to me in one piece! :D

It all started when I was tidying up after a little party at my place. Everyone had gone home; I was looking for a mobile to make a phone call to a friend. But it was nowhere in sight. No matter, I thought to myself. A quick phone call and I could trace it wherever it was hiding in my room. It rang. I could not hear it. Not even the faintest buzz to suggest that it was on silent.

I frowned. Its probably at LQ's, I thought. I was just at her place a few minutes ago. 'No... its not here'. Uhoh. Then I remembered that earlier, when QJ and I were walking back after sending a couple of friends off at the bus stop, I had one of my camera's filters fall out of the pocket of my jacket, which was being carried on my arm instead of being worn. What if my mobile had fallen out as well?, I asked myself. I quickly retraced my steps and called my phone at the same time. I couldn't hear anything. And at this point I had noticed that my phone was hitting the voice mail after only a couple of rings. Shit.

I messaged a couple of texts, hoping for a response. An hour later, I received no reply and my calls were getting nowhere, so I decided to call up the mobile operator to disable my SIM card.

'Is your phone insured?'
'Erm, no, because it was my backup phone and I did not expect anything to happen to it at all'

Unexpectedly the next morning, someone attempted to call me during my lecture. It was an international number. Being in a lecture, I was unable to answer and a message came in:

'Hi, I found a phone at XXXXXXX yesterday. Are you the owner of this phone? Please contact me.'
'Yes I am. Sorry I couldn't answer as I am in a lecture. Could I have it back please? I stay nearby XXXXXXXX'
'Good. I will contact you later in the evening.'

Evening came.

'Hi can you collect your mobile from XXXXXXXX XXXXX office in an hour? Also I am collecting charity for a worthy cause so if you feel like donating please bring it along. Please confirm as I am flying off tomorrow thanks.'

Alarm bells went off. It sounded like a disguised attempt at asking for a reward. I decided that I might need someone to accompany me just in case.

Soon enough I was at XXXXXXXXX XXXXX. To my relief there were security staff there - who tried to assist me 'The office is open 24 hours, I personally was here. Nobody came in here to give a mobile. It could have been somebody trying to play a prank on you.'

I was undeterred. Somehow, I still have faith in humanity. I sent another text to the person, by now whom I knew as a Dr A. Shah. He responded that he would be coming in a minute. Shortly after, an elderly man pushed the door open.

'Dr Shah?'
'Hi, I'm Patrick, the person who lost the mobile'

He took it out of his pocket and held to me. I was at loss for words as I reached out to take it.

'Thank you' was all I could manage. He nodded and turned. I quickly followed.
'Dr Shah, you mentioned a charity. May I know what it is about?'
'Well, it is a charity in Uganda which works with (uhhhh i forgot this bit) children.'
'Oh alright, are you here for a conference?'
'Not exactly, I'm here for (enter a perfectly sensible reason which I forgot about).'
'Oh alright. Here you are, a little donation which I hope would help'
'Don't worry, I assure you that it would be going for an entirely worthy cause'

Somehow, I believe him. He was honest enough to return to me a lost mobile. He could have easily have kept it for himself like some people whom I know)or sold it off to other people, but he chose to be honest. Very rare to find these days, especially at a place such as London. Or at Kuala Lumpur, where one would immediately write off a missing mobile. It is very comforting to know that there are still people out there who would do the same as I would do. It could have been worse, I was expecting to never see my mobile ever again.

Thank you Dr Shah, for showing to me your quality. Thank you Jesus, for reminding me that there are people such as Dr Shah who are still around, and that my mobile did not go permanently missing! Hallelujah!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Impure Mathematics

I came across this awesome 'story' (my vocabulary struggles to find the appropriate word at 7.30am) sometime back and felt like sharing it with everyone. To fully appreciate it, university level mathematics is a must although the general meaning can be grasped by most people :)

Impure Mathematics
------ -----------
To prove once and for all that math can be fun, we present: Wherein it is related how that paragon of womanly virtue, young Polly Nomial (our heroine) is accosted by that notorious villain Curly Pi, and factored (oh horror!!!)

Once upon a time (1/t) pretty little Polly Nomial was strolling across a field of vectors when she came to the boundary of a singularly large matrix. Now Polly was convergent, and her mother had made it an absolute condition that she must never enter such an array without her brackets on. Polly, however, who had changed her variables that morning and was feeling particularly badly behaved, ignored this condition on the basis that it was insufficient and made her way in amongst the complex elements. Rows and columns closed in on her from all sides. Tangents approached her surface. She became tensor and tensor. Quite suddendly two branches of a hyperbola touched her at a single point. She oscillated violently, lost all sense of directrix, and went completely divergent. As she tripped over a square root that was protruding from the erf and plunged headlong down a steep gradient. When she rounded off once more, she found herself inverted, apparently alone, in a non-Euclidean space.

She was being watched, however. That smooth operator, Curly Pi, was lurking inner product. As his eyes devoured her curvilinear coordinates, a singular expression crossed his face. He wondered, "Was she still convergent?" He decided to integrate properly at once.

