Monday, 29 June 2009

The Omnipotent Robocop

"Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. When unlimited and unrestricted by individual rights, a government is man's deadliest enemy. It is not as protection against private actions, but against governmental actions that the Bill of Rights was written."

"Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

"The Declaration of Independence laid down the principle that ‘to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.’ This provided the only valid justification of a government and defined its only proper purpose: to protect man’s rights by protecting him from physical violence.

"Thus the government’s function was changed from the role of ruler to the role of servant. The government was set to protect man from criminals – and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government. The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government – as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power."

- Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights", The Virtue of Selfishness

I came across these in the appendix of the book by Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, that I am about to finish, and immediately with the force of a hammer, Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics kept excitedly badgering my mind:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "Government that governs least governs best." The social system that allows such a political ideal is capitalism, which is fundamentally the only social system that upholds individual rights and enables a free society. Fallacious economic justifications for capitalism aside, the only correct defense and justification for capitalism is individual human rights. Individual rights are based on the premise that rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. The fact that man is an entity of a specific kind - a being who survives through reason and rationality - means he cannot function to his fullest potential under coercion and rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival. Thus, if man is to live on earth, it is right for him to exercise his rational judgment unimpededly; if life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being. Only through the most rigorous upholding of reason can man be completely free.

I got home, did my research, and while most mainstream reviews, critiques and analyses of Asimov's work discuss the prolific writer's great literary ability (he wrote an incredible 470 books in his lifetime, ranging from science-fiction classics to annotated guides of great literature to limerick collections), I finally managed to uncover an insightful assessment of the intellectual nature of his work by Chris Suellentrop from Slate Magazine. In a response to the poorly interpreted movie of the same name starring Will Smith in 2004, he writes:

"Asimov mocks unions for having shortsightedly 'opposed robot competition for human jobs', and he derides religious objections to new technology as the work of 'Fundamentalist radicals.' Almost without exception, anytime robots in the book appear to be doing wrong or seeking to harm their human masters, it turns out that the suspicious humans are misguided; the robots, as programmed, are acting in man's best interest.

"Asimov's faith in the rule of robots was genuine and based on his faith in the rule of reason. He viewed his now-canonical Rules of Robotics—the code for robot behavior used in his books—as a roadmap for human ethics. Just as Asimov's machines are better than people at calculating mathematics, they're superior at coming to moral judgments as well. Susan Calvin, the book's protagonist, calls robots a "cleaner better breed" than humans because they're "essentially decent." Superior logic produces superior ethics."

Asimov was essentially thinking of a robot as a symbol for objective rule undergirded by logic and reason; as a non-human, unemotional, unwhimsical arbiter for moral law; as perhaps a representation of government under capitalism. And he also mentions the religiously fundamentalist opposition against this 'robot'.

Only through the most refined understanding of ethics and morality can a country's ideology be properly spelt out and turned into a vision that can spearhead a united citizenry together, and this involves clear-headedness in each and every civil participant's personal philosophy. Without a clear basis of logic, a nation is subject only to the whims of whoever holds the biggest gun.

If I wasn't such a half-assed thinker I could've had enough ideas gushing out of my head by now, because I'm thinking of a story where capitalism is reflected by a robot programmed with the US Constitution. But reality sets in, the ideas only reach up to mere conceptualization and it's already past midnight and there's 5-6 more weeks of internship to go and pahscrewit.


A typical set of girls, which will be named as Girly Girls (or GG) for the purposes of this miniscule discussion, are practitioners of and often indulge in semi-schadenfreude that is directed both in and outward.

GGs are quick to share their troubles with other GGs with the knowing outcome of mutual sharing of such personal problems. In doing so, they get to hear the problems of other GGs and this enables them to either elevate their own personal circumstance to the comfortable one of "ahh my predicament isn't so bad" and/or allow them to adopt a momentarily superior position, lend a helping hand and in the process forget their own problems.

In trying to outdo each other in how severe, loserish or pathetic each one's issues are, they attempt to draw attention to themselves and hence create a massive, swirling market of girly problems which explains why there just is so much to bitch about in the world, and why the nature of female problems, by virtue of a race to the bottom system, just seem so downright ridiculous at the end of the day.

This is a complex, dynamic process whereby throwing out an ace of a shitty situation coaxes another GG to throw out her own trump card. From which the nature of such conversation is fundamentally doused in schadenfreude, GGs thus feed off each others' problems in gaining subjectively social strongholds when your problem isn't as crappy as the newly dished out "no lor I'm worse" problem, while trying to gain as much sympathy for oneself at the same time. In any case, sharing of troubles with other GGs has been rationalized as being helpful for coping emotionally.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Yours To Take, Your Day To Seize

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been standing in my place but who will never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara - more, the atoms in the universe. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Donne, greater scientists than Newton, greater composers than Beethoven. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why.

