Tuesday, September 30, 2003

It Came From The Net

I am running into a writer’s block again tonight and all I can see is a blank screen. Usually in the past, this meant me breaking out a new pack of cigarettes and smoking them until I got an idea of what to write about. Since I’ve stopped smoking, my long serving muse is no longer available to me so I’m left to my own devices.

It seems, however, said devices are on strike tonight.

Hopefully union negotiations will be successful later tonight and said devices will resume normal programming tomorrow.

In the mean time, here's something disturbing that I found while browsing the Net today on MSN Entertainment News

New Law Passed to Block Concert Suicide
Sep 29, 12:07 PM EST

The St. Petersburg city council passed a law Monday designed to scuttle a rock group's plans to feature an onstage suicide.

The hard-rock band Hell on Earth had said that a suicide by a terminally ill person would take place during a concert Saturday to raise awareness of right-to-die issues.

In response, the city council met Monday morning to unanimously approve an emergency ordinance making it illegal to conduct a suicide for commercial or entertainment purposes, and to host, promote and sell tickets for such an event.

"While I still think it's a publicity stunt, we still couldn't sit idly by and let somebody lose their life," council member Bill Foster said.

Tampa-based Hell of Earth, known for such outrageous onstage stunts as chocolate syrup wrestling and grinding up live rats in a blender, created the furor by announcing the suicide would happen Saturday at the Palace Theater in downtown St. Petersburg.

But the theater's owner, David Hundley, promptly canceled the band's show, and another venue also turned away the event.

Band leader Billy Tourtelot has vowed that the concert and suicide will still take place at an undisclosed location in the city, broadcast live on the band's Web site.

"This show is far more than a typical Hell On Earth performance," Tourtelot said in an e-mail last week. "This is about standing up for what you believe in, and I am a strong supporter of physician-assisted suicide."

A message left for Tourtelot was not immediately returned Monday.

A Florida law already makes assisting in a suicide manslaughter, a second-degree felony.

Hell on Earth is playing clubs in support of its independently produced album, "All Things Disturbingly Sassy."

Monday, September 29, 2003

Movie Review: Cinta Kolesterol

It has been a while since my whole family went out to the local cinema to watch a movie together. Partly it is because everyone in the family has their own preference on the subject of what movies they like to watch. So you can imagine that it is hard to find a movie that everyone can agree with to go and see it as part of a family outing. So when the opportunity presented itself last weekend, we all decided as a family to go out to the local cinema and watch the latest movie currently showing. The decision of which movie to watch as a family took awhile as we had the ideas and input from 8 people to consider but in the end we all decided to watch the latest local production, “Cinta Kolesterol”.

“Cinta Kolesterol” (CK) is the latest local Malay movie production released by Metrowealth Productions in conjunction with KRU Motion Pictures and Erra Fazira Productions. This film was directed by Prof Madya Abdul Razak Mohaideen who is a locally renowned director with several other previous film productions under this belt. The primary characters in this movie were portrayed by Yusry Abdul Halim, Erra Fazira, Aleeza Kassim, Farid Kamil and Abu Bakar Omar. I believe that this film was just recently released for screening in the past 2 weeks but I have to admit that I am amazed at the crowd that this production was pulling in with each screening. We actually had a full house on the day that we went to see CK and I actually overheard someone while in queue to buy popcorn that this was her 5th viewing. Although I had my reservations about watching this movie, it was quickly replaced by intrigue after hearing that comment.

The drama-comedy “Cinta Kolesterol” tells the story of Yusry and Fazira, unimaginative character names played by Yusry Abdul Halim and Erra Fazira respectively, who were arranged to be married by their fathers at the tender age of 9 years old. Although Yusry’s father, Haji Zaini, played by Abu Bakar Omar, had initial reservations about the proposal, he later relented and agreed with the request made by Dato’ Osman, Erra’s father who was played by Farid Kamil, who felt indebted to Yusry after he saved his daughter’s life from an accidental drowning. Since the two people in question were too young to understand this family promise, it was decided that this arrangement will only be made know to both Yusry and Erra in a later date.

The movie then fast forwards to 20 years later where we meet a handsome and well educated Yusry who just came back from London after completing his studies. His return prompted his father to tell him the promise that he had made with Erra’s father and that Yusry should meet with Fazira again to reacquaint with each other before marrying her. Since he has not seen her in seven years, Yusry was very excited to see his childhood friend again but that enthusiasm quickly faded away when he discovered that in his absence, Fazira has grown into a relatively obese person with a big heart who was constantly eating. Predictably Yusry was repulsed by what he had to marry to and quickly tried to distance himself from Erra. Although Erra tried her best to please Yusry, he was unable to look beyond her appearance and continued to painfully ignore her. The relationship came to a boil when Yusry very publicly humiliated Erra about her appearance which caused Erra to run off to Europe to undergo treatment for her obesity.

The subsequent death of Yusry’s father no long after caused Yusry to reconsider what he had done to Erra. Feeling the burden of his guilt at what he had done, Yusry tried to search for Fazira and fulfill the promise that his late father made to Fazira’s family. His efforts continued to be fruitless until a year later when he first set eyes on Erra, the latest hot model on the local catwalk, who was a splitting image of Fazira albeit much more slimmer and attractive. Yusry was convinced that Erra was actually Fazira after losing most of her weigh and proceeded to pursue her who in turn returned the favor by publicly ignoring and ridiculing him as he did to Fazira in the past. Brokenhearted and repentant, Yusry decided to give up trying to ask of Fazira’s forgiveness for all the things that he has done in the past and leave the city to heal his wounds. However, before he could go, there was still one last unfinished business with Fazira that he had to attend to that will change his life forever.

One of the draws of this movie is the much-hyped makeup work done by Fido Films from Sweden who designed the body suit and appliances to transform the normally svelte Erra Fazira into the almost unrecognizable 120kg woman she portrays on screen. This was the first time that a local production has attempted such major use of make up effects for the entire length of the movie and I have to say that overall I find the effect well done. Erra seemed to be comfortable enough (or as comfortable as she could be) in the full makeup to showcase her talent though layers of hot and restrictive latex. Her body movements in the full body suit of the character were completely natural and her facial expression was clearly visible through all the glue and latex. I had a problem with the way her character was written in the beginning as it shown the character as a whiny and spoilt child who frankly speaking started to grate on my nerves shortly after the beginning. It was good that her character began to change as she realizes who she was being treated by Yusry.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see Yusry Abdul Halim’s portrayal of a young man caught between family responsibility and his own pursuit of happiness. I’ve only seen him act in a film once before which has his first movie and I can attest that his acting skill has improved significantly since then. This movie shifts his character from being obnoxious and superficial to an honest and likable person towards the end. Yusry managed to carry his portrayal successfully through the gamut of personas that the audience ended up rooting for him at the end of the movie although most would be ticked off at the character’s previous treatment of Fazira. Since the chemistry between the two main leads was actually the product of their off-screen married life, it goes without saying that both played against each other’s performance beautifully and continued to maintain that level through out the movie.

I have to say that there are parts in the movie when the make-up could have been better especially those involving close-ups of the hands. At times, the hands looked unnatural compared to Erra’s face and body which unfortunately shatters the illusion of Erra Fazira as a fat person. I also found that there are parts of the script that asked the audience to expand their tolerance for suspension of belief. For one, I find it hard to believe that the fathers were so easily agreeable on the proposed arranged marriage of their young children but I guess that it had to be in the script as a plot point to move the story. I also lamented the missed opportunity of making Erra’s character as less whiny person and instead make her comfortable with her weight so that the audience could quickly empathized with her character from the first moment we see her. We do see a strong and proud side of her character when she verbally spars with her competitor for Yusry’s affection but unfortunately it came too late and to short to register the impact.

Good acting from the cast and interesting makeup work notwithstanding, I have to frankly say that I was very close to give up on this movie. Towards the end of the movie, it had the feeling of a retread of the same old ugly duckling storyline that we have seen countless of time before. I’ve already predicted that the boy will get the girl in the end and all will be well with the universe like many movies of the same genre. It was a good thing that I never walked out of a movie before no matter how boring or predictable it was or else I would have missed the best twist in the story that I have ever seen in a Malay movie ever. To tell what the twist in the story was in the end would totally spoil the movie for anyone who has not seen it but suffice to say it bold, imaginative and made the movie 5 times better that I would ever expect it. You just have to sit through the whole movie to really appreciate it.

All in all, “Cinta Kolesterol” was generally well written and acted local Malay film. While there were some parts in makeup and screenplay that could have been done better, in general it was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon with either family or just yourself. The twist at the end of the movie was imaginative and bold which really made the movie for me as an audience and a person who was long bored by other clichéd local productions. I also agree that this charming local production does merit a second viewing to try to pickup some subtle clues that seemed to be scattered in the 3rd act leading to the end of movie twist. If you could only watch one local Malay mainstream movie this year, I would highly recommend “Cinta Kolesterol”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Friday, September 26, 2003

Petition on Censorship

GAK ... no Friday Five questions for this week! Oh ... no! I have to be original for my Friday blog entry. The horror ... the horror of it all.