Hearing a common fraction behind her, Polly rotated and saw Curly Pi approaching with his power series extrapolated. She could see at once by his degenerate conic and dissipative that he was bent on no good.

"Arcsinh," she gasped.

"Ho, ho," he said, "What a symmetric little asymptote you have I can see you angles have lots of secs."

"Oh sir," she protested, "keep away from me I haven't got my brackets on."

"Calm yourself, my dear," said our suave operator, "your fears are purely imaginary."

"I, I," she thought, "perhaps he's not normal but homologous."

"What order are you?" the brute demanded.

"Seventeen," replied Polly.

Curly leered "I suppose you've never been operated on."

"Of course not," Polly replied quite properly, "I'm absolutely convergent."

"Come, come," said Curly, "let's off to a decimal place I know and I'll take you to the limit."

"Never," gasped Polly.

"Abscissa," he swore, using the vilest oath he knew. His patience was gone. Coshing her over the coefficient with a log until she was powerless, Curly removed her discontinuities. He stared at her significant places, and began smoothing out her points of inflection. Poor Polly. The algorithmic method was now her only hope. She felt his digits tending to her asymptotic limit. Her convergence would soon be gone forever.

There was no mercy, for Curly was a heavyside operator. Curly's radius squared itself; Polly's loci quivered. He integrated by parts. He integrated by partial fractions. After he cofactored, he performed runge - kutta on her. The complex beast even went all the way around and did a contour integration. What an indignity - to be multiply connected on her first integration. Curly went on operating until he completely satisfied her hypothesis, then he exponentiated and became completely orthogonal.

When Polly got home that night, her mother noticed that she was no longer piecewise continuous, but had been truncated in several places But it was to late to differentiate now. As the months went by, Polly's denominator increased monotonically.

Finally she went to L'Hopital and generated a small but pathological function which left surds all over the place and drove Polly to deviation.

The moral of our sad story is this: "If you want to keep your expressions convergent, never allow them a single degree of freedom."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Too Many January Babies!

Know how they say that September is the month where the median of babies is born? If you don't, go figure. Oddly, in my case, it seems to be January:

I have two friends whose birthdays were earlier in the week.
I just bumped into some coursemates who were on their way home from celebrating another coursemate's birthday at the pub.
Another friend has her birthday today.
I have a friend whose birthday is tomorrow.
I have a close friend's birthday on Friday, and found out an old friend whom I lost touch with has her birthday on the same day.
My cousin's birthday is a few days away, followed by mine.
Another two of my friends have their birthday next Thursday.
Another of my close friends has her birthday next week.

Crazy. Ouch. And I'm certain that I have missed out on a couple of people. Either the apparent September-is-the-month-of-the-stork theory is wrong (unlikely?), or by chance the people I know are largely skewed towards January, or maybe I just take notice of their birthdays because they're close to mine. Hrm.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Shopping List

Now that the January sales and my exams are in full swing, I have decided to produce a new list of things for me to try and get, in order of desirability. The old list is now redundant. Not because I bought them all, but because I'm fickle and my desires change. Top three are highly desirable, of course; the rest would be nice, but I don't think it'll happen! Please feel free to purchase them for me because my birthday is up soon!

1) A stylish trenchcoat - I still don't have nice clothes for the cold besides my ski jacket and fleece. Even after several years. The horror! Waterproof would be nice, I don't like the idea of my umbrella blown by the wind. Estimated expense: £150
2) Sling bag - I still haven't bought a bag suitable for use with my leather jacket yet. Estimated expense: £40
3) Creative X-Fi sound card. Estimated expense: £100
4) Second hand film SLR camera to remove the 1.6x sensor crop factor and make the most of my wide angle - £70
5) New Victorinox Swiss Army knife to replace the one that I had lost during my mad dash to Heathrow Airport. Small one that can fit into the key pocket of my pants. Scissors and blade a must! - £15
6) Lowepro bag to carry both my dSLR and planned film SLR, and several lenses. £120
7) Photo printer - Paying £8 for a print size similar to that of A4 is madness. £100 printer + £70 ink
8) New tripod for my camera - Mine can now barely take on the weight of my set up. Carbon fibre, lightweight and as small as possible because I like to travel, yet able to extend to approx 160cms. Estimated expense: £300

Ack! Help me alleviate my financial burden please ;)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Yo! Sushi Visit

LQ and I enjoy sushi very much; we've eaten at Yo! Sushi a couple of times, once whilst shopping for a blouse for her and again after we watched King Kong (where I had to cover the poor dear's eyes to save her from the insects) at another branch conviniently next door to the cinema. Pictures were from the first outing, taken with 50mm 1.8 for the lovely depth of field.

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Part of the long procession of sushi on the conveyor belt. As always, just take what you like and return anything you don't fancy, provided its still sanitary (comes very useful when finding the perfect portion of sashimi, I tell you).

Free flow of water/ tea costs £1, and free flow of miso soup goes for £1.50. Warning: The little dishes for you to put on the horseradish (wasabi) and the soy sauce are usually dirty. You might need to pick through the whole stack and wipe them clean before using.

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Delicious fatty bits of raw Scottish salmon, sake sashimi. £3 for the plate (colour coded).

