Wednesday, March 30, 2005

This is 'housemate'

It’s probably high time to introduce my housemate. It will not do to simply refer to him as ‘my housemate’ for ages, entry after entry. I think he’s not amused by the anonymously impersonal ‘housemate’ tag too. His name is Adrian.

I drove my 51st (thats already into the second half of 100) car early this morning. It was a 2004 model Toyota Camry. It was about as exciting as peeling potatoes, although I must admit the potatoes in question are top notch organic produce with nary a blemish in sight.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Chocolate fondue

My housemate and I made strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue today. It was fun!

Chocolate was melted in a hot water bath, and a teaspoon of cooking oil was added to regulate the chocolate’s properties. When blended with oil, the chocolate (at room temperature) is more of a hard, thick paste rather than a rigid, brittle solid. This step is particularly important as the chocolate coating should not crack and fracture.

Dark chocolate was first used to coat the berries to about ¾ its full height. White chocolate was then used to coat a second layer up to about half the berry’s full height. The result was a white tip, a dark brown band, a red head, finally topped off with a tuft of green leaves.


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Monday, March 28, 2005

My dull little holiday

Its 2.45am on Monday, and I don’t really feel productive. At the moment, I’m fiddling with an analysis of cooling towers. It’s not too fun, although a cooling tower is a particularly nifty set up.

It’s the Easter break now, as is probably the case in many predominantly Christian states. 10 days to catch up on lectures, assignments and life. A few friends invited me along for an overnight holiday in the Grampians, one of the many national parks in the state. While the prospect of a little trip was rather attractive, this was offset by the need to get some work done, and the unfortunate fact that it will involve a sum of money.

After vacillating for some hours between the choice to go or not to go, I finally decided to opt out of it. At the glacial rate which I get work done, not taking 2 days off from a 10 day working holiday will hopefully improve my chances of getting some real work done.

My housemate will be going for a party of sorts later today, and will be bringing strawberries dipped in chocolate. We’re preparing some for ourselves too. If successful, you’ll read more on it. If it turns out to be a horrible screw-up, then nothing will be mentioned of it.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been attempting to learn the 6th Dan taekwando pattern from a book. Already having known the first 4, I skipped 5 as it involved too many unfamiliar moves to understand from a book. The 6th, however, is easier to comprehend as it consists mainly of simple moves in difficult combinations.

Here’s a little exercise if you’re interested:
Describe, in a maximum of 3 sentences, an unpleasant/horrid person. Attempt to strike a balance between vividness of detail and amount of facts/points.
Don't cheat by using sentences as long as paragraphs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What a horrid mess!

Yesterday evening, my cousin Yi-Ann paid me a visit at my apartment. The place was a mess. There were papers strewn over one end dining table- power bill, phone bill, Indian food advertisement, religious newsletter to the previous tenant, junk mail and official correspondence from the banks and mistresses (if any). At another location of the dining table, dishes from breakfast and dinner the day before waited to be washed. On the floor, a few plastic bags left over from grocery shopping, footwear diffused haphazardly around the doorway, telephone and computer network cables snaking about underfoot and the odd pair of socks curled into adorable little fuzzy balls.

“Oh my goodness,” was what I thought Yi-Ann might have said. Nevertheless, she maintained a politely diplomatic silence and made no exclamation.

This was her first visit. “Let’s have a look at your room.”
Oh dear.

My desk was another case-study in mess.

[Paragraph omitted]

“Don’t you clean up your room?” Yi-Ann asked me with a morbid curiosity of a motorway accident spectator.
“Well, just that I haven’t got round to…”
“But look at this mess. How can you put up with this?”
“No, I know what you are trying to say. Its just that…well….” I stammered around for a half-decent reply. None was forthcoming.

She had asked some very fundamental questions for which I absolutely had no real answer to. While similar questions have been posed before by my parents, the questions were mostly dismissed with a half-hearted attempt or some doubtful excuses, and everyone promptly forgot about the issue. This situation, however, was quite the opposite. I can’t just wave my arms in the air and declare “I’ll do it later.”

