Friday, October 31, 2003

Last night, instead of our usual YAMs meeting, my small group had a little get-together at Borders to mark my successful thesis defense. David Kendall put the whole thing together, and we had a really good celebration cake (for lack of a better term). I am also now the proud owner of a Masked and Anonymous Soundtrack CD. Yay!

It's now *Tun* Dr Mahathir, Thank You Very Much

Now that Dr M has retired from the post of PM, I see now he's being addressed as 'Tun' in newspapers. I'm wondering if the title changes automatically or it needs to be conferred... In any case it'll take a little getting used to. 'Datuk Seri' always had a nice ring to it.

I've met Dr M twice in my short history. Once at an open house at his old residence for Hari Raya Puasa (a mulsim holiday, also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri), and the second time at the Sumur City Aerospace Adventure exhibition in Shah Alam. The open house affair is a yearly tradition (I think). During Hari Raya, pretty much anyone and everyone is invited to eat at his place. I recall the food was set out in the garden, and it was very, very crowded, which is what you'd expect if literally everyone in the country (excluding prisoners, I guess) was invited to your place for the day. Despite the thousands of people who came to visit and mooch, Dr M and his wife would stand at the entrance and shake everybody's hand. They made us stand in a queue, of course. It would've been fun to rush him like it was a free chicken giveaway, but he might've been annoyed.

The second time I met Dr M was at the Sumur City Aerospace Adventure. I've long forgotten the etymology of the term 'Sumur City'. What's a Sumur and why is there a city full of them? I do remember it was named after a housing development project that the organizer of the exhibition was doing. The exhibition itself was pretty cool. It showcased a assortment of Russian space technology, including satellites, spacesuits, re-entry modules, as well as a life-size recreation of the Mir space-station. It was cramped as a pink Bas Mini in the Mir, apparently, but it was cool nonetheless. Towards the end of all these cool space-travel gadgets was a rather conspicuous model of said housing development project, which always made me go hmmmmmmm, okaaay.

The year this exhibition was held was 1995, which was the year I graduated from secondary school. I had a lot of free time on my hands between then and college, so I got a job as an exhibition assistant. They gave us these blue and white and oh-so-shiny uniforms that made me look somewhat like a 1960s version of a busboy from the future. Our jobs was to explain the functions and history of the exhibits we had to the visitors. I was mostly in charge of talking about the Orlan space suit, which is what cosmonauts used on the Mir and International space stations. It was in this capacity that I met Dr M for the second time, as well as the then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim (who's in jail right now after being convicted of buggery... that's another story).

I also got to shake his hand, after my presentation, and this time I remember how relaxed his handshake was. This is what you'd expect when someone as big and important and Dr M shakes the hand of some guy who'd just gotten out of secondary school... hey it's no big deal, but it's a fine courtesy nonetheless. Anwar on the other hand, was far more aggressive, and just about took my hand off. He gripped it like it was a stress ball and made like he wanted to take it home and put it on a display shelf, because I'd just given him the best darn presentation on the Orlan spacesuit he'd ever heard, and he wanted some piece of me as a souvenir. That man had enthusiasm, which I thought was nice at the time. Later, my dad saw a picture in the newspaper they had taken of me talking to the PM, the DPM, and their entourage, and that clipping remains framed on our living room wall to this day.

So those are the two times I met Dr M, and shook his hand. Most likely, he doesn't remember me, and I'd rather he not, especially since the second time I was dressed like Buck Rogers. But I will remember him, and remember him well, as will many other Malaysians for decades to come.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I defended my thesis yesterday and the whole thing went swimmingly. Everyone on the committee said I did a bang-up job. I would've been happy if they just said I did *a* job, and then let me pass. But they really liked the presentation and everything, so that's just icing on my kuih.

During the presentation, Brad and Faysal sat in to watch, and Brad was nice enough to take notes for me to help me remember all the comments and suggestions the committee made. Faysal chipped in on the notes at one point, adding "He is drunk".

That's all I've got to say about the defense.

Tomorrow is the day Mahathir steps down

Ten Things I'd Like To Hear Mahathir Say Before He Retires, But Probably Won't:

10. "You remember that Setia song they kept playing on TV at one time?... It really sucked."
9. "I *do* wish I had appeared on Celebrity Deathmatch, versus Johnny Knoxville."
7. "I've been wearing contacts for years now... the glasses for show only."
6. "No, I don't really know what was the point of dropping cars on the North Pole."
5. "...Boleh-land..."
4. "I'm bored, I'm bored, let's go, I'm bored."
3. "I look forward to many hours of CS and WC3 at SS15 during my free time. DRM 0wnZ j00!"
2. "Honestly, all I ever wanted to do was give Anwar a big, happy noogie. He was such a funny guy."
1. "Actually, I was just kidding about retiring."

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Thesis Defense!

