Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy New Year 2009

| 0 persons flung their shoes
So, the year 2008 is over? Ah well. Uh, new year resolutions? Forget about that. They're meant to be broken anyway. Maybe I should try make some doomsday prophecies. But then, since they tend to be much more accurate when they're not put on paper, that can wait.

Instead, I'll post some photos to end the year. This is pretty much a continuation from the previous post: Merry Christmas 2008 (Monday, 29 December 2008)

Season's greetings from Cocktail Street
Firstly, season's greetings from Cocktail Street, Tokyo Dome City. This is my favourite winter illumination shot this year. This year's theme is romantic: Milky Way. I like the reflections in the water especially.

Season's greetings from La Qua
Another one from Tokyo Dome City. This one was taken in front of La Qua.

One final shot from Odaiba. Here's Rainbow Bridge all lighted up, and Tokyo Tower partially hidden. It takes just a little romantic thought to imagine a rainbow linking between Tokyo Bay and the island.

That's all I've got to share for now. I've done working on some other shots as well so look forward to them in the next post! Now I'll go work on my 2009 doomsday prophecies.

Last but not least, Happy New Year, folks!

My Girlfriend

| 5 persons flung their shoes
My ego is like a flame. Feed it with log and it burns higher. Then it yearns for even more fuel. That's why I enjoy doing things I'm good at. The sense of achievement satiates the rapacious appetite of my ego.

A year after picking up photography, I still have plenty to learn. A lot of it comes from trial and error. Despite the occasional failures that deal blows to my delicate ego, I still enjoy my relationship with my EOS Kiss nevertheless. But more than anything, it's because I've no one else to date.

Now, stop laughing before your chair topples and listen me out. It isn't as pathetic as it sounds, mind you. Rest assured, I'm not a social recluse. I still have healthy interactions with humans. I go out with friends. But I enjoy traveling around, and sometimes friends don't make perfect traveling partners. My EOS Kiss, however, is always more than willing to keep me company.

For example, during our trip to Hiroshima, she didn't complain about the long distances we had to walk. Okay, on second thought, it was me who had to carry her around.

Now, what about the time when we went to Yamanaka Lake to catch sunset? The temperature was subzero but again, she didn't even nag. Instead, it was me who grumbled about stiff fingers and frozen ears.

And oh, she doesn't ask for Christmas gifts, or dinners at classy restaurants, or movie dates every Friday night. It saves all the unecessary expenditures. But then, getting her some accessories - a sturdy tripod, new lenses and filters - would make her happy. They do cost a lot but well, if she's happy, I'm happy too, right?

Most important of all, she never lets me down. Whenever I feel like going out for a date, I just need to invite her and she'd tag along, no turndowns. Well, except the rare occasions when I forgot to charge up her battery.

It doesn't matter if she doesn't talk to me. The songs on my iPhone keeps me entertained during our dates anyway. Still, I only wish she could give me some sympathetic response when I ramble about my problems. Or give me a warm hug when I feel down.

Boy, I need to date a real girl.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Randomness within Order

| 0 persons flung their shoes
The seemingly random matrix code behind my student card is actually about the secret of keeping my jam for nine years.

* * * * *

My friend and I had a heated argument. I mentioned en passant that the universe is governed by randomness. "Govern" may not be a technically correct term. But the idea is that many things do not follow a set of rules. Instead, they're random and there is no way of making an educated guess on what would occur next. In radioactive decay for example, you can never predict which particle would decay next. And in transcendental numbers like pi (3.14159265358979323846...) and e (2.71828 18284 59045 23536...), there's no specific order in the sequence of numbers.

She, however, could not agree with that. She argued that just because we cannot see any pattern does not mean that there is none. If you could gather enough information about radioactive decay and process it, you might find a certain set of rules. And if you went on computing the value of pi or e, you might end up with a long sequence of repeated numbers. In other words, randomness is not a valid idea, if only we could see the whole picture.

