Reading

So I think I’m carrying my reading binge a bit too far. Over the past three months, off the top of my head I believe I have finished or partially read over a dozen books. Now that I think of it, that’s like a book a week, so it’s not as if it’s an groundbreaking feat or anything like that – it’s just that I don’t think I’ve ever read so much in such a span of time in my life. What does this mean, I wonder.

Okay, that’s enough wondering. The thing about me is, I leave my books lying in piles around my room, so it’s easy to track my reading choices. I realised there were four books I’ve left lying around, partially read, for a couple of months liao:

The Daily Drucker – Peter F Drucker Started on this a while back, before Mr Drucker passed away. I have not read enough of his work and others’ work to know for myself how significant he is, but many more knowledgeable than me think of him as a sage in the management field. This particular book is organised into 366 pithy executive summaries, and I’m stuck on 7 May. I plan to start again on this one soon.

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories – Yasunari Kawabata Bought this attracted by the short-short stories. Some of them are barely 3 minutes long. I like to write, and reading some of these stories help me understand how plots can unravel in the tightest of spaces.

Developing strategic thought – Bob Garratt, ed. Was recommended this book by Weijie. Reading this book made me realise how ingrained the habit of reading a book from cover to cover is. I couldn’t just read only the chapters that sounded interesting to me; I just couldn’t.

I Am a Cat – Soseki Natsume The idea of a cat as narrator intrigued me.

Books I’ve read in the last three months include:

A right to die – Rex Stout; Homicide trinity – Rex Stout; Three for the chair – Rex Stout Am a huge fan of Rex Stout, who wrote nominally in the genre of mysteries. To me, his stories about the eccentric garrulous gourmand detective Nero Wolfe and his wisecracking worldly sidekick Archie Goodwin represent the most realised fictional world ever. I love so much to read about them and spend time in their company that I re-read his books most nights before falling asleep.

First, Break all the Rules – Marcus Buckingham; The One Thing You Need to Know – Marcus Buckingham
Thought the books made a lot of sense. Would be a good experience to interview the folks he did to gain these insights, I think.

Teacher Man – Frank McCourt Teaching always struck me as an increasingly thankless career choice in Singapore. Frank McCourt’s memoirs about his travails as a teacher were funny, heartening and inspiring. I think learning is a human instinct, and all young people want to learn, and teachers can make a big difference.

Books I’ve started in the last couple of weeks and will finish [grim, determined look on face]:

The World is Flat – Thomas Friedman My own interpretation of a flat world was from the point of view of diffusion of knowledge or innovation – generally, if you are plugged into this flat world (and one could make the argument that more than half the world’s population are not), you can now have access to new knowledge very quickly. I think from what I’ve read so far (merely 30-plus pages) Friedman’s flat world refers more to an equality in power – every individual with access to this flat world can now become a powerful individual and advance his or her interests. Not so sure I agree with that yet.

What Should I Do with My Life? – Po Bronson I am asking this question, so I wanted to to see what other folks had to say. I suppose I was looking for a short-cut, an easier way to determining and achieving my end/meaning/desire/goal, but from what I’ve read, the book essentially says: there are many ways of arriving at a satisfying, energising state that resonates with your core. And I think this is both an encouraging thing, and a letdown. The search shall go on…

Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury I used to be a big sci-fi fan, and therefore a big Ray Bradbury fan. This book has been a really encouraging, motivating read so far.

Winning – Jack Welch A couple of speakers I heard recently mentioned this book, so I’m reading it :D

P/S. Am trying out a new “skin” for my blog :)

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Tasteless (pun intended)


Got this image off today’s Life!, and I have to say I think this is a really tasteless ad. But I suppose it’s attention-grabbing and unlikely to corrupt minors. Wouldn’t have thought the actress would endorse an ad campaign like this, but apparently she “loves the new Imedeen ‘I Swallow’ campaign” and thinks it’s “a fun and refreshing concept”. Imedeen’s International Communications Manager said, “The upfront, teasing direction of Imedeen’s ad campaign was aimed at breaking away from the typecast, thereby creating a campaign that speak to the modern woman.”

Well, if there are any modern women reading this, do let me know whether this particular ad campaign actually spoke to you…

Roger Federer

So I saw this really readable David Foster Wallace article on Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis world number one by a considerable margin. If you’re a tennis fan, you may want to check out especially the second paragraph describing a typical jaw-dropping Federer moment. I think tennis is going to enjoy a mild surge in popularity (the fan base is still too small globally and Federer is too dominant for the surge to be a huge one) purely because of Federer’s transcendental talent – he makes tennis exceedingly watchable.

P/S. This David Foster Wallace person sure can write.

