Qui tangit frangatur.

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Eggs over easy

A chicken and an egg are lying in bed. The chicken is leaning against the headboard, smoking a cigarette, with a satisfied smile on its face.

The egg, looking a bit pissed off, grabs the sheet, rolls over, and says, "Well, I guess we finally answered THAT question."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Camping in my room

Earlier this year, I told a friend that I was pretty much camping in my room. He soon discovered that I wasn't joking. As the picture attests — bikes dominate my room in Singapore. (There are actually 2 more bikes outside.)

After cracking my head on handlebars one too many times upon waking in the morning, I ordered one of these, together with the optional accessories for additional bikes.

Half a world away, my room in Santa Clara, California is totally different:

The back of the door to my room is mounted with 4 inch (10.16 cm) thick acoustic tiles; hollow sections within the door are filled with sound-damping, self-curing foam; double weather seals and an aluminum threshold with a double sweeper render it airtight and acoustically isolated from the rest of the apartment. The triangular pillow-like item hanging above the door is an acoustic device to control corner (sound) reflections; wherever 2 walls and the ceiling intersect, one of these devices would be installed there.

First reflection points (midpoints of the ceiling between speakers and listening area) are tamed by acoustic tiles. The midpoint of wall-ceiling intersections have also been acoustically treated to break up standing (sound) waves.

Some CDs. (This pic has been posted before.) 3rd column from the left consists entirely of works by Philip Glass  :-P

Audio equipment and paraphernalia dominate the room. A 2 inch (5.08 cm) thick Gabbeh wool rug hangs from the wall to further dampen (sound) reflections. While it isn't completely anechoic, with the door shut, the room is so incredibly quiet that I can hear the hum of wall transformers; during musical passages, I can hear breath instrument artists inhale. You can clap until your hands bleed but there would be no echo in this room. I only have to unplug my landline (phone) and I would be instantly whisked away into my own world: quiet, serene, free from distractions; free to compose; free to research; free to write; free to think.

I was really into audio then. With a pair of steady hands, a nice Hakko 936 ESD soldering iron, and lots of advice and guidance from my EE housemate, I built a hybrid vacuum pre-amplifier with outboard high tension power supply; 4 monoblock amplifiers; a new power supply for the Digital to Analog Converter (DAC); upgraded the DAC and transplanted it to a superior chassis, yielding space for larger, better components; using eutectic solder, reworked the circuit board of the CD transport with superior components (e.g. tantalum resistors, teflon and film capacitors, better electrolytic power filtering capacitors, et cetera). After discovering that my bed was skewing the frequency response of the room, I threw it out and got a shikibuton instead. The shikibuton was only slightly better, so it, too, was thrown out, and a sleeping bag was rolled out every night  :-P

Maybe I just get along with passionate people. A friend who lives in San Francisco owns no furniture apart from a couch. One half of the couch is filled with his clothes. He sits on the floor for dinner. He owns no TV. But he has a US$300,000 stereo, thousands of LPs, more than 4400 CDs and SACDs. That's what I call passion.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Amour propre

M____, a JC schoolmate I have not met for almost a decade, recently stumbled upon my blog and managed to contact me. We met for dinner to catch up on old times. In the course of the evening, she admitted that, upon reading Sandbox, she couldn't recognize me. Compared to my JC days, I've become very hard, she opined. A lady really shouldn't be this candid about her bedroom activities, I parried  :-P

1951: in a letter to his son in London, V. S. Naipaul, Seepersad Naipaul, wrote:

And as to a writer being hated or liked — I think it's the other way to what you think: a man is doing his work well when people begin liking him. I have never forgotten what Gault MacGowan [one-time editor of the Trinidad Guardian] told me years ago: 'Write sympathetically'; and this, I suppose, in no way prevents us from writing truthfully, even brightly."
If M____ had read this and this, she would realize that I have not become a bitter old folgey. In fact, on rare occasions, I might even rise to the exercise of non-malicious humor. But I am loathed to refer to my previous blog (having regard it as a closed chapter in my life), and that is how, I suppose, M____ developed her skewed opinion.

