Questions Answered 2

More answers to emailed questions.

Yes, I've definitely been getting work down. The jianqu version of MEWER is almost complete -- I reached the point where I know how to do all of the iphone interface stuff I need, so it's time to rewrite my project with proper software engineering practices, instead of throwing everything together.

On Friday, we were finally able to purchase the iphone developer license. It took Apple a full week to fix their Apple Store so that we could purchase it from Singapore. I could buy the license by ssh'ing into a computer at UVic that I still had access to and using lynx. Text-based SSL-encrypted web-browsing for teh win! But I didn't want to buy the license myself, since I'm leaving this group in four months. It's more useful if one of the PhD students here buys it.

Anyway, that prompted a flurry of activity on Saturday when we could actually begin testing. I immediately tried to do a trill -- none of the other people thought to try this, but it was obvious to me as a musician that this was the best way to test the overall system -- and was disgusted at the results. But after half an hour (with corrections to both the client and the server) we had it working quite well.

As a side note, I'm not impressed with MVC (model-controller-view). I definitely see the point in separating the logic from the interface, but I just can't see a separate Controller as being truly useful. I mean, how many people really use multiple interfaces for exactly the same code? I've written the rhythm game three times now, and each time I've had to use a different language (1. Qt - C++ (or java or python with bindings) 2. haXe (to create flash or javascript) 3. objective C (for iphone)).

I'm even less impressed with Objective C. "Hey, let's take a language with well-known syntax relying on () for functions, and add syntax which relies on [] for functions in objects!" Seriously, you have code like this:

for (int i = 0; i < exerciseString.length; i++) {
  int c = [exerciseString charAtIndex:i];
  if (c==49) {
    [arrayExerciseOnsets addObject:[NSNumber valueFromInt:1]];
    int x = (480 - xOffsetR - xOffsetL) / exerciseString.length;
    CGDrawRectangle (ctx, x, 0, 2, 50);

Yuck! Ok, my use of a "magic number" is bad, but '1' doesn't work due to the magic of UTF-8 string handling. Specifying the ASCII value *does* work. Also, I'm mixing Model and View stuff here -- I'm not actually doing this in my program; I artificially dumped them together so you could see the wonders of [objective C] with pure C object-oriented code... all directly from the Apple docs. I mean, the Objective-C [object method:parameter] syntax is silly enough, but when they encourage you to use CoreGraphics with the pure C-style CGFooBar( pointer_to_drawing_context, my, real, parameters); ... I'm left shaking my head in disbelief.

Back to normal life! The most complicated meal I've made so far is tuna-fish melt. Sliced bread, tuna, and a slice of processed cheese, into a microwave for 30 seconds, and then adding ketchup. If I could find macaroni and cheese here, or if the street food wasn't so cheap, I'd do more cooking. But there really isn't any point in it -- if all the stores weren't closed for the LNY, I wouldn't have even bothered with the tuna-fish.

Singapore TV seems to be sit-com-like dramas. I saw a TV schedule by reading a magazine over the shoulder of somebody in the MRT once, and it listed Battle Star Galactica as being on at 11pm, but I didn't stay awake to check. There's 8 or 9 channels, and every time I've tried to look for something all the shows have been news or been Asian dramas (mostly in Chinese (or maybe Malay?), occasionally in Indian (or maybe Indonesian?)). They have subtitles -- often in two languages, so I could follow along if I wanted to. Oh wait; once I saw that BBC comedy with the mute comedian. Mr. Bean? It was on air about 10-15 years ago.

Posted at 2009-01-27 22:15 | Permanent link | Comments

Getting in touch with my feminine side

... since no visit to a country on the other side of the world would be complete without such a letter to one's parents.

Two days ago, I finally finished the complementary shampoo provided by the apartment. I'd bought some shampoo here on the first weekend. It's in a green plastic bottle and advertized itself "for long and smooth hair 2-in-1 conditioner". I don't know what "smooth hair" is, but I figured that since it was green it should be similar to the Pert Plus (tm) 2-in-1 shampoo I use at home.