Well ... today is definitely not one of the days that I can think of something original to write. I have a bunch of things planned for this coming weekend. I have to go back to my parents place and spend the weekend with them. I need to do some shopping for new office wear as the ones I have now are practically coming apart at the seams (due to wear and tear rather than me gaining weight). I also need to get a new mobile phone since the piece of crap I’m using now is literally dying on me. Last but not least, I’m taking next Monday off to go to the LHDN office to clear up some problems with my income tax file before they charge me with tax evasion or something. I just hope that I would be able to get everything done this weekend.

I found the following petition from Nizam’s tag board and thought that it deserves to be highlighted to the visitors on my blog spot. Of course, it doesn’t matter if the visitors to my blog spot are actually the same people who visit Nizam’s place. Anyway ... this petition is organized by Artisproactiv to protest the recent theater performance guidelines introduced by KL City Hall. Read through the petition and sign it, if you are so inclined, by clicking on the link provided at the end of this entry. Join the fight against unreasonable and draconian censorship in Malaysia.


"We KLites must be broadminded and liberal enough to accept such shows"
Datuk Bandar Datuk Mohmad Shaid Mohd Taufik, Tuesday 22 July, 2003, Malay Mail

We, the undersigned, are concerned at the erosion of civil liberties we see happening in Malaysia. We are deeply disturbed by the fact that Dewan Bandaraya KL (KL City Hall) has decided to enforce a series of guidelines that severely limits the growth of a vibrant arts community. We are also worried that the application of these guidelines, even though they are limited at the moment to the performing arts, could impact upon the growth of all forms of public expression and the arts: from film-making to visual arts to literature.

This action by DBKL comes without any consultation or negotiation with the arts community. A committee was chosen by DBKL to act as moral guardians by giving them the power to decide what scripts are "doubtful" and should be rejected outright. It also has the power to censor performances as it sees fit.

In addition most art practitioners learned about the guidelines, and the committee chosen to vet scripts, through articles in the local press.

Transparency and openness seem to have been lost.

This process impacts negatively on the aspirations for the art. In his 2003 Budget speech the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad affirmed that the performing arts was an asset to the country's progressive and dynamic image and allocated RM 80.3 million to develop the arts.

City Hall has shown itself to be out of step with the direction the nation is taking by its latest action. That it does not understand the maturity of Malaysia's audiences was clear from the public outcry in July 2003 when it attempted to ban the work of Instant Cafe Theatre. In response to the public debate the Mayor himself came out in support of the need for more progressive liberal attitudes saying, "We KLites must be broadminded and liberal enough to accept such shows".

The Malaysian public has grown increasingly mature and willing to engage in debate and discussion. It is through speaking about our identity that we feel we belong – it is by encountering different opinions within our society, and recognizing that we remain united nevertheless, that we build a society that is vibrant, exciting and strong.

Audiences who come to see theatre in Malaysia make a choice – to come and be challenged, to laugh, to feel, to remember, to understand. Artists speak about identity – in talking about race or religion, about culture and ethnicity, we engage in a discussion about our true selves – about our memories and our understanding of how and why and where we are. The arts can contribute to a national dialogue, but only if it is not gagged.

We find it difficult to understand why DBKL has taken upon itself to “protect” an audience that does not need, nor want, that kind of “protection.” In fact, the arts audience desires choice and diversity. We may not like everything we see, but that does not mean we wish to see the stories and ideas silenced.

In 1990 The PAS-led state government of Kelantan issued a ban on all forms of traditional performance in that state for reasons similar to those announced by DBKL, signifying a concerted effort by both state and local authorities to increasingly intrude upon the space of cultural experience and illustrating that this attempt at censorship traverses all forms of cultural expression, in all cultural settings and in all languages.

The growth of the arts industry can be seen in increased private sector support for all elements of the arts, and by the flourishing of various sectors of the industry. However, the pattern of increasing censorship negates the growth we see, and creates conformity instead of diversity, and silence instead of discussion.

We feel it important to speak up now, to stem this tide of censorship. We speak not only as representatives from the arts community, but as concerned individuals who are part of a global society. We wish to see in Malaysia the support of all voices. We need the stories to be told, and the histories to be understood. Malaysia is an extraordinary country. We speak up now because we are committed to openness, diversity, discussion and debate.

Sign this petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/campaigns/DBKL/

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Story Ideas

I have a writing journal that I keep next to my bed that I use to jot down any ideas that cross my mind anytime I lay down on my bed. Most of the entries are junk but some snippets that I write down does get developed more into some of my personal writing. I was reading through my journal to find some ideas about what to write for today’s blog entry today and noticed that I’ve not written anything in it for a quite sometime. Maybe this is because I’ve been doing most of my writing on line nowadays that I hardly have any ideas left for the writing journal. Anyway ... it is in this journal that I would also jot down story ideas for screenplays that I then attempt to write. Some of them have progresses further than others but I have to admit that to date I have only completed 1 of them.

One of the story ideas that I have written down and forgotten until just today is my outline for a television series. The series was to be an anthology of sci-fi influenced episodes which would have a “Twilight Zone” meets “The Outer Limits” kind of vibe. I’ve outlined about 13 episodes of the series which all would deal with the human aspects of technology and how it has changed humanity for the better or worse. Since it is suppose to be a non-linear series, each episode would be set in a different universe, so to speak, but would have the same theme of how misuse of technology would destroy the abuser. I actually picked “CTRL-ALT-DELETE” as the working title of the series as I had an image of using the keys on a keyboard as part of the credit title for each episode.

To date I’ve written down the broad plot lines for 12 episodes:

1. “Synthetics”
Tells the story a man’s quest to find something natural in a future Earth where everything that we have left is man-made. His quest would slowly uncover the secret of how it all began and just how far the synthetic substitutions have really eliminated all that is natural in his world.

2. “New Love”
A lonely computer programmer writes a computer program to simulate the emotional responses of a woman to better understand his own girlfriend. In the process of doing so, he finds himself falling in love with the simulation more than his real life girlfriend. Unknown to him, the simulation has “her” own sinister reasons for making him fall in love with her.

3. “Edge of the World”
A recluse, suffering from intense paranoia, is convinced that he was constantly being watched and followed. He decides to leave everything behind and search for a place that he could escape the prying eyes that he felt surrounded him in this modern world. His search would at last uncover the reason for his paranoia and will leave him wondering if it would be better off if he had ignored his fears.

4. “Bug”
A greedy computer programmer discovers a computer bug that is somehow able to control the flow of time. He uses this bug to his own advantage and personal gains regardless of the consequences that may result from his action. In the end, he is trapped by his own greed when he realizes that he never learned how to manage time properly.

5. “Hacker”
A thrill-seeking hacker is looking for the ultimate hack and would soon find it in the form of a black ops computer system that he discovers. Flushed with success, he then proceeds to dive into the inner workings of the systems unaware that this time; the computer is ready for him and is fighting back.

6. “Perfect 10”
A shy introvert finds himself more comfortable staying behind the avatar of his online persona in a local chat room than having to face the real world and interact with real people. This is about to change when he finds his “Perfect 10” woman and is finally finding the courage to meet her face to face. What he doesn’t know is that his “Perfect 10” may not be what he was expecting.

7. “The Descartes Dilemma”
In a future where one’s identity is defined by what is store on a computer, what happens when one record is deleted in a freak accident? If the computers tell you that you don’t exist, do you actually exist at all in real life? One unfortunate soul will find out the hard way that “I think therefore I am” will have a different meaning for him from now on.

8. “The Haunting”
A family has finally moved into their new smart home full with the latest that technology has to offer. Soon after, they began to notice several unexplained events that could only be described as supernatural. These events began to escalate and all attempts at explaining them have failed. Could a house full of the best that science can offer be truly haunted? Were they haunted to unrest spirits that still linger or something more sinister?

9. “Close to You”
An anti-social inventor unintentionally invents a communication device that allows him to hear the thoughts of other people around him. He uses this new found ability to his own advantage and to the detriment of others. What he does not know is that his invention was an unfinished work in progress that was still being worked on. It would be apparent to him soon enough when he finds out that he will never be alone again.

10. “Virtual Lives”
A young executive decides to take some time off from work and go for a virtual reality vacation. This would be a vacation that he will never forget as it takes him further along the lines of realities that he would ever imagined. In the end, he finally manages to find his way back to his reality or so he thinks.

11. “Mirror Image”
In the pursuit of fame and fortune, a young researcher ignores rules and regulations in creating a perfect clone of himself. The young researcher then instructs the clone to do all his drudge work for him while he takes all the credit for the clone’s hard work. What he doesn’t realizes is that his clone is more a like with him than he can ever imagine and would soon engage in a battle with himself for the sole right to exist.

12. “Time to Spare”
A death-row inmate with terminal cancer finds himself coerced into a secret experiment involving the use of microscopic nanobots in a cure for cancer. The success of the experiment not only removed the cancerous tumor in his body but also gave the inmate the ability to heal from any wounds instantly. Using this ability, he escapes and returns to his life of crime seemingly invincible. When he is finally brought down to face judgment, what kind of punishment would a judge give to an immortal?

