Wednesday, August 30, 2006


"下一站,油麻地。Next station, Yau Ma Tei." An automated, bilingual female voice of neutral accent announced over the train's speakers. The train drew to a stop and a multitude of double doors along its length slid open. Ignoring the masses of students and proletariats, Lao Chen found his way towards Exit C as instructed.

The MTR was an impressive set up. Not only is its rail network extremely vast, but the stations themselves have numerous tendrils reaching out to the surface at various locations. Exits A1, A2, B1, B2, C and D are all very different places.

The directions given to him were clear. From Exit C at Ming Man Lane, he arrived at the tiny desert shop with plenty of time to spare. Like all establishments in Hong Kong, this shop manages to pack plenty into a minuscule floor area.

He sat down at an empty table. A lady came to take his order. "In a while; I’m waiting for someone," he told her. She went away with a nod.

Customers drifted in and out of the shop. Money and various bowls of tong sui changed hands. Construction workers, corporate types, middle school students, tourists came and went. Most of them came alone; they shared tables with others yet kept to themselves. Portable music players and mobile phones cocooned them in their own universes.

"Hello!" a cheerful voice from behind him jolted Lao Chen back to alertness. It was plink.
"Take a seat," Lao Chen pulled a stool for her.

The lady came by to again to take their orders. They ordered a mango sai mai loh each.

"So, what brings you here to Hong Kong?" Lao Chen asked.
"Personal matters. And I have something for you too."
"Must be another meme. Every time we meet it's another meme."
She laughed.


Reveal six random things about yourself. Then tag six others with this meme.

1. Not only can I crack the knuckles on my fingers, I can also pop the joints in my neck, lower spine (lumbar area), left knee, 10 toes' first digit joint, 2 thumbs’ first digit joints, 8 fingers' first and second digit joints, both wrists and left ankle.

2. I scoff at pop culture and mass-produced entertainment partly because it's fun. Also because I don't enjoy many of them, but that's not the point.

3. I don't remember ages (myself and others'); I remember birth-years. I then run through a subtraction algorithm to deduce the age.

4. I am approaching 23 (after some calculations).

5. Occasionally, I can be spied at Gloria Jeans’s sipping a cup of coffee. Because they have that buy-10-get-1-free card. I buy normal coffees, but use the free one on their most expensive drinks. Naturally.

6. I say weird things, but I don't really like people telling me that I'm 'random'. Random implies aimless noise, I prefer 'eccentric'.

The victims:
Shyan Yih, Yuan Harng, Wuching, Yvy, Yee Hou, Jolene.


"Let me buy you today's mango loh," Lao Chen offered as they hailed for the bill.
"Thanks, my turn next time. It's Malaysia's National Day tomorrow hor."
"Oh yah. Another bowl, then?"

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Monday, August 28, 2006

The closed loop

Click here for large size image

In college, organic chemistry was my favourite subject. It was not because it was interesting, nor because it had real world applications.

I loved it because it appeared so difficult. The amount of equations, processes and reaction steps that one needed to know was frightful. Fortunately, I chanced upon an underlying structure (out of many others, no doubt) to all those migrating electrons and apparitional bonds. It should not surprise anyone- it was electro-negativity. Instead of relying on the brute force of memory, I had the periodic table to help me. The universe ceased to be a mystery- it was 42.

After that, I moved on, and went on to study mechanical engineering. Organic chemistry, although an interesting experience, appeared to have been nothing more than a sightseeing detour.

Three years later, a small part of organic chemistry finally became applicable in my life. I made chilli oil.

Okay, enough of that rubbish. I made chilli oil yesterday, this time a larger quantity that before, and with an interesting twist on the side.

Also ready is a small quantity of Szechuan pepper oil made by heating dried pepper husks (花椒) in very hot oil for about 10 minutes. The vat of chilli oil will be doped with a prudent quantity of pepper oil to give it a tinge of lip-numbing effect.

Click here for large size image

On a more personal front, my family and a large bunch of relatives (of about 18 people) are making enquiries towards a trip to Beijing somewhere this December.