The ability to observe patterns in things probably gave us an edge in reasoning. We observe that there is a regular pattern in the waning and waxing of the moon. Hence, we call the cycle a "month" and develop a calendar system. We also observe that an apple always falls towards the ground, never up. There is a rule that an apple never violates. We call it "the law of gravity".

We could never come in terms with disorder, because our brain is wired to always keep an eye for any telltale patterns. Therefore, isn't it reasonable, too, to say that our instinct could sometimes cloud our faculty, leading us into believing that there's a pattern within randomness? Patterns in the tea leaves, patterns in the lines on the palm, patterns in the constellations...

Take the matrix code behind my student card, for instance. Everytime I try to connect my iPhone to the university's wi-fi, I'm asked to enter three randomly chosen letters from the matrix code. Of course I would have to take out my wallet and refer to the card. But that would be too bothersome. So, I soon got fed up with the inconvenience and decided to commit it to memory instead. A 7x10 matrix, ie 70 random letters. It took me 15 minutes. It was easy once I saw the pattern in the code. It is not random. Instead, it's about the secret of keeping my jam for nine years, and about dust bunnies going to Australia, and about whacking grumpy crazy Jellabies. Nevermind what the nonsense means. It takes some imagination to decipher, I suppose.

True, being able to observe patterns within chaos is reassuring. But just because there is seemingly an order does not mean there is no randomness. Sometimes, randomness can exist within order. And more often than not, we have to come to terms with randomness.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Merry Christmas! This should have been posted a few days back. But the post-processing took me some time. So better being late than none.

I am neither a fan of Santa Claus nor Jesus Christ. As far as I can remember, I have never celebrated Christmas once. Christmas, to me has no religious significance. In fact, I think that 25 December was so much fun back in the days of Roman Saturnalia where Christmas originated from - naked caroling, intoxication and fornication. Too bad they had to prepackage it into Christmas.

However, one thing I like about Christmas in Japan is, despite being over-commercialized, it is nothing more than a secular festivity. It is perhaps the biggest day for couples, the year-end Valentine's Day, perhaps?

The photo above was taken on Christmas eve, in Shiodome, a newly-developed modern city in Tokyo. This year's attraction at Caretta Shiodome was a wishing bell. Couples would queue up and wait till it was their turn to make a wish, ring the bell and get their photo taken by a staff.

Merry Christmas, Akasaka Sacas
This photo, in meanwhile was taken on Christmas night, in Akasaka Sacas, right next to Biz tower. The name is actually a wordplay. Read it backwards and you get "saca, saka, saka", the Japanese word for "hill". As you can probably tell from the photo, it's another classy area. It's part of Ginza, after all.

Illumination here was fantastic too. And they had a skating rink right in front of Blitz theater. Needless to say, the place was teeming with couples. For some reason, everyone looked stunningly attractive. It could have been the magic of Christmas, or it could have been the saturated levels of pheromones in the air, I'm not sure.

But curious, isn't it? When you light up your room in a summer night, you get cicadas knocking at your window. When you light up a Christmas tree in winter, you get couples flocking to it. Some people squash the cicadas when they see one. Some people get sour when they see couples holding hands or kissing in public. I found it heart-warming though, no kidding.

Underground Wonder

| 2 persons flung their shoes
The high priest stepped onto the altar, the sacred part in the Pantheon off-limits to any other living thing. No, not even the pharaoh. And especially not fowls. They were considered "unclean". No one knew what that meant, and no one asked because it was the word of God. They knew that because the high priest told them so. But how the high priest came to know about God's distaste for chicken was one of those questions that you could never ask. When a young ignorant lad from Hwt-ka-Ptah did, he was killed from bloated bowels after 59 days of constipation. Even the most potent of cactus juices could not cure him. So the local priests concluded that he was cursed by God for his insolence.

59 goats, 59 babies and 59 virgins, just as demanded by God. The high priest was sure that He would be appeased. This was a sacrifice of the biggest scale which the kingdom had ever made. But the people understood that it was reasonable; God's demands were always reasonable. You would think it was unreasonable only if you lacked faith.