Subsequently, the apartment was tidied up. I’m glad to have that refreshingly different point of view presented to me.


In my defence, I must stress that while slightly untidy, hygiene was never compromised.
In Yi-Ann’s defence, she did not mean any offence, in case the above inaccurate portrayal hinted otherwise.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Oh, a mystery!

I went to Nike’s clearance sale today. Things were going rather cheaply, and as a consequence, I purchases 10 caps for a princely sum of $20, and 2 T-shirts at $15 each.

My brother will be selling the caps for a small but non-zero profit, and as such the caps would have to be delivered to Malaysia. The first problem was to know the price associated with the postage. This was trivially solved by browsing Australian Post’s website. Supplemented with the postage costs were very helpful pointers on each country’s restrictions and documentation requirements.

I shall quote the “Prohibitions” list:

In addition to items prohibited by Dangerous and Prohibited Goods & Packaging Post Guide and EMS International Courier Regulations, Malaysia prohibits:

Advertising material on lucky charms
Coins exceeding $M50 in value, except purely for ornament
Copyright infringements
Firearms and parts thereof
Flick knives
Government Service markings, imitation
Lottery tickets
Obscene or seditious articles
Spear guns
Spirits and liqueurs
Trademark infringements.

Malaysia also prohibits all Parcels addressed to Vietnamese refugees in camps or addressed to PO Box 12468, Kuala Lumpur.

That had me stunned. PO Box 12468? And what lies beyond the mailing box of 12468 KL? A secret so terrible that it must not receive parcels? A box so small that it cannot accommodate parcels?

An exhaustive search of all listed results from a search string “PO Box 12468” in google yielded almost nothing. The only item possibly of interest is “MALAYSIAN RED CRESCENT SOCIETY POBOX 12468, KUALA LUMPUR”, which is part of a Japanese web page, presumably detailing mailing restrictions.

That said, it is rather interesting to view the restrictions placed by certain countries. It is possible to succinctly sum up a country’s policies and fears from its list of banned articles. Italy, for example, does not prohibit anything at all apart from dangerous goods. On the other hand, the USA disallows chain letters, while the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea restricts “all imports”. China is an interesting case study. Do play around with the page and see if you turn up with anything interesting.

I'll be off now, for dinner and among other things, to ponder upon the significance of PO Box 12468, Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, March 18, 2005

This week. And 7 years ago.

Edited 21 March 2003- added photographs and links

Back in 1998, I was waiting for my mother to pick me up after school. Waiting in the quiet bus stop, sheltered from direct sunlight but not from the dry, scorching wind, I wondered…

After my PMR later in the year, I’ll be going into upper secondary. 2 years later would be my SPM. Following that, I’ll be finished with secondary school and cast into the then unknown world of tertiary education, presumably in college or university. I wonder if I’ll be ready for it all. Golly…how time does seem flies!

Some time last week, I was having a similar issue.

One and a half semesters late, I’ll be finished with university and presumably dropped into the job market to join the working class. That’s fast! Shit.

Logically, it’s not of great importance. In years to come, I might bemusedly recall this entry and all its irrelevant trivialities while fidgeting about yet another unknown in the coming future.

On a separate note, I managed to slice a piece of kiwi fruit to a thickness of about 0.5 to 0.75mm. I’m still wondering how it can best be photographed in its splendid thinness.

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Click on pictures to view deviantart entry, with full sized photographs available.

On yet another separate note, I turned up at the university’s fencing club. I’m having trouble deciding if I should go. The beginner’s training sessions run every Monday night, and I expect that I would be tired after that. On Tuesday afternoons I have karate training; muscle fatigue will definitely interfere with the natural order of things. On a plus side, my 7 years in martial arts have given me a fair bit of experience in more confrontational sports. This would hopefully make the learning curve a bit gentler, especially with regard to distance holding and techniques for attacks and defence. While money is not a big problem, paying money and not attending is downright stupid.