It works fine -- but it smells. Some kind of flowery scent. I checked the bottle again, but nowhere does it say "smelly". Then again, 90% of the text on the bottle is some foreign script (could be anything from Arabic to Thai, if Thai is a language, and if Thai is a language that doesn't use hieroglyphics).

What's worse is that the smell stays on my hair. When I was going to (and returning from!) NUS yesterday for the proofreading, whenever there was a gust of wind I'd smell it and think "hey, there's a girl right behind me... oh wait, that's me". Of course, I'm way too cheap to throw out a bottle of S$3.60 (CDN$ 3.25 or so) shampoo just because it makes me smell like a girl.

At the same time, I'm aware that this puts me me one circle closer to the center. Long, gorgeous, curly hair? Check. Putting said hair in a braid? Check. Having a flowery-smelling braid? ... check. That would put me with the gluttons, but I'd rather be on the sixth circle (heretics), so let's also count being a classical musician, liking cats, and enjoying teaching.

Oh well. At least I'll have absolutely no problem becoming a member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. It's run by the Ig Nobel guys, so it has to be highly regarded!

I also did the dishes today in three batches. As you might have seen in the pictures of my apartment, my roommates leave everything in the drying area. As a general rule, I have nothing against this -- as long as there's enough room in the drying area to hold all the plates and cutlery. Sadly, there isn't enough room here... and besides, some of the "clean" stuff didn't seem very clean. So I put washed everything, dried it, put it away in cupboards, and then did another load.

I actually enjoy housework. When I'm the mood, that is. I like making things clean, and I don't need to think about it. It's a nice break from programming, writing, proofreading, and all the normal stuff in my life.

Posted at 2009-01-27 16:31 | Permanent link | Comments

Happy Lunar New Year!

Happy Lunar New Year, everybody! Chinese New Year... or rather "lunar"; I guess that political correctness has even reached this island... is a huge deal in Singapore.

Almost all stores -- including food outlets -- are closed for two days. Oh wait; that's for the "spring festival", which are the two days after the LNY. Anyway, closed stores?! In Canada, everything's still open on Christmas day. Well, maybe not quite everything, but certainly supermarkets are. Not here! I had half a dozen warnings in the past week that I had to stock up on food because all the food courts and supermarkets would be closed.

Let's go back and do this approximately chronologically.

I cancelled the project meeting for my main project here. We were supposed to meet on Sat, but the professor had a paper deadline coming up a few days after that, and we weren't ready to give a demo. A week ago I'd promised that if we gave a demo there would be no technical problems, and I take that kind of thing.

Aside: the phrase "curse of the demo" drives me crazy, especially in computer music. You'd think that performers would realize that a performance is a performance and that nobody wants to see somebody screwing around with computers -- well, nobody outside of some really wacky performance art funded by the National Arts Council -- so they'd make sure they had everything in order. But apparently not; things not working is quite accepted in this field. :( This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course -- everybody "knows" that the "curse of the demo" will make stuff fail in concert, so why bother putting in the effort to make sure that nothing fails?

I'm not trying to claim that I'm perfect on this account. I've had stuff fail just before giving a seminar (I made some "trivial" changes to the code, went to lunch, then discovered that it wasn't working 10 minutes before the talk. Fortunately I was using svn and realized I could just revert to a previous version). I've had things suddenly fail just before showing them to my supervisor (I forget what I did then). But I never blamed magical gremlins -- computers don't work like that. That's why computers are awesome. Other than certain highly improbable hardware failing, all problems are caused by somebody screwing up. When something I created fails in a demo, I blame myself. Even if I didn't write the particular softare myself, I still failed to adequately test it.

Anyway, during the first demo of our project, one of the group members "helpfully" wrote a chuck.bat script (on windows) which had the command-line arguments we wanted. I'd written them down exactly on a piece of paper so that we wouldn't forget anything, but he thought we could avoid that problem by having a script.