The high priest started to recite from the scripture. The ancient language could only be learned by those with a flexible tongue. Some people were just lucky enough to be endowed with one at birth but to a high priest, it did not matter anyway. It came with all those practice at Sunday sermons.

As the chanting eventually came to an end, the most miraculous thing happened. Lights began to pour into the underground chamber and showered upon the high priest.

The high priest stretched his arms wide, and looking into the heavens, praised God.

* * * * *

Alright, that was not the pantheon but it was a real photo nevertheless, albeit with some editing. The photo was taken in the most marvelous underground structure in Japan, namely the Metropolitan Area Outer Discharge Channel (首都圏外郭放水路) in Saitama. The facility was built for flood mitigation purposes and is supposedly the biggest of its kind.

How big exactly, you ask. Chew on this.
  1. The tunnels run 50m underground, parallel to a highway. Meanwhile, Oedo Line, which is touted as the deepest subway line in Japan runs only at 22.2m underground. As a reference, one storey is roughly equivalent to 3m.
  2. Five cylindrical pits draw water from the nearby rivers should they overflow. These pits are 70m deep. That is big enough to snugly fit in the Statue of Liberty, a space shuttle, or the leaning tower of Pisa.
  3. Equipped with four gas turbine engines similar to that of a jet plane's, the pumps are capable of discharging 200 tonnes of water per second. That is equivalent to emptying a 25m pool in a second!
Despite being the largest underground discharge channel in the world, the facility is not very well-known. The fact that it has only been completed two years ago - after 13 years of construction - is probably one reason.

Nevertheless, reservations are always full. I placed a reservation for eight persons as early as two months ago! But if you are patient enough, you can always wait till the open day, when the facility is opened to the public, no reservation required.

Control Center
This is the control room of the facility. I haven't watched an Ultraman movie since a decade ago but this is supposedly the command center in Ultraman Cosmos. Whoa, so this is where all the save-the-world actions take place during the non-monsoon periods!

The Chamber
After some lengthy explanations, we were finally brought to the underground pressurizing chamber. For some obvious reason, I prefer to call it the "underground pantheon".

This chamber is supported by 59 concrete pillars, each weighing 400 tonnes. Now that's the weight of 400 cars. It is a lot but it is required to counter the buoyancy of subterranean water.

The far end of the chamber, where everything is pitch black, led to the pumps that discharge water into the Edo River. On the opposite end, lies the first pit. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to venture too far down the chamber. And by "too far", I mean "the second row of pillars". The time allowed for taking photographs was too short too - a mere 10 minutes.

But then again, these people are more than generous for allowing the public to visit the place. What better way to feel its grandeur than to see for yourself?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Secret Agent (Part IV) - Free-fall

| 2 persons flung their shoes
This is the finale of the four-part series.
The Secret Agent (Part I) - Promotion
The Secret Agent (Part II) - Eavesdropping
The Secret Agent (Part III) - The Arabian
»The Secret Agent (Part IV) - Free-fall

Tokyo city - one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world. It seemed as if its 12 million inhabitants never slept. After sundown, lights flickered into life and the place continued to hum in relentless activity. One who was romantic enough would go as far as describing the city as a living beast with its own heartbeat, the complicated network of transportation system being the veins that kept it alive.

The Agent looked down at the foot of the structure. The overwhelming sense of vertigo almost tipped him over. He was, after all, at a height of at least 300 meters.

He had never been good at physics. But he knew enough to be able to estimate the time required for the 300-meter free fall - eight seconds. To an outside observer, that wouldn't seem too long. But to the free-falling guy, it would be the longest eight minutes in his life. Was it Einstein who said that? He wondered what would flash through his mind during the fall? His family? His high school report card? Or his girlfriend?

He wanted to end it right there, right now. He just couldn't take it anymore. The crap nearly cost him the most important thing in his life.

* * * * *

The Agent squinted his eyes at the third monitor. It was showing the footage from the men's room. Tenchou-san had the CCTVs installed in the restrooms after a series of toilet paper thefts. Thanks to the cameras, the Agent's job was much easier.

