elb's hovel of thoughts

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Weekly shopping

Or sort of. I don't have any real fixed shopping schedule. But since I'm dying to have a break from work, and couldn't be bothered to think too much, here's a post of what I bought from the food stores:

Running out of food earlier, I decided to pop down to the local high street, a good 15 - 20 minutes walk. We have basically a choice of three major supermarket chains within a couple of minutes walk from each other - M&S, Waitrose, and Sainsbury's. Somerfields is also 20 minutes away - in the opposite direction. No guesses as to where I'd go.

I usually split my shopping between all three places, depending on the food I'd buy, and how generous my wallet might feel. M&S has great oven food, as does Waitrose. But Sainsbury's would have the cheapest fresh foods (in general, amongst these three). Bla bla bla. I have never shopped at either Tesco or Asda, basically because there is non of them in the area (the small tiny Tesco kiosks in petrol stations does NOT count). Soon though, I will have access to Tesco, Asda and continued access to Waitrose.

So, I decided to pop into M&S. And I found everything that I wanted there.

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Well, everything except for the 7-up and onions, which came from Sainsbury's.

Here's a closer look at the stuff:

2 pints of milk at left. A grilled vegetable and goat's cheese pizza (£4). Roasted peppers and goat's cheese are two of my favourite foods, and to find them together, bliss! At right, a pack of butterflied leg of lamb, with fresh rosemary and thyme glaze and some other stuff. The lamb was the most expensive item at £8 (or was it £9?). The cans of 7-up peer at us from behind the pizza. At buy 1 get 1 free, why not?

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One of the two chickens that I bought, as well as ready-to-roast pork crackling and the onions.
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Two packs of Polish blueberries (pun NOT intended), flanked by two TetraPaks of blueberry goodness. As you could probably tell, I like blueberries. So much so that I had some fun with my camera and the blueberries.

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I love M&S. They know what type of food I want ;) Shame its a tad expensive, so I don't go there too often.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Random jottings

In no real particular order

Burp! I just finished my dinner. Its 0015. I had a big 'breakfast' of smoked haddock (some fish) and honey roasted parsnips and boiled broccoli at 1.30pm, and a lunch of 2 small packets of Walker's crisps around 6pm for 'lunch'. Needless to say, I was starving for the majority of the day, especially after I came back from the gym. I blame the experiments which left me with very little free time.

We need late night food vendors in the South West. The strong French presence means that high calorie joints such as KFC and BK are nowhere to be seen. There's not even a late night Pakistani-run fried chicken/ chippy/ kebab store anywhere convinient on my route home

My PhD supervisor is great. As long as I perform, he doesn't care if I come in late and all that. He didn't seem to mind that he returned to Lab A from collecting stuff at Lab B to find me sitting down in a reasonably clean area of the corridor outside Lab A, chatting away on the phone. All he did was to tell me to go in to meet him when I was done, as I nodded and we continued chatting away on the phone about someone's ability to sneeze loudly.

Meet him I did later on, as we repeated went in (to change samples being read by the machine) and out of the lab (to escape the stinking smell of sulphite coming from somewhere in the lab, and to discuss results).

A few minutes after seeing the aforementioned supervisor, my mobile phone beeped the distress call, warning of low battery. For the second day running, I was unable to call up the local council of the property I'm planning to move into to make some inquiries about council taxes. Sorry, my future housemate :P

I was zoned out. I was so blur I forgot what I wanted to tell people. Several times. Must have been the sulphite. I decided to try to get alert by going to the gym, but I was feeling too tired and gave up after several chin ups and burning 500 calories on the cardio.

I'll accept the offer to train in the firm. Most probably I'll be involved in international corporate law and taxation. A good chance for me to learn some things about businesses, to turn my air castles into steel-and-glass skyscrapers. Yup, would definitely come in useful when(hopefully) running a decent business ten years from now.