Except that he thought of this after we'd finished testing stuff. Now, what happens on windows when you have a chuck.bat which attempts to run chuck ? Sure, there's a chuck.exe in the path... but chuck.bat responds to chuck, so it goes into an infinite loop. I did not enjoy that demonstration. I was relatively nice to the guy who did it, though. I wanted to (metaphorically) rip his head off, but he's a first-year PhD student (which means "a first-year grad student" here, since everybody starts off doing a PhD) with no experience doing computer music, so I was merciful. If anything happens again I'll go berserk, though.

I went shopping on Friday and Saturday evenings. I found more things in the supermarket, including ketchup and "cheese". I say "cheese" because the only type they appear to have is plastic processed cheese. You know, Kraft sliced cheese? This is an issue, since I normally eat cheese by the chunks (or grated and added to rice... but still a significant amount of it). Oh, and I haven't found any macaroni and cheese either. :(

I also haven't found any fresh bread at the local supermarket. There's some sweet desert/breakfast rolls that come in plastic bags, but no real bread. My roommates agreed that bread was really hard to find in Singapore... but the next day they gave me a baguette! There's a bigger supermarket father away from our apartment, and while they were there they picked up an extra loaf for me.

My "tourist" thing for this Sunday was going to a real Lunar New Year party. OK, that wasn't a "tourist" thing; this was an honest "graduate students celebrating the most important holiday of the year together" thing. Almost all of the students were Chinese, but there was one grad student from India there. He'd recently visited Vancouver (for ACM-MM 2008), and when he heard that I was from there he exclaimed that it was "so, so beautiful... we are now friends for life!".

This was also the first time I'd been to an HDB apartment. That's the public Housing Development Board apartments; something like 80% of the country lives in them. (BTW, my apartment is privately-run)

The rooms were a bit smaller than mine, but bigger than I expected from looking at the apartment from the outside. There were about a dozen people there. The main dinner course was chinese dumplings, which were interesting to watch being made. There were about half a dozen people helping with that task... they offered to let me try, but since they were using chopsticks to put the filling in the pastry and I'm only up to 6 chopstick-usages in my life, I declined.

Dumplings were the hardest thing to eat with chopsticks that I've tried so far. They were bigger and heavier than anything I've tried, and the outside was slippery. I persevered, though. I used a spoon briefly, but gradually got the hang of the chopsticks so ate them like that. They also made a vegetarian kind-of omletty thing for me. It was quite doughy, so maybe it was the dumpling pastry fried instead of boiled. It was also quite good.

Games played were Uno (the Western kid's game) and a game called "Killer" and possibly one other game. I thought that this other game -- based on the war of the Three Kingdoms, and in which the cards looked similar to Magic: the Gathering cards -- was called "Killer", but hearing one person's story of the game later made me question whether they were actually the same game or not. This other game looked more interesting than Uno, but it was all in Chinese and looked a lot more complicated.

After dinner, the Indian guy and me started a game of charades. We noticed that there was less social cohesian than at Western parties -- before we started the charades game, one person was surfing the web on the hostess' laptop, one person was watching TV, two people were tallking on cell phones outside, and the rest were playing Killer and/or the Three Kingdoms game. The Indian guy commented that in India, everybody does the same thing at a parties, so I commented that Canada was in between -- big parties still split into smaller groups, but never groups of 1, and any cell phone calls are kept short. Not that I'm a huge party-goer, of course. :)

Today I went to university to proofread another paper for publication. The deadline is tomorrow, and they left the writing much too late. I spent a few hour correcting English mistakes -- yes, there were that any -- while one person kept writing the final sections. They (him and the professor) were very thankful about my help (they bought me lunch and gave me chocolate, some of which I'll share with my roommates in thanks for the bread), and they clearly needed aid with the writing. I don't begrudge them that. What I'm miffed about is that they left it so late. If you're writing in a language you don't know, you should be finished a week before the deadline!