He had quietly slipped into the security room when he saw the Arabian excusing himself from the table. The laxative must be working, he thought. He had emptied two packets of it into the Arabian's wasabi milk shake just to be sure. Of course, no one saw how he did it. That was one of those things they taught you at the Academy.

From the video footage, the Agent could see the Arabian making it to the restroom. He was already pulling down his pants on the way. Perhaps two doses of laxative was a little too much. He rushed into the first cubicle, where the toilet cover was already lifted up, waiting for his divined arrival. The Agent's pupils constricted.

The Arabian plonked his buttocks on the toilet seat and relieved himself of the pressure building up in his bowels. But nothing went kaboom. The Agent planted the charges alright, but not the pressure sensors. He was going to use the trigger function on his secret agent phone. That would make him feel more in control.

He said a silent prayer, then pressed the trigger key once and waited. Nothing happened. He pressed it once more. Still, nothing happened.

Damnit! The night before, the speaker failed him. And now, the keys! "What kind of crap is this phone," he cursed. There was only one choice left. He would take care of it personally. He rushed into the cubicle where the Arabian was relieving himself, and pointed a bamboo chopstick at him. Gosh, the cubicle smelled like fermented milk.

"You're cornered! Now tell me what's your relationship with the girl out there!" the Agent demanded.

The Arabian was obviously scared enough to have urinated in his pants. But since he was on the toilet seat, it didn't matter anyway. "Sh-sh-she? She's my client."

The Agent could feel the world swirling around him. He thought he and his girlfriend were having a happy sex life all this while. But alas, no! She was paying this haggard Arabian guy for service?

"Wh-what kind of service do you provide?" the Agent was starting to lose his cool.

"No, not service. I'm a cactus merchant from Saudi Arabia. I sell exotic cacti. Orders come from all over the world. Some people claim cactus juice prolongs life, while some simply keep them as pets, " the Arabian replied. "This client is a cactus lover. Or at least, his boyfriend is. That's why she's getting him a cactus for Christmas."

The Agent hated to admit it but it made sense. He was a cactus lover. That was why the cactus in Q's office was the first object that caught his attention during his recent visit. But presuming this was true, it would mean that he had made the greatest mistake in his life. He should have trusted his girlfriend. He could blame his traumatic experiences for his paranoia but still, he could not forgive himself.

"No!" Wailing, the Agent ran out from the restroom, leaving the bewildered Arabian behind.

* * * * *

The Agent stretched out his right arm before him, the red cell phone held loosely between the forefinger and the thumb. "Sayonara," he closed his eyes and said softly. Then he let his hold loose. The cell phone slipped out of his fingers. Soon, all was left to gravity.

One. Two. Three... Seven...



No one hurled curses from below; no one was hit.

Good, the Agent thought. He looked down one last time and saw the giant Christmas tree, all lit up. Merry Christmas.

Now he would go home to his girlfriend. Well, after stopping by somewhere to get her a present. □End

The Secret Agent (Part III) - The Arabian

| 1 persons flung their shoes
This is the third installment of the four-part series.
The Secret Agent (Part I) - Promotion
The Secret Agent (Part II) - Eavesdropping
»The Secret Agent (Part III) - The Arabian
The Secret Agent (Part IV) - Free-fall

"Irasshaimase!" he greeted as a couple entered the shop. It was Christmas eve after all. You wouldn't go to crappy revolving sushi restaurants for Christmas dates. This was where you would come to - a decent family restaurant, Sushi Queen.

* * * * *

Earlier in the morning, the Agent came to the shop, asking if he could work here for only that day. He made up a story about not having enough money to buy his girlfriend her favourite soft toy for Christmas. He would be indebted if he was allowed to work there, he said. and he promised to do just anything - washing the dishes, taking the orders, serving the customers, cleaning the toilet, anything!

Tenchou-san - as the shop owner was fondly called by his employees - pondered for a moment. Since it was Christmas eve, he expected more customers today. So he could use some extra help.