Oh, I discovered that I have a 2nd degree of separation with the great fashion guru, Giorgio Armani. And a few other celebrities.

I realised that I will have to travel from east London zone 3 (most probable location of my next home) to west Central London for my training. That's going to work out to require me waking at 6.30am, for an estimated 75 minute journey. One way. Help!

Argh! Why the hell did you leak, you stupid bag. I had to clean up the lab of chemicals and throw away the trash. Might as well, since they were overflowing. Nobody seems to bother with the trash when the bags are starting to fill. The more it overflows, the less likely anyone would want to do the job unless absolutely necessary. Okay, I'm guilty of it too.

Double argh! I missed Dragon's Den because of the laboratory experiments!

I don't think I'll show my face at the labs tomorrow. I'm supposed to go for a farewell tea in the afternoon at East London, and a birthday dinner at some so-far-unknown place.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Water down the shoes

I glanced at the cheap laser printed map I held in my hand and figured my bearings. 'Just cross the road, and walk perpendicular to the road; its the next main street', I thought to myself. No problem at all. So I waited for the lights to turn green in favour of me, and in seconds I was across.

So I started walking along the interconnecting road. Next thing I knew I felt my feet getting damp. I looked to the side, and realised that it was caused by a bloody repair van wanting to park right next to me. It also meant that part of a puddle was water was displaced onto my leg and down into my socks and shoes.

I shot an annoyed look at the culprits. The window was down, and the man in the passenger seat - he looked scruffy and dirty - looked at me. 'What the fuck do you want? It was a fucking accident'. With that attitude, no wonder he's never made it - and will never make it.

Looking at how quickly he was looking out of the window and turning to the back to face me, and the fact that he was quick to rattle off his rude comment, it was apparent that the bastards did mean to splash water on me. Luckily for them, it did not hit my shirt, otherwise I would have been extremely livid and would have given them a piece of my mind. But I was in a hurry - so I gave them a long, hard, stony glare as I moved on, the bastards.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

When is a letter Capital?

Me: Do you know why in the journal papers, they spell bacteria with a small b, and Archaea with a capital A?

QJ: Really? I've seen them spell Bacteria with a capital B.

Me: No, I'll show you. *Frowns and flips through journal review paper*. Look! See this line? 'blabla bacteria.' And this line too! 'blabla Archaea'

QJ: Hmm... I don't know.

Few seconds later:

QJ: I know! Its because everyone has heard of bacteria before but few people have heard of archaea before. So they put a big A so that everyone can tell a difference!

Me: Aaah! That's possible. I didn't even know what on earth an archaea was until I came here...

What is an Archaea, you ask?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Chessington World of Adventures

Part of the Tussaud group, Chessington World of Adventures (CWA from now) is located at Chessington South, Surrey. It is targeted at families with young children, as opposed to the adrenaline thumping Thorpe Park, or the all-rounded Alton Towers. CWA can be reached easily by catching the South West train, which runs from Waterloo and ends at Chessington South

Wanting to be punctual and trying to undercut the impossible-to-predict frequency of Underground trains, I promptly arrived at the interchange a spanking 40 minutes ahead of the South West train, so I popped over to a friend's place near the interchange to kill time, then we boarded the appropriate train.

From Chessington South's train station it is another 15 - 20 minutes walk to reach CWA. Here we collected the advance tickets (a pack of 10 which breaks down to £12.15 or something like that per person; original price £29 each). Still we had too many tickets so we acted like ticket touts (avoiding the staff of course) and managed to sell them off in a few minutes ;)

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Aerial view of the rear of the main entrance.

The ultimate aim was to have fun and to conquer all the roller coasters, being the roller coaster junkie I am. First of all was Dragon's Fury. It is a spinning roller coaster, whereby one-car carts which can sit four people at a time actually rotate during the ride. One very interesting feature is that the track is able to accommodate 90 degree banks. Oooh!