2 days ago, they were having a dinner together when I exchanged a few text messages with my mother.
Having dinner in Renaissance Hotel with Chongs, Loongs and guests from Malacca. […] We all miss you.
Send my regards to them all. The grapevine tells me of a trip to Beijing. Sounds fantastic. Can you all please get me a quote too?
They say the same to you. By the way, quote for 1 or 2? (WTH...)
Don’t care 1, 2 or 9. Can get the quote in a quantity-invariant form, such as cost per unit participant.
To share a room is cheaper than single occupancy!!
That sounds something the aunts would say. Send her a snort and a grimace.
Ya, actually your aunts dictated that massage to me. Guess you know only too well how their minds work.
Stopped by at Sabrina’s house after dinner, just got back 1 hour ago. JLee came to sleep over, with just a toothbrush in her hand. She is so cute. Tomorrow we’re all going to Jonathan’s birthday.

Damn, how I miss their company. I’m going to Beijing.

Click here for large size image

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Women are NOT abalone

This evening at the restaurant, the new head chef (Tony left a few weeks ago) asked me, “What do you want for tonight’s supper?”

Not willing to rake my brains, I replied, “anything.”

He then turned to someone else and asked the same question. “鲍鱼 (abalone),” came the quick reply, accompanied with a laugh.

“We don’t have abalone.”
“处边有一只 (there’s one outside),” he replied, nodding his head in the direction of the doors leading from the kitchen to the dining floor.

They laughed merrily.

There are not many things that annoy me, but one of them is the treatment of women as objects of desire. As ventilators of a man’s sexual urges. As a mere vagina (note the absence of ovaries and fallopian tubes- we are talking about ventilating sexual urges, not satisfying reproductive desires. They are not identical.).

Due to certain geometric similarities, abalone is sometimes used as a euhemerism for vagina. In other words, a vagina and an abalone looks similar, and when people refer to eating abalone, watch for hidden meanings.

In the above case, the meaning was not hidden; it was clear as the waters of the South China Sea.

I’ll admit, treatment of women as sexual objects only pisses me off when the issue at hand concerns someone I know personally. I can’t be bothered about porn models- I do not know them, and they are in the industry. But when the individual is a colleague or an acquaintance, it gets disturbingly close to home.

As of now, I have not had to contend with witnessing someone very close to me being the unwitting victim of this derogatory act. I admire Charmaine’s vow that "If [she] ever catches anyone saying stuff like “She's so hot I wanna bang her” about any of [her] friends, [she] won't let [that person] walk away with everything intact, even if [he’s] a friend."

If the situation involved someone closer to me, a family member or a close friend, I do not know how I’d react. I tried imagining what I might respond with, and it was not encouraging. The problem is that I tend to want rigorous proof and watertight justification before drastic action and on conceptually slippery slopes such as morality and respect, my logical system is not yet sufficiently developed to get a firm hold.

So, how would you respond if someone refereed to your family member, friend, partner as an ‘abalone’?

PS- the statistical thermodynamics entry has been pushed back a bit due to a new investigations being done. And this post is more important.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

This started off as an aimless rant. But i found something that changed my mood.

OMG OMG OMG, I just found something that would make life easy for this nerd blogger. Observe the following characters (not images)

x ≠ 0, x ∈ ℜ, ∃ y ∈ ℜ, y = 1/x
For all x which are non zero and real, there exists a real y that satisfies the equation y = 1/x

A few more interesting symbols:
ℵ - Aleph, used to denote the cardinality of various infinities
∂ - partial differential of
∫ - integral
≅ - is congruent to
≈ - is asymptotic to/ is almost equal to
≡ - is equivalent to/ is congruent to
≥ - is greater than or equal to
∝ - is proportional to
∞ - infinity

Can you just feel the personality of this blog sapping away? That's not the important thing; but it implies that I am losing my edge/ mind. Where are the stories, the descriptive narrations, the Chinese posts?

If it's not photographs, it's some mad-scientist entry. The next entry will probably be a fusion of statistical thermodynamics and a pinch of chemistry. Goodness, who the hell blogs reads quantum physics and statistical thermodynamics posts anyway?