"Say 'irasshaimase'," tenchou-san asked. He then pronounced the word syllable by syllable, as if he was talking to a baby, "I-ra-sshai-ma-se"

"Irasshaimase," the Agent imitated the old man as perfectly as possible. But the telltale British accent was just too heavy. Despite having stayed in Japan for three years, he still could not grasp the outlandish oriental language. When he was about to try a second time, tenchou-san motioned him to stop.

For the moment, the Agent thought he wasn't going to get the job after all. In his head, he was already making up a backup plan.

Tenchou-san, however, had something else in mind. True, not all gaijins were to his liking. Some of them were so baka that they couldn't speak Japanese. But some of them were kakkoi, especially those with brue eyes and brond hair. This one, for instance. More than that, this gaijin resembled the Hollywood star, John Canary, he thought. The okyaku-san would like him.

"Good, you're hired," tenchou-san said. "All you need to do is stand by the entrance and greet the okyaku-san, that's 'customers' just in case you don't know."

"Arigatou!" the Agent thanked the old man, bowing so low that he almost somersaulted. Phase One, checked.

* * * * *

The Agent fixed his eyes on a corner table. There she was, his girlfriend, waiting for her secret lover. Despite the betrayal, he could not help getting transfixed by her. It was that lovely face that he fell for when they first met at a matchmaking party - did the Japanese call it goukon or something? He could not remember.

Blaring honks from the street jolted him awake from the trance. The Agent looked out of the window and saw a man casually guiding a camel to the walkway. After tying the tether to a lamppost, the man walked into the shop.

"Irasshaimase!" the Agent greeted. As he made a deep bow, he managed to make a quick assessment on the newcomer.

He had a dark complexion and bushy eyebrows. One day's growth of beard was sticking up on his chin like thorns on a cactus. It was winter but despite the cold, the man was wearing a loose, white garment. The Agent could tell it was thobe, the traditional dress for Saudi Arabian men - he saw it on Discovery Channel the other day. Besides, the headdress confirmed his inference. This must be the man his girlfriend was talking to on the phone last night. His right fist tightened into a clench. Taking a deep breath, he loosened it again, training his eyes on the Arabian as he made his way to the table in the corner...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Secret Agent (Part II) - Eavesdropping

| 2 persons flung their shoes
This is the second installment of the four-part series.
The Secret Agent (Part I) - Promotion
»The Secret Agent (Part II) - Eavesdropping
The Secret Agent (Part III) - The Arabian
The Secret Agent (Part IV) - Free-fall

The Agent had been playing with his new company phone for three days. The farting ringtones that came with the cell phone were hilarious - he couldn't help laughing till his stomach spasmed in pain. The stupid "Pin the Tail on the Orangutan" game was so fun that he stayed awake playing it for three nights - he wasn't even aware that orangutans didn't have tails. And he had also downloaded enough pirated movies to keep him entertained for a lifetime. Of course, he was also eager to try out the secret agent functions the cell phone had to offer. But it was not until the night before Christmas eve that the chance came by. He suspected that his new girlfriend was cheating on him, just like all his former girlfriends did. It was some kind of instinct he had developed after 10 failed relationships. Of course, he shrugged it off at first, attributing it to the trauma he had in his previous relationships. But then, experience taught him that clandestine phone calls were always reliable signs of a failing relationship. His current girlfriend had been getting late night calls from someone. Sometimes it was her insomniac mother. On other occasions, it would be her sick chihuahua. Well, at least that was what she claimed.

"Haha, you can't push me around like an idiot anymore," the Agent thought. He knew what he would do. He would confirm his suspicions once and for all. He could vaguely remember Q advising against eavesdropping on girlfriends but who'd find out? And even if someone did, what would they possibly do?

It was the day before Christmas eve. That night, he was stirred awake when his girlfriend silently crept out from the bed. Pretending to be still asleep, he watched her stealthily making it to the balcony.

He felt a surge of self-satisfaction. Just in case he was gleaming too brightly, he covered his face with the futon. Then he slided his secret agent phone on and pressed his right ear against the speaker. Earlier, he had configured the cell phone so that he could listen in on his girlfriend's phone calls.