– Richard Dawkins

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Inescapable Destiny

Tell me how you seek and I will tell you what you are seeking.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Thou Art Ready

My brother declared yesterday that he 'thinks' he's an Arsenal fan.

It's an almost indescribable, profound feeling. He has no idea what a milesone this is in my life, being there at the moment your younger brother adopts a soccer team to follow.

Monday, 22 June 2009


Any typical Channel 8 drama needs a Pale Face character like from The Ultimatum (The Untouchables sequel). That's because everyone will love him unconditionally. He is the beacon of light for innocence, can do no wrong, and inevitably will get hurt. This will elevate his sympathy-buying level to astronomical heights because he absolutely didn't deserve any harm.

I've had a thought or two about Chinese culture, both ours locally and in general as well; stuff like what makes Chinese people embrace being emotional and love gossip and drama. Might write about it soon if my murderous schedule doesn't rear it's ugly head for once.

Multitasking means screwing up several things at once.

Audio Candy:
Hinder - Up All Night

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Non-Social Industrial Bitching

I'm getting the serious notion that many people do not regard striving for perfection as a necessity. It doesn't matter if your work isn't perfect, but it's the attitude of wanting to put in your best that's at stake. Even worse, sometimes it's not the people who manifest such poor work that represent the problem, but the minimal, easily satisfied expectations of others that shape certain work cultures such that it's so easy to get away with doing work satisfactorily. It's like even before one can have a chance to realize that one can do slipshod work and get away with it, such poor work cultures make people think slipshod work is the best one can be.

Not that I've never felt this way enough to say something about it, but it gets a little glaring and out of hand when the discrepancy in standards expected of me by others and me by myself are this much. There is this egging grim realization that it's more prevalent and widespread than I would like to think it is and, from there, that many people are getting away far too easily with being mediocre.

I guess everyone does fall prey to whining eventually. I do not excuse this post from being classified as non-social industrial bitching since I haven't done anything constructive about it beyond articulation.

Step Into My Office, Baby

She called me up today
Meet me down at the old café
I jumped into the shower
I was getting my marching orders

We need to talk
Step into my office, baby
I want to give you the job
A chance of overtime
Say, my place at nine?

She'd never stand for any lies
She's got an Out Tray full of guys
I could sense a breath, a whole new feeling
Now she says she wants to call a meeting

We need to talk
Step into my office, baby
I want to give you the job
A chance of overtime
Say, my place at nine?

I'm a slave to work
I'm only living when I walk amongst the office staff
And catch up with the office wag
I'll be in bed by nine
My curtains drawn
My thoughts composed
I get to work on time

She gave me some dictation
But my strength is in administration
I took down all she said
I even took down her little red dress

We need to talk
Step into my office, baby
I'm going to give you the job
I'm pushing for a raise
I've been pushing now for days

My output is in decline
I was burned out after Thatcher
My banner I laid down with a sigh
Now I doubt if I'll ever catch her

I've got to change my ways
Dress for business every day
A sharp suit and a kipper tie
A big arrow pointing to my fly

We need to talk
Step into my office, baby
I want to give you the job
A chance of better pay
Say my place at nine?

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A Goosebumpy Morning

I woke up fifteen minutes earlier today to one of those cruelly refreshing downpours you'd wanna go to bed to, not fight against on the way to work. It just felt like it wasn't like any other dawn. I was reading my book and plugged in to music (which, I must mention, has superb clarity in such solid bass that I feel like I'm in the song itself) when, somewhere through on the commute with all these faceless others, thoughts started spilling into my head like a glorious invasion.

To the point, I've always been fascinated with the idea of power and the concepts and implications associated with it. I wouldn't fully attribute my realizations this morning solely to reading Ayn Rand's work, but her book contributed to the tipping point's push. Idea after idea came to me, and for once in a long while, I actually feel a great sense of conviction that if I were to write a book or a long dissertation that would define my work if I were ever going into academics, it would be about power.

"The same context specificity leads people to take the escalator to the StairMasters, but the philosopher's case is far, far more dangerous since he uses up our storage for critical thinking in a sterile occupation. Philosophers like to practice philosophical thinking on me-too subjects that other philosophers call philosophy, and they leave their minds at the door when they are outside of these subjects."

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan.

