Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hey You, Globularist!

We refer to our entire Earth as global for a reason - it is spherical.

We were taught in school that the Earth is a sphere with a moon going around it and together they go around the sun. We have seen images of the Earth in books and on television. We have seen globe models in school and at home. We have never doubted that the Earth is not spherical, or have we?

During the ancient time, people believed that the Earth is flat like a piece of paper or an infinite plane. What you have learned in school would have suggested absurdity to such an idea. At about 4th Century BC, ancient Greek scientists and philosophers started to provide evidence that the Earth was a sphere.

Interestingly, the flat Earth idea never die and today there are still followers of this ancient theory. The Flat Earth Society is an organization that believe that the world is flat. The "flat-earther" are not joking when they tell you that the Earth is flat and horizontally infinite.

At their
website, the Flat Earth Society explains why they think that the Earth is flat. They are aware that the vast majority says otherwise but they claim that they know the truth. You are welcome to join them as a member provided you pass their rigorous entrance exam first. As a member you would be expected to help to re-educate the masses.

40 years ago, on 24 Dec 1968, the crew of the Apollo 8 saw 'Earthrise' from outer space for the first time. The visualization of the blue marble would be hard proof to overrule the flat Earth theory, I thought. Somehow, the flat-earthers believe that the Earth image taken from the space is fake and the whole idea is a giant conspiracy by space agencies, governments and scientists.

The modern flat-earthers have scientific reasons to support their belief. They feel that we should not just take things at face value. They refer to us as the globularists and warned that it is not right to just accept what we are told, no matter how much it goes against our senses. They know that people are definitely prejudiced against flat-earthers but they remain staunch in their belief.

Where are you now? Are you close to being convinced that there is a possibility that the Earth might just be flat, as they have claimed? May be not yet. You probably have some burning questions to quiz the flat-earthers. They can understand your initial skepticism and they have all the
answers ready for you.

It will take me awhile to appreciate what they are trying to say. However, one thing is apparent to me - they mean what they say!

In this modern times, the term 'flat-earther' is used to describe someone who is ignorant in a big way, probably willfully. Now, I understand why that is so.

I am raised as a globularist. I do not see myself being converted to a flat-earther just like that. I think I will continue to think global.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

What's In A Name?

Hi, my name is Vanilla, as you would have known if you hit this Weblog regularly. Can you accept it if it had been my real name ? (I hope you knew all along it is not real.)

'Vanilla" does not sound like a common name neither it is offensive in any way. If you run your finger down the list in any 'Baby Name' books, you may not find this name. Personally, I do not know anyone whose name is 'Vanilla' other than 'Vanilla Ice', the American rapper.

Put the conventional meaning found in 'Vanilla Ice Cream' aside, 'Vanilla' is in fact, an adjective meaning 'plain or basic' in information technology. The unfeatured version of an IT product is sometimes referred to as the vanilla version.

This blog is plain and basic. Hence, 'vanilla'.

Some of my colleagues are in the midst of naming their unborn babies. Naming these bundles of joy can bring both joy and anxiety. New parents often find themselves browsing through several baby name books and consulting opinions of others on the suitability of their tentative choices. Many are careful and avoid all possible absurdities in a name which might cause embarrassment to their children.

Yet, there is no lack of given or self-chosen unusual or in some cases, weird names.

Once I was talking to a product promoter in a shopping mall and he went 'Hi! Nice to meet you. I am Dragon, Dragon Lee." It sounded really odd but I could live with that. I continued my conversation with Dragon as if his name sounded no differently from names like John or Robert.

It got odder in another occasion. At a business meeting, a business associate came to me and extended a firm professional handshake and introduced himself as 'Barney'. Okay, I confess that I did try to erase the image of a purple dinosaur in my head. But the real shocker came when I flipped his name card and saw that it was actually 'Bunny' instead. It was tough to hold back my amused expression after that, though I managed.

How about names like Bullet, Milky, Jelly, Gummy and Chlorine? I can go on and on... I am sure you have your own share of unusual encounters.