I don’t really know how realistic it is to thing that I would be able to do something like this for local television. The budget for each episode alone might be too much for a local production company to invest. Nevertheless that should not stop me from putting my ideas on paper and possibly developing them into a full blown television script. I may look into doing exactly that someday soon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Freedom From Nicotine Dependence

When I decided to start my latest attempt to quit smoking, I had thought that I had everything covered. I went online to do some research about what nicotine withdrawal symptoms that I might encounter. I went shopping and bought a bunch of food supplement pills to help replenish all the minerals and nutrients lost from all those years of smoking. I also went to the extend of buying a bunch of fresh produce and junk food to be used as cigarette substitutes in the event that the craving to light up comes and threaten to overwhelm my resolve. I thought that I was ready and confident to be able to cruise through the experience. Boy ... was I in for a big shock.

The first 4 hours of not smoking went by without any incidents. I did notice a slight case of heartburn but I thought that it was caused more by what I had for dinner instead of me skipping my customary after dinner cigarette. By the time I was ready to turn in for the night, I was so proud of myself that I’ve made through the first 4 hours without a cigarette. Usually I would have had about 6 of them within that time period. Sleep came easy that night and I woke up fairly refreshed the next morning. I also noticed that my mouth doesn’t feel as if it had been scrubbed with sand paper for the first time in I don’t know how long when I woke up that morning. At this point I was thinking that my decision to quit smoking was starting to pay off.

I wanted to test if I could function normally now that I choose not to smoke in an outdoors setting. Since it was a weekend, I decided to follow my usual schedule of going to Sunway Pyramid for lunch to and to pickup a few household items from the store. First thing that I noticed is that my sense of smell seemed heighten by the absence of nicotine in my system. Everything smelled more intense that a trip to the local “BreadStory” store as they were putting out the freshly baked breads for sale was a bit overwhelming. My sense of taste also felt enhanced after 12 hours of not smoking. Everything that I ate or drink that day tasted much more exhilarating. I suddenly found myself rediscovering taste sensations that I’ve burn off so many years ago.

When I got back from my outdoors experiment, I was on a natural high. I was just exhilarated at the new found senses that I continued to test them with the items that I had in the refrigerator. It was not long after that I realized that I almost went through the entire content of my fridge. I was eating non stop everything I had in the fridge and then some of the things that I bought from the store. I tried to stop eating by trying to focus on some other activity but my thoughts came back to what I had left in the fridge. It was a good thing that I didn’t normally keep my fridge fully stocked. As I began to realize that I was bingeing, which was the last thing I wanted to do, my mood shifted to a deep depression. I found myself feeling really down and disgusted with myself. I’ve tried to watch some of my DVDs to get me out of that blue funk but it didn’t help much. The clincher really came when I found myself bawling my eyes out while watching my “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” DVD even when I’ve already seen the movie about 20 times.

I had the most difficult time falling asleep on the second night partly because I was sweating the whole night. When I did finally get to doze off, I distinctly remembered having flashes of images in my mind that would shortly wake me up. Some of the images that I had were not clear but all of them had the sense of me being in a confined space. I woke up the next day after a very vivid dream of crawling through a hallway that was narrowing to a distant point of light. It took all I had not to wake up screaming from that image but I did find myself soaking wet from sweat. Even after taking a cold shower I still felt hot and found myself sweating. I tried everything to control the sweat from coming out in buckets but nothing works for awhile. All I could do was to stay hydrated and wait it out.

My newly enhanced sense of smell wasn’t really helping me at the time. All I could smell was my own sweat and odors which basically made me more than a little nauseated. The whole morning I was switching back and forth between wanting to puke my guts out and wanting to devour everything that I had left in the fridge. I felt light headed and I knew that I had to eat something but I couldn’t for fear of vomiting the moment I eat something. It got worse as the day dragged on as I found myself feeling extremely cold although it was quite hot outside. I just had to bundle up in my blankets as I found myself shivering and yet I was still sweating like a pig. I’ve seen video clips of drug addicts who quit drugs cold turkey undergoing the same things that I was going through. Was I that addicted to nicotine that I have to go through the same jitters that they did? Or is all this just in my head?

I didn’t get any sleep at all the night that followed. I had to keep two bottles of plain water by my bedside as I was feeling thirsty all the time that night. When I woke up to prepare for work on Monday morning I found out that I’ve passed the excessive sweating phase of the withdrawal but I looked like a total wreak in the mirror. I had hoped that I would only need the weekend to deal with the withdrawal symptoms but it seems that I was not out of the woods yet. Since I did not plan to take any day-off from work this week, I had to come into the office looking pale and quite sickly. I tried to slink into the office unnoticed but I quickly found my moods begun to take the better of me. I found myself getting easily irritated by small things that were happening in the office and a little bit paranoid at the slightest things. I’ve also discovered that my finger tips felt numbed and that I found it difficult to type anything with them. This of course made me more frustrated with myself so much that I almost got into a major argument with a co-worker.

When my boss found out about my near outburst, he called me into the office and then immediately told me to go and see the company doctor immediately. I told him that I was trying to quit smoking and that I blamed nicotine withdrawal for my outburst (although to tell the truth, I’ve been waiting for a long time to give that particular co-worker a piece of my mind). Although my boss applauded my decision to quit smoking, he told me that I should have not come to work in my condition. He gave me the rest of the day off with instructions to go to the company doctor and get something to help me deal with this problem. When I went to the doctor and told him what had happened, he of course congratulated me on my decision. He has been on my case for the longest time to get me to quit smoking ever since I start seeing him for medical checkups. He asked me to describe all that I have been through and at the end of it prescribed something to help me sleep and some nicotine gum if the symptoms get any worse.

I’m happy to say that 24 hours later, I finally think that the worst of the withdrawal phase is behind me now. I feel calmer now and much more in control. I still have to be mindful of how much food I eat but I think I can rein that problem in. I still feel a bit sore through out my whole body but I think that it is still manageable. I’ve also learned that if I never picked up smoking, I would never have to go though the horrendous 4 days that I just went through. Now that that’s all in the past now (I hope), I have to next focus on modifying my behavior so that I would not need to smoke again in the future.

It has been 5 days without a cigarette and still counting.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Going Through Nicotine Withdrawals

4 days and counting.

I apologize to have to skip today's blog entry on the account that I'm currently feeling like a steaming pile of cow-pie.

I never imagined that the nicotine withdrawal from not smoking would be this bad. I was told to go and see a doctor by my boss today since I came to work looking more than a little green around the gills. I've been breaking into cold sweats for no apparent reason and my whole body aches. I have more mood swings these past 4 days than a pregnant lady and to top things off, I can't feel the tips of my fingers which makes typing a challenge.

I just hope these withdrawal symptoms will pass tomorrow or else I'm really screwed.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Friday Five

I’ve officially started my latest attempt at trying to quit smoking as of 8pm tonight. I went though what I hope will be the last cigarette I will ever smoke with little fanfare although they have been a part of my live for nearly 15 years. If I factor in the current inflation rates and the price of a pack of cigarettes today, I would have already spent about RM59,130.00 (USD15,560.50) in cigarettes alone in all those years. That is a lot of money up in smoke. I think I will make a sign up with this figure printed on it and post it somewhere near my bed to remind me how much money I could have saved if I never started smoking to begin with. It would be the first and the last thing that I see every day.

So ... this is day 1 of my quest to be nicotine free. I’m sure that I will start having withdrawal symptoms any minute now. Just hope that this time around I will have more will power to avoid the temptation than the last time I tried. That sorry attempt only lasted about 3 months before I caved in. We’ll see how this one goes. In the meantime ... I’m off to watch the new season of Survivor on TV tonight.

Before I forget (or get too jittery to think straight, whichever comes first), this week’s Friday Five questions are answered below:

1. Who is your favorite singer/musician? Why?
I have a bunch of them that I like but if I could only pick one then I would have to say I’ll pick the Irish boyband, Westlife. I know ... it is corny to like boybands but I count it as one of my OGTs. The 5 members of Westlife are a bunch of energetic, very talented and seriously cute young men. The music that they make can be described as up-beat pop, soulful ballads and whimsical ditties. I’ve been following this group from the very first time they broke into the business and started to make a name for themselves. I’ve watched them grow and mature as performing artiste with each album that they release. It also doesn’t hurt that their Irish accents just makes me weak at the knees and yes ... I perfectly know that I’m being shallow about it.

2. What one singer/musician can you not stand? Why?
I haven’t found anyone that I immediately hate at first listen. Maybe this is because I avoid listening to things that I would expect that I would not like but then this doesn’t stop me from trying them out if the mood hits me. I guess if there was anyone that I came even close to a smidgen of hate; it would have to be The Artiste Formally Known as a Symbol, Prince. I never could listen to his songs without wanting to poke my eardrums with a sharp pencil.

3. If your favorite singer wasn't in the music business, do you think you would still like him/her as a person?
The boys from Westlife? Definitely. I’ve seen them live, up close and personal, before and I really like they way they interact with people even with those who never heard of them. They really project a down to earth persona that can only come from within a person and not something that their PR people teach. I would think that even if they were not in a popular band as they are now, I would like having them around to hang out with.