I believe, when it comes to politics, movements, science or globalization, we're either living on a very exciting brink, or we're already right in the midst of all the action. For my fellow Generation Y folks, there are many things we could tell our kids we lived through - 9/11, Obama, the rise of democracy, the IT boom, and so on and so forth.

But when it comes to our generation's status intellectually, ideologically and philosophically, we're so dead. The modern hard drive of thought has been conveniently segmented to the thinkers so that people don't have to grapple with it and move on with other 'more important things'. It's worse in some countries than others.

And when new ideas do get consolidated, what happens? They're sold and milked for money.

Not that it's right or wrong; aside from a gripe and some lamenting, it's definitely not my place to judge. But we're just forgoing the need to understand, say, the truth or deeper logic of zero or infinity as mathematically philosophical concepts in exchange for pushing the next decimal point and increasing formulaic accuracy (to make better machines and improve industrial efficiency) because one is now perceived as more practically important than the other.

It's no wonder that sometimes we feel like we don't know where the world is headed. Foreign and global policy is a mess. We can only go somewhere when we are steering in the right way, and ideology constitutes knowing this direction. Underpinning ideology is a society's set of individual moral philosophies that guide each and every person. And at the individual level, many people are already lost or apathetic.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

An Uncreative Title

The Creative Zen Vision M which has served me ever so well since my army days back in 2004/2005 has finally died, after at least 4 trips to the Creative Care Centre in Jurong to revive it throughout the course of its life.

So here's my new baby I got from the IT fair - the Creative Zen X-Fi.

I got the 16gb set, with plenty of built-in tweaks which I would later figure are more for pushing the product in terms of features so as to get sales than actually playing on Creative's strength of staying true to its audio capability. There's a LAN feature which allows me to chat with people online on MSN and Yahoo! Messenger, but the button interface doesn't make that easy to do. Then there's the X-Fi (extreme fidelity) feature which supposedly transforms your music into a whole new listening experience, but only serves to alter and muffle up the sound pretty much not to my liking. I guess for audio freaks like me who really are very anal about audio bitrates and playing around with the equalizer to get the sound we want, such a feature would only serve as a white elephant.

But aside from the negatives, this player has pretty much all of Creative's vintage assets, such as very good (probably the best) audio and video quality, a radio function, and the fantastic hierarchical user interface that Apple has paid Creative US$100 million to continue using.

On top of that, the sleek design is quite a move away from its rather seemingly haphazard designs in the past, giving it actually quite a classy edge. The slightly heavier weight makes it feel a bit more expensive too.

For the principle that the competitive free market rests on, the hard reality is that unless one keeps up by marketing in an emotionally-appealing manner, one's product will have difficulty selling. Creative boasts some of the best technology in the MP3 market but most of my friends have the more snazzy looking iPods and Sony players. The faculty of the free market relies on rational decision-making between consumer and producer, and Creative has been keeping true to that by incessantly talking about its specifications but not how cool it is. And for that, they are constantly losing out to Apple who have been unabashedly advertising their hip factor.

In order for top firms to maintain their market share in certain markets such as the laptop and MP3 markets, firms have to continue finding ways to sell value past the basic accurate features of their products, very often preying on the emotions of consumers. While it is one thing to market well so as to communicate the value of your product, there really isn't anything stopping companies from being unscrupulously manipulative in trying to get our attention and interest.

Audio Candy:
Jonas Brothers - Tonight

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Guys can't fathom what it is like to live life full of obligations, while girls can't imagine what it's like to live life without those obligations.

Picture Is Unrelated

While editing the primary school mathematics books, we came across some pictureisunrelated-worthy stuff.

And here's one from quite awhile back:

Borrow money from a pessimist, they don't expect it back.

Audio Candy:
Seether - Careless Whisper

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


Any smart manager who has to both chart the course and navigate through the mire would do well to consolidate a decent amount of social favours before attempting to crash headfirst into doing both. It would be vital to build personal relations with the team you are managing so that they actually see you as one of them.

Otherwise, it will be very easy for them to go against you when the going gets tough because you're simply posing as a big-ass scapegoat, straw dog target. Human nature is such that people band together when unhappy, and even more particularly so when ladies are involved.

Being seen as a member of the team gives you leverage and bargaining power and also makes your workers feel like they're attacking the group - and as a direct result, themselves - when they do intend to return a word of recalcitrance to you after you dump them a truckload of assignments to do.

At any rate, even if someone decides to run his or her mouth at lunch time about what a shitty boss you are, with enough goodwill around, there will be others at the lunch table who would stand up for you too. It is futile to hope that your plans will always work out and that everyone sailing along with you will stay happy.