Today is the big day when I finally get to defend my thesis. In recognition of that, I will now give a short summary of various common fighting-game slang. Someday, when I'm too old to play fighting games, I can look back at this and remind myself about all the useless knowledge I accumulated in my youth.

poke - Any move that may be performed quickly with a recovery time that leaves you relatively safe from retaliation is a poke. Pokes are commonly weak attacks, like jabs and shorts from the SF games. They can also be long-reaching attacks that recover fast enough that your opponent has little hope of retaliating. Hibiki's mid-slashes from CvS2, for instance, are also pokes.

stuff - To 'stuff' an opponent's move is to interrupt that move with one of your own. For example, he or she throws a heavy punch in your direction, and you react immediately with a jab. The jab interrupts the move and causes some damage as well, while you're safe. You've just stuffed the heavy punch.

priority - A move's priority dictates its ability to go head to head with your opponent's moves. A move with low priority often loses to other, comparable moves. A move with average priority tends to trade hits with comparable moves. A move with high priority tends to win over comparable moves. For instance, you throw a roundhouse kick at your opponent at the same time he throws his roundhouse kick. However, your kick has higher priority than his, and so your move stuffs his move and he takes damage, while you take none. If your kick had equal priority to his, then you would've just traded hits.

abusable - A move is abusable when its priority heavily outwieghs those of other, comparable moves, making it almost a sure bet that when you use this move, you will either trade hits with the opponent, at worst, or completely take him to school, at best. Abusable moves also commonly exhibit a short recovery time, which means performing such a move leaves your opponent with little or no window of opportunity to retaliate after you're done. Abusable moves can be used over and over against most poor and average players, and they won't have a clue what to do about it, aside from calling you names like "b*tch", "wh*re", and "cheap-a$$ mother-f***er". Which of course points towards another common abusable commodity in gaming: language.

So there you have it, a short summary of four commonly used fighting-game terms. With that said, I hope at my thesis defense to be able to stuff any poking question my committee may have, which probably means I need to get my priorities straight and start rehearsing through my powerpoint presentation, or I may wind up taking a lot of abuse very soon.


Tuesday, October 28, 2003

That's A Segway, And That's All I Have To Say About It.

It's getting pretty cold. Late October in Knoxville, Tennessee, and it's as muggy as a basset hound outside. That and the 50 degree weather makes for a very moody way to start the day. You don't get weather like this in Malaysia. When it's muggy, it's always warm, and your clothes stick to your skin, and you can't wash off the feeling of gooeyness. Here, it's kinda been like that in the summer, for the past couple of years, as it's been raining a lot. But there was a time during my undergrad years when I thought it never rained in Knoxville. Crazy, just crazy.

In any case, it's muggy but not warm or gooey outside. It's muggy and cold and dry. And yet, it's misty, too. That's the oddity of it... you get mist which blots out the horizon, clouds which hide the sun, and your skin still feels like peeling. I honestly can tell you that that is the most depressing kind of weather I've ever known.

So, it's cold and dark outside, and it's 10 o'clock in the morning. Which makes it not such a bad thing that I'm in here in my brightly lit computer lab, where the view outside doesn't matter, because I don't have immediate access to a window from where I sit (aside from *Windows* haw-haw). It could be hailing Hungry Hungry Heifers outside and I wouldn't know .This place is probably soundproof too. It's just me and my computer, my thesis .doc file, my powerpoint presentations, and of course, the internet. What do I go to see on the internet on a daily basis, right after I saunter into the lab, bleary-eyed, coffee-deprived, and reluctant to start the day with something as banal as graduate student work? Let's see...

CNN - hey, if it's on CNN it's gotta be true

gamespy - it's, um, better than gamespot?

my inbox - duh

The Star - What has Mahathir said today?

... and from there it's just random surfing. I usually get a cup of coffee while I'm doing all this 'research', which hopefully I didn't have to get up to make (the coffee, not the research). And sometime around 10:30 I start wondering where all the time went, and shouldn't I be getting to work? I'll then open up whatever .doc, .ppt, or .cpp file I think I'm supposed to be working on, stare at it as I put approximately 1% of my brain power into figuring out what the plan for the day is supposed to be, while 90% of my brain does whatever it is scientists suppose it's doing when they tell us most people use only about 10% of their brains, and the final 9% (which supposedly I am able to use) hums the tune to Ken's pier stage (the one with the boat and cheering people in the background) from Streetfighter II. Approximately 5 minutes later, after I realize I'm in no mental to state to make any workable plan, I go back to CNN to see if there was anything I missed. Usually there is, because I wasn't actually paying attention the first time.

Hopefully, by lunch time, I have gathered myself enough to figure out what I intend to do the rest of the day, and laid out the groundwork for it, and (this is rare, but it happens) I have actually gotten some work done. Hopefully. Either way, it's time for lunch. Now, lunch is an eclectic affair. Sometimes I'll just go home, throw something in the pan, stir it around until it looks like it won't give me a case of food poisoning, and then put it in my mouth. Sometimes, I'll just walk across the street from the lab to Ray's place, where any number of cheap and easily accessible carbon-based consumables may be had (Ray calls it food. Ray's a nice guy, so I don't hold that against him). Sometimes, I'll join my labmates for lunch, and that usually means going to either a Mexican, Chinese, or Indian restaurant, whatever suits their fancy that day. Now let me tell you something about having lunch with these guys. I don't really call it lunch anymore, rather I choose to refer to it as a gathering of old fogies. Why?