It continues to baffle me when I see parents going all out to choose, errr, unusual names for their children. I respect that, due to the cultural divide, some names may sound unusual to some but are perfectly acceptable to others. But, in this globally fused era, shouldn't we be more sensitive when picking a name?

Last week, it was reported in Associated Press that a baker had refused to write out a 3-year-old boy's name on his birthday cake. His defence: It is inappropriate to write 'Adolf Hitler' on a birthday cake!

The parents of little Adolf Hitler justified that they liked the name because "no one else in the world would have that name." Why didn't they realise that there must be a good reason for the total lack of interest in that name? Go read up some WWII history!

Some celebrities seem to have a fetish for unusual names that carry an alternative geographical meaning. Listen to this...

David and Victoria Beckham named their eldest son, Brooklyn. Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger named their daughter Ireland. Michael Jackson named his daughter Paris. Is there any new mom out there who wants a name of the same genre? Try 'Singapura'.

Since the 2008 Olympics was awarded to Bejing in July 2001, China was in full gear preparing for the big event. The fever was obviously shared by many. By end 2007, it was reported that there were over 3,500 babies given the name of 'Aoyun' which means Olympics in Chinese.

With 1.3 billion people in China, repetition is one of the problems facing parents as well as public institutions. So, some parents try to differentiate their children's name from thousands others. hoping that their children will stand out. In one extreme case, a Chinese couple tried to name their baby "@", saying the symbol sounds like "love him" to Mandarin speakers and therefore showing their love for the child.

Gosh! Since when has someone been named after a symbol? Imagine three siblings with names such as "@", "#" and "*". Together, they spell perfect profanity!

Unusual naming has also caught up with the Internet era. In 2007, a Mexican new-born baby was named Yahoo, just like the famous Internet portal, because his parents knew each other on a dating site. I hope this will not inspire my colleagues to name their unborn babies, Google.

I am sure they are not going to. In fact, some think that baby-naming in Singapore is far too tame and unadventurous. When I was in college, I shared the same class as a Tom, a Dick and a Harry. Calling them was an easy and non-tongue-twisting event but calling them in one go was another matter altogether.

Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual country and this makes naming more challenging. An otherwise meaningful name may risk sounding ridiculous in English, Chinese or Malay or some local dialects.

A guy I knew in college was named Long An. There wasn't any problem with this well-thought Chinese name until it was written as Longan, which is a type of fruit similar to Lychee.

I have also noticed that names are getting longer, as if in a race. Parents attempt to differentiate by naming their babies with not one but two or three English names. Thinking of naming your son 'Aaron Bernard Christopher Tan'? Think again. Writing them out or filling in forms can be excruciating, unless you are prepared to abbreviate it to 'ABC Tan' and making it sounds like ABC soup in Chinese.

If you feel patriotic enough to choose names which are 'Uniquely Singapore', why not consider 'Sang Nila Utama', 'Temasek' or 'Singa'? Alright, I was just being satirical. Serioulsly, for those who are looking for a name now, work harder on it.

No one said naming was easy.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Caffeinism? Nay!

I do not know when it began but kick-starting the day with a cup of coffee has been a ritual for me for a long time.

I was surrounded by coffee drinkers since young and I have since discovered what sweetness the dark beverage can bring. Today, coffee is no longer a simple drink but has grown in its sophistication.
If I were to pull back more than 1000 years, it is interesting to note that coffee was first discovered by goats, at least, that is what the legend says. According to the folklore, Ethiopian shepherds were the first to notice that their goats appeared to be 'dancing' after eating wild coffee berries.

Coffee was first consumed in the 9th century when it was first discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia. From there, it spread to the Middle East where they began to roast and brew coffee in a similar way as today.

No coffee seed was sprouted outside Africa or Arabia until the 1600s. Once it was introduced to Europe, it soon became a popular drink and one of the much sought after trade commodities.