Any moment now, he was going to find out about his girlfriend's secret lover. He knew exactly what he would do after that - blow up the faggot from the toilet seat. He owed the idea to his late, unfortunate colleague.


The Agent's eyebrows knitted into a tight knot. He sensed something wrong. Could it be that his girlfriend found out about his secret agent phone and sabotaged it? No, not very likely because he took the precaution of feeding the note Q gave him to his neighbour's rottweiler. A secret agent should never let his guard down.

Just then, something came through the static. "3... Sushi Queen..." That was all he could make out of it. So, she was going to meet her lover at Sushi Queen, 3 o'clock the next day, he surmised.

The Agent almost could not contain his anger at the betrayal. He wanted to confront her now and then. Or, he might as well remain patient till the next day so that he could catch both of them red-handed. But then, should he stick to his initial plan? Should he blow up the guy? Or should he strap him to a chair and torture him with the cactus? He would be too embarrassed to borrow it from Q though.

No, he eventually decided to go on with the explosives. That would be killing two birds with one stone - he had always hated the wasabi milk shake they served at Sushi Queen. He often entertained himself with the idea of blowing up the place. Well, just the toilet, at least. The Agent had never felt better. Revenge was sweet.

But further down his mind, something troubled him. He was sure there was a distinct Middle Eastern accent in that man's voice. And he wondered if it was anything significant...

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Secret Agent (Part I) - Promotion

| 4 persons flung their shoes
This is the first installment of the four-part series.
»The Secret Agent (Part I) - Promotion
The Secret Agent (Part II) - Eavesdropping
The Secret Agent (Part III) - The Arabian
The Secret Agent (Part IV) - Free-fall

The room was well-lit and kept clean to the finest detail. For a brief moment, the Agent thought he had mistakenly stepped into an operation room. But he knew he couldn't be wrong. He was told by the secretary to head right to the R&D room and wait. Dr Quack would join him soon.

The Agent scanned around the place with his trained eyes. "Risk assessment", he called it. Never let your guard down; that was his mantra. He had lost many a colleague simply because they weren't cautious enough. Just two weeks ago, an agent was killed in the line of duty. He was literally blown off the toilet seat when the pressure sensor triggered a C4 charge planted under it. The Company not only had to pay for the agent's funeral but also for the destroyed toilet.

But that was all part of the job. You could never know if someone sabotaged your closet with a boogeyman.

His eyes fell on a cactus on the computer desk. In his mind, he had already formed his contingency plan. Should he be assaulted by an unexpected enemy, he would hurl the cactus at him.

"But then, this is the Facility," he snickered. He doubted anyone could infiltrate the place.

Just then, footsteps echoed from the walkway. With the agile reflexes of a secret agent, he grabbed the cactus and turned around. At the same time, a lady in her early 50's entered the room.

"What are you doing with the vibrator?" She seemed to be a well-poised lady but her voice betrayed a slight irritation.

"Uh, this cactus is a vibrator?" The Agent could feel his cheeks burning in embarrassment. He returned the cactus to where it belonged.

"Just because it looks like a cactus doesn't mean it is a cactus. In the world of espionage, looks can be deceiving. Bear that in mind, Agent."

The Agent wished he could kick his own ass. First day after promotion and he was already getting lectured.

"Sorry, Dr Qu-" He managed to correct himself in time as he recalled what the secretary at the front desk told him - never call the lady Dr Quack; she hated it. "I mean, Q."

"It's natural to get light-headed right after your promotion. But let's not get too carried away okay? Anyway, congratulations on your promotion to the double-oh status." Q said.

"When you're in the field, you're known as L00. Remember, never give out your real name. Here, I've made you some name cards." Q passed the Agent a stack of name cards printed on recycled paper. Then she headed towards the other end of the room where a framed portrait of Mona Lisa was hung. Poking Mona Lisa in the eyes, the painting slided to one side, revealing an electronic key pad. The Agent made an educated guess that it was a safe.

After punching in the password, Q reached inside the unlocked safe and took out a red cell phone. She then carefully slided Mona Lisa back to cover the safe.