4. Have you been to any concerts? If yes, who put on the best show?
I’ve been to a few concerts by both local and international performers and I have to say that the ones that I enjoyed most were the Westlife concerts. I’ve been to every concert they’ve done in Malaysia to date and always had a good time.

5. What are your thoughts on downloading free music online vs. purchasing albums? Do you feel the RIAA is right in its pursuit to stop people from downloading free music?
If the music is listed as free by the copyright owner, I don’t see why downloading them is a problem. However, from what I’ve read about the RIAA issue, they are going after people who infringe on copyright laws by downloading and sharing music/songs which are not being given away for free. In away, this is within their prerogative to ask people to stop unauthorized downloading and sharing of copyrighted material.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

My Own Damned Fault

I am officially bummed out tonight.

I was supposed to write an automated script that would have pushed the latest security patch released by Microsoft to all computers that I took care of yesterday. I should have known better than to start something so late in the afternoon when I could hardly stay awake much less think straight. I should also know better than put something in production mode before thoroughly testing it but as I said my priorities yesterday was totally screwed up. As a result of my negligence, I came to work today amidst a scene of total chaos. It seems that the automated script I wrote did not send out the security patches that I had planned but instead disabled the login user IDs to almost 1000 computers at my customer’s office. I had to spend the whole day today fixing the problem as well as taking a lot of heat from my inconvenienced customers. My boss didn’t say a word to me the whole day about it but I can clearly see that he was disappointed with me about the whole thing.

I take a lot of pride in my work. I have been patiently building this reputation of being the dependable and go to guy in the office in hopes of getting noticed by the big wigs at our head office who might offer me a promotion out of there. Now I feel that this mistake will cost me major brownie points in terms of that promotion. I feel that the hard work that I’ve been putting in is slipping through my fingers. This was a mistake that should not have happened and one that I could have easily caught before it caused this much damage if only I were paying more attention to what I was doing. Having to explain myself and calm down furious customers on the phone for the whole day today didn’t really help me feel better about myself. In my line of work, people tend to think that you are part of the furniture and generally ignore you like you were invisible if everything was running smoothly. The moment that something breaks down, everyone suddenly knows your name and phone number to call demanding that you fix the problem immediately.

I realize that there is no use to cry over split milk. Good thing that I quit drinking or else this would be a perfect occasion for me to curl up with a bottle of Stoli and medicate myself into a stupor like I used to do in college. Instead, what I should do now is learn from this mistake and take steps to ensure that something like this never happens again. This means that I should follow the procedures that I was supposed to follow and not take shortcuts just because I happened to be the one who actually wrote the procedures for my team. I should also find a way to be more alert after lunch instead of nodding off at my desk every time it hits 3pm. I might also want to think about cutting down on my web browsing at work. All that slash fiction involving Dawson’s Creek characters, while can really be an *enjoyable* way to spend afternoons at the office, doesn’t really help me concentrate on my work.

It actually feels good that I am able to put this down in writing and file it away as a lesson learned. Now I can move forward and enjoy the remainder of the evening. The only regret I have left tonight is subjecting the people who come to my blog site with the details of my pathetic existence.

Now, that sounds depressing.

Buck up little camper!

I better sign off before I start arguing with myself again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

On The Subject of Nothing In Particular

I am officially tapped out of ideas about what to write for today’s blog entry and it is only Wednesday! So instead of the enlightening pieces and brilliant wit that you may be expecting (as if!), today’s entry will be just a collection of my ramblings on no particular issue. Fell free to sign off now if you find them boring; I won’t take offense.

Still here? Well ... the water was cut off in my apartment again today. This is the 3rd time this week that the water supply was reduced to a weak trickle. I absolutely hate it when this happens especially when I am not given any advance notice. I called my landlord today about it and he informed me that it had to be cut so they could do some repairs on the main water tank for my apartment. It seems that it had been leaking for the past few months and the building management gave him notice just this week. Now I know why my water bill has been so high lately. I thought that one of my housemates was going through his obsessive mopping and washing phases again. The bad news is that it would take them 2 days to fix the tank and another one day before the water supply returns to normal. Until then I have to be patient with the weak trickle of water coming out of the faucets. I guess I just have to make do with what I have for the moment but I’m calling S to see if I can crash at his place this weekend. At least I can do my laundry properly at his place.

I also finally took the time to tune my TV to the latest public TV station operating in Malaysia. Someone told me that Channel 9 officially started broadcasting yesterday so I tried to set the channel up on my TV. I managed to get the station but the picture was terrible. I guess it is because the TV reception in my area sucks rocks big time. I guess that I could spend some money and get myself an external TV antenna to improve reception but I just feel the need to put in more money into my current apartment since I'm already trying to save for my new one. I may not be able to get a clear picture from Channel 9 but at least I still get clear sound from it. I still get to watch “Entertainment Tonight” on it although it feels like I am watching it on an old black and white TV set. Surprisingly for a confirmed couch potato, I don’t actually watch that much TV nowadays. The only TV shows that I watch on any sort of regular basis are Angel (Buffy for gay guys) on Thursdays, Charmed (wouldn’t Phoebe make a great fag hag), the reality show slot on Friday nights (for dateless guys who spend Fridays at home) and Smallville (watch it for the Clark/Lex HoYaY content, baby!) on Sunday nights. It is actually a bit sad that the only interesting thing happening on my social calendar this month is the premier of the new season of Survivor this week.

Last but not least on my random ramblings today is that I’ve decided that I’m quitting smoking (again) this coming weekend. The recent budget that was tabled in parliament increased the “sin tax” on tobacco and related products by 20%. As a result, my cigarettes now cost close to 10% more than it did last week. I’ve promised myself months ago that if my normal pack of 20’s went up above RM5 a pack then I would try to quit. I draw the line at paying more than RM5 for cigarettes since I could actually get a good hearty meal with the same amount of money I pay for a pack. I know that my Mum would be happy with this decision as she has been on my case about my smoking habit for the longest time. It wasn’t enough for her when I cut down from a two-pack a day habit to a single pack and I hope that she will finally be happy now that I have to stick to my promise to totally cut them out from my daily diet.

I’m actually a bit worried about cutting out my daily smokes. The last time I did it, I compensated by over eating (definitely a sign of the need to have something in my mouth) and my weight ballooned up to about 95 kg (209 lbs). It took me close to 7 years to lose 20 kg (44 lbs) of flab and I still have another 5kg (11 lbs) to lose before I come even remotely near to the optimum weight for my height. I guess I should consider going to the gym but I’m too lazy to get off my fat flabby ass and go for a workout. Maybe I’ll start going after I move to the new apartment since they will have a gym for residents on the ground floor of the apartment complex. I won’t be able to make the excuse of having to pay gym fees after moving in there since the gym facilities and instructions there will be free for residents. Who knows, I may finally be able to have the body of a Falcon model if I start going to the gym but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it. For now I just hope that I would have the strength to get through this coming weekend without lighting up a cigarette. Maybe I could rope in S to join me in trying to quit smoking. At least then I would have a support buddy to help me stay on course in this goal.

Monday, September 15, 2003

DVD Review: Babylon 5 Season 3

It has been noted by industry watchers that the fastest growing segment of DVD sales today is now devoted to box sets of popular television shows. The DVD format has given a new lease on life to many much beloved TV series which previously were limited by their air time on affiliated channels. The demand for these boxed sets have been steadily growing that it seems that there is at least one new TV series boxed set being released in DVD format every month. The producers and copyright owners of these TV series have suddenly found themselves sitting on goldmines that have been largely untapped while their series languished in syndication. As a result, they have begun to embraced the DVD format fully and taking the advantage of the current insatiable demand for TV series of past years.

One such TV series that have found a second chance to shine is “Babylon 5”. Much touted as the best written sci-fi television series ever created, “Babylon 5” ran for five years in the United States from 1993 to 1998. In the five years that it was on air, Babylon 5; more commonly referred to as B5; won several Hugo awards for sci-fi writing accomplishments and won the hearts of many viewers around the world who have been acknowledged as among the most supportive fan base for any TV series every. This large fan base, colloquially known as “Lurkers”, is also very active on the Internet where numerous websites had been devoted to the discussion of the series and some are still active until today 5 years after the series ended. I have to admit that I count myself as one of these “Lurkers”; as well as being both a “Trekkie” and “X-Philes” card carrying member; ever since watching the first episode they produced.

For the uninitiated, B5 was written by J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) and chronicles the story of an Earth space station located in neutral territory between the years of 2258 to 2263. The Babylon 5 space station was the last of a series of failed space stations built by Earth as a place where humans and aliens could interact peacefully and avoid the mistakes that previously resulted in a devastating interspecies war between Earth and a major alien culture. While it started as a neutral diplomatic meeting place for humans and aliens, it would later become more and more important for the future survival of all races as the universe faced the threat of the returned of a long prophesied evil force. As the focal point for the forces on the side of light and good, B5 triumphed in the face of adversity and intricate webs of deceptions. In every episode of the series, fans were drawn in ever deeper into the engaging conflict involving many of the best written characters that have ever been seen on television.

