Friday, February 25, 2005

Double-checking with snopes :-)

One of my inboxes has started to be filled up again with a variety of mails... and while I usually just read and delete, this time there were a few that I thought I'd just swing by over to and check just how true some of those mails were. Let me share them with ya:

1. This picture was supposedly taken in front of an IHOP (International House of Pancakes, duh!), where the car owners were forced to stop on their way back from a Home Depot store (an Ikea / DIY type store). True or false? click here to get the whole story, and the verdict!

2. Oh my, one of those wonders of nature, izzit? Here's what snopes has to say about it...

3. I remember searching Snopes for some indication of true/false when I received that e-mail about archaeologists supposedly having uncovered gigantic bones proving the existance of a giant people. Not finding anything, I forwarded them the e-mail and asked them to investigate. Didn't hear anything back from them, but just now, as I was surfing their site, I decided to see if there was any update - and yes, there was! Whoohoo! I'd like to think I helped point them in the direction of yet another Urban Legend. Anyway - it's confirmed FALSE. Read more here.

4. And who didn't have a good laugh at THIS photo?
yep, you guessed it... it's fake too!

Here's the full report.

Once again... a friendly reminder... have a good laugh at all those e-mails you receive in your inbox... but do take a few minutes to check them out before passing them on to others, ok?


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

trials and tribulations : numero tres

I stumbled on a place to take quizzes that are much more educational (as opposed to the others I'd pointed you to in two previous postings, that were very much more for fun.): MSN's Encarta!

The ones I've taken so far:
1. Famous First Words: Identify the novel based on its opening sentence. (I got 6 / 13)
2. How Bookish are you: I got 6 / 10.
3. Flags of the World: I got 6 / 11.
Hmmmmmm... is there a pattern? I seem to be getting nothing but 6'es?!!

4. Chemistry: I got 9 out of 10!
Whoohoo! I guess getting a degree in Chemistry *does* help me out sometimes ;-p

There are many other quizzes in the following categories:
- Language & Literature
- Animals and Nature
- Geography
- Math and Science
- Sports
- (American) History
- Miscellaneous other stuff

Knock yourselves out! I hope this is handy for ya, especially during those times when there's nothing to do, and you've still got a few hours before you can actually leave that desk of yours and head home/ to the gym / wherever!


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Iraq & apathy

I don't pretend to know much about world politics.

But I have a big problem with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where the U.S. administration kept on and on about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posing a serious threat... only to have the same U.S. administration admit, how many months later, how many unnecessary civilian deaths later, how many millions of dollars better spent elsewhere later, that there were indeed no WMDs found.

I also don't understand how the eye of the U.S. settled on Iraq, when they were supposedly hunting Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 masterminds. They bombed Afghanistan, wrecked it, and the country has yet to recover... then suddenly the eye of Mordor swiveled and set its sight onto Iraq. (Can't you just picture that eye from the LOTR movies? )

I smell a "the end justifies the means" excuse coming up from the U.S. Administration...

... but wait... WHAT "end"???

I stumbled across a blog that provides an excellent inside look at what goes on in Iraq right now. Check out Baghdad Burning: The latest article, at this time, describes her visit to a government office, where she is scolded for not wearing "proper attire" for a female. It's amazing to read that such behaviour (being hung up on covering women's heads, etc) is starting to flourish since the occupation. My impression that that entire region was totally in that rut before the occupation. So much to unlearn and relearn... The author writes well... next thing you know you'll find you've spent 3 hours or more just going through her postings!!

From Baghdad Burning, I found another few links worth reading... there are definitely so much more similar blogs out there, but if you are like me, any link will do so long as it gives me a flavour of what's out there.

Here's an excellent article on the speech Dubya should have given during his inauguration. I haven't surfed beyond that article, but here's the author's main page.

And here's a hard look at the U.S. occupation motives/reasons/excuses: Free Iraq

Maybe the above will help you learn a bit more of what is going on in the world today...

Why am I pointing you to these sites? Well... I feel one of humankind's great failings is apathy. And I feel Malaysians score really high in that angle.

Ask yourself: Do you really care about what is going on in Iraq? So what if there's probably nothing you can do right now that would impact that mess... do you actually have an opinion? If not on Iraq, then other stuff like... oh say... the way the Malaysian government (mis-)handled providing aid to the victims? The raid by JAWI on a nightclub, targeting Muslims only? The way your neighbourhood is kept safe/clean, or not? The way things are going on in your workplace?