You're… er… a few fries short of a Happy Meal…

So I had bookmarked this podcast about Slate‘s Euphemism Contest a couple of weeks back, and I finally got around to listening to it. The podcast hosts had invited listeners to submit euphemisms for “stupid”. For example, the subject of this little post: “a few fries short of a Happy Meal”. The podcast was quite funny. You should really download it and listen to it if you can. I particularly liked these ones:

His elevator doesn’t go to the top floor (or its Spanish counterpart: His pail doesn’t come up to the top of the well)

The wheel is turning but the hamster is dead [A bit morbid, this one.]

As sharp as a blimp / the leading edge of a basketball [There must be many, many of these similes around…]

He’s got his solar panels on the north side [Err… I don’t know… even if they’re on the north side, they’ll get some sun, no? But I liked the thought put into this one.]

At the blackjack table of life, he stands at 11 [If you don’t get this, see if you can ask someone who plays blackjack to explain this to you.]

All vacuum and no tube [Very evocative, this one.]

Homeschooled by poodles [Well, at least one would know how to bark and prance around…]

His faculties will never be tenured [For those pursuing higher education :p]

Leader as shepherd

So a few days ago, I heard Mr Lim Siong Guan speak about leadership. I knew who he was, and had heard someone I respect say that he was an inspiration, so I was impressed with the man even before this. After hearing him speak, I came away a little disappointed with the quality of the presentation – the slides were obviously ill-prepared – but even more impressed with the man.

Of many interesting things he mentioned, one was the idea that a leader can be compared to a shepherd (the way shepherds are in the Middle East, not those in Australia and New Zealand, who I understand rely a lot more on sheepdogs).

A shepherd has a crooked staff. This is so that while he directs his flock across the meadows and fields to graze, if a sheep should fall into a ditch, he can help it up. A leader likewise supports his charges when they have difficulties.

A shepherd wields a strong stick. This is not to cajole or threaten his flock to go where he wants them to go, but to drive away predators that may endanger his flock. A leader likewise protects his charges.

Sometimes you will see a shepherd lugging a lame sheep, usually a lamb, around his shoulders. There are always a few sheep in a flock that persist in going in different, more dangerous directions, possibly into ravines or cliff edges. So, to prevent the rest of his flock from coming to harm, the shepherd may break the disobedient sheep’s leg. But since it then cannot walk, the shepherd would have to carry the sheep around his shoulders and nurse it back to health. A leader likewise has a responsibility to his charges to prevent unproductive or detrimental elements from affecting the team’s work.

I think that’s interesting – the concept of leaders as shepherds.

Eyes on me

So “Eyes on me”, that not-very-well-pronounced but still captivating theme song of the hit role-playing game Final Fantasy VIII, is playing on my iTunes now. Faye Wong has such a fantastic voice, and the song lyrics are sometimes so evocative (“I kind of liked it your way, how you shyly placed your eyes on me; did you ever know that I had mine on you?” always gets me), that one can more or less overlook the mis-pronounciations. (Wait, I need to stop typing a bit – the flute part is just starting to play now…)

I’ve never played FF8, though my sis is a gi-normous fan (she hates Rinoa, I think). I first heard “Eyes on me” when I saw the music video. This girl with a serious case of porcelain complexion was on the screen, and I instinctively saw that the grass in the meadow on which she was prancing was too green, too well defined, the shadows too sharp-edged. And after about ten minutes of playing the video on a loop and struggling to visually comprehend it, I realised it was animation – the girl with the serious case of porcelain complexion was a cartoon, albeit with the most lifelike of expressions. Heh – as I listen to the song now I can remember exactly how I felt; I can feel again what I felt: the wonder of it; staring at the girl’s flawless complexion and thinking that’s too perfect, it’s got to be animation; then seeing the girl smile a quick wry smile, smile in her eyes, in the most natural motion imaginable and thinking, that cannot be fake.

It was only after I convinced myself that it was animation that I realised that Faye Wong was singing this incredibly moving song, with its kooky yet touching lyrics and nigh-perfect blend of Faye Wong’s voice and orchestraic composition.

Through the magic of youtube, many community-produced versions of the “Eyes on me” music video can be viewed. Here’s one. Enjoy.

A little tip for youtube newbies: Hit the “play” button, then hit it again to pause the video. This allows the video to download. Wait for the entire video to download before hitting “play” again to savour the video in its uninterrupted entirety :)

P/S. Found this little tidbit about the role of the song in the continuity of the game world on wikipedia. Amazing how deeply realised game worlds are.