Anyone seen the new Berocca advert? The one about the office being a jungle, therefore one must take Berocca to stay sharp and alert.

I think the ad is brilliant. It goes on to explain the role of the office vulture, office fox, office snake and office rat and what one must look out for when dealing with them. The concept is familiar, extremely true and very much unexplored other than existing in the vague vestiges of bitching and complaining around the matter but not about it.

You can almost sense the mental nods of approval when walking amongst the crowd that passes by these outdoor advertisements strategically placed in city-area MRT stations and, I'll bet, the CBD.
Acquiescent, middle of the road responses in a survey are a research assistant's dream.

She Puts The Colour Inside Of My World

I strided across the new underpass connecting the now old purple line to the new yellow line at Serangoon. The newly constructed station carried with it a renewed sense of promise, as if we could do anything in this place if we all believed in the same ideals of progress. My mind was filled with Changi airport-esque images of shops in future decorating the otherwise stoic but powerful underpass. The expansion of transport routes has always been a classic indicator of a nation taking strides, and there I was, for a moment unknowingly embodying the spirit of the moment.

I reached the gantries, tapped my card on the scanner, and slid through in an effortlessly rehearsed manner. And then all of a sudden my grandiose-filled vision snapped back as I instinctively jumped out of the way of a baby pram rolling by, momentarily catching me off guard with my head in clouds. It was a dad with two sons pushing another baby boy in the pram. My first thought was, "wow, three boys."

My family is an example of thorns outweighing the roses. I've always had the curious longing to know what it's like to have a smaller sister. While I am well aware that girls have their own dark sides, I also believe that girls provide a calming, civiling presence in any environment dominated by the overbearing aggression of guys. It will always remain a wonder to me what it would've been growing up with a younger sister to care for from a young age - to dote on, protect, watch grow - as well as the advice I would've given her as she gets by those adolescent years. I'm also sure that a daughter would've made my dad a very different man.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Are You Ready To Be Liberated?

On this sad side city street
Well the birds have been freed from their cages
I got freedom and my youth

For a while of late, I think I lost quite a bit of my mind. I hadn't gone crazy, but I knew something was awry because I just couldn't deal with logic, come up with new ideas or hold a thought without struggling, many times allowing concrete ideas to disintegrate into dust.

I can't put a finger to how long this has afflicted me, but it has been long and I've been waiting to see if this stifling fog would lift and thankfully, it has right now.

Being in such a position for me is, to put it nicely, terrifying.

I've wanted to write for quite some time. It doesn't help that it is quite self-appalling to know that I live in an age where I have the best technology I could ever ask for to help me release my thoughts into words, and I've probably written less compared to a time when I didn't have a laptop at my easy disposal.

A part of it is tempered by having a leaky mind. Ideas and thoughts always flood my brain when I see or do things, but once it's over, it's hard for me to get that moment of inspiration back. My art thrives on spontaneity, and unless I pen everything down as soon as possible, I lose nearly everything except the essence of the idea sometimes when I'm lucky.

In the same vein, deliberately trying to conjure art never works for me. It's of no use to me to put in more effort trying to look at things so as to get something out of them. Because this can take precedence over other things, I have an idealistic streak. Work and art alike, if it is to be done well, should be left to perfect, sudden inspiration. Anything stemming from a conscious, deliberated, rational effort to create is in itself already undermined. It is personally a gift and also a huge flaw.

Anyone could complain about the arduous journey one would have to make to get from Serangoon to Boon Lay. Many people who are fortunate enough to get a seat (especially given the recent smear campaigns on MRT seat-hoggers that promise slime-light for anyone in a chair next to an old man or a pregnant lady) devote that hour-odd travel to topping up on sleep. Some people just stand around pretending to mind their own business when they are (not so) discreetly checking out girls.

In the whirlpool of the dreary rush, monotony and uncomfortable squeeze of the daily commute, I've found and formed a little world in my books. It has given me the best place to escape to amidst the unpleasant morning zombies I have to travel with - each with his or her own unique facial expression of horror at his or her own existence at that point of time - and there is nothing better than to be caught up in thought. In those hour-odd time packets of zipping from home to a faraway place in Boon Lay, I have rediscovered my love for books again.

Audio Candy:
The Distillers - The Crazed Young Peeling

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

On A Whim

Gosh. Nightwish's Know Why The Nightingale Sings just made me fall in love with them again. My ears were getting orgasms because symphonic rock just cuts it nice for me.