I can already hear most people going "Yeah, yeah, yeah: I disagree with so much of what is going on. But what can I do?" "It's not the Malaysian way to voice protests."

And with such a defeatist attitude, apathy thrives

Get an opinion, folks! And even better: make sure it really is your opinion, and not you just regurgitating what you read/heard in the papers/tv/unverifiable emails, ok?

This reminds me of yet another Reader's Digest jewel: someone was raised by his parents, his dad in particular, to NOT make unsubstantiated statements of opinion. For example, after the author for some reason burst out that he "didn't like Van Gogh", he was asked why: he couldn't answer. Neither could he name any of Van Gogh's works. He was then ordered to "report back" to the dinner table the following day, and back-up his statement by not only citing 5 Van Gogh works, but by also providing his opinion of those works, and how they compared to a contemporary artist of that era.

wow... imagine such a scenario happening as you were growing up! I doubt you'd be among the multitudes that seem to swallow hook, line and sinker whatever the establishment spoonfeeds them.

Once you have an opinion, and I mean a logical/critically thought out opinion, it will follow that you will feel strongly for things that are happening: different causes like Iraq, or the many different aspects of the environment, or the lack or corporate governance in the government or your workplace. This will help you "think global, act local"

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead (1901-1978), American Anthropologist

Friday, February 11, 2005

Of Urban Legends and Pregnant Men

An ex-colleague of mine sent me one of those e-mails the other day. Has it made its way to your inbox yet? The one about the pregnant man?

I dunno about any copyright issues, so I'm not posting the pix up, but they are pretty cool... there's even one of him on the cover of Time magazine.

I, of course, smelled an urban legend from the first sentence.

On one hand, it's amusing to receive such e-mails... but on the other hand, I can't help but wonder how many people actually BELIEVE everything they receive via e-mail... are so many people so gullible? or am I just better able to weed out inconsistencies in a story? or am I just a bucketful more cynical than most people put together?

Whatever it is... I highly recommend that you bookmark this page: This is an excellent site to click to as soon as you receive one of those too-fantastic-to-believe e-mails about cookie recipes, spiders under toilet seats, Shell Malaysia's warning about not using handphones at petrol stations, and whatever else...

So... to share the myth of the pregnant man: Here's the "official" website, with pictures to boot! And here is the write-up about it from snopes.

While surfing around for material for this posting, I came across some tsunami-related myths already emerging (or in some cases, being re-packaged).

This was amusing: supposedly having weird sea creatures washed up by the waters.

This is more disturbing: Amazing how people want show the superiority of their religion through lies. I suppose the end justifies the means, eh? Not to me! Hey, I'm sure there are miracles enough occurring everyday lah, no need to fabricate anything mah. And the tone of this myth is terribly divisive... but then again, are you that surprised?

My advice to you:

The truth is out there. Keep an open mind.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. (thanx, Dale Carnegie!)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"co*k-a-doodle-doo!" crowed the rooster

I'm dreaming of a white... Chinese New Year! That's right folks... it snowed last night... so I've got a white CNY here in Urbana, Illinois.

Here's wishing my Chinese readers a prosperous rooster year: Gong Xi Fa Chai!

an update on other stuff:

The snow is going to put a dampener on my almost daily walks I had last week... then again last week was unseasonably warm... I'd walk over to a newarby Perkin's, or Taco Bell, etc to "earn" my meal... or at least burn off a bit of the calories I'd be ingesting anyway... :p

The entire household (apartmenthold?) is battling a cold... it's one of those yes-and-no situations, where the virus has obviously slipped thru your body's defenses, and yet your body is still able to fight it... so it's not a full-blown cold: I just have a slight sore throat, plus occasional sneezing, and am generally feeling iccky. Even the cat is sneezing!! :-( And my back kinda twinged at me when I was carrying a load of laundry to the laundromat... also another yes-and-no situation where i know the back hurts, and it hits me at random times, but in general I seem ok... will try to get back into my exercise routine, and make sure I don't aggravate anything tho :-D

Coming up... err... sometime before September ;-) An excellent exhibition is going on at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry: Any of you heard of the controversial Body Worlds exhibit, which uses real human bodies, plasticised, such that the intricate muscles, bones, brain, etc can be seen? Here's a good link to start with. I will see it before it leaves Chicago! I will! I will!