"And here's your early Christmas gift," she said.

"Whoa, a company phone! Cool!" The Agent beamed with joy. He had always wanted a cell phone. Nowadays, with vandalism so rampant, working public phones were almost nonexistent. In the field, a cell phone could make a difference between life and death.

"Yes, and no. Yes, this is a cell phone. But no, it's more than a cell phone. Remember what I told you - looks can be deceiving."

The Agent inspected the cell phone. It was a sleak, slide-type model. But it resembled nothing more than a cool cell phone.

"You may download the full version of the 100-page user guide from the official website. But," Q drew out a small piece of note from a file labelled "Classified". "This is all you need to know."

On the note was a simple sketch of the same red cell phone, together with some notes scribbled beside it.

Secret Agent Phone
So, it really wasn't an ordinary cell phone! This was one of the latest gadgets the people in R&D had developed. Now, not only he didn't have to worry about finding public phones, but he could also blow up public toilets with the remote trigger without getting caught! And, the eavesdropping function meant more than anything to the Agent - no more cheating girlfriends!

"If there's nothing else, you may dismiss now. I wish you all the best in your missions to come." Q broke the silence. "And yeah. Just a word of advice though, the eavesdropping function is not for listening in on your girlfriend's private phone calls," she added almost as an afterthought.

But, the Agent wasn't paying attention. He was too elated from his Christmas gift. Little did he know that the phone, being the greatest technological failure in the Company's arsenal, was going to be his bane...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Denouncing Internet Explorer

| 4 persons flung their shoes
If you're having problems viewing this blog - awkwardly aligned pictures, strange margins etc - chances are you belong to the shrinking population of Internet Explorer users. While I feel obliged to cater to the needs of all potential readers, I'm quickly running out of patience tweaking the template to run properly in IE. Earlier, it took me two frustrating hours before I eventually got the layouts of the div components right. Now, I'm having problems with the alignment of images.

Alright. That was the last straw. I hereby pronounce this blog IE-unfriendly!

IE is a major headache for all web developers. (No wonder the folks call it "the cancer of the web".) Even the pros are having a tough time with IE, not to say an amateur like me. I'm totally a PHP illiterate; neither can I perform fancy magic with JavaScript and XML. The only trick I've got up the sleeves is CSS. Unfortunately, IE is as much a retard in CSS as I am in art. Especially when you're dealing with the margins and paddings of div components, IE can be very cantankerous. Of course, it's possible to work around those problems - ironically - by utilizing IE bugs , but why take the trouble, I say.

The design of a website depends on the target audience. All this while, I've strictly kept my blog to 800 pixels wide for the sake of those with low-resolution monitors. But check out this latest statistics provided by W3school. While they may not be 100% realistic figures, they at least give you an image of it.

Display Resolution
Obviously, more than 90% of the computers nowadays have at least a 1024x768-pixel display. That's why I set this blog at 1000 pixels wide. Now my blog can afford to spare a bigger piece of the real estate for the photos I intend to post.

Now, check out the browser statistics.

Browser Statistics
As you can see, both Firefox and IE share almost the same size of the pie. But there's a steady trend in the dropping percentage of IE users - down by about 10% compared to last year. I guess that justifies my decision to stop wasting my time tweaking my template to suit IE.

Landmark Tower

| 0 persons flung their shoes
Two weeks ago, after taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) in Kanagawa University, my EOS Kiss and I went for a night out in Minato Mirai. It was one of those places that brings me back to the time when we had our first kiss (pardon the pun), just about a year earlier. Frankly speaking, I would have preferred to have it ten days from now, so that it would coincide with our first anniversary. But the busy week ahead left us with no choice but to have an early celebration instead.

Yokohama, which used to be a small fishing village during the Edo period, has developed into a bustling city since Commodore Perry's arrival in the 1850's. June next year, the city will be celebrating its 150th anniversary of the opening of the port.