And have you noticed how I can never be satisfied with my state of mind? Sometimes I weep at my lack of Chinese proficiency, then I complain about my decline in technical articles, or I bitch about too much bad photography, now I'm ranting about too many technical articles.

Not too long ago, I was lamenting that I had not written anything technical. If past trends can be used as a guide for future behaviour, I think I'll get my muse back in a few months and produce loads of half decent writings. Then I'll probably go on about my lack of photographs...


Anyway, here's a photograph. I discovered that it was extremely simple to climb onto the roof of my block of flats. With a tripod and some copyright infringements, I produced a 360 degree panorama.

Click here for large size image (remember to scroll sideways)

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Photographs: microphotography of sugar crystals, a banknote and a sewing needle

Finally, I am bringing the full might of my newly acquired lens to bear on the world. Unless otherwise noted, all images are resized from the original 8 megapixel files, not cropped.

Do pardon the horrid vignetting (black rings) on some of the photographs; I have not got the feel for the double-aperture setup yet.

Sugar Crystals

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Panasonic FZ30 with reverse-mounted Tokina 28-105mm lens

Sewing needle and thread

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Panasonic FZ30 with reverse-mounted Tokina 28-105mm lens

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Panasonic FZ30 with reverse-mounted Tokina 28-105mm lens

RMB 100

Panasonic FZ30 with +4 diopter close-up lens

Panasonic FZ30 with two +4 diopter close-up lenses

Panasonic FZ30 with reverse-mounted Tokina 28-105mm lens

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Panasonic FZ30 with reverse-mounted Tokina 28-105mm lens

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Panasonic FZ30 with reverse-mounted Tokina 28-105mm lens

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This is cropped from the following image. The large sized image is a 100% crop.

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Colours adjusted to simulate Fiji Velvia film

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Polarising filter; no post-processing

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Polarising filter; no post-processing

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Floor cleaning algorithms

I was meticulously sweeping the restaurant's floor when I came upon a nifty optimisation method. Meticulous sweeping means removing the chairs to properly clean under the tables before returning the chairs.

The simple, brute force procedures would be as follows:
Remove a few chairs
Clean under the table
Replace those chairs.
Repeat for other chairs.

It's tedious, moving those chairs back and forth. Here is an algorithm that will help slash chair-moving effort by about half (depending on inter-chair spacing and availability of space between chairs).
Form closed paths by going from chair to chair, and returning the starting point. The chairs on each loop must be identical. You can have as many closed loops as desired. Each chair must be traversed exactly once. The paths should be chosen so that the total path length is minimised.

Start working on one path.
Remove one chair, and sweep the area below it.
Remove the next chair, and place it in the first chair’s original position. Sweep the area below the second chair.
Proceed along the path.
Remove the last chair, and place it in the second last chair’s position. Sweep the area below the last chair.
Fill the last position with the first chair.

Repeat for other paths.

An efficiency comparison for a particular case of closely spaced, almost-isotropic chairs (little difference between the width and length). Assume that the chairs are arranged in a loop (such as around a large table), and there is plenty of space behind the chairs. Let the number of chairs be denoted by n.

Using the simplistic floor cleaning algorithm, each chair will have to be moved away, and replaced. Thus, the number of steps required will be 2n.

However, using the above proposed algorithm, the first chair will be removed and placed next to the last chair (which is next to the first chair, since the path forms a closed loop). The second chair is moved to the first chair’s place; the third chair is moved to the second chair's place...
And the removed chair is moved to the last chair’s place.
The total number of steps is n + 1, which is strictly less than 2n (the simple algorithm’s number of steps) for all n equal or greater than 2.

One can see that what happens is that a gap is created by removing the first chair, allowing the floor to be cleaned. The gap is then moved forward by bringing the front chair backwards. There are parallels to the study of semiconductors, where the propagation of the absence of electrons (a hole) is equivalent to the propagation of a positively charged particle.

Unfortunately not all lunches are free, and there is a downside to the improved algorithm. Parallels can be drawn to the Travelling Salesperson Problem (TSP), which should set bells ringing- this is not going to be a cheap lunch if we want to find the absolute optimum.