Before I explain that, I need to talk about how this lab is set up. The lab is huge, with just over 500 students under its wing. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but at lab meetings that's how it feels like. We need frikkin' stadium seating to hold everyone in the same room. And with a group this big (more like 40 people methinks, counting staff and students), you've got factions. Not warlike factions, mind you, not by a long shot, but factions nonetheless. Cliques if you prefer, but that's such a stupid word, so I won't use it. We've got factions.

Now before the lab got got this huge, which was maybe a couple of semesters ago, there were only three distinct factions: the Faculty, the Old Fogies, and the Indians. I don't mean Native Americans here. I mean Indians from India. I don't mean to sound disparaging of Indians. In Malaysia there're lots of Indians, and a couple of them happen to be good friends of mine. When I lump them into a faction, what I mean is they tend to get together and talk a lot, in Tamil. They are actually a very friendly and cordial bunch. It's just that they tend to hang amongst themselves for social banter, which is very understandable. So, three factions. Actually there are a few more people who don't really fit into any of these factions and aren't really large or close-knit enough to be called a faction of their own. Stragglers, in other words. Nothing there to talk about. Nice lot, in general.

Now lets come back to the Old Fogies. Why do I call them Old Fogies? Well, for one thing, they are all comprised of Phd students. I myself happen to be a Masters student, and though I hang out a lot with them, for that reason I don't really consider myself on their level. I'm the Old Fogies' nurse, or something, wheeling them about as they yell about the poor service in this hole of an old folks home. Yup, academic seniority aside, the reason I call them the Old Fogies is because they complain a lot. And the favorite thing for them to complain about is how inept the Indian faction is with regards to matters of research.

Understand this: I'm not making a generalization about Indians as a whole. Like I said, I know a few Indians at home, and they are an intelligent, hardworking bunch when they want to be. Same with the entire human race. It's just that the select few who have been ordained by fate to constantly come to my Old Fogie friends for advice, pointers, tutelage, free computer code, and pats on the back do not strike the Old Fogies as the sort of people who ought to be doing graduate-level research. And so, lunchtime with the Old Fogies almost definitely becomes an opportunity to hear the Old Fogies deprecate some unsuspecting soul from Madras University who asked for their code for computing normals of vectors or whatnot as well as an explanation on how the code works, just so they don't have to spend the couple of hours it'll take to read on all this stuff for themselves, which is what they're supposed to be doing anyway, or how in the hell do they expect to graduate with a MS/Phd degree, and if they do graduate it'd be a frikkin joke because that reflects poorly on the work we do since we're coming out of the same lab. Interspersed between these monologues will be vivid descriptions of WCW-inspired physical violence that would make you think these guys should've been Hong Kong blood opera fight choreographers.

Now, as much as I would prefer to believe otherwise, the Old Fogies have a point, and a couple of my Indian colleagues do display a marked lack of intellectual curiosity/determination that is needed to drive a research-focused lab forward. In defense of my Indian colleagues, though, I'll say this much: two of the Old Fogies are French (who freelly informed me at some point that the French go on strike and join protest rallies at the drop of a hat), one is Tunisian (I don't know much about Tunisians, so I hope that means something to someone), and one is American (post-Iraq, I think that says it all! :p). So when you put together a bunch of intelligent, opinionated, and highly vocal people together, what do you get? The Old Fogies! And heads will roll.

So after lunch, either at home, or from Ray's, or with a heaping helping of earful from the Old Fogies, I'll come back into the lab, lethargic and sleepy from the lunch, burp a little, nap a little, work some just so I don't feel like I've done absolutely nothing at the end of the day, and then leave for home by 5:00pm. Yet another exciting day in the life of a research assistant.

Yay, Academia!

Monday, October 27, 2003

To end the day:

In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
Psalm 4:4
The hardest thing to do is to start.

That's true for many things. Writing a story, for one. Unless you already know the story, or you've been given guidelines for where the story's gonna go, it's hard to make something up from scratch.

Or writing a poem. You want to write a song to express a feeling or a moment... you'll need a line or two in your head first, or you'll sit around for hours wondering how the heck that big hole in your heart can be expressed in mere words.

It's true for many things, but not all things. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is continue, and sometimes it is to end.

Blogging on the other hand, appears for the moment to be quite simple. Because I'm not sure anyone's ever going to see this, or understand why this is here, or have the balls to criticize it, I can pretty much write whatever I want (I do have one eternal witness, besides myself, but I won't go deep into that just yet).

This is the apparent sum of a man's thoughts: a mix of truths, half-truths, and plain old lies. Still, every man believes his way is right (except those who believe they sit on a fence, and even those you can argue about). Some of all those truths, half-truths, and plain old lies are what I'm going to put here. And all or none of the world may see it.


"... but God weighs the heart."