Back…

So eight years ago, during the first World Cup of Zidane, a more naive, more incomplete me stepped into the not-so-hallowed walkway at the School of Communication Studies (fondly and forever remembered as CS). By the next World Cup, I had spent the best four years of my life there. And last evening, six classmates and I spent a food-fueled, laugh-filled evening at our old stomping ground (well, okay – more like mugging-for-exams, rushing-for-video-projects, staying-overnight-for-newspaper-production ground).

I had not been back to CS at night for a long time, but a familiar scene greeted me as we unloaded from the taxi. The layout of the ground floor had not changed. The tree at the atrium might have been a little taller. Handcrafted-then-photocopied posters exhorting students to join the CS Club made themselves obvious on pillars and doors. The benches – heavy wooden picnic-tables with seats attached, where we had always spent time talking, studying, napping – littered the central area. Between two pillars, thick string stretched, laden with cards and papers clipped to the string with wooden clothes pegs. Our cohort had too used wooden clothes pegs (cheap mah – we were students, remember) to affix such messages in this exact manner. Even the occasional cooling breeze seemed like an old acquaintance.

Trevor was waiting for us at one of these benches – I don’t know why he chose one at the edge of the whole ensemble. We noisily greeted him and plonked down our bags of fast food and junk food. We are great proponents of healthy food, you understand – after all, we also brought along a half-dozen tetrapaks of green tea – but we also like having other food around.

At the end of the night, after we had talked easily separately and together, after we had made fun of the one among us whom we made fun of the most and each one of the others, after Trevor had reprised his multi-reprised role of photographer, after an impromptu birthday celebration, after we had polished off the food we could, after we had decided who would pile into Trevor’s car and who would try their luck at getting a cab, we parted, as if we would get together again, the seven of us, very soon.

And we will :)

P/S. Terrie’s doing her Master’s in CS, and she has a nice office there. Weijie’s working at the business school nearby, and his office was more used, and more cluttered. I found myself quietly envying them both. (Terrie also has a new tablet PC, folks.)

A play about JBJ, only it wasn't…

So last Thursday evening, I went to watch “The campaign to confer the Public Service Star on JBJ” with some colleagues. Some things I think I think:

  1. It was a really witty two-act play. In the first act, David Lee, President of the Association of Students for Self-expression (ASS, which of course was the hook for several pun-ny jokes) started a campaign to confer the Public Service Star on JBJ. As it turned out, it did not matter that he was campaigning for a JBJ who had nothing to do with opposition parties (his JBJ was being lauded for contributing to the protection of flora and fauna). No one would touch his campaign, not even his JBJ. There was this hilarious scene in which he called his JBJ’s organisation and tried to convince the paranoid female receptionist that he was sincere about his campaign, not trying to make trouble for her boss. In what came as a surprise to me, David died at the end of the first act.
  2. In the second act, a high-flying civil servant tried to manage the news item that was David’s death – that is, the death of a student activist who was ostensibly campaigning to confer a top public service award on someone with the same initials as an opposition party leader. The act unraveled as a spot-on caricature of the civil service – a discussion between the civil servant and a police inspector, who was investigating the case and expecting a memo about what conclusion to write in his report, was laugh-out-loud funny and laser-precise. More than that, the act was a well-sketched portrait of an accomplished Singaporean civil servant with a diamond-hard exterior, and her sacrifices.
  3. The structure of the play was interesting. In the first act, Rodney Oliveiro played David Lee’s role, while Pam Oei inimitably played a kaleidoscope of characters, from David Lee’s feisty, always-ready-with-a-witticism sidekick to the many receptionists David called during his campaign. In the second act, Pam Oei played the steely high-flier Clara Tang, while Rodney Oliveiro was the one who flitted back and forth among roles as Clara’s proud-of-his-humble-beginnings immediate boss, the new-to-the-new-civil-service rookie police inspector, Clara’s cynical news columnist boyfriend, her almost Kumar-ish gay PR guru and a shadowy behind-the-scenes higher-up. Both actors were excellent and accomplished.
  4. I have not done the play justice with my half-baked review, not by any means, so do go watch it if you’re interested. There are still shows at 3pm and 8pm today and tomorrow.
  5. It was a nice touch that the real JBJ was among the audience. He was introduced after the play to generous applause. I don’t know whether he was invited or just happened to turn up.

Also saw two university classmates that evening, one I knew quite well and spoke to, one whose name I forgot and therefore did not speak to. (Of course, I remember her name now – both her actual name and what she prefers to be called.)

Cool…

So I surfed a whole lot today, and rooted out some interesting stuff:

I think the Slate review, which recommended SMINT, was spot on. Haven’t tried the other two items, but think the idea of the gorillapod was something someone should have thought of a long time ago. If those flexible tripod legs retain their “grip” over time, that gorillapod would make a useful gift for a photog friend of mine…