It’s been bugging me for a few days already, and would like to arrive at a decision soon.

Any feedback would be very much appreciated.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A bit of maths, and computing frustrations

I started my weekend contemplating on an experiment to program a calculator that will be able to manipulate large numbers. By large, I was trying to go beyond the 32 bit (4.29 billion) limit for integers. I was hoping for an initial target of 30 digits, well beyond the abilities of an average computer. With the proposed algorithm, the mechanism can be easily expanded to 100 digits, 500 digits, 1000 digits…

Consider our brain. It cannot explicitly handle large numbers. Its limit is probably 10, but with various methods developed in primary school, we can easily manipulate multiple digit numbers. 34562 + 764356, for example. This large number problem is easily solved by doing lining the numbers up and doing the operations column by column. The problem is simplified, although it is a bit more tedious. Nevertheless, it is perfectly reasonable to expect it to be solved in a minute. Similarly, by simplifying a long number into a series of small numbers, I can expect the computer to add numbers of a hundred digits.

It is easy to see that 537 is equivalent to 5×100 + 3×10 + 7×1. Since a computer can work with large numbers, there was no reason to limit it to base-10. Working with larger bases would significantly reduce the number of operations involved. For example, the large number 1,234,567,890 can be expressed as 1×1,000,000,000 + 234×1,000,000 + 567×1000 + 890×1. By expressing it in base-1000, it has been simplified from a 10 digit number to a 4 'digit' number. However, these 'digits' are large- 1, 234, 567 & 890.

To add 2 large numbers, they are lined up in columns, with the 'digits' added, and the excess 1000s carried over to the next column as a 1s. Here, 2 arbitrary large numbers are added:

235921634 + 56365275 = 292286909

 235 921 634
+ 56 365 275
 292 286 909

Here is the operation detailed in steps. Add the 'digits' of the right most column: 634 + 275 = 909, write 909. Add the 'digits' of the second column: 921 + 365 = 1286, write 286 and carry the excess 1000 over to the next column as a 1. Add the 'digits' of the third column, including any carried 1s: 1 + 235 + 56 = 299.

With this in mind, I proceeded to design my calculator. It will need to take user inputs as a sentence of number symbols, not as a real number. Remember, the computer cannot cope with large numbers. These strings of numeric symbols will be then partitioned into groups like the above example, and then the individual groups converted into numbers. By now, 292 should really mean two hundred and ninety two, not 3 unidentified smears on my monitor.

Here was the major problem of a computer. A human can partition the numbers easily. We draw a line, imaginary or otherwise, across the numbers every 3 digits, right to left. We go on and on, to the 50th digit, 125th digit, 784th digit, till the end. For a computer, you would need to count how long was the user input to establish when you stop partitioning. After that, the individual symbols in the groups had to be converted to numbers, and the relationship between the position and the digit clearly established. In 53154, the 1 is clearly a 100, not 100000. However, this subtle fact is not visible to your average computer. Hence I have to tell it.

So far, I’m still stuck with finding a way of telling the facts to the idiot, in an efficient manner.

That said, I must say that 100 digits is nothing big. While it is doubtful that banks will need 100 digit addition in the near future, mathematics has been on huge numbers for a while. Mathematicians talk of finding billion or trillion digit prime numbers. A particularly interesting number that cropped up in the past is e^e^e^79. It is a number of 10^billion trillion trillion digits. Again, 10^billion trillion trillion is not the number. It is the number of digits in the number. This number is known as Skewes’ Number, the largest number ever to emerge in natural mathematics at the time of its discovery (1933). In contrast, the number of atoms in the cosmos is estimated to be only of the order of 80 digits. (Derbyshire, 236)

John Derbyshire, Prime Obsession- Bernhard Riemann and the greatest unsolved problem in mathematics, 2003

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"A small amount"

Here’s an interesting exercise to improve my vocabulary (and yours, of course).