The third season of “Babylon 5” DVD box series opens with the station and her personnel standing at the crumbling edge of an abyss. The war with the dark forces of the Shadows was intensifying at all fronts and B5 found itself increasingly isolated by the Earth forces that seem to have an agenda of their own. Increasing evidence had been uncovered showing that the Earth forces were actually conspiring with the Shadow forces in an attempt to gain more power in the universe at the expanse of personal freedom and the lives of other alien races. Finding itself fighting alone, B5 began the creation of a space fleet to protect itself from the threat of the Shadows and Earth forces whose action forced B5 to sever all ties and declared independence from Earth. From that point onwards, B5 was the only force capable enough to gather support from other alien races in their fight against the evil forces threatening to leave the universe ablaze in their wake. I recommend interested parties to visit the B5 Lurkers Episode Guide for some good analysis of the episodes of season 3.

As with the other 2 box sets, season 3 of B5 contains all 22 episodes arranged in the order it was presented on 6 DVDs. Each DVD contains 4 episodes of the season with the exception of the last DVD which contained the last 2 episodes of the season as well as several short documentaries of the series production. Each episode of the series has been digitally remastered for a widescreen presentation with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. While the picture and sound quality for most of the set have been exceptional, several scenes seems come out worse for wear from the digital treatment. I’ve noticed that scenes involving life actors interacting with blue screen elements suffered the most as they seem too muted and soft compared to the crisp lines and colors of the other scenes. The end result seems too jarring a transition and a bit distracting for an attentive viewer. I feel that this problem was more noticeable in season 3 DVD set as more of such scenes were produced than in previous seasons.

Also included in the box set are 2 feature length commentaries by the writer and 1 by the principle actors. The actor’s commentary track was recorded for Episode 15, “Interludes and Examinations” by Bruce Boxleitner (Capt Sheridan), Jerry Doyle (Mr. Garibaldi), Richard Biggs (Dr Franklin) and Ed Wasser (Mr. Morten). While the cast’s exuberance while recording the commentary was infectious, it was at times difficult of follow as they tend to speak over one another. The commentary has the feel of a boisterous gathering of family recollecting many anecdotes that happened during the filming of the episode. I have to say that I missed hearing Claudia Christian (Ivanova) in the actor’s commentary as I though that she did a wonderful job in the previous season cast commentary.

The remaining 2 commentaries were recorded by the series writer for Episode 10: “Severed Dreams” and Episode 22: “Z’ha’dum”. As he did in the previous 2 box sets, commentaries by JMS are always insightful to me in that he tends to explain the writing process involved in producing this accomplished work. He would also relate the work involved in producing this series week after week and the problems that they would run into as they tried to complete each episode within the budgetary limitation. I personally find his comments enlightening and educational to me although his delivery could be dry at some points. JMS also recorded a season introduction featurette at the beginning of the first DVD of the set as he did for the previous box sets. First time viewers are advised to defer the introduction to the end as it contains several spoilers that may affect the enjoyment of the watching experience.

The bonus features included on the last DVD of B5 season 3 focuses on the make-up and design of the alien races seen in the series. While it is technically interesting to watch, I found the subject matter a bit dry and uninvolving. The bonus features are rounded up by a collection of short presentations of several of the technologies, characters and location presented as if they were computer files from Babylon 5’s computer system. Most of the information here is well known to “Lurkers” like me but may be interesting to new viewers trying to understand the universe of B5. Last but not least, the final DVD of the set contains an Easter egg; an unlisted special feature; containing the outtakes and blooper reel from season 3. Like in the season 2 set, this gag reel is quite hilarious to watch and worthwhile to search for.

All in all, the B5 Season 3 box set still shows several shortcomings in the picture quality as in the previous season sets. The commentaries are not as good as the commentary tracks in season 2 but are still enjoyable to listen to. I wished that they could have chosen a better subject for the short documentaries in the special features section but I guess that new viewers would find them interesting. I do hope that they continue to include the blooper reels in future box sets as I find them enjoyable to watch. The price of the box set is a bit steep by Malaysian standards but as a fan of the series, the question of adding this box set to my collection never arose as it was simply a given fact. For me, the fact that I am owning a piece of television history in the form of “Babylon 5” DVD sets makes it worth every cent.

Rating :
Story (5/5)
Picture Quality (3.5/5)
Sound Quality (4/5)
Commentary Tracks (3.5/5)
Special Features (3/5)

Overall Rating (3.9/5)

Friday, September 12, 2003

Friday Five

The responses to the questions posted this week on Friday Five made me think of something that I have not thought about for quite some time. As a child, I was always curious about our family’s history and the origins of my name. Every time I saw my late grandfather, I would ask him to tell me the story of how our family tree started. He was a great story teller and I would spend hours and hours by his side just listening to him tell of our family tree’s history. I still miss him now that he has passed away but his stories stay with me and I hope to pass on to the next generation. Of course that is dependant on me getting married and having children.

1. Is the name you have now the same name that's on your birth certificate? If not, what's changed?
Yes. I have the same name now as I did when I was first given the name.

2. If you could change your name (first, middle and/or last), what would it be?
Absolutely nothing. I happened to like my name. It used to be such a bother having to have such a long and unique name but I’ve grown accustomed to it. In fact, my name happens to be one of the best ice breakers I have when I meet new people since it is so uncommon.

3. Why were you named what you were? (Is there a story behind it? Who specifically was responsible for naming you?)
I was named after my great-great-great-great-great grandfather (how’s that for a mouthful) who lived in what is now the Riau province of Indonesia sometime in the 17th century. It was said that he was a royal bodyguard to the ruler of Riau at the time and was in command of several men in the fight against the Dutch who were in the process of colonizing Indonesia at the time. When the kingdom fell to the Dutch, he became a fugitive and had to leave all his wealth and power to escape to the old kingdom of Siak in Sumatera, Indonesia. It was there that he met and fell deeply in love with one of the Siak ruler’s favorite concubines. Their love affair was discovered by the king and fearing for their lives, they left every possession and fled across the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia where they lived in hiding.

As the story goes, the wrathful ruler of Siak sent word that he vowed vengeance on my great-great-great-great-great grandfather and to anyone who bears his name. Many mercenaries were sent forth to locate the exiled lovers who had now begun to build their new life and family together. When my great-great-great-great-great grandfather realized that he was again a fugitive, he decided to change his name and continue to live as a common person in a remote part of what is now Johor with the woman he loved many years until his death. At his deathbed, he told his family to never use the family name again for the next seven generations since it has brought the family so much pain and suffering. The name was never spoken in public but it was handed down from one generation to the next so we would never forget it.

Fast forward to seven generations later, my father had a dream in which he was visited by my great-great-great-great-great grandfather and was told that he would have sons who would now be able to bear the old family name. When he woke up from the dream, my mother who was already 3 weeks over due with me at the time began having labor pains and they rushed to the hospital as quickly as they could. I must have been a really impatient baby when I was born since according to my mother I was delivered right in the hospital’s reception area within an hour after the first contractions began as they were just arriving. As it was related to me, they were actually shocked the first time they saw me as the doctors told them that they were expecting a baby girl. My father took this and the dream as being of something significant and decided to give me the name of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

All the male members of my family who came after me bears a variation to the same name and this would be a tradition that we would carry forth into generations to come. That is why I will never change my name as it is now.

4. Are there any names you really hate or love? What are they and why?
I don’t particularly have any names that I especially hate or love. They are what they are. How can one actually hate or love one name over another? Maybe I’m already conditioned to the naming tradition in my family that it is difficult for me to say if there are any names that I hate or love more than others.

5. Is the analysis of your name at kabalarians.com accurate? How or how isn't it?
Unsurprisingly both my name and my nickname are not listed on the site for analysis. I guess that they only cater for Westernized names only.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Remembering 9/11

In every generation there exist a moment in time, a milestone in history that would forever change the outlook of the whole generation. For many of my generation, this significant moment came in the early mornings of September 11th 2001. It was on this day that the world as we knew it changed in a blink in an eye. It was a day of great tragedy and loss for not only the American people but also for many more around the world. It was the day that innocence died along side thousands of people trapped in the crumbling monument which was symbolic of American economic success and achievements. It was the day that became the day of infamy for people of my generation and other generations that will follow until they in turn became complacent again. It was the day that the New York World Trade Center was reduced to rubble by two commercial airplanes hijacked by those whose disregard of innocent lives will mark them forever as monsters and sinners.

On that fateful day, I was reading a Harry Potter book and was just about ready to turn in for the night when S suddenly called me and told me to turn on the TV to the news. The first pictures that I saw didn’t make sense to me as it didn’t occur to me that anything like this could have happened. By the time the realization hit me that I was not watching something out of a disaster movie; I finally recognized the landmark that they were showing burning on TV. I was totally confused at what had caused it and S had to fill me in since he saw more of it before he called me. We both watched in horror as we saw several people shouting out of windows in the first tower with thick smoke billowing out behind them. We watched with terror at scenes of people plunging to their deaths in their desperate attempt to escape the fiery deathtrap. We watched with disbelieve at the scenes of the second airplane plunging down out of a sky like an unholy spear striking deep into the flesh that was New York to ultimately seal the fate of all the unfortunate souls who were present in the building on that fateful day.