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The car going about its business on the track ;)

How was the rollercoaster? The spinning cars certainly add a new dimension to the whole ride, and the 90 degree to the vertical bank combined with the spinning car was definitely awesome ;)

Verdict: 5/ 10.

Next up was a suspender roller coaster, called the Vampire. You know, with your feet all dangling in the air from the seats. It was generally a pleasant ride with a couple of interesting and unexpected turns which were positively felt by the body.

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Slow shutter speed gives a sense of movement

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Look closely at what they brought on board - a camera and a video camera! I want to bring my dSLR too, damnit!

Vampire rating: 5/10.

Then it was on to a thrill ride, the Black Buccaneer. I never liked the ride because it always makes me naseous. As usual, we went right to the back and the feeling of having your stomach being pushed against the diaphragm is utterly unpleasant

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Few theme parks do not have this ride.

Rating: 3/10.

And to cool off a little, we sat on the flume ride. But you've seen log rides anyway, so I'll spare you the agony of looking at one. So here's a different picture instead:

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Then it was time to ride on the Runaway Train. If you've never ridden on a roller coaster before, this is it to give you an induction into what you're missing. If you're ridden on a roller coaster before, stay away. The ride reminded me of one of the roller coasters in Sunway Lagoon. Buffalo Bill Coaster, it was called. Stay away from either of them.

Verdict: 1 / 10

And then it was time to explore the Wild Mouse-type roller coaster, called Rattlesnake. It was definitely a world above the Runaway Train. The problem with this type of coaster is that it makes sudden, sharp turns, and can be painful to your body as you and your friend are thrown around inside the car. A nice way to err, accidentally hit into the lady you always fancied ;)

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A view of the ride

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Another from a different angle.

How was it? 4 /10.

So that was all the rollercoasters done. A bit disappointing, really. But I did not expect much considering that I was not the target audience of the park. What I need now is to find enough adrenaline junkie friends to conquer Thorpe Park with together ;)

We also checked out Beanotown. Nostalgia indeed, although I fancied the Dandy more than the Beano.

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We went on a couple of other rides, bla bla.

I wanted to win one of these Tatty Teddy lookalike bears for no apparent reason. £2 for 4 balls. Naturally, these games were rigged and none of the balls went in. Cheats.

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Then it was time to go home because we were all so knackered and the park was closing as well. Shame we couldn't see the zoo section of CWA.

For an awesome day out with good company, around £30 (£12.15 entrance, £5 day travelcard [or something like that; Oyster cards do not work on the route], £4 for some pathetic Mexican fast food, and a few other pounds for drinks and all that) wasn't too bad!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Christianity in 113 words and a few numbers, according to MENJ

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Can't really blame MENJ for not understanding the concept of the Trinity. In fact MENJ, you're not alone. Many Christians themselves don't even understand the concept of the Trinity, so how can you understand it?

Just for the convinience of those of you who can't have access to his page since he's blockaded most of you off. Please take your comments/ debates and what not elsewhere, thank you.

Kopitiam London Review

I previously mentioned Kopitiam briefly in my brief overview of some of the Malaysian eateries one could find in London.

Now that I have visited a couple of times more, I feel that I can at last make some in detail comments about that place.

First off, how does one get there. Walk to the very middle of Chinatown's main street (Marked with a red X). Walk north along Dean St and you will soon see Kopitiam on the right (black X).

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You can recognize Kopitiam by the pitiful Malaysian flag hanging outside. Its so pitiful that it should really be taken down. By the way, Kopitiam serves not only Malaysian food, but also Thai food.

Anyway, YingCi insisted that I take her to Kopitiam - this in spite of the fact that she was flying back to Malaysia three days later.

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The interior of kopitiam

When we were there, there was a table full of Ah Lians - it seems you can never run away from them. Sigh.

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The AhLians. At least they weren't dressed up in black.