Oh, and for those who have been asking when I'm coming back... i have my flight booked, arriving in KUL 6am on April 6th 2005. Once I recover from jet-lag, will have my work cut out for me: taxes, scholarship refund, house sale. Ugh. But hey, I do wanna catch up with y'all too, okay? So if you're not sure if I have your contact info or not: practice prevention, and email/sms me, ok? Hope to see y'all then...

In the meantime: ** peace **

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Memories of the Reader's Digest

This blog being a spinoff of the earlier one about reading:

Ah yes,,, the ubiquitous Reader’s Digest... those pocket-sized book-like magazines... right now I just can't stand reading them anymore: I feel they are made for people with short attention spans. However, they are a great thing to have early in your reading life, or later when you have not much time to spend devouring great long novels...

So how did I come across the RD? Well, my parents had a handful of them when I first started reading... Picked up more here and there - garage/book sales, "donations"... in fact, the most substantial addition was from mom's officemate: thanks to him we more than doubled our collection, including some dating back to the 1950's!

How much of an impact did the RD have on me? Well, I gotta admit, some of my all-time favourite jokes, and general information, come from stuff I read decades ago... in the RD... here are some noteworthy ones:

Likee speechee?
This must have happened during the early days of business cooperation between Japan and the U.S. This well-meaning executive found himself sitting next to a Japanese during a company event, and while he didn’t know any Japanese, he tried to communicate the only way he could think of: “Likee beefee? Likee drinkee?” The Japanese smiled and nodded, and seemed appreciative of his efforts. The emcee then called upon the next speaker… and this Japanese man stood up, made his way to the podium, and proceeded to deliver a speech in impeccable English. The poor well-meaning guy wished the ground would just open up and swallow him whole! To top it all off, when the Japanese man got back to the table, he leaned over to our poor man and asked: “Likee speechee?”

Experience of a rape victim:
I was still pretty young, and didn’t really understand all of what was being alluded to in the article, but it was an eye-opener nonetheless.

My first memory of exposure to puns:
This supposedly actually happened in a classroom… You tell me how likely it is: Teacher asks class “Why do toadstools grow in clumps?” and picks on a daydreaming student. He answers “Because there isn’t mushroom?” After the class stops snickering, the student apologises, saying “I know, I know, spore joke, I’m sorry.” He tops that off with a howler: “I’m a fungi, what can I say?” I had this sequence memorized, in the vain hope that I’d find myself in a situation where I could rattle off this set of puns, but alas, I never got the chance.

“How to drink safely”:
I puzzled at the title for quite a while before figuring out “drink” referred to imbibing alcohol, not just consuming liquid. For a second I wondered if it was going to give tips on how to ensure you don’t swallow down the wrong tube, y’know?

One of those “fillers” at the end of an article (that's right... sometimes those were so much more enjoyable than the actual article! Tee hee!) It went something like “Is there any way you could connect this to a smiling face? :- ) and how about a mischievous grin? ;-) Stumped? Turn the page 90 degrees clockwise and behold what are known as emoticons.” People just do not believe me when I say I saw my first emoticon in the Reader's Digest!!

Eggs made to order:
An anecdote about a family going for breakfast in one of those typical American chain restaurants, and the mom wanting sonly toast, but "only toast" was not available, she had to order the egg-and-toast combo. Of course, the eggs are made to order (usually: scrambled, sunny side up, over easy, etc).. so she orders them "raw and in the shell" so she can take them back with her, and consume just the toast.

And for those who remember the series of "I am Joe's/Jane's {body part / organ}": I don't remember a specific organ or body part, but I do remember reading a few of the series. It was amusing to hear it being made fun of in Fight Club:
"Listen to this. It's an article written in first person. I am Jack's medulla oblongata, without me Jack could not regulate his heart rate, blood pressure or breathing!" There's a whole series of these! "I am Jill's nipples." "I am Jack's Colon."
Yeah, I get cancer, I kill Jack.
I am Jack's Raging Bile Duct.
I am Jack's Cold Sweat.
I am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise.
I am Jack's Smirking Revenge.
I am Jack's Wasted Life.
I am Jack's Inflamed Sense of Rejection
I'm all alone. My dad dumped me. Tyler dumped me. I Am Jack's Broken Heart."