To write sympathetically, however, does not mean the descent into purple prose or maudlin drivel. Some truths are harsh; and, consequently, harsh language is required to examine, expose, or even engage these truths. Eleven years after receiving his father's advice, V. S. Naipaul, with scathing precision, in The Middle Passage wrote:

Trinidad teeters on the brink of racial war. . .. The Negro has a deep contempt. . . for all that is not white . . .. The Indian despises the Negro for not being Indian . . .. Like monkeys pleading for evolution, each claiming to be whiter than the other, Indians and Negros appeal to the unacknowledged white audience to see how much they despise one another.

Such an observation may be harsh (it drove not a few of my liberal classmates crazy); it is certainly — grotesquely — politically incorrect, but neither detracts from its truth. In 1989, at Taman Negara, a national park in Malaysia, the orders for our table (consisting of Chinese, Malays and Indians) were delivered 45 minutes later, even though we arrived 20 minutes ahead of the table of Caucasians next to us. They received their food (with gratuitous smiles from the friendly Malay staff) within 10 minutes. Why? Our money is as good as theirs (and we ordered the same food). Why the self-denigration? Why the self-hate?

Hence, as posts such as "Silence is golden. STFU" and "Dogma and deracination" evince, when the occasion warrants, I can — will continue to — be harsh.

On this tropical-island-paradise-with-the-death-penalty, where insular denizens imbibe the Kool-Aid dished out by hacks; where the English language is mangled, brutalized, trampled, and bastardized — in print, on air, and on the screen; where "journalists" (actually, a significant number of them are former intelligence operatives. Do some research on individuals such as Chua Lee Hoong, Irene Ho, Susan Sim, and Tjong Yik Min. Reporters Without Borders rates Singapore No. 146 for press freedom in 2006. Coincidence?) such as a certain senior writer (with the initials J. D.) flubs his tenuous grasp of grammar and writes "___ and me" instead of "___ and I"; and, rather than being contrite when his mailbox overflows with reprimands from irate readers, embraces haughty indignance and compares himself to Shakespeare instead (What are you? You hew sycophantic babble for your (pay)masters on The Straits Times The Shitty Times, an Engrish language rag that fails to get its English right on a daily basis, and is not worth the paper it is printed on); where a "Mind and Body" journalist used "curriculum vitae to describe the physical exploits of Khoo Swee Chiow, and listed his nationality as "Malaysian-born," rather than "Malaysia-born"; where a print advertisement from a self-proclaimed, "leading, world-class" university brings attention to its failure to recognize the distinction between "tomorow" and "tomorrow"; where its sister university (allegedly a "world-class" institution as well) stages a farce of an exhibition, "Cultures of Creativity: The Centennial Exhibition of the Nobel Prize," to instill creativity by highlighting the lives of Nobel Prizer laureates, but conveniently leaves out the bit about Albert Einstein being one of the signatories of the "Manifesto Against Conscription and the Military System" ("lies by omission," anyone?); you can hardly expect me to be sympathetic.

V. S. Naipaul once wrote:

Writers need a source of strength other than that which they find in their talent. Literary talent doesn't exist by itself; it feeds on a society and depends for its development on the nature of that society. [ . . . ] The writer begins with his talent, finds confidence in his talent, but then discovers that it isn't enough, that, in a society as deformed as ours, by the exercise of his talent he has set himself adrift.

Writing with sympathy depends on the environment — you can't lower me into a pit of shit and honestly expect me to pen odes to flowers.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ultimate Swiss Army Knife

Manufactured in Switzerland, the Wenger Giant Swiss Army Knife (Part# WR16999) boasts 87 implements and 141 functions. It measures is 3.25" (8.26 cm) across, 8.75" (22.23 cm) long, and weighs 2 pounds 11 ounces (1.22 kg).