The part of the city where we exactly headed for was the waterfront known as Minato Mirai 21. It literally translates to "Future Harbor 21". The place was built on reclaim land. Yes, including the Landmark Tower, which looms over Cosmo World at a staggering height of 295.8m, setting the record for the tallest building in Japan. The view from up there was said to be magnificent, so we were compelled to see for ourselves.

For a modest fee of 1000 yen, you get to take a 40-second ride on the second fastest elevator in the world. (Well, it used to be the fastest one until it was unfortunately dethroned by Taipei 101's) The ride to the observatory on the 69th floor was smooth. In fact, it was claimed that a 500 yen coin could stay upright on the floor of the elevator throughout the ride. Alas the elevator was too crowded for me to confirm that.

I tried recalling the experiment we did a month ago. Had I plotted the velocity of the elevator against time, I would have got a bell curve; then by differentiating the velocity twice to compute the jerk, I ought to get a parabolic curve with a minimum point...

Okay, enough physics. Now, for the photos we got from the observatory (Sky Garden).

Landmark Tower :: Mt Fuji at Dusk
Ahah! So this was what these people were here for. On the west side of Sky Garden, you get a breathtaking view of sunset and Mt Fuji in a package - that is, provided the weather allows. Unfortunately, almost the whole stretch on this side isoccupied by Sky Cafe. So if you wish to have a first-class seat, you'll have to order a cup of coffee whatsoever. Soon after sunset, the city lights started flickering, and the inhabitants continued to hum in activity.

Landmark Tower :: Yokohama Cosmo World
Over there on the right, you can see the monolithic ferris wheel, Cosmo Clock 21. On the opposite side of the bridge is Yokohama Grand Intercontinental Hotel (横浜グランドインターコンチネンタルホテル), designed in the likes of a yacth's sail. Further down the street is Cosmo World, a small amusement park frequented by mostly young couples. Need a romantic dating spot? This is it.

Cosmo World :: Cosmo Clock
Zooming in on Cosmo Clock 21, you get the idea how the ferris wheel got its name. Just like most of the ferris wheels here in Japan, it is strategically located at the waterfront. It's 112.5m tall, with a diameter of 100m and it takes 15 minutes to go around once. With a capacity of 480 passengers in a go, Cosmo Clock 21 currently holds the world record for the biggest capacity.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Mismatched Socks

| 0 persons flung their shoes
It's five more days till Christmas. Though not an official holiday in Japan, it 's nevertheless celebrated with fanfare - just like the over-commercialized Valentine's Day - by fans of Santa Claus and non-fans alike. To me, however, the only significance is that it serves as a reminder that the year is drawing to a close.

I adamantly believe it has to do with the positions of the stars that I'm rendered retrospective during this time of the year. But then, I suppose many people feel the same.

I haven't worked out my new year resolutions yet. Frankly, I've never put serious thought into that. But, I do have a list of things to do for the short term. Yep, as you can see for yourself, I've changed the template of my blog for the... uh... umpteenth time. I've been thinking of doing it since last summer, but it just ended up becoming one of those things that never get started and was eventually relegated to the dusty corners of the cluttered memory.

You see, it isn't easy to decide a theme for your blog; it has to be something that opens the floodgates of ideas so that you have plenty of things to work on. I couldn't make a head start last holiday because of the lack of inspiration.

Just right after I gave up on my plans, an idea struck me in the least expected manner. Senseless though it sounds, it has to do - though not directly - mismatched socks. Oh no, don't get me wrong. Though I often wake up late and end up having to rush to school , I've never worn any mismatched socks. It was the mismatched socks of a friend, Richard, which inspired me. (Well, at least unlike dying your hair red ala Ronald McDonald, socks with mismatched colours don't get noticed often. But it's still a bold fashion statement.)

When I commented on his socks, Richard pointed to his snickers. Guess what? Mismatched colours.


But that didn't become the theme of my new design; I didn't have much to work on. I liked it; it was random. But I needed something more... Then recalling what Richard told me before about it shall be left as it is for old time's sake.)

That pretty much explains the mysterious "mismatched socks" you see in the header up there. As for the "time-travelling dust bunnies", I'll leave it for another day. But as you may have guessed, it's just another thing random.