We continued to watch until there was nothing else to watch. When we finally processed the horrific images that we had seen on live TV, all we had was our shared grief and questions on what had happened. We both had friends in the US and were very concerned about how they were. We were concerned about how this will impact Malaysia being halfway around the world where this great tragedy had occurred. S and I talked long and hard on the possibilities of a World War happening in our immediate future and whether or not we will ever be ready for it. We talked through the night, trying to assure each other that things will turn out right but deep in out hearts we both knew that things would never been the same again. When we ran out of words to say, we both sat there in silence, connected only by the phone line as we tried to take comfort in each others presence.

I woke up the following day with a numbness of being that I have seldom felt before. The first thing that I remembered wanting to do was to get to the newsstand and get all the papers that I could. I could swear that I have never bought that many newspapers in a day before or anytime after that day. All the newspapers printed in Malaysia on that day carried pages and pages of reports of what had happened in New York and I read every line of each report. Little by little, I began to piece together the puzzle of what had happened and with each piece that fell into place, I grew more and more despondent and angry. I was angry at the soulless killers who thought that they would achieve martyrdom by bathing in the blood of innocent people. I was angry at the people who besmirched the principles of Islam and manipulated the religion to incite acts to unimaginable stupidity and horror. I was angry at those who professed to be a person of faith and yet so willing to break the covenant with Allah by committing self-slaughter.

I spent the better part of that day and the day that followed wallowing in my anger before I finally decided that I would channel my anger to something more productive. I decided that this event will not impact how I move forward in this life. I vowed to continue to life as I have done before as if this act of terror never left its mark on me. I found myself thinking about the line about fear being the mind killer from Frank Herbert’s Dune and came to the realization that dwelling in fear will only give victory to those whose final act in this world was to incite fear and terror. Life had to go on and that I now share the burden of my generation to see that something like the events of September 11th, 2001 would never happened again anywhere in this world.

Two years later, the World Trade Center tragedy still resounds clearly in my mind especially on its anniversary. I’ve also seen that the mistakes of the pasts that led to that tragedy being repeated again by both parties in these grievances. I saw shades of the terror returning; this time much closer to home; in the form of the devastating bombing in Bali, Indonesia which happened exactly 1 year, 1 month and 1 day after the tragedy in New York. I saw the inaptitude of the Bush administration in handling the fallout of this horrendous tragedy and the toll in life that is still being paid today in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. I continue to see the Bush administration’s continued ignorance and willful disregard of the root causes of terrorism as they focus more resources into removing public figures from office in foreign countries while all the long fanning the spark that could easily consume all of us in it’s fiery blaze.

I could rant on and on with the things that are happening in the world today but today is not the day. Today is a day that we take a moment to reflect and remember those who lost their lives on this fateful day two years ago. Today is a day to remember how united we were as member of this global community in condemming this act of terror. Today is a day that we renew our resolve that no act of violence by anyone, to anyone and for whatever reason shall be protected by silence and inaction. We owe it to the victims of the New York World Trade Center, Bali, Afghanistan and Iraq to move forward and work together in trying to avoid such events from happening again. Alone we may not be able to change the world but together we have the power to shake the universe. Together we could bring light to the places where shadows of terror dwell may it be in the darkest caves or the brightest offices of power.

As the day draws to a close for me in Malaysia today, I sending a prayer to those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001, their friends and families in hopes that Allah will continue to keep them safe from harm and give them the strength to face this day as it begins to dawn on their side of the world. Regardless of their faith, my prayers and thoughts are with them tonight. It is the least that I could do.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Tales of The Supernatural

I’ve always been fascinated by tales of the supernatural and unexplained phenomenon. I don’t know if that it is part of my Aquarian need to believe in something far greater than myself or if it is just me still wanting to believe in the bogeyman under the bed, I have the unexplained need to be scared out of my wits. At least I think I do since I am always on the lookout for scary movies to watch and most often find myself disappointed at the outcome. Maybe the disappointment stems for the knowledge that it was just a movie and not something that happened in real life. The experience that I got from watching a scary movie cannot compare to the atmosphere of experiencing a supernatural event that you cannot explain through logical and rational means.

I have personally experience several occasions when I fell something unearthly hovering near me. At sometimes, this unseen presence feels benevolent in that they seem to guide me away from dangerous places or situations. At other times I feel the sense of malevolent spirits warning me not to come near. When this happens, I have learned to trust my instincts and stay clear of the area. I can’t explain how I know this but my late grandfather did tell me that I’ve inherited some of the second sight that he seen in his grandfather and told me to always trust it. I didn’t put much stock in what he told me but after a while I started noticing things that even people who sit next to me don’t see and over the years I have come to accept the possibility.

The most tangible experience that I’ve gone through on this subject happened while I was studying at my secondary school. The boarding school that I went to had its own share of ghost stories much like other boarding schools in the country. My own personal theory on this is that all the youthful energy and confusion that was generated when you put a group of young people together in a confined space seem to be a magnet that attracted lingering spirits to come. In any way, it was during my time there that I experienced the only physical manifestations that I’ve seen so far. The first time it happened was while I was doing my laundry very late at night in the common bathroom when I sense someone was watching me. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning so I knew that I would have heard if there was anyone else came into the room with me. I also felt a slight drop in temperature and something unseen was standing right behind me.

My heart at the time was beating to the point that it felt like it would burst out of my chest. I turned around to see if there was anyone there but found no one. I even went outside of the bathroom to see if any of my friends were trying to play a prank on me but still I found nothing. The presence that I sensed before was with me the whole time as if taunting me to find him. I knew that it was a male as I had the distinct feeling of maleness in the unseen entity. When I entered the bathroom again, the presence grew stronger to the point that I could almost feel something touching the back of my neck. I tried to ignore it but it came to the point that I began to hear soft whispering telling me that it was late and that I should go to bed. I tried again to ignore it and for awhile it stopped until I realized that I couldn’t find the soap and brush I was using to hand wash my laundry although I could swear that I put it right in front of me moments before. Things got really strange when I found out that I could not turn the water faucet open no matter how much I tried even though it was working perfectly fine when I first started my wash.

It was at that point when I finally conceded the point that this unseen entity was trying to make and decided to call it a night. As I left the bathroom, I still felt that it was following me as if to make sure that I kept my part of the bargain and only left me when I was finally drifting off to sleep. To add to the strangeness, I found the soap and clothes brush that I lost the night before under the bed when I woke the next morning. I continued to sense the same invisible personage around me off and on during the two years I was in that school. It usually comes when I was alone or feeling a bit vulnerable to something that was happening around me. Most of the time, it was a kindly visitation but there were occasions when I felt the distinct feeling of anger from it. I once told my father about it and he told me that it was part of my family heritage and that I should always trust it. There is a lot that he never explained to me about our family history and to this day he believes that I am well protected by this guardian presence.

I do still sometimes feel the distinct feeling that someone is watching over me both protecting and guiding me with unseen hands. A part of me is comforted by it and the other still curious to experience more physical manifestation. Maybe it is foolish of me to go out searching for it but in away I feel more complete if I know more about it. Until then I have only my gut feeling to prove that there is something unseen out there hovering among us.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Movie Review: Bhoot

I usually avoid watching Hindi movies like I avoid the plague. Unlike the other members of my immediate family, Hindi movies do not hold the same appeal to me as it does to them. I abhor the trite storylines, the unnecessary jump into elaborate song and dance routines and of course comedic moments that are out of place inherent in the Hindi movie genre. For most of the few that I’ve sat through with grinding teeth, I find Bollywood productions too superficial and predictable to make the experience of watching them anything near to satisfying. So when a friend recommended a Hindi movie for me to watch, I took his recommendation with much trepidation. When he told me that there isn’t any stupid song and dance routine in the entire movie, my reluctance changed to intrigue as this is the first time I have heard of a Hindi movie devoid of the customary production conventions. I finally relented and decide to give this movie a try.

The movie that was recommended to me was “Bhoot” which translates to “Ghost” in Hindi. The movie tells the story of a young couple who rents an abandoned apartment whose previous tenant was thought to have committed suicide in the house. The young housewife gradually becomes the focus of the strange phenomenon that soon enough she begins to doubt her own sanity. She begins to see visions involving the previous tenant and her child as well as periods of unexplained sleepwalking. Her gradual decent to madness was further complicated by a murder in the apartment complex that was seemly attributed to her. As the police began investigating the murder, the husband began to realize that something or someone is influencing his wife and in fact has begun to take possession of her body. This realization spurred the husband to find outside help to heal his wife by first consulting a psychiatrist and then later a clairvoyant to exorcise the ghost possessing his wife. In the race to free his wife, several facts about the previous tenant was uncovered and it was discovered that it was her ghost who has come back to take revenge on the person who actually murdered her and her child. This sets up the climax that resolved all loose threads which finally allows the ghost to move on in peace and the young couple to continue with their lives.