Make James Bond, MacGyver and Inspector Gadget look like ill-equipped buffoons with the jaw-dropping Wenger Giant Swiss Army Knife. As awesome as it is ridiculous, this incredible triumph of engineering is packed with 85 fully functional implements and is said to have over 100 functions. Why? Well, why not?

Meticulously crafted in Switzerland (well you never know these days), the Wenger isn't exactly pocket-sized (unless you're a clown or MC Hammer) and it ain't cheap. But who cares about that when you're using its tweezers to pick up the shattered jaw of a gobsmacked onlooker. (More...)


* 2.5" 60% Serrated locking blade
* Nail file, nail cleaner
* Corkscrew
* Adjustable pliers with wire crimper and cutter
* Removable screwdriver bit adapter
* 2.5" Blade for Official World Scout Knife
* Spring-loaded, locking needle-nose pliers with wire cutter
* Removable screwdriver bit holder
* Phillips head screwdriver bit 0
* Phillips head screwdriver bit 1
* Phillips head screwdriver bit 2
* Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5mm x 3.5mm
* Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6mm x 4.0mm
* Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0mm x 6.5mm
* Magnetized recessed bit holder
* Double-cut wood saw with ruler (inch & cm)
* Bike chain rivet setter, removable 5mm allen wrench, screwdriver for slotted and philips head screws
* Removable tool for adjusting bike spokes, 10mm hexagonal key for nuts
* Removable 4mm curved allen wrench with philips head screwdriver
* Removable 10mm hexagonal key
* Patented locking philips head screwdriver
* Universal wrench
* 2.4" Springless scissors with serrated, self-sharpening design
* 1.65" Clip point utility blade
* 2.5" Clip point blade
* Golf club face cleaner
* 2.4" Round tip blade
* Patented locking screwdriver, cap lifter, can opener
* Golf shoe spike wrench
* Golf divot repair tool
* 4mm allen wrench
* 2.5" blade
* Fine metal file with precision screwdriver
* Double-cut wood saw
* Cupped cigar cutter with double-honed edges
* 12/20-Guage choke tube tool
* Watch caseback opening tool
* Snap shackle
* Mineral crystal magnifier with precision screwdriver
* Compass, straight edge, ruler (in./cm)
* Telescopic pointer
* Fish scaler, hook disgorger, line guide
* Shortix laboratory key
* Micro tool holder
* Micro tool adapter
* Micro scraper - straight
* Micro scraper - curved
* Laser pointer with 300 ft. range
* Metal saw, metal file
* Philips head screwdriver 1.5mm
* Screwdriver 1.2mm
* Screwdriver .8mm
* Philips head screwdriver
* Flashlight
* Micro tool holder
* Fine fork for watch spring bars
* Reamer
* Pin punch 1.2mm
* Pin punch .8mm
* Round needle file
* Removable tool holder with expandable receptacle
* Removable tool holder
* Special self-centering screwdriver for gunsights
* Flat philips head screwdriver
* Chisel-point reamer
* Mineral crystal magnifier, fork for watch spring bars, small ruler
* Extension tool
* Spring-loaded, locking flat nose-nose pliers with wire cutter
* Removable screwdriver bit holder
* Phillips head screwdriver bit 0
* Phillips head screwdriver bit 1
* Phillips head screwdriver bit 2
* Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5mm x 3.5mm
* Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6mm x 4.0mm
* Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0mm x 6.5mm
* Magnetized recessed bit holder
* Tire tread gauge
* Fiber optic tool holder
* Can opener
* Patented locking screwdriver, cap lifter, wire stripper
* Reamer/awl
* Toothpick
* Tweezers
* Key rings

Regularly priced at US$1439.95, this baby can be yours for the low, low price of US$999.95

Is that a knife in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's a kind of magic

One dream
One soul
One prize
One goal
One golden glance of what should be...

One could spend a lifetime in these hallowed halls:

Abbey Library St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Old British Reading Room, British Museum, London, England.

Library of Congress, Washington, DC, USA.