The TSP problem is as follows: a salesperson needs to visit several cities (or offices or houses), visiting each only once, and returning to the starting location. Find a route that would minimise travel time/ distance/ expense/ whatever.

It does not matter what cost we are trying to minimise, the cost can be defined as a function of travel time, distance, ticket fares, comfort… and using data for travel between cities, the cost function reduces to a simple function of 2 variables- the origin, and the destination.

Solution of the TSP can be obtained by brute force- by trying out all combinations. However, the number of steps required is proportional to the factorial of the number of cities/ nodes. Methods have been devised to reduce the computation cost be taking the number of steps down to the exponent of the number of cities/ nodes.

Returning to the floor cleaning problem, the costs associated with moving from chair to chair is the effort required to move the chair- distance, requirement to lift it above other obstacles, rotation required...

The above comparison had used number of steps, not the effort associated with moving the chairs. One trivial example of the closed-loop algorithm failing would be in a setting where the chairs are spaced very far apart (separation distances significantly greater than the width/ length of one chair). In this case, it would be less tedious to move the chairs back and forth a short distance instead of moving them to a distant location.

Remarkably, many real world problems can be reduced to the TSP. For example, optimising the path of a robotic drilling rig as it punches multiple holes in a sheet of metal is exactly the same as the TSP- many holes, each to be punched once, the drilling head to return to its initial position to start on the next sheet.

A less obvious problem would be scheduling the order of heat treatment tasks in an oven. If each task has a required initial and final temperature, how should the tasks be ordered so that the time required is minimised? In this problem, the nodes are the heat-treatment tasks, and the associated cost of going between the various tasks is the time and energy required to bring the oven to the correct temperature for the next task.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shopping therapy is a real phenomenon; photographs of a Tokina 28-105mm f/4.0 Pentax K mount zoom lens

Click here for large size image

Some weeks ago, I borrowed a Canon EF 28-80mm lens to experiment with some photographic microscopy. Since then, I have been looking around on Ebay for a cheap, clean lens that must be at least as wide as 28mm. A wideangle Canon EOS kit zoom lens would work nicely, and also give me an extra lens if when I move into the Canon SLR realm. However, used 'cheap' kit lenses still sell at prices above what I can afford. Factor in the postage charges and the damage gets pretty nasty.

Yesterday, I went to a small used photographic equipment shop to try my luck. Fortunately, they were open.

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The proprietor took out several small cases of lenses, and opened each lens bag to reveal various optics from an era far removed from the present. I pointed at a mysterious lens in the glass case, and asked in Cantonese, "what about this one, this one with the Ricoh cap?" It looked promising, not too old as to be fungus infested, with the right proportions to be a wide-angle lens. The man took it out of the box and undid the lens caps to reveal the immaculate glass within. Around the front edge of the front element, a string of numbers caught my eye: 28-105 mm 1:4-5.3 Ø62

It met my first requirement- to be at least as wide as 28mm. It also surpassed the Canon kit lens’ telephoto range by going up to 105mm. It was reasonably fast, with a maximum aperture of 4.0. And the front element is huge, with a screw thread diameter of 62mm.

Click here for large size image
Click here for Deviant Art entry

Technicalities aside, it was also beautiful, not in an arty and aesthetic manner but a brutal functional beauty, the same kind of beauty one finds on the ugly curvaceous aerodynamic surfaces of a Formula 1 car, the kind of beauty that gets inscribed on by precise metal forming processes and careful designing by a roomful of engineers. The lens body was entirely made of black metal, and a red band around the front end of the lens gave it a bit of character. The zoom and focus ring had a ridged black rubber grip with helical grooves. And it had a direct, mechanical aperture control ring, made of metal, inscribed with an almost ethereal string of numbers.

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I looked through the lens, and the glassware was acceptable with only slight blemishes in a few of the internal surfaces. The metal aperture ring turned with precise clicks, and six blades within the lens opened to reveal an increasingly larger aperture. The focus ring turned with a fluid action, smoothed with some sort of vicious damper within the housing. Pieces of glass danced to steps precisely choreographed by grooves in the rotating housing, and the focal distance changed accordingly.