So I ordered Char Kway Teow; YC had mee laksa (or was it curry noodles? my memory's bad again), and the mysterious gatecrasher had beef rendang.

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My CKT and YC's mee laksa. (both around £7 each)

The CKT, as you can see, came with lots of fresh vegetables. A nice change from the usually oily dish, and as usual, came with no blood cockles. But it was still good and reminded me a bit of the CKT served at the mamak stall Spicy Kitchen. The curry used for the noodles was excellent though. And oh, you can see YC's lo han guo (£1.80) drink, which tasted more sugary than anything else. By the way, the soya milk here is authentic (£1.80), and not the Yeo's crap. My only complaint is that it is a tad bit too sweet.

We also ordered grilled fish.

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It came topped with onion rings. Beef rendang (approx £8 at right)

At almost £14, forget it. It is not worth paying for! The fish was small and pathetic. It is much better to get the assam fish (either tilapia fillet or pomfert fillet, £9). They only had the tilapia fillet on the day I wanted to order it; and I must say that it is fantastic and highly recommended, but do note that the french beans which come with the dish are too tough.

A comment about the beef rendang, and that is do not bother. Thin slices of beef in a weak sauce. Go elsewhere for your beef rendang fix.

There is one dish that disappointed me throughly, and that is nasi lemak. I ordered it for a friend who had never tried Malaysian food before, thinking that it would come out decent. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

The rice is all wrong. It had a sticky appearance and was too dry. The chicken curry with potatoes was decent but there was too little of it. Like the beef rendang, it was cut too thinly (imagine a few slices of chicken 5mm thick). Worst of all, the nasi lemak did not come with sambal. It came with XO sauce instead! Absolutely unforgiveable! I did not kick up a fuss though, because my friend was not familiar with Malaysian food. But I was very very annoyed deep inside.


It is no excuse. You can purchase sambal oelek from Chinatown nearby if you can't make your own. XO sauce in place of sambal is only permitted if you are a student and have no access to sambal. As a restaurant, it is an absolute NO NO.

For that cardinal sin committed on Malaysian food, I rate Kopitiam 6/10. It is no longer highly recommended.

Brief Updates

This shouldn't be a blog post per se, it should be a collection of 'small talks', but since I have no idea how to go about that, I'll just rant anyway:

I made a very satisfying discovery. Not exactly earth shattering, but enough for me (and almost everyone else I've told it to) to go 'Wow'. And it will look good on my CV too as well. More details when I have finished verification and submission. Or maybe I'll just let you all wonder what it is :)

Today's temperature hit a high of..... 18 celsius. Unbelievable. Middle of August, 18 celsius? Global warming? More like global frosting*. I had to switch on my heater for the first time in a few months.

Nasi lemak with XO sauce in place of sambal? That's so WRONG. Cardinal sin indeed! Full review of the culprits soon...

* Note that eventhough global warming is happening, it is possible that the temperature might actually drop. For more details, brush up on your general knowledge.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Book Review: Auschwitz

My latest foray into the genre of history books is that of the not-too-distant past. I picked a copy of Auschwitz: The Nazis & The 'Final Solution' (Laurence Rees; BBC Books) from Borders a couple of months back (with a painting of Himmler looking and gesturing at a cane-walking Hitler along a snowy hillside as the cover).

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Picture taken from Westminster Bookshop.

I neglected it initially because I was busy with two other non-fiction books at the same time: Bill Bryson's excellent and very highly recommended popular science book, 'A Short History of Nearly Everything '; as well as Jared Diamond's brilliant and disturbing 'Collapse', which talks about the need of sustainability if the human race is to avoid getting wiped out within the next few decades.

Anyway. Back to Auschwitz. This book should put down to rest conspiration theories about how the Catholics installed Hitler as their agent to massacre the Jews (the then Pope's amazing silence in face of the genocide until it was late into the war), etc. Interestingly enough, the book presents a conspiration theory: that of Hitler's, who believed that the international Jewry conspired against Germany at the end of World War I and wanted to get back at them.