The first European coffee house is believed to have opened in Italy in 1645. Today there are thousands of them. The regular players in Singapore are the Coffee Club with 22 outlets, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with 45 outlets, Spinelli Coffee with 23 outlets, Starbucks Coffee with 62 outlets, Gloria Jeans with 5 outlets, Pacific Coffee at 8 outlets. The list goes on...

A coffee drinking culture was brewing into a rich aroma over the past two decades in Singapore. While the traditional kopitiam or neighborhood coffee shops are still very popular, sipping coffee in slightly up-market outlets is now seen as an urban lifestyle. Along came with this evolution is a little known profession in the coffee drinking community - barista, which I only came to know in the last few years.

A Barista is a professional who is highly skilled in coffee preparation with a comprehensive understanding of coffee blends, espresso, roast degree, coffee making equipment and maintenance and latte art. It is akin to a sommelier who has good knowledge of wine.

Last year, Singapore sent the winner of the 2007 Singapore National Barista Championship to take part in the 2007 World Barista Championship in Tokyo. Our representative came in 30 out of 45. Although not coming anywhere near the top, it was a respectable achievement for a profession that is rarely known here.

There has been ceaseless debate over the effect of coffee on health. There are numerous conflicting reports and it depends on your pre-conceived idea about coffee, one side will always sound more convincing than the other to you.

Indulging in a few cups too many could result in symptoms such as restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, nausea, vomiting and a flushed face. The symptoms of a serious overdose include delirium and seizures. The question is: what amounts to 'too many'?

Caffeinism or addiction to coffee is a health concern. It is thought to occur if you have an intake of above 600mg to 750mg of caffeine a day. That's roughly five to six cups of ground coffee or eight to 10 cups of instant. Looking at how coffee is consumed by people around me, I do not see caffenism as a big issue.

There are also concerns about the fattening effect of coffee. A nicely brewed coffee lashed with cream and milk can scale close to 400 calories. Typically, one mocha coffee easily deliver 300 calories before you even chomp your favorite sandwich. Just a cup of such coffee in the morning will take up a fourth or a fifth of your daily recommended calories.

On the other hand, there is no lack of supporters who say that there are health benefits in coffee. It is reported that drinking one to three cups daily may reduce the risk of liver diseases in heavy liqueur drinkers. One study has also suggest that it could protect against the onset of Alzheimer's. Recently, another report said it could help protect skin from the sun.

It has come to a point where I am totally confused by the onslaught of health debates. There is one thing these reports seem to be able to agree: drinking coffee in moderation is okay. Let's accept it, coffee will always be 'black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.'

I will stick to my daily dosage of one to two cups of neat coffee with a little dash of milk.


Similar Article:

Not for the insomniac

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Today is Christmas Day and I am on my way home from Kuala Lumpur.

Christmas is a special day for many. It does not matter if you celebrate the day in a biblical way or not, the festive mood is quite inescapable. Simple decoration can be seen everywhere to remind you of the day.

It is the same in KL.
Perhaps you may have forgotten: In 2004, thousands of people had their last Christmas day in many parts of Asia. On the day after Christmas that year, a massive undersea earthquake occured just off the coast of Indonesia at a few minutes before 8 a.m. local time. At a magnitude of 9.3, the quake set off a deadly tsunami that took about 230,000 lives on the coastal areas from Somalia on the east African coast to Sumatra in Southeast Asia.

Nearer to home, I watched in horror how the deadly waves swept and wrecked lives and buildings along the Phuket coastline. More than 17,000 people were either killed, injured or missing in that disaster. Half of those died were foreigners.

Today, life in Phuket has very much returned to normalcy. Buildings and hotels are up again and tourists have also come back. For those who have lost their loved ones, healing will take a much longer time.

There would have been enough time to save many lives if a tsunami warning system was in place. When the 2004 catastrophe struck, the only warning was the sight of a giant wave heading towards the helpless victims.