(Click here for the script and imdb reference)

And with those write-in sections of All in a Day's Work, Laughter the Best Medicine, Life's Like That... plus those "page fillers" I referred to earlier.. the RD is choc-full of fun for everyone. Later I would actually work on the vocabulary section: I think my best was 18 or 19 ... but usually I'd be somewhere around 15 or so... get started early on this section and you'll never be at a loss for words! ;-)

So do I recommend the Reader's Digest? ABSOLUTELY!


I don't care if you have to pay almost double the cost by picking it up at the newsstand... I'll pay the premium in order to be spam-free and do my bit to NOT kill more trees than are already being killed unnecessarily, and I do hope you will do the same! Did you know that once you subscribe, you become the recipient of so much snail mail spam? So what if it's their sweepstakes... you have to buy the featured books in order to be eligible to be entered into the sweepstakes, or some gimmick like that... a few years and many not-really-needed-books later, the only real winners are the folks at the Reader's Digest!

Oh, and they make excellent bathroom reading material! ;-D

Another Super Bowl has come and gone

The New England Patriots won their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, keeping barely ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles 24- 21. The half-time show featured Macca!! Whooohooo!! Yes, after the fiasco of last year’s “wardrobe malfunction” the organizers decided to play it safe and have my favourite Beatle, Paul McCartney, to perform.

It was ok, not outstanding lah….

As much as I enjoy watching American football, I must say that they have chickened out in “toughness” compared to other similar (real) sports. The players are bundled up behind padding and helmets… you have a practically different team for offence and defense… and the numerous timeouts make a 1hr game take 3.5 hrs… compare that to the “real” football (a.k.a. soccer)… it’s the same people running around a huge field for 1.5 hrs… or if you want a better comparison, how about “footy” (a.k.a. rugby) which has more of the skirmishes you see in “american football” sans padding.

Oh, did you know that the winner of the Super Bowl is considered as having won the “World Championship”? Many Americans probably don’t even think twice about that, or the “world series” in baseball…

Ugh @ U.S. egocentricity!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Starting the reading habit

Among so many things that make me “different” than the average Malaysian, one I’d like to highlight today is my voracious appetite for books.

There’s some report out there that looks at the reading rate of nations, where reading does NOT include newspapers (and maybe magazines? I don’t remember). The intention was to see how many read for the pleasure of reading, as opposed to reading to get updated on the news, Malaysia didn’t do too well in that study.

Malaysia’s literacy rate is not too bad (upper 80%/ lower 90%?) for a 3rd world country… but wait, aren’t we insisting that we are NOT 3rd World? Oooookay then… let’s start behaving like 1st Worlders then… so so so many things need to happen to get us there… one no-regrets move is expanding your mind through books.

How did I get started on books? Role-modelling by parents was first: in my early years, I believe both my parents read books regularly (tho now it’s only mom who seems to be picking up books… dad just reads the papers, and golf magazines….). We had lots of children’s books around too, tho those were more to be read to us kids, I think. Anyways – at this time I was curious about what there was in books that would keep people’s noses buried in them for hours at a time, but I had not been bitten by the bookworm yet.

Then, when I was in early Std One, if I recall properly, my parents decided that it was time that I (we?) started reading properly. They had obtained some Enid Blyton books from a garage sale, and tasked my brother and me to start reading. I remember that I started on “Merry Mr Meddle”… and I kinda slogged through part of it, and was just not interested, Asked parents if I could switch to another book, but no, I was ordered to keep going. Ugh. Well, I made it though, and perhaps the later stories weren’t so bad… or maybe I got used to the style of the author by then… either way, that marked the start of my reading “career” J

I have a clear recollection of a scene in school – it was Pn Asma, my Std One teacher, coming up to me to see what book I was reading between class – it was one of the Famous Five books. I remember her being very impressed that I was already reading those kinds of stories. Writing this, even I am impressed… because that means I was already devouring the Famous Five, Secret Seven and the Five Investigators and Dog within a few months of that first “hump”. Not bad, eh?