The book starts by introducing the commander of the Auschwitz camp, Rudolf Hoess as one of the central figures to the whole story. It does not jump straight into Auschwitz though: it introduces the concentration camp of Dachau (which I had the priviledge to visit in the suburbs of Munich, and was a very disturbing and depressing place) and explains how the camps initially only were meant as a detention facility and nothing more.

The book also clears up a common misconception: that the Jews were murdered from day one. In fact, the book highlights that Hitler initially wanted them deported to make way for the return of Germans from other parts of Europe. It was, in short, a supply chain disaster, as Germany expanded and decided to shift the Jews from one part of the German empire to the other.

And as moving the Jews became liabilities, the Nazis slowly went down the path to selection killing and eventually genocide. The book also highlights how the Nazis eventually, and independently of Hitler, ended up using Zyklon-B to mass-murder the Jews (because it minimized the trauma faced by firing squads), showing that the 'Final Solution' was the result of a collective decision by the Nazis.

Another interesting fact: Auschwitz was not only a death camp; it was also an industrial complex and a few lucky Jews were even allowed access to a 'swimming pool'!

Ultimately, the book showcases the capacity of harmless-looking individuals to turn into ruthless monsters (Himmler was said by a survivor to have looked like a school teacher!), how human morality and behaviour can perverse itself by the fight for survival, and how man's capacity of inhumanity to fellow man is indeed manifestable on a scale as large as the largest extermination facility in the history of the world.

Rating: 9/10. Highly recommended and a must read for just about everyone.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Trading Catholic terrorists for Muslim terrorists

Me and the BujangLapuk were discussing the latest terror activity in the UK (a plot to bomb 9 planes [update: now reduced to 6 planes] US-bound over the Atlantic ocean) a while ago:

elb says: hello... seen the news lately?

BL says: You mean about the latest terror threat?

elb says: yup

BL says: Well, I consider that a feature of UK life

BL says: When I first came to the UK in 199X, it was Irish bombs

elb says: heh

elb says: just swapping 'Christian' (well, 'Catholic') terrorists for 'Muslim' ones

BL says: Exactly

BL says: What will be next? Buddhist ones? Hindu ones? ;)

elb says: might never know

elb says: ah well

elb says: but then again, i don't think the IRA tried to bomb 9 planes at one go (well, almost at one go)

BL says: No, these muslim guys are a lot sicker

BL says: The IRA didn't do suicides either

BL says: And they actually gave coded warnings most of the time

BL says: Whereas the current lot actually WANT to kill innocents

BL says: Anyway... The chance of actually being caught up in one of the explosions (if any) is actually very low

BL says: Miniscule

BL says: (although the chances of being inconvenienced are significant)

elb says: yeah, but thats only because millions (of people) are involved heh

BL says: Exactly

Note: Before you start commenting on anything about being discriminatory to any religion, note that these are facts, and also note the use of inverted commas.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Polymerase Chain Reaction

Ever wondered how forensic scientists can work with so little DNA? They can swab your cheeks, take a few epithelial cells from a crime scene, and produce miracles out of it. Or how archaelogists work with insects preserved in amber. Or how people like me work with bacteria. Or my sheep, as Elaine fondly refers to them.

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The mutated bacteria glimmering in radioactive waste. Oh wait, that's just chlorophyll from the algae which it grew alongside with. Yes, the algal chlorophyll got smashed out of their cell walls by centrifuging at 13 000 times gravity. Ow.

The answer lies in a tidy little process called polymerase chain reaction. Basically, tiny parts (or huge parts) of DNA become exponentially amplified through the clever use of biotechnology (the inventor of the technique received little compensation while his company ratted away hundreds of millions, bastards. *makes note to self to become the self-employed discoverer of the solution of the IgG problem*)

Basically, as you all should know, every living thing has a genetic code stored away somewhere which is called DNA. What a rude shock I got, one of the questions thrown at me during my presentation was 'what is DNA?', and I was totally not expecting such a simple question I fumbled for a minute.