Think of as many ways to express “a small amount” as possible and send them in. Here are mine; this would be updated periodically as the comments trickle in.

A small amount-

A tinge
Vanishingly small
A touch
A hint
A swirl
A tiny proportion
A dusting

From Ob!ique:
A bit
A pinch
A tad
A speck
Itty bitty teeny tiny :)

From Sonia
A little

From Vic
A quanta
A Planck scale

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I miss the shine of newly buffed fingernails. However, I would not be taking any steps to obtain a polishing kit.

On a more constructive note, the work load associated with my university course is picking up. This being my final year, the number of hours I spend in lectures and tutorials is really vanishingly small. 13 hours a week to be precise, or an average of 2.6 hours per weekday. Unfortunately, a lot work is expected of us outside of these hours. A major proportion of this would be occupied with the final year project, a massive endeavour spanning 2 semesters and 3 ‘holiday’ periods.

Apart from plain vanilla engineering work, I’ve been fiddling with a friend’s public relations work. They mostly revolve around crafting alternate sentences and phrases to smoothen the flow of ideas in speeches and media invitations. A little mundane, but very helpful for the both of us. She gets a few more alternatives to choose from; I get to work on my limited writing skills. Quite a good deal, I must say.

On Sunday, I visited the Melbourne Motor Show with a few friends. Last year’s show was a remarkable eye opener- with many exotic models and concepts such as the Porsche Carrera GT, Audi LeMans, Pagani Zonda, Noble M12 & Lotus Exige. In contrast, this year’s fiasco was exceedingly disappointing. The only exhibits of any real interest were the BMW M5 and Ferrari 430. Even the freebies by exhibitors had decreased substantially. Mercedes and Holden were the only ones generous enough to give show goers posters. I was hoping for a Toyota calendar; the 2004 calendar had been useful, and it looks good too. Nope, neither calendars nor posters from anyone. It was depressing. This dearth of activity might be attributed to the Geneva Motor Show, which was running at the same time. Who cares about Melbourne?

On a more positive note, entrants were given a slab of Lindt chocolate that would have cost about $3 or $4 in the marketplace. Not too bad a rebate for a $12 ticket. Until you realise that the expiry month is March 05. I ate it anyway, and din't really liked the flavour (crunchy caramel). Plain dark or milk chocolate would have been infinitely better.

Someday, I hope to visit the Geneva Motor Show.

Finally, a big thank you to David and Ob!ique for the parcel.

Friday, March 04, 2005

From the US Department of State, With Love

The following article extracted from ob!ique’s blog entry (3/3/05)-

Dear Malaysians,

Please note that the United States of America has released an official report on
Malaysia's human rights track record.

I gave the report a brief read and I must say I totally agree with it. The role that ISA plays is to retain racial harmony and government stability is indeed oppressive . . . but the Amerikanskis put it too harshly to make it sounds as though that it is a breach of the universal human right's standards. It is a breach of their standards no doubt but do they even understand the need for a curfew (darurat) when Malaysia was under Japanese rule? I wonder if the Amerikanskis have ever felt what that was like. And the nature of our culture, I see no mention of that in their report. I presume their Homeland Security and foreign policies respect human rights? What about Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan? Oh yes, people have disappeared under
PDRM's cells but I think we'd rather read more about how the Amerikanskis treat their criminals. I can safely say disappearance is not quite the correct word . . . how about eliminated?

Spitting out the bitter pill, I still agree with the report and Malaysians have much to LEARN from the Western liberal democracies. We need to learn to not be hypocritical like them. We learn to respect our neighbours, the diverse religions of the world and the plurality of cultures that exists . . . and not to use those factors against them. We learn not to segregate the 'us' from 'them' because all states are equal cf. some states that think they are more equal than others. We learn to unite in the face of adversity and external expansions. We learn not to impose our values on others because then we should not criticise others for doing so. Such costly lessons ... I just hope we don't have to pay for it like others but LEARN from it.