To cut an already long story short, I purchased it. It came with a 62mm skylight filter which I had no need for, so I had it swapped for a 49mm close-up No. 4.

Click here for large size image

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Friday, August 11, 2006

An alternative interpretation of the measurement problem found in quantum mechanics

Assumed knowledge:
Some familiarity with Young’s double-slit experiment and quantum mechanical implications of the results.

One very fundamental problem in quantum mechanics is the ‘measurement problem’, in which the act of measurement itself is destroys interesting quantum effects.

The simplest example is using the two-slit experiment. The wave-like nature of light means that constructive and destructive interference result in the familiar fringes of light and dark bands.

If the light source’s intensity is reduced such that only photon is in the system at anyone time, as photon hits accumulate on the detector, the same fringes emerge. The obvious questions at this point are, "how is one photon interfering with itself? Did it go through both slits at the same time?"

Light detectors are then installed behind each of the slits, the objective being to identify which slit the photon actually went through. Unfortunately, and mysteriously, the interference pattern disappears.

Oftentimes, the explanation for this phenomenon is presented by invoking the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. On the other hand, Von Neumann and Weigner believed that it was the conscious observation that resulted in the collapse of a wavefunction. Still other interpretations claim that the experimental apparatus itself is part of the experiment, and the results show what the apparatus was designed to show: the wave-like or particle-like nature of light. The many-worlds interpretation raised by Everett is so radical that it is difficult for me to write his proposition succinctly.

However, I personally feel that these do not address the problem satisfactorily, and have developed a handwaving interpretation of my own, based on interactions and wavefunction collapse and reformation.

It would be appropriate to first describe the wavefunction in a general manner. In a handwaving way of explaining it, the wavefunction of a particle is a function that describes the probability of finding the particle in a particular location in space(time).

A wavefunction is said to collapse when the particle's position is 'revealed', so that it's position is no longer a probability distribution, but a definite point in space(time). At that moment, the probability of finding that particle is zero everywhere except where the particle is located.

We will now construct the experimental apparatus by considering the simplest case and incrementally adding elements of complexity to it to finally arrive at the double-slit set up with photodetectors.

A light source, an opaque card (of sufficient thickness to prevent tunnelling effects) and a detector screen are arranged as in the double-slit experiment. However, the opaque card has no slits. All the light that is directed towards the card falls on the card’s surface.

Figure 1: No slits in the card; all light falls on the card’s surface.

From a wavefunction point of view, the wavefunction gives a probability of a photon striking a particular area of the card. When the photon strikes the (interacts with) card, it does so at one point, and the wavefunction has collapsed into a point at that location.

Also note that the presence of the opaque card has modified the wavefunction such that the probability of the photon striking the detector screen is zero.

A slit is then cut in the card, and we see that while most light falls on the opaque card, some of it hits the detector screen.

Figure 2: One slit in the card; most light falls on the card's surface, but some reach the detector screen.

As one can see, the probability of finding the photon on the detector screen is no longer zero.

A second slit is cut into the card, and the detector screen shows the typical interference patterns that have become associated with the double-slit experiment.

Figure 3: Two slits in the card; most light falls on the opaque card's surface, but the light that falls on the detector screen has alternating light and dark bands that are characteristic to interference.

Photodetectors are then installed at the slits to observe which slit the photon 'actually' went through. The function of these detectors is to alert the experimenter when a photon passes through one of the slits. How the photodetector works is not of interest to us, but we can be sure that the photodetector has to interact with the photon if it is to send a signal that "yes, a photon has passed through."

And here comes the crux of my argument- interactions requires the whole photon’s participation (not merely the probability waves). Thus, only a wavefunction that had collapsed in the detector can produce an entire photon which is capable of interacting with the detector.

Name the photodetectors A and B. If A had sent a signal indicating the passage of a photon, this means that the photon had interacted with A (assuming that A is not faulty). The interaction means that the photon's wavefunction had collapsed into a point in the detector, manifested as the photon (a particle). The wavefucntion's collapse means that the probability of finding this photon on the opaque card or in photodetector B is zero- the photon is definitely in A, and thus definitely not in B nor on the opaque card's surface.