Anyway, parts of your DNA are common to other humans (duh), and some parts are unique to you alone (duh, it makes you you). So basically, little 'probes' called primers are designed to attach to either edge of the common, or conserved, DNA, allowing for the unique sections, or variable, regions of the DNA to be copied. So we have a small (or large, depending) segment of DNA to be copied and which is flanked by the primers, that act as start/ stop signals.

But before this, we need to extract the DNA from the cells. To cut the long story short, we subject the cells to inhumane treatments of pummeling to death with microbeads, chemical attack by surfactants to tear the cell membranes apart, or repeated freezing/ thawing. Ouch.

So yes now we have the bits and pieces of DNA, we have the primers, now we need to be able to copy the bits in between the two primers. To achieve this, we use a combination of different temperatures and an enzyme which binds artificially added nucleotides (remember in school, you learnt that DNA is made from four letters? A T G and C) together, doubling the number of DNA with the bits we are interested in.

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The 'CSI machine' (thermocycle machine) at work. Photograph courtesy of my air conditioned lab. Not like it makes much of a difference lately since its cold again, but it was bliss when temperatures were 35 celsius outside.

This cycle is typically repeated 30 times. So you can imagine, if we had one single strand of DNA, that would grow to 2^29 the number of DNA strands. And that's just one DNA piece. Imagine if there were a couple of hundred of DNA to start with (subject to available free nucleotides, of course).

After the process is complete, we get to play with mutagens as well! But that's another story for another day.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Who needs a new phone anyway?

P: Hello sir, please take a seat. What can I do for you?
M: I received a phone call regarding my contract and that it would expire soon.
P: *takes details down*
M: I would like to add that I might not want to take out a new contract today, but I am just finding out about the possibilities.
P: No problem *continues asking further questions on lifestyle*

P: We can recommend you this contract *points out £35 a month for 500 minute contract*
M: Whoa! The tariffs sure have changed (mine was £35 for 250 minutes a month)
P: *nods enthusiastically* In addition, for off-peak, we only charge you for the first three minutes of the first hour
M: Errr wait, isn't that an 18 months contract?
P: Yeah, but think about it....
M: Okay, show me the phones, please
P: Which would you like? Nokia?

I shake my head. Yuck. 'Sony Ericsson?' The 3.2MP k800i looked interesting, since I was on the look out for a compact camera to take to places my DSLR wouldn't go. But I shook my head. The metrosexual side in me didn't like it.

'I want to look at the Samsung phones, please'. Samsung phones are great design wise. I took a quick look at the e900 and d900, but wanted to examine the new flip phone which I saw advertised on the wall of the store. It was so new that not even the store people knew what model it was called.

Anyhow, minutes later as I examined my d600 and pondered over whether I really needed a new phone (no, obviously not)

C: Customer representative, can I take your details etc?
M: *gives details*
C: You are in the system, go ahead
M: I'd like to request my PAC code please (a code required if you wish to swap between networks).
C: That will take a month
M: A what? I would like it NOW.
C: Why do you need it so urgently? Are in a shop now?
M: Yes
C: Is it safe to talk now?
M: Go ahead.
C: What kind of deal are they offering you? Perhaps we can offer you something even better
M: *details*
C: Okay, we can offer you £25 for 500 minutes, anytime any network. It will become active within 24 hours. And when it comes closer to your contract coming to an end, we can discuss adding other benefits. (note that this low price is only available without choosing a phone to upgrade [that constitutes a brand new contract]), on a month to month basis.
M: *decides to stay with current network*

But seriously, for someone who only uses a mobile phone to call, sms and occasionally take pictures, a fancy phone isn't really necessary. Just give me a nice design :D