As a Hindi movie, “Bhoot” is an admirable departure from the overused tried and tested formula of movie making that they continue to churn out of the Bollywood production lines. As promised, there wasn’t any song and dance routine to disrupt the mood of the movie which is good seeing that this movie is suppose to be a horror movie that could hardly be helped by scenes of people frolicking on the meadows, jumping out of bushes and breaking into any catchy tune. As the director of this movie, Ramgopal Verma wisely chooses to defy Hindi movies conventions and make one that is eerily westernized in terms of structure. Some have called this movie a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stale Bollywood movie industry and I have to agree with them wholeheartedly as I have not seen anything like it before. This leap of brilliance can bee seen as proof positive what Hindi movie directors could do if they would just stay away from the customary route that they have always taken in their movie productions.

I have to point out that as a horror movie, the cinematographic language used by Vishal Sinha as the primary cinematographer is deserving of high praise. Within the confines of the camera lens, he has crafted shots that accentuate the mood and atmosphere of the movie. His brilliant combination of low camera angles, shiver inducing dark interiors and intense close-ups unfailingly suggest the increasingly desperate and claustrophobic circumstances that the movie’s main protagonists were going through. Coupled with the moody scoring produced by Salim-Suleiman, this potent combination effectively coveys the mood that something unearthly is watching them as well as most probably watching us in the audience. The underlying score is effectively subtle at some places that if the audience listened closely to them, they could pickup that it was made up of human moans and screams. Unfortunately, while this is a really effective method to raise the hair on the back of the neck, this is not something I have not seen before. In fact, this sound arrangement was the backbone to the soundtrack to M. Night Shyamalan’s “Sixth Sense”. Nevertheless, the choice to score the movie in this particular way was a welcomed respite from the unnecessary sappy Hindi songs.

The influence from “Sixth Sense” was not the only one apparent in “Bhoot”. Horror movie buffs would actually have a field day picking up references from movies like “Child’s Play”, “Dark Waters”, “Poltergeist” and of course from the ultimate horror movie reference tome, “The Exorcists”. Whether intended or not, these references were too evident and well known that it is hard not to think of their use here as a bit cliché and tired. The movie itself also moves along in a plodding pace that was heavily bogged down by drawn out expositions and superfluous scenes that seemed to be tacked on to increase the screening time. I especially had problems with the scenes showing the husband’s daily routine of going to work being repeated several times in the course of the movie as it not only adds nothing to the story but what is more important takes the action away from the house which should be the focus of the story. In his over eagerness to set each scene, the director seems to loosen the tight reins that would make this movie much better. By the time the movie reaches mid point in the story, I guess that other audience like me would be asking if this movie would ever get to the crux of the action.

Several red herrings were thrown to the audience in the course of the movie to provide sufficient twists and turns in the story. Unfortunately, I found that the red herrings are more satisfying if they were developed as the climax of the movie that the actual ending that they decided on. My main complaint about the third act of the movie was that there were too many new characters introduced into the story with only a slight semblance of backstory to flesh them out. These characters if were handled properly would have enriched the story much more if they were set in motion from the very first act. The decision of allowing a character introduced this late in the game to play a major part in the film’s climax is nothing short of criminal. The audience has not had enough time to sufficiently invest in the latter characters and this made for a weak ending that left me thinking what were the director and screenplay writer thinking when they map out the ending.

Regardless of the plodding pace and the slipshod ending, credit must be given to the primary actors who made the best of the material given to them and yet managed to produce sterling performances. If for nothing else, “Bhoot” was watchable by virtue of the outstanding performance of Urmila Matondkar who played the part of the young wife, Swati. Her breakthrough acting run the gamut of fits of emotions and different moods that successfully conveyed the character’s descent into madness and possession which was chilling to watch to say the least. The husband, Vishal, as played by Ajay Devgan also produced a wonderful performance as a husband gradually horrified by the changes happening to his beloved wife despite the weak material he had to work with. Another memorable character for the movie for me was the clairvoyant played by the popular Hindi actress Rekha. In the short moment she was on screen she managed to convey the sense of unearthly creature every time she enters the scene as well as the mysterious quality of the character with little more than a lift of her head or a short piece of dialogue.

As a whole, “Bhoot’ was a welcomed departure from the normal Hindi fare seen on TV or the cinema that could have been better. A tighter rein on plot development and pacing would do wonders to this technically accomplished movie. While the actors playing their parts in the movie did their jobs admirably to the best of their abilities, the audience would undoubtedly be left feeling unsatisfied at the end of the movie. I would personally liken this movie as eating something beautifully presented but have little in terms of substance or fulfillment. Nevertheless, this is something different from the Bollywood movie moguls and I hope that this is just the beginning for greater things to come.

Until then I am left pondering the significance of the catatonic old lady next door of Swati’s apartment from the movie that has never been fully explained.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Friday Five

I’m spending the weekend at my parents house this weekend since I’ve have not been back for about a month now and she has started making some noise about it. Good thing that I have her belated birthday gift, which I finally decided on some silk material for her to make some baju kurung, to give to her and hopefully help to smooth things out. At least until the next time she feels neglected because I don’t come to see her more often.

Anyway, it’s Friday and the following are this week’s Friday Five questions and my responses.

1.What housekeeping chore(s) do you hate doing the most?
Housekeeping??? Yuck! I’m definitely one of those bachelors who never out grew their slob phase even after all these years. I may even have dust bunnies under my bed that might have achieved sentience if not already planning to join some galactic confederation. I’m happy to say that at least I draw the line at leaving foodstuff lying around the house but I definitely hate doing housekeeping and cleaning the bathroom has to be the one I hate most.

2. Are there any that you like or don't mind doing?
If there is one housekeeping chore that I don’t mind doing it has to be ironing. Somehow I find the repetitive actions involved in ironing calming for me. I’m also a bit picky about how my clothes are ironed (see response for question 4).

3. Do you have a routine throughout the week or just clean as it's needed?
To be frank, I only clean up my place up when even I myself can’t stand how it looks which is usually about a month after other people tell me I should do it. Usually, if the place doesn’t smell funny and I can still find things when I need them then I’m still ok in terms of the chores. My Mum of course refuse to come to my place until I straighten things up so I may have to do it earlier if I know she is coming to visit.

4. Do you have any odd cleaning/housekeeping quirks or rules?
I never let anyone else but myself iron my laundry. I’m obsessed about getting the perfect crease on my shirts and pants that nothing less will do. I would also insist of having my clothes starched before ironing so the crease will be just perfect and last longer as well as having them smell fresher.

5. What was the last thing you cleaned?
I think it was my computer desk at home since I couldn’t find things that I need after I put them there. I had to clear months of junk mail, old magazines, CDs and other odds and ends before I could finally see the surface of the table. It was only then that I remembered how much I hated the color of my computer desk.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

My ISP and Me

I don’t know if this is a widespread issue but I have been having a hard time getting online lately with TMNet.

I’ve been subscribing to this ISP for quite some time now and for the most part I have been satisfied with them. It has only been lately that I noticed that I could not get connected as easily as I did before. I used to be able to get connected to the Internet within the first 2 or at most 3 attempts. Nowadays I’m lucky to get connected after half an hour of trying. The problem gets even worse in the evenings between 9 to 11pm which is the time I most likely be trying to get online to log in my blog for the day.

I’ve been using the same ISP since 1996 when I came back from the States after completing my studies. At the time, there were only two ISPs that were operating in Malaysia. I choose TMNet because at the time it was easier to pay my internet bills with them as they were part of the main fixed-line telecommunication company serving the country. Their competitor at the time billed their customers separately and their users had to pay for two bills instead of just one with TMNet.

Since then, there have been a few ISPs that have begun offering their services to users in Malaysia. Few are offering their services at quite a premium but with better connection speeds. Since I never had any problems with my ISP before, it never crossed my mind to switch to a new ISP even when they offered me a substantial discount for their services. I was basically with the mind set that if it is not broken, why change it. But the way my internet connection has been acting lately, I have to really reconsider TMNet’s reliability in supporting my needs.

To be frank, I have been thinking of going broadband with TMNet with their Streamyx service but I was thinking of doing that once I move into my new house. I guess that I could report the problem to them and see if they would respond to fix it but I’m not that confident that they would be much help. I do have the alternative of using the internet access provided by my company but I rather not use it for my personal connection as all internet traffic on that line are tracked. Furthermore, the corporate firewall my company has which is protecting that internet connection effectively blocks most sites on the Net. I would rather not have my company track my internet activities especially considering the websites that I sometimes go to when I’m using my personal connection at home. But I guess I have to use them on the occasions I could not get a connection with TMNet and that I have to log in and update my blog before the day ends.

I hope that this problem with TMNet is not as widespread as I think and could be quickly rectified.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Do I Really Need A PDA?

I’ve been thinking of getting a PDA for quite a while now but have not really decided on which one to buy. These PDAs still cost a pretty penny that I am really reluctant to rush into buying one only to find that it does not fit with what I have in mind. As a substantial investment, I would like to get as much information as I can about them before deciding which is best for me. A casual search on the Net gave me a plethora of choices that is simply mind boggling to me. I’ve never been so much of a gadget geek so a lot of the things out there are unfamiliar and intimidating.