Oh yes, in case you didn’t know – we were almost exclusively an Enid Blyton family of readers for the longest time. That woman churned out book after book after book! Amazing!

Can you believe I even started reading ROOTS, the book that was then made into that mini series – the story about Kunta Kinte, captured and shipped to the U.S. as a slave, the story of him and his descendants. That was the first book I never completed (only about 5 total in my lifetime!): it was a bit too “heavy” for a 10-year-old to digest.

I never had the patience for those Mills & Boon and other romance type novels that most of my classmates seemed hooked on in my teenage years. Heck, some never got past that phase, it seems!

An important activity during my younger years was trips to a library… somewhere in KL… was it in the Chow Kit area? I was too young to know specifically where we were – just seems in my mind like something in Chow Kit! Aaaanyway… this was important because I remember my brother and I would be allowed to borrow up to three books each, and we made sure we’d use up that quota! Later, we’d do the same thing when at the library at the British Council. This was a good time to experiment with different, unknown authors. Risk-free, you’re not buying the books maaah!!

This enabled me to read, in 1983, George Orwell’s “1984.” And to discover Hugh Lofting’s Dr Doolittle series (there is SO MUCH more to this series than what was portrayed in the horrid movie starring Eddie Murphy, let me assure you!).

Me being me, however, I shied away from what seemed to be pushed as “classic must-reads”. So please do not talk to me about Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride & Prejudice, anything Shakespeare, Louisa M Alcott, etc. I just can’t bring myself to read them.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is an interesting one: It took me along time to gather the courage to buy the book (I got a 3-in-one, way before the movies came out). Why “courage”? Well, it’s only THE groundbreaking work that pretty much set the scene for all fantasy books out there today. Seeing as I have read maybe half of what’s on the shelves of the fantasy section of Kinokuniya, I definitely am a fan on fantasy. But what if I don’t like it? What if I can’t understand it? What if it doesn’t appeal to me? … anyway – it took me till after the first movie to pick up the book to start reading it. o m g !! it dragged on and on and on and on… I gave up soon after Bilbo “disappeared” at this birthday party. Tried again must later, and made it to when the hobbits spend the night in the mountain with the elves. And stopped. Tolkien puts in too much detail,,, I could probably skim through half the book and not lose the plot. But I can see why it was so groundbreaking. The world had not yet dealt with such a comprehensive alternate world as described by Tolkien, and he was painstakingly describing it to his readers. By this day and age, what he describes is relatively “normal” for a regular fantasy junkie, and would be deemed perhaps unnecessary.

Another important influence: Stephen King. Yes yes, I considered him “only” a horror writer.. but his work “The Stand” which I read in the early 1990’s, was more fantasy than horror, yet certainly had King’s stamp on it: a gritty story about good vs evil in our world wiped out by a mysterious plague. Perhaps that pointed me to his Dark Tower series, though I can only confidently remember buying and rereading DT1-3 when DT4 came out. SK has finally completed this series, about Roland who seeks the Dark Tower DT 5, 6 & 7 came out over the span of a year or so, and I plan to have (re)read all 7 books this year.

I’m not a big fan of “reality”, perhaps because I get more than enough of that in real life. So those “famous” authors like Crichton, Clancy, Grisham… sorry lah, I could probably have a conversation in general terms about their works, but never in detail. Of those listed, I may have read a few Grisham novels, borrowed from mom.

So, where am I going with this?

I think it’s important to get hooked on reading.
So many issues and themes, valid in today’s world, are explored in books.
Books get you to think about other perspectives, and introduce you to new and different things.

And if you don’t know where to start…
Drop by the British Council, become a member, and go wild! (I tried entering the National Library on Jln Tun Razak when I first opened: couldn’t enter unless you were a member - managed to get in saying I want to see what there is before I pay up - and it was so poorly marked that I didn’t know where to go to find the books I wanted so I just walked out and never went back again…)

Or of you say it’s too expensive a “hobby”…
Pick up an issue of the Reader’s Digest, and see which types of article appeal to you. They have a pretty good mix of styles and genres, and could get you pointed in the right direction. In fact, the Digests were such a huge influence on me, that I’ll write a bit more about them in a separate blog article.

I can’t stress enough how big an impact reading has had on my life. I can only hope you take my word for it, and seek to also find pleasure in reading,

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