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How could a Japanese meal be complete without eel, unagi?

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And of course, the sinfully delicious and radioactive looking salmon eggs, ikura.

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This is dragon maki, a pressed roll made with deep fried tempura soft shell crabs. It was okay, but the chilli dip thingy it came with was piss.

The problem with places like this is that it is easy to ring up a very high bill (most of the decent & delicious food already costs between £3-£5 per plate) so you can imagine how quickly a decent meal of 6-7 plates add up quickly!

p.s. Yo! Sushi is having a promotion! 10 plates of sushi per person for half price! Except for Selfridges/ Harvey Nichols outlets.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Incentives: MyKad and Israeli parent latecomers

What do MyKad latecomers, Malaysian traffic offenders and young Israeli parent latecomers have in common? As I read about the gaggle and influx of last minute (of free) MyKad applicants, I could not help but to wonder what it was really about the Malaysian mentality that has conditioned it to behave the way it is.

My mind flashed back to a case study of Israeli parents, published in the excellent business book, Freakonomics, by Steven Lewitt. Here is the problem:

Parents are often late picking up their children from day-care centres. As a result, children are anxious and teachers need to stay back to wait for parents.

What would you do? Economists decided to introduce a fine system, and test it at ten day-care centres in Israel for a period of time. For the first few weeks, statistics were gathered and a mean, X was obtained. Then it was announced that any parents more than several minutes late would need to pay a small amount of money, which would be added to the fees.

Now, what would you expect? X should have dropped down, right? Wrong. X increased to 2.5X. A staggering increase of 250%! How is this possible? Shouldn't X have decreased by 40%, or 70%, or whatever?

Basically, incentives could used to explain the situation. It helps to urge people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad thing (bad and good being subjective of course). There exist three different types of incentives - economic, social and moral. Some of the strongest incentives exist to deter crime - business or civil. Don't you think that crime rates would be much higher without such incentives?

Back to the day care centres - people can argue that a small fine of a few dollars is not a powerful deterrent. That's probably true. An excessive fine for something like a day-care centre is not a good idea however. Then again, the fine for MyKad latecomers at RM10 is what, two cheap lunches, for such an important document. It should be even higher. Plus, the people have been given more than sufficient time to renew it.

However the main problem is that the economic incentive (few dollars penalty) had substituted the moral incentive (the guilt for picking the children up late). For a small sum of money, the parents could buy off their guilt for coming late to pick their children up.

How about MyKad applicants? The problem is that I feel there is NO sufficient moral and economic incentive. Late? So what? Malaysians know they can get away with it. It is nothing new; they have gone through similar scenarios before. To compare: For the last part of the day-care centre study, the fine was removed. The number of late parents continued at 2.5X. They could arrive late, pay no fine, and feel no guilt.

How about for traffic offenders? The economic and moral incentive - RM300 + eventual loss of license and the guilt at breaking the law - is virtually non existant - Malaysians know that they can escape guilt-free. After all, it only takes a few red coloured bank notes to substitute both incentives.

And even if the summons are served, most people don't pay up, because there is little economic or moral incentive - the police generally won't go after them, they know that every now and then the police would offer 'discounts', etc. Ditto other Malaysian attitudes and problems.

Ah heck. I'm too lazy and too busy with studies to fully flesh this out. Grab the book if you wish to understand better. But I hope you got the gist of my little post. Also, the government needs to hire more people who know economics, if you ask me. Imposing too low an economic incentive (i.e. the low RM10 fine - unless you are kiasu or something) just contributes into the making of the Malaysian mentality. Wait-lah, no need to hurry one, the gahmen only charge RM10, we can do it when the queue is smaller. Wait-lah, no need to worry la, RM30 can kautim this officer. Etc.

To summarize: The ugly aspects of the Malaysian mentality could be potentially overcome if we understand and apply properly the concept of incentives. Perhaps the salvation of the Malaysian mentality lies in the hands of adept economists, not anthropologists and apologists.

*Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions, not that of an expert.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Creative Commons: BBC opens archive

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has released 78 video and 1 audio clip for the public to use for personal and educational purposes under the Creative Commons License.

To quote the BBC:

Why these particular clips?
We're pleased to present links to nearly 80 pieces of video and audio covering iconic news stories and events of the last 50 years. You might feel that some important stories have been left out. If so, it is likely to be because the BBC doesn't have the rights to release the item.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Creative Archive Licence project is rights clearance. Simply put, before it is possible to apply the Creative Archive Licence to a piece of video or audio, it is necessary to investigate who owns the rights associated with the content contained within it. It may not be always possible to secure the agreement of the rights owner


Some of the material included consists of the recent marriage between Prince Charles and Camilla; however the video clip of Prince Charles' wedding to Princess Diana is not available (yet.), one of the biggest disasters in the oil and gas industry in the UK (Piper Alpha, North Sea) which transformed health and safety, the Tiananmen demonstration, 9/11, Mandela's release, and the most recent (to my knowledge), Hurricane Katrina.

Note: You need to be within the UK to download the clips (free registration required as well). As for me, I'm busy downloading them to be burnt on a DVD.