North Reading Room, UC Berkeley, California, USA.

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland.

Many, many more gorgeous images can be found at Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries.

The road less traveled

A letter of introduction from an instructor to her students:

“When you step off the edge of the unknown, you will either find solid ground, or learn to fly.”

Namaste! (Hindi greeting which means, “recognizing the divine in you”)

I’m sure a few of you are starting to get nervous with anticipation. (Hold onto that feeling by the way, it's an essential and fleeting part of the fun.) And I just want to congratulate you on your courage for already taking the first steps of our travels. I know you haven’t gotten on the plane yet, but just making the decision to step into an unknown world, with eyes and mind open, ready and willing to challenge, define, and redefine your personal reality, takes enormous bravery. I know, from a few years experience leading experiential semester programs abroad, that an itinerary like ours draws the most unique, passionate and adventurous of individuals together.

So I’d like to tell you a little about my own life path (which has had its fair share of both graceful and blundering moments) so that you may see how it has led to a convergence with yours.

After I received my degree from Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley of California, I moved to San Diego, found a job in an office tower and put nothing less than every drop of my passion into it. I worked 80-hour weeks, slept under my desk on weekends, and quickly became one of the highest paid employees in the company. But after two years of this life, I sat up from my computer one day and realized this; I had a successful job with prestige, an apartment by the beach, a nice car and an income greater than that of my parents combined…and it wasn’t enough. Or rather it was enough. It was too much. I was grasping at the wrong dream, desperately clenching onto the airy and materialistic notions of a magazine dream instead of picking myself up and pursuing my own. And that’s when I learned that sometimes we spend a lot of lives learning not what we want to do, but what we do not want to do. And that’s okay. It’s not important how many mistakes we make, only that we learn from those we do.

So where was I to go? I had no idea. But on an intuitive whim, I caught a clue as to where I could go to find MY dream. So I sold everything I owned, strapped on a backpack and moved abroad…

I spent the first year trekking, chicken-bussing, volunteering and salsa-dancing my way through Central America and the next four years traversing some six continents and forty-something countries: working with the children living in the squatter community in the dumpster of Guatemala, building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Fijian villages, strolling the beaches of Costa Rica at midnight keeping the eggs of Leatherback turtles safe from poachers, fighting off Lantana from overtaking the native plant species of Eastern Australia, giving massages to the crippled limbs of those left at the Mother Teresa House of the Destitute in India, preparing the gardens for feeding an orphanage in the Himalayas, teaching English to refugee monks who escaped from Tibet, planting trees in a reforestation effort in Coastal Ecuador, living with an “adopted family” in Colombia and, most recently, finishing the second segment of a 1,700-mile walking pilgrimage across France, Spain and Portugal.

Over the course of those years, attending the prestigious “University of Life,” I found my path and my passion in “service learning” and in what Dragons calls in its mission statement, “experiential education,” which simply means -- using the world as our living classroom and our real experiences and interactions within it as the lesson plan.

So having found my own life-driving inspiration abroad, I quickly realized that the only thing that matched my excitement in making my own reality-quaking revelations was watching, guiding, and sharing that process of “travel-induced-enlightenments” with others -- specifically, with young, enthusiastic and inspired people like you!

I’ve now lead five experiential semesters abroad: one through the South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand and Fiji), one through Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica), one through Northern India and most recently, Dragon’s Himalayan Studies and Guatemala Semesters. Each of these semesters (and more specifically, each of the students) has re-confirmed that this is exactly where I love to put my life energy. I can tell you what my favorite thing is about leading these trips without hesitation: Because of the fifty students I have led on these adventures, every one of the has since told me, “my semester abroad was the most influential, inspiring and life-changing experience of my life.” And I’m just so thankful and excited to have the opportunity to play part in such transformative experiences.