Over the weekend I visited a toy fair (of sorts) at Compasspoint and saw a frickin' nice mini foosball set, for kids! I found out that that was the last day the fair was on, so I went on and threw 60 bucks on it. It's really well crafted, made of good wood and plays well, and actually looks like it costs a whole lot more. I've finally got a foosball table at home! I got home excited and promptly went to trash my brother 100-20.

Before reaching home though, I was at Angie's house and because my fingers were too itchy I went to assemble the table there. It just so happened that her sis and sis's boyfriend were there, so we had a game going for a bit.

Then Angie's dad, who had been watching at the couch nearby, couldn't resist it anymore and decided to participate. Not only did he obliterate me, but he nearly obliterated the foosball table as well. He claims he was a foosball champ back in the day. So did Jacq's dad. How fascinating!

When it comes to soccer, I think I have a penchant for older generation stuff. My heart belongs to old school Newcastle, I love foosball which seems to be an old man's bar sport, and the computer soccer game that I've always enjoyed playing the most was Sensible World of Soccer (that was back in 1997), which was almost obsolete at one time but has now been revived on the Xbox 360 because of its classic cult status.

Against my better male judgment, I am going to upload pictures of my brother's hamsters. He bought a male and female pair about 3 or 4 months ago (and names them Maccy and Manny as a deliberate distortion of Mickey and Minnie Mouse), and about 2 months ago they gave birth to two babies. One died, while one survived. The one that made it was a baby boy named Maxxy.

Maxxy at about one month old, struggling to get into the food bowl. When he was just born, he was just a little pinkish blob shaped like a peanut that couldn't do anything other than lie on his back and squirm his tiny legs in the air. Now, he looks like a moving fat peanut with fur.

Maxxy fits nice in a disposable spoon.

Maxxy with his mom, Manny (or is it Maccy? Whatever.), for a perspective on proportion.

That's Maxxy a week after those earlier photos. Get ready to be surprised.

Maxxy actually looks like a tiny racoon. It is amazing how much he grew in one week. A week ago, he could barely open his eyes and could only squirm about. Here, he's wide-eyed, inquisitive and extremely active.

This picture looks like an infestation.

Maxxy putting his best foot forward...

Hamsters making out through the cages. I hope that doesn't cut it with any of this site's viewers. Anyway, we had to put the mom with Maxxy so that she could take care of him and separate the dad because he has no maternal instinct and will attack Maxxy.

Now that Maxxy is actually quite grown up and able to function as an independent hamster, we had to separate him from his mom because she would also start getting territorial and compete with him.

That's that for a whim of a post. And now it's time for bed.

Audio Candy:
Nightwish - Know Why The Nightingale Sings

Monday, 1 June 2009

Of Lizards, Ghosts And Darwin

Sometimes, when I'm a hungry ghost, I stumble around my living room in the dark at night because I'm too lazy to turn on the lights and fumble around for food - perhaps a cereal box, or potato chips or any other random grub I can get my hands on. And sometimes, in the process of my doing so, I inadvertently grab house lizards as well.

It usually just feels like a thick rubber band on my cereal box at first. But then the rubber band starts to 'spin' violently, as if someone had rolled it up and suddenly stretched it so that it unravels in its rubber-bandy kinda way.

Anyone who has tried to catch a house lizard will tell you it is actually darn hard to catch one under normal circumstances. But I have ironically managed to grab hold of lizards on more occasions than one by not even trying, which is just stupid and often very irritating. Sometimes, even though I don't make a sound, I react like a girl in my head and drop whatever else I was holding along with the lizard in surprise at the desperately flailing rubbery creature.

But anyway that was all just a digression. What I really wanted to say is that interestingly, house lizards don't seem to shed their tails anymore. They've always been known to drop their tails in the face of danger so as to throw potential predators off with the decoy tail while they make their hasty getaways. However, that never seems to happen anymore. Whenever I attempt to catch house lizards, or when I do grab them by accident, all they do is squirm and run, ditto tail-ditching.

Am I seeing evolution in the process? Are house lizards learning that the threat from which it used to evade by losing the tail is no longer there? Are birds and other predators that eat house lizards being replaced as threats by humans, who really don't bother with house lizards anymore? Is the energy deficiency from losing a tail outweighing the benefits gained from doing so?

Anyway, I can also see how a term like 'hungry ghost' can come about to describe people foraging in the dark for food. You're really just wandering rather aimlessly save for the ultimate goal, or even mere hope, of finding something to munch on, with a serious lack of visual capability.

I should really just go to sleep.

Audio Candy:
Anberlin - Glass To The Arson