At the very least, the first half of the paper should have been finished weeks ago. I mean, the "related work" isn't going to change in the last month. And you did the literature search before starting the programming (right? right?? *cough* *cough*). Sure, writing that stuff sucks... but it has to be done sooner or later, so you might as well get it finished early. Especially, and I know that I stress this a lot, if you're not familiar with the language.

I think I'll write the first two pages of my paper for next week. The deadline is April 17, but I want to set a good example. And show off, of course. :)

I'm not going in tomorrow (it's still a public holiday, and my normal bus is still cancelled), and I've done my required tourist stuff, so I can finally spend a day in my bedroom. Don't laugh; all this "interacting with people" stuff takes a serious toll on an introvert like me. Even taking a bus or MRT is a chore -- I'm even luckier that I could bike to UVic than I realized at the time.

Mao, I could really go for one of those quiet bike rides. In a light drizzle, 10 degrees centigrade, at 11pm at night. Absolutely no traffic in my area. With my battey-less front bike light, guided by moonlight. Or not. I was still fine on overcast nights with no moon.

Mao, I guess this is homesickness. I managed to avoid it until now. Interesting that it's UVic that triggered it, rather than Vancouver.

Anyway, I could really use a day to catch up on email, write another blog post with any remaining misc observations (I keep on writing stuff in a notebook, but I add the filled pages to my desk which is full of other stuff so they get lost), etc. Oh, and unpack. I still haven't unpacked. I want to be all caught up on stuff by the end of the month.

Posted at 2009-01-26 20:32 | Permanent link | Comments

Pictures finally online!

My supervisor asked me again if I'd sent the photos to my family, and when I explained that everybody had been so busy yesterday that I didn't want to appear to be slacking off, he said not to worry and send them. So here they are, completed during business hours!

After much thought, reading of usage agreements, and evaluation of ease-of-use, I ended up going with google's Picasa service. Yes, they claim the right to use these pictures for their own purposes, but I can't imagine them being valuable enough for this to actually matter.

Singapore photos

Posted at 2009-01-21 10:15 | Permanent link | Comments

More of Singapore daily life

More misc updates. Photos are taken, loaded into Picasa on my university computer, and waiting for some brief descriptions and being uploaded. I might even skip the descriptions. Basically, all I need is ten minutes at my computer when it won't look like I'm goofing off.

Friday had initial project meetings. I managed to cancel one project when I pointed out a bunch of previous work, including commercial X-box games. This leaves me with two projects: a mobile music-making project which involves me, two students, and three professors, and my mewer-for-ipod game. Tweaked a bit to use jianpu notation (also known as "numbered musical notation" or "simple musical notation"). I'll have fun getting LilyPond to output this stuff!

Saturdays are apparently the normal group meetings. I presented my Master's defense to 14 people (there was one extra professor, but two group members hadn't arrived yet), followed by a normal day of work. I guess that's one way to get students to work an extra day! I got home at 7pm or so.

On Sunday (my "tourist" day) I went to NUS to take pictures for you guys. I then started doing a bit of work, which turned into inviting the other people (about half the group was there!) to dinner, which turned into accepting an invitation to visit a nearby person's apartment, which turned into getting home at 8pm. I also didn't fall asleep until past 1am.

Monday sucked, so I left "early" (around 4:30pm) and ended up sleeping for 12 hours. That's my traditional warning sign, so I'm going to cut back on working hours. I must admit that I'm quite confident in my productivity, and my supervisor told me that he values results rather than the amount of time spent, so it was actually quite stupid of me to try to spend the same amount of time working as other people. I might even try to convince them to work harder for less time... no, wait. That'll never work. I just need to lead by example. It probably still won't work, but at least I can try.

On to other matters... electronics are expensive here! I thought that Singapore was supposed to have cheap gear, but prices here are higher than Canada! Not that Canada is particularly expensive... but I was looking forward to buying stuff here, and I'd never buy things unless they were on sale. For reference, the Asus eeePC 1000 (10-inch screen, intel Atom, etc) is S$888 here, and CDN$ 500 in Canada. S$888 -> CDN$750. I suppose that just fits into my personal exemption for import duties... but why buy it here? I'll get it when I'm home!