However our photodetectors are designed to allow the photon to proceed on its way to the screen, which means a new wavefunction is produced upon the old one’s collapse. The new wavefunction describes the propogation of a photon from detector A towards the screen. Since the wavefunction of a photon heading towards the screen comes from one source (detector A), there is no interference.

Figure 4:
(a) The photon strikes (interacts with) the opaque card, and the wave function collapses. This photon will never make it to the detector screen.
(b) The photon interacts with photodetector A, and the wavefunction collapses into the detector. The photon then continues on towards the screen, propagating as a new wavefunction originating from detector A.
(c) The photon interacts with photodetector B, and the wavefunction collapses into the detector. The photon then continues on towards the screen, propagating as a new wavefunction originating from detector B.

The interference pattern can also be made to disappear by using only one photodetector behind a slit. In this case, the initial wavefunction is such that there is a probability for the photon to strike the opaque card, strike the detector in the slit, or strike the screen. Any one of these interactions will cause the photon to exist as a particle, and the wavefuction to collapse.

Figure 5:
(a) The initial wavefunction shows that there is a probability for the photon to strike te opaque card's surface (which is not exciting), strike the detector screen (which is interesting) or interact with the photodetector hidden behind the lower slit (which is even more exciting).
(b) If the photon did interact with the photodetector in the lower slit, the initial wavefunction collapses, and a new wavefunction is formed. Note that there is no interference.

Thus the double-slit experiment and measurement problem has been explained by using the argument that an interaction requires the whole particle's presence, which means that the original wavefunction has to collapse, and a new wavefunction to propagate from that point.

It must be noted that the photodetectors behave similarly to the opaque card: it does not allow the wavefunction to have a non-zero value behind it. Hence, a photodetector absorbs photons, just like the opaque card. The difference lies in the fact that the photodetector then spits out that photon after having detected its presence. This new emission event corresponds to a new wavefunction.

Author's note:
Some feedback on the workability of this proposition please? Thank you.
Mr Lee, I'm counting on some sort of response from you.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Warning: very long, multi-section entry

Table of contents:

An eye-opener of a lunch
不礼貌之客 (no English translation)
Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral (photographs)
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

An eye-opener of a lunch

Lunch today was actually preset to Tai Ping Yang (太平洋) in Richmond. It is a popular Chinese restaurant, and apparently it is good. Upon arriving at the venue, its popularity was confirmed- there was a queue at the counter, and the floor was packed. It looked like a scene straight out of Hong Kong, complete with strips of juicy char siew (叉烧), hunks of crispy siew yuk (烧肉) and roasted birds hanging at the front window, and strangers sharing tables in a crowded eatery.

Precisely because the restaurant’s popularity was confirmed in such a resounding manner, I could not investigate claims that the food is good.

There was another interesting restaurant in the vicinity, with an extremely attractive name too: Chilli Paradise (辣翻天). The most interesting (read: shocking) dish we ordered was the 水煮鱼 (literally, fish cooked in water).

It came served inelegantly in a huge, thin-walled stainless-steel bowl basin. But that’s not the point, it’s the edible bits that is the point.

Click here for large size image

Slices of fish and bean sprouts come immersed in the basin-full of liquid. A large quantity of little red dried chillies float on the surface of the fluid. The fluid itself is not soup but…

*drum roll*

chilli oil.

The chilli is remarkable. Unlike the chillies we are accustomed to, this is a completely different animal plant. It is numbing- bite into a seed or whatever chilli fragment and the tongue takes on a tingling, numbed sensation. For a first timer, it feels extremely weird. However, it is not hot in the usual sense. There is no perspiration nor runny nose, avoiding the unpleasant scene of a wet scalp and dripping nasal fluids.

But that numbing spiciness is a real eye opener. It will rearrange your perception of the universe, assuming the sight of that pot of chillies hasn’t already done so.