One thing that I have yet to really nail down is the reason why I would need to get one of these PDAs. I still consider them as luxury items that while are nice to have, they are not yet absolutely essential. But then again, I had exactly the same argument the first time I was deciding to get a cell phone so I can foresee how this purchase might change my outlook on the subject after I finally bite the bullet and get one. The other factor that I have to consider is how much usage would the PDA see once I get it. I would like to select one that would allow me to maximize the returns on the investment in terms to actual productive usage. Anything else would be a bit wasteful considering the high price.

One of the choices that I have been looking at is the normal handheld devices. From what I can find, the most popular products in this category are offered by Palm. Almost all of them would have the features of a normal organizer that one would expect from these things so I guess it is the extra features that would set them apart. In a way, I have to decide if the features offered are really something that I am interested in. It is a good thing that there is an easy comparison chart at the Palm website to help me decide which one would be best suited for me. To tell the truth, I am currently torn between the Palm Tungsten-T and the Zire71. On one side, the Tungsten-T seems to offer the best solution as an “office on the move” but then I would just be using the unit for things work related. The Zire71 on the other hand does come with a built-in camera and MP3 playback capability which in itself opens a new venue of opportunities but then again seems to be a bit trivial as a main reason to purchase it.

Then, of course, I have several other choices that fall into the smartphone category to consider. Among those that I found on the web are the Palm Tungsten-W, O² XDA and Sony Ericsson P800. They all combine the features of a normal cell phone with an electronic PDA in one package. I expect that I would find myself using them more than a normal offline PDA so the potential for a quick return of investment would be there. Since these units cost a bit more that a normal PDA, the choice between which one to get is actually harder to make. I have to take into account which criteria, whether it be as a phone or an electronic organizer, would have more weight in influencing my decision of which choice would be best of me. For the moment, I’m being swayed by the impressive talk time claimed by the Tungsten-W but both the XDA and P800 have features that the former lack.

Just thinking about them actually gives me a headache. I have a lot of features to sort out and decide if they are really necessary for me within at least a five year time period. I’m still searching the web to find product reviews and testimonials for people who have used them which while I do not let them sway my decision too much; I still take into serious consideration. I also would need to find the opportunity to physically experience the units and compare the way they feel in my hand. It wouldn’t be much use to me if the item has all the bells and whistle that I want but weighs a ton and I can’t put it in my pants without someone cracking a joke about me being really happy to see them.

I think that there is a shop in Sunway Pyramid that might carry those I’ve identified so far. I don’t really have an urgent need to get one immediately so I still have the luxury to do more research on them before finally biting the bullet and getting one for myself.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Feeling My Age

Age is really catching up to me.

I had the most difficult time trying to stay awake at the office today. I guess that all those long nights this past weekend has started to exact their toll on my concentration. It used to be that I wouldn’t be easily fazed by staying up all night partying or engaging in night long game marathons. Nowadays I immediately out like a light the moment my head hits the pillow at midnight. Good thing that I don’t have any social life after office hours to speak of or I’ll be just be embarrassing myself by doing Cinderella impressions every time I go out. I’ve tried taking a few food supplements to help increase my energy levels but while it helps to get through the day, I still feel totally drained after I come back from work.

My age is also showing through the amount of grey hair that I find every morning. I don’t know if it is a valid medical condition but my hair has been graying out gradually since I was in my early twenties. I’m sure that it is not genetics as my father and grandfather didn’t turn grey until they turned fifty and none of my brothers share the same affliction. It has gotten to the point that I have to regularly dye my hair to cover the grey areas that are mostly concentrated on the sides of my head. I don’t mind forgoing the now frequent need to color my hair if the grey areas come out uniformly. At least that would look somewhat distinguished but unfortunately for me, mine grows out in patches that really stand out to a casual viewer.

At least I am lucky enough that I have somewhat clear skin. Even after hitting puberty, I never had much trouble with acne unlike the other people around me. Of course, my life-long obsession with face-washing helped in that regards. I actually feel compelled to keep my face oil-free at all times that sometimes I think that it borders an obsessive compulsive behavior pattern. Years of going through this ritual has left me with a clear but dry skin which is equally as bad as having acne scars especially when my wrinkles start to show. I have to admit that there was a time that I would scoff at the idea of having to use face creams and such but nowadays I find them a necessity in order to feel comfortable with myself.

I could rant on and on for days about the things that I wished that I could change as I grow older. I’ve always had this problem with self image which has partly caused me to avoid the glare of any type of attention as well as feel inferior to other people. Day after day, the checklist of things needing more attention start to grow longer and I guess that I have to one day wake up and accept all these changes. Change is an inevitable constant in life that the sooner I begin to accept them, the better off I would be. Of course I guess that this wouldn’t be this much of a problem if I’ve already found that special someone to grow old with. At least then I have another person to share the journey of counting the years together as we go through this life.

Monday, September 01, 2003

PC Games Review: "Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide"

I have always been a fan of computer games from the very first time I knew about computers. As a child, I was an active member of the computer club at my primary school and was not only exposed to how to operate the computer but also it opened the world of computer gaming to me. Some of the titles I was into back then that I remember fondly to this day are “Prince of Persia”, “Karateka” and of course “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”. Of course back then we didn’t have the fancy graphics and sound capabilities that many computer gamers today take for granted so a lot of it was left to our own imagination which makes these games, while quaint by today’s standards, quite memorable and nostalgic for us who first found out about computers in the early 80’s.

I am actually partial to the computer role paying games (CRPG) and simulation games when I do get the time to invest my resources to game playing. While many may like the idea of blasting everything they see on the computer screen as they often do in action adventure games, I much rather prefer taking the time to act out my fantasies in the computer generated world as a fantasy character in some imaginary and magical kingdom. Some may find it hard to understand how I could actually spend 20 hours in one sitting to complete a chapter of exploring dungeons and fighting dragons on the computer but sometimes the plot of the game is so engaging that I hardly notice the time pass by.

This was what happened to me this past National Day weekend. I had recently purchased the “Shadows of Undrentide” (SoU) expansion pack to the popular “Neverwinter Nights” (NWN) CRPG from my local computer shop a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the first installment on the game immensely although it took me many months to complete it since I was playing it a bit at a time. I found the storylines from NWN deeply engaging and hoped to learn more about the universe created in that game. The opportunity came to me when they finally released SoU earlier this year. The new expansion pack co-developed by the people at BioWare Corp and Floodgate Entertainments was set in the same game setting of the first game and the story expanded to include places that were mentioned in passing in the first installment.

The game story itself is not a continuation from the previous installment so players would need to create a new character for themselves. For this game as well as the one that came before, my favorite character class to play is a monk with one level of ranger class selected. I found this character class well rounded for most of the in game quests and in fact seems a lot more helpful in some of the quests in SoU compared to NWN. All the character classes from the original game are included as well as new Prestige character classes. I have not tried these new classes yet but from what I can see they seem interesting to try out once I completed the game with my current character. While the graphics, user interface and sound design remains the same exceptional quality as in the previous installment, the developers have taken them to the maximum by using them in new exotic locales such as Deserted Ruins, Desert Oasis and Snowy Rural Countryside newly added to the game.

Since I don’t really have a lot of time to spend on playing computer games, I actually appreciate that I could adjust the game difficulty level while the game is in progress instead of having it preset in the beginning. This feature allowed me to quickly complete some of the more difficult encounters in the game and progress the story. I also found that the game play is well balanced as a whole and that the Level 1 character that you first start off as with has ample opportunities to gather enough experience points in order to advance to the next level. There are many side quests that your fantasy persona can complete and most of them are in a way very much connected with the main quest so finding out about them are not that difficult.

As part of the draw of CRPG gaming, game characters try to collect items that would make them better combatants or at least let them survive longer in the game world. In SoU, many new items not see in the previous installments have been added to help the gamer to build their characters. Those I have seen to date are quite balanced in terms of the pros and cons of using the equipment which makes the inventory management portion of the game quite challenging. One additional new feature of the SoU is that the gamer now has more control of the main character’s quest companion. As in NVN, the player could choose to travel with a sidekick that if well chosen complements the main characters. In SoU, this idea is taken further by allowing to player to manage the companion’s inventory and equipped items to make it a more effective force in dealing with the multitude of new monsters included in the game. Another interesting change is that the companions offered in this expansion pack are all multi-classed which solved the problem of selecting the best traveling companion to bring to the quest that gamers had in NWN.

I’ve only completed the 1st and Interlude chapters of SoU to date but I’m sure that I will be engaged in the game for many weeks if not months to come. With the same quality of engaging game story, graphics and sound designs, SoU is a well crafted addition to the NVN series. Most of the new additions first seen in this installment are welcomed and adds to the enjoyment of the game play. The character development in the game is well balanced that I’m surprised that my game character managed to get up to a 9th level Monk/1st level Ranger by the beginning of Chapter 2 of this game. While I am not sure if there is an experience cap as they had in the first game, this signals to me that the monsters to come would be more challenging and game play would be more interesting in the next 3 chapters. As a whole, “Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide” is a good addition to the CRPG genre and a worthwhile diversion into the fantasy gaming world.

I just hope that I would have enough time to play my monk/ranger character before the release the next installment of the game.