You know that feeling when you look up into the night sky and fall dizzy in questions of our place in that space? We'll I've personally dedicated my life to seeking and understanding that mystery of being. I don't fancy finding answers. I find my fancy in the questions themselves. And I want to reassure you, that unlike the formal classroom, this journey is much more about the questions (yours, mine, ours) than the answers. Of all the things on the packing list, the most important thing you can remember to bring with you on this trip -- is your sense of Wonder.

This trip to India will be my fifth; of all the countries I’ve travelled, none has ever held my captivation, intrigue, respect or love like the one within which we’ll be adventuring together in only a few short weeks. When people ask me why I love India so much, I often answer, “because it’s like walking on the moon.” Saturated in color and culture, I have yet to find a country more intense, shocking or mysterious. Had you asked me, four years ago, “What is it that calls you to India?” I could only have shrugged, having no words to describe my desire to visit a place I knew nothing about. The “call” to “go to India” is usually indefinable, based heavily on intuition and an unexplainable “urge” to experience a world that you’re certain will turn yours upside down. So if this is what you’re feeling and just the word, “India” sparks your curiosity or makes your heart leap for unknown reasons, then you’re not alone.

A whole new world is about to open up to you, and along with it, an entire spectrum of emotions and experiences. Travelling in India is not an easy or comfortable experience. There will be times when you’ll be nervous, and times when you’ll be thrilled, times when you’ll be freezing cold, and times when you’ll be melting hot, times when you’ll be in awe, and times when you’ll be in disgust, times when you’ll be homesick, and times when you’ll forget where you came from, times when you’ll be angry, and times when you’ll practice compassion, times when you’ll feel lonely, and times when you’ll feel you’re part of a new family, times when you’ll be exhausted, and times when you’ve never felt so alive. It’s best not to go with our first inclination to label these experiences as “good” or “bad” but simply recognize each experience for what it is -- an experience. For ironically enough, it’s rarely the memory of a comfortable couch that we treasure, but exactly those experiences that push us out of zones of comfort and put us on cold and sharp ledges, that transform our lives and perception of it. And don’t worry, for a lot of our trip will be spent supporting each other through these rollercoasters of experience and emotions we’ll ride together.

“When you’re wandering, you bump into experiences and people. Nothing is routine. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is standing out on its own, because everything is a possibility, everything is a clue, everything is talking to you.” – Joseph Campbell

And so, along with your headlamps, journals and hats, please remember to bring your open mind, curiosity and rhetorical questions. I’m eager and excited to meet each of you in person!


Follow Christina Rivera's travels and adventures here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007



Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Bogart was still reportedly a traveller. And in Trinidad now he was able to do what perhaps he had always wanted to do: to put as much distance as possible between himself and people close to him. He was living in Carenage, a seaside village five miles or so west of Port of Spain. Carenage was a negro-mulatto place, with a Spanish flavour ('pagnol, in the local French patois). There were few Indians in Carenage; that would have suited Bogart.

With nothing to do, waiting to go away, I was restless, and I sometimes cycled out to Carenage. It was pleasant after the hot ride to splash about in the rocky sea, and pleasant after that to go and have a Coca-Cola at Bogart's. He lived in a side-street, a wandering lane, with yards that were half bush, half built-up. He was a tailor now, apparently with customers; and he sat at his machine in his open shop, welcoming but undemonstrative, as placid, as without conversation, and as solitary as ever. But he was willing to play with me. He was happy to let me paint a sign-board for his shop. The idea was mine, and he took it seriously. He had a carpenter build a board of new wood; and on this, over some days, after priming and painting, I did the sign. He put it over his shop door, and I thought it looked genuine, a real sign. I was amazed; it was the first sign-board I had ever done.

The time then came for me to go to England. I left Bogart in Carenage. And that was where he continued to live in my memory, faintly, never a figure in the foreground: the man who had worked on a ship, then gone to Venezuela, sitting placidly ever after at his sewing machine, below my sign, in his little concrete house-and-shop.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On-the-fly image resizing

No, I'm not talking about George Michael's career after the restroom incident. Check out this form of non-linear image resizing technology:

Hat tip: crufty.