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The dish itself was wonderful. The fish was liberally rubbed with pepper before being immersed in the chilli oil. The bean sprouts gave a nice crunchy contrast to the smooth fish slices. The chilli oil had sesame oil and what feels like some (spring) onions. And it is not as frightening as it looks, so stop whining.

There was quite a lot of fish and bean sprouts hidden between all that chilli and oil, and at $12, it is worth every cent.

Very, very highly recommended, but only if you dig chillies. Otherwise, stay away.









另一桌吃完了,我把他们的碗碟收回到厨房。手里拿着许许多多的盘,走过这四个客人。只听一声“卖单”,没有招手,没有抬头,没有“excuse me”。我转了身,向他们点头表示明白,便走向厨房去。走过bar时,我跟他们说声“3号要bill。”





Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral (photographs)

From a particular entrance to my block of flats I get a clear view of the white dome of the Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, a Ukrainian Catholic cathedral in North Melbourne. When the sun is just behind the dome, it shines through it’s stained glass, and becomes a dramatic beacon.

Yesterday, I took a walk to the cathedral to have a closer look. It’s quite a magnificent structure.

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It even has a lightning rod!

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Some time ago, Michelle Chong recommended Cryptonomicon. It is a brilliant book. Below is a 2-page excerpt:

“Let me just demonstrate,” Waterhouse blurts, and strides out of the room and doesn’t bother looking back. Back in the church, he goes to the console, blows the dandruff off the keys, hits the main power switch. The electric motors come on, somewhere back behind the screen, and the instrument begins to complain and whine. No matter – it can all be drowned out. He scans the rows of stops – he already knows what this organ’s got, because he’s listened and deconstructed. He starts yanking out knobs.

Now Waterhouse is going to demonstrate that Bach can sound good even played on Mr Drkh’s organ, if you choose the right key. Just as Father John and Mr. Drkh are about halfway up the aisle, Waterhouse slams into that old chestnut, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, except that he’s transposing it into C-sharp minor as he goes along, because (according to a very elegant calculation that just came into his head as he was running up the aisle of the church) it ought to sound good that way when played in Mr Drkh’s mangled tuning system.

The transposition is an awkward business at first and he hits a few wrong notes, but then it comes naturally and he transitions from the toccata into the fugue with tremendous verve and confidence. Gouts of dust and salvos of mouse droppings explode from the pipes as Waterhouse invokes whole ranks that have not been used in decades. Many of these involve big bad loud reed stops that are difficult to tune. Waterhouse senses the pumping machinery straining to keep up with this unprecedented demand for power. The choir loft is suffused with a brilliant glow as the dust flung out of the choked pipes fills the air and catches the light coming through the rose window. Waterhouse muffs a pedal line, spitefully kicks off his terrible shoes and begins to tread the pedals the way he used to in Virginia, with his bare feet, the trajectory of the bass line traced out across the wooden pedals in lines of blood from his exploded blisters. This baby has some nasty thirty-two-foot reed stops in the pedals, real earthshakers, probably put there specifically to irritate the Outer Qwghlmians across the street. None of the people who go to this church have ever heard these stops called into action, but Waterhouse puts them to good use now, firing off power chords like salvos from the mighty guns from the battleship Iowa.

All during the service, during the sermon and the scripture readings and the prayers, when he wasn’t thinking of fucking Mary, he was thinking of how he was going to fix the organ. He was thinking back to the organ he worked on in Virginia, how the stops enabled the flow of air to the different ranks of pipes and how the keys on the keyboard activated all the pipes that were enabled. He has this whole organ visualised in his head now, while he is pounding through to the end of the figure, the top of his skull comes off, the filtered red light pours in, he sees the entire machine in his mind, as if in an exploded draftman’s view. Then it transforms itself into a slightly different machine- an organ that runs on electricity, with ranks of vacuum tubes here, and a grid of relays there. He has the answer, now, to Turning’s question, the question of how to make a pattern of binary data and bury it into the circuitry of a thinking machine so that it can be later disterred.

Waterhouse knows how to make electric memory. He must go write a letter to Alan immediately!