I found some instant milk tea packets. "Milk tea" is what they call English tea here. Now, I know you're all thinking "that sounds completely disgusting"... and to be honest, that's what I thought when I saw it... but they're actually not terrible. Don't get me wrong; they're definitely not good. But they satisfy my tea cravings.

Next weekend is Chinese new year. This is a huge thing over here. Bigger than Christmas in Canada. Stores are closed for 2-3 days. Even the supermarket -- I need to stock up on food on Friday or Sat, otherwise I'd starve. :( This is a problem, since I've been eating out for all my meals. Hey, at S$2 per meal, that's not luxury. University is of course closed, and the bus from the MRT to university isn't running. I couldn't go in to get work done even if I wanted to! (which I do, actually -- it would probably be nice and quiet)

Posted at 2009-01-20 21:36 | Permanent link | Comments

Singapore daily life

Things are settling into daily life.

University classes started this past Monday, so suddenly the campus is busy and there's lineups at the food places at lunch. We've never had a problem finding somewhere to sit, though. Sometimes it's the whole group going together (including the professor); other times it's just three or four people.

I continue to try different foods. This evening I had a Chinese pancake-cheese-peanut creation. The picture looked vaguely like pizza, but it turned out to be more of a snack/desert-type thing. I think the chopped-peanut topping had sugar in it.

Of course, if I want pizza imitation without paying eight times the normal price for a meal, I get Indian cheese naan bread with some kind of hot red sauce. That was unexpectedly good, although I had to wait for a while for them to cook it. I'm not certain if I'll go back there... maybe when I'm on my own. I feel awkward joining the meal table when everybody else is halfway finished.

Breakfast today -- at noon -- was Thai fried rice. I was told that it was vegetarian, but it came with a few shrimps or prawns on the top. I scraped those off onto another person's plate.

I'm not really certain what to do about breakfast. I like arriving at the lab before other people, but that means that I skip breakfast to get there. I'm also not starving in the mornings. Now, I could leave at 10am or so when I start to get really hungry... but then I'm leaving for food just when other people are arriving.

I also discovered that the Engineering canteen is much better than the Arts or Business canteens. Spaghetti, with meat, for S$1.80, and a coke from the drink fountain is S$0.50. In the Thai place, for example, a coke was S$1.20. My "comfort" meals are mostly spaghetti. I sometimes have a chicken burger at the local (to my apartment) food court -- this was the one that I avoided on the second day, but upon later investigation I found there *was* a "Western" place. Again, it was filled with fried chicken stuff, but the chicken burger looked safe.

I have yet to make eye contact with any Caucasians in Singapore. I haven't gone out of my way to stare at people, but whenever there's another Caucasian, I'm aware of them and get ready to meet their eyes and smile. But they all studiously ignore me -- even when I sit next to them on the bus.

The reason I mention this is because a famous blogger (a black guy teaching English in Japan) recounted a story where he met another black guy in Japan and gave him the Black Guy Nod (tm). The Japanese person he was walking with was amazed and asked how he knew the other guy. The exchange-teacher explained that he'd never met the other guy before in his life, but that all black men had a special Black Guy Nod (tm). He mused on whether other minorities had similar greetings.

Well, it appears that there's no White Guy Smile (tm). At least, not in Singapore. On one hand I'm disappointed, since I love having secret handshakes and whatnot, but on the other hand it reinforces the multicultural native of Singapore. I have to say, although Canada prides itself on being multicultural and stuff, Singapore beats the pants off Canada.

Simple example: all the food courts here have color-coded trays. Muslim places give green trays, Chinese places give red trays, and Western places have black/brown trays. When you return the tray to the tray return area, there's a separate rack for Muslim and Western only. Cultures that use pork and whatnot (forbidden by Muslim Halal) can't put their trays on those racks. Oh yeah; most Western places here are certified as Halal -- they don't offer any pork or use lard or whatever.