Unlike the Pacific Ocean, which has a Hawaii-based Pacific Ocean Warning Centre, there was no effective warning system for the Indian Ocean. The disaster was a wake up call for an urgent need to set up a similar warning system.

An Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System was subsequently set up in stages and the entire system was completed in Jun 2006.

In Jul 2005, tourists were evacuated from Patong beach on Phuket by a newly installed tsunami-warning system in response to an earthquake off Indonesia. The warning was later downgraded as the quake had not triggered a tidal wave. I believe the people in Phuket did not think that the warning was frivolous after what they have experienced in 2004.

The Indian Ocean Warning System consists of 25 seismographic stations relaying information to 26 national tsunami information centers. For it to work effectively, good coordination between governments is essential. So, it remains to be seen if the new system can help to prevent a repeat of the 2004 disaster.

I wrote a letter to Santa (yes, I did) in which
I made a wish. Although it was only a gesture, I gave it a thought.

I could have asked for all the nice stuff that I have always wanted. I could have also asked that the recession goes away soon. Instead, I decided that I wanted the world to be a peaceful place to live in. I told Santa that I knew he was not real but nonetheless thanked him (and his impersonators) for bringing so much joy and laughter to the children around the world.

I wish you a Merry Christmas too!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fancy Wearing a Dead Meat Perfume?

Women love fragrance and men, too.

I enjoy walking around the perfume department in shopping malls. Friendly sales personnel will always be there to egg me to consider their latest line of fragrance and attentively allow me to wear a little of each. I usually ended up smelling like a mixed bag of potpourri but I didn't mind.

If you are thinking of getting some fragrance as Christmast gifts, read on...

The classification of fragrance can be mind-boggling. Traditionally, they are grouped into floral, wood, amber, leather, fern and cyprus.

The art of making perfume or fragrances dates back to the times of the ancient Egypt. In those days, people used herbs and spices such as almond, coriander and flowers. Since the middle of 20th Century, fragrances were no longer just derived from the nature. Due to advances in technology, perfumes today are also synthesized.

Oceanic or Ozone is the newest category in perfume history. It first appeared in early 1990s with Christian Dior's Dune. This feminine scent was created for daytime wear and it is said to possess a blend of amber, wallflower as well as watery notes of the fresh, cool sea air. Smells great? You check it out yourself.

The use of fragrance is not a feminist thing. There is a huge market out there for men's fragrance. Popular lines include Davidoff Cool Water Game Cologne, Polo Black by Ralph Lauren and Armani Code.

Last week, an unexpected player joined the fragrance making arena. Burger King has decided to join the men cologne wars by launching their own fragrance. They name it after what they are famous for: Burger King Flame. They promise that you can smell like a whopper after using it and they describe 'Flame' as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat." Apparently the company thinks men would like smelling like a burger. Now you can eat BK burgers and wear them too!

Burger King is marketing the product through a Web site featuring a photo of its King character. The
commercial puts me off instantly and left me with no desire or whatsoever to find out more about this horrible sounding fragrance.
To me, bottling and marketing the the 'scent' of carcass of dead animals is far from a brilliant idea. "Burger King Fragrance", what an oxymoron! Whoever came up with it - he has my respect for his courage and my sympathy for his inability to differentiate between 'fragrant' and 'smelly'.

The fragrance is on sale at New York City retailer Ricky's NYC in stores and online for a limited time for US$3.99. Unless you plan to strain your relationship with your boyfriend or husband, I suggest you do not venture into getting it as a festive gift.

What's next after 'BK Flame'? I hope I don't see a new product named 'BK Ring' being marketed as "the scent of sexy allure with a dash of burnt onion."

~ shudders ~

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

KL - Muddy No More

I am going to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.

Can I assume that you know where that is? You should. At least, you should know that it is the capital and the largest city in Malaysia. It is in Selangor, one of the 13 states in Malaysia and to many, Kuala Lumpur is just K.L. However, if you look into the meaning of its name, it simply means 'muddy confluence' in the Malay language.