“Excuse me,” he says, and runs from the church. On his way out, he brushes past a small woman who had been standing there gaping at his performance. When he is several blocks away, he realises two things: that he is walking down the street barefoot, and that the young woman was Mary cCmndhd. He will have to circle back later and get his shoes and maybe fuck her. But first things first!

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Photographs: Webb Bridge at sunset

On Wednesday, I went with Diana to look at the Webb Bridge, west of the (Melbourne) city centre. Unfortunately, I was brain dead due to lack of sleep and an unexpectedly busy lunch shift. When I reviewed the photographs, I found many areas which I would normally explore, but had failed to even notice them. I also noticed many dodgy compositions- skewed horizons, skyscrapers straddling the frame’s edge….

Porsche 996

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I was tempted to upload a close-up photo of the Porsche's wheel assembly, but anyone who is interested would already know what a ventilated brake disc looks like. So I'll not waste bandwidth.

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And this is the Webb Bridge, a concrete bridge with fancy metal latticework enclosing the deck. Its designers D. Marshall (architect) & R. Owen (artist) say,

"From afar, it is perceived as an object that becomes, in turn, a place of action and transition as one uses it. […] As an object, it appears as a delineated structure, a sensuous volume, light and linear. Space is seen as atmospheric, dynamic and transitional."

What? Sounds like throwing a lot of nifty words into a spinning blender.

Regardless, the bridge is a wicked structure.

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The sun, the port and another bridge

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And some images from the past two weeks…

A Window Cleaner

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Note the intensity of the sky's colour

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

He learned, a little too late, that inter-personal skills are a critical part of living in a functional, semi-civilised human society. For many years, he had thought that he could float through the madness of life solely on the vastness of his library of technical skills. His beliefs were reinforced by the fact that he did manage to do exactly that at various institutes of education.

The fact that he had unknowingly developed symptoms of APD (avoidant personality disorder) over the past decade of his life only added to his recently discovered troubles.

Collectively, his behaviour, decision making scheme, surroundings and perception of the world formed a feedback loop, of which the result appears to be exponential in nature.


Anyway, enough about my story; lets move on to something more recent.

A long time ago, I had arranged to do shoot some portraits for the Head Chef’s family. Unfortunately, weather on that day was a bitch, and I got invited over for dinner instead. This matter was then forgotten as the seasons gradually chilled from autumn to winter.

Circumstances changed last week, and we arranged to do it yesterday. Despite the drizzles early in the afternoon, we went ahead with the plan.

Since we are doing digital, I just went berserk with the shutter button. Just like I always do anyway. By the end of the day, we had about 185 photographs. I removed the worst technically flawed (bad lighting, out of focus...) and printed the remaining 143 on 7 sheets of A4. Since they are properly numbered, I figure I’ll just give him the lot and ask him which ones he wants printed.

Thank the gods for batch processing on Photoshop.

It’s one of my first serious attempts at portraits, and I learned a great deal. The flash makes a huge difference. Natural light is nice, but a tiny burst will reflect off the subjects’ eyes, giving the eyes some texture.

I had a weird customer at the restaurant this evening. An elderly couple came in, the man looks East Asian; the lady, Caucasian. He spoke English with a strong twang of Australian; she sounded native.

He was in a light grey suit, the colour of battleships, with the front unbuttoned. Below that was a shirt of insignificant colour. The unbuttoned suit’s opening revealed a silk necktie, beige in colour with faint diagonal stripes of muted gold.

When speaking short sentences, he drew out the individual words, stretching them into long thin strands and then projecting them forth in a nasal voice.

I sent them their menus. He said, "good…."

Two interesting things: One, he did not say thank you. Two, he sounded like a Hollywood villain, pleased to hear that the second-in-command had successfully kidnapped the hero's pet alligator and even managed to rape the said alligator without suffering grievous emotional trauma. Grey Suit also sounded like Squealer from the 1990 film Animal Farm.

Tomorrow will be another interesting day. I’ll be meeting Diana in the evening for some photography, probably involving the sunset, infrastructure, cityscapes, waterscapes and rush hour traffic. If the sun plunges faster than expected, we might even have night scenes in the bag.

Will post photographs tomorrow.

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