I cannot remember the number of times I have visited the city. All I know is that I cannot use words like countless, numerous or umpteenth. KL is the only global city in Malaysia and it constantly undergoes rapid redevelopment. Each time I visit the place, nothing looks familiar to me.

Unlike places like Malacca and Penang, KL does not have a long history to talk about. It all started in the 1850s in some tin mines. Back then, the place thrived on tin mining and many Chinese migrants flocked there to earn a living. Interestingly, in the early days, KL was led by Yap Ah Loy, a Chinese Kapitan (headman) who was known as the founding father of KL. He was instrumental to the earlier systematic growth of the city.

I shall not bore you with the history. Let's fast forward to the 21st Century city which I will be visiting.

If I were to ask friends and colleagues for some recommended activities in KL, I am likely to be advised to shop. There are more than 60 shopping malls in KL. That sounds like I would be spoilt for choice except that I am really not an avid shopper. Nonetheless, I will not rule out shopping as one of the possible things to do.

Talking about shopping malls, most would not miss mentioning Suria KLCC. It has a 1.5 million sq sf of shopping space at the base of the famous Petronas Towers. Cannot imagine the space of 1.5 mil sq sf? Let me help you a little: Vivocity is about 1 mil sq ft. (If you are not from Singapore, go figure some other ways, sorry!)

I was there a few years ago checking out the 450m building. I was hoping that I could experience scaling the tallest building then but I arrived on the day the Petronas Towers became the 2nd tallest in the world. Yup! The day after it was surpassed by Taipei 101. Well, meant to be.

If for some strange reasons I find KLCC not big enough, Berjaya Times Square should solve the problem. With 3.5 mil sq ft of shopping space, it is the largest shopping mall in Malaysia and the 13th biggest in the world. I will probably get to shed some kilos just walking around the place. Phew!

There are 5 siblings in my family and I will get to visit one of them in KL. That is really great! Not many people are aware that KL too have some siblings. There are altogether 7 sister, aka, twinned cities: Delhi (India), Ankara (Turkey), Osaka (Japan), Malacca (Malaysia), Casablanca (Morocco) , Esfahan (Iran) and Mashhad (Iran). Sister cities is a concept whereby cities are paired with the goal to foster human contact and cultural links between their people.

I do not have a firm itinerary. For that matter, I do not even have the faintest clue what I would be doing there. Perhaps I will spend a few days snoozing in a city 325 km away from Singapore. Whatever it will be, I need a break.

KL, here I come.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

A 365-Page Book Of Yesteryear

The year is coming to an end and something seems to be amiss.

Not too many years ago, I would have received several copies of complementary diaries. So far, no one has given me any (not that I need one). Why? Could it be the economic downturn or those things have become passe? I would think it's both.

Not many people need these conventional tactile diaries in these days of digital gadgetry. With people carrying common wizardry such as PDAs and mobile phones, the traditional diaries look a bit too last century.

In the earlier days, diaries were very popular corporate gifts. Today, it may seem quite odd to receive one from a business associate. Somehow, many businesses have stopped giving out diaries at this time of the year and they have conveniently forgotten to continue the nice gesture by looking for a suitable substitute.

I was browsing in a book store a couple of weeks ago and there was this heap of 2009 diaries, nicely stacked at a fairly prominent spot. I took a closer look. There was nothing unusual about these diaries and in fact, they look much the same as those I used to have years back.

Looks like there are people who are still using these diaries.. hmmm.

I begin to wonder how I might put these diaries to good use if I have one. Other than using them as some glorified writing notebooks, I do not have a better idea.

These diaries are not cheap. An ordinary one will cost about S$10 and those elegant, leather-bound ones may hit S$100. Given one, I might just chuck it aside for I will not know how I might use it and whom I might give it to. After one year, I will see the dust-covered diary finds its way to the bin in an almost mint condition. What a waste!

It has reached a stage where I wish that no one would extend such a gift to me. I have no use for it. Period.

Save some trees.

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