This really impressed me. I mean, sure, in Canada there's strict laws against discrimination on religious grounds... but there's no such thing as separate utensils for faiths that want to avoid certain foods. To put it in philosophical jargon, in Canada one has a negative right to multiculturalism, while in Singapore they have a positive right.

Still no rain here. Some locals are now talking about how surprising it is that it hasn't rained in so long.

I finally washed my clothes, but I was surprised at how long it takes clothes to dry in the air. I shouldn't have been surprised, of course, but I just never thought about it. There don't appear to be any electronic dryers in the country.

Another random tidbit: my hair seems to be changing to a lighter colour. Is that normal for sunny places? Or is this an effect of the small bottle of shampoo I got upon checking in? Or am I probably imagining things?

I'm really playing a leadership role in the group, and keep on having to give impromtu lectures about Karplus-Strong physical string modeling or Gamelan ensembles. I'd be lying if I claimed that it wasn't going to my head, but in some ways I wish they didn't realize how great I am -- for the past few days I've spent about half my time mentoring PhD students.

Now, my first thought is that I can catch up on my own work on Saturday, but this coming Sat there's a research group meeting and I'm giving my thesis defense again (expanded to fill an hour). And Friday has lots of meetings about the various research projects.

Oh well. I'll see if it settles down next week; if not, I'll ask the professor about what he wants me to do.

Posted at 2009-01-15 21:31 | Permanent link | Comments

Questions Answered 1

I'm going to answer a bunch of emailed questions in this blog post, under the time-honoured teacher theory that if one person asks a question, 10 more were thinking it.

Singapore has an extensive public transit system. The main backbone is the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), which is a mostly-above-ground subway. There's a single prepaid card you use for both the MRT and busses, which makes travel very convenient. You tap the card when you enter and exit, and you're charged based on the number of stops you travelled. I haven't seen any car rental places, but there's lots of taxis around. Getting to NUS involve 10 minutes on the MRT and 15 minutes on a bus.

Singapore food portions tend to be smaller than Canadian ones, so I'm generally hungry even with 3 meals a day. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- it makes the food I do eat seem much more tasty. For example, the best pasta I've ever had in my life was S$2.00 (or about CDN$1.80 and US$1.60 -- I got the exchange rate the wrong way around in the last post).

I'm using my eee strictly for personal business. Some days I don't even bring it to NUS, although luckily I brought it today (I'm in a seminar which just had two Chinese speakers). I only turn on the windows computer when I need to proofread somebody else's papers. So most of my life is spent on the Mac Mini running OSX 10.5.

The research group has 15 people. I think there's approximately 3 undergrads (NUS has undergrads doing significant research -- the speaker just now said it was a full year of undergraduate research, which seems incredibly high). Maybe something like 3 Masters students, 6 PhD students, 3 PostDoc / Research Assistants... plus the professor. Ok, subtract 1 from one of the above numbers. Other than me, everybody is Chinese or Singaporean with Chinese ancestry.

The violin in the lab was bought a few years ago, and had sensors put on it. They hired a few musicians to play it, while they videotaped it and did bow-tracking or something like that.

The mobile device orchestra will of course be videotaped. I'll try to get it posted online, but at the very minimum I'm sure I can bring a copy back to Vancouver.

The proofreading was proofing other people's papers. I can communicate fairly easily with people in the group, but even the best English speakers here do things like writing "for buffering mechanism". (either missing an "a" or an "s")

The apartment has a rice cooker, kettle, and a hot plate. I've found a local supermarket and a "mini-mart". I haven't bought anything yet, and I'm not certain if I'll bother. I mean, eating out is so cheap, and has no hassle of cooking or cleaning up. This was in the local mall, which had other stores at well.

Weather is a mixture of sun and cloud, and probably constant between 25 and 30. The past few days have felt a lot better than the first few days, but I'm not certain whether that's due to me wearing shorts and white t-shirts, getting used to the climate, or any actual change in temperature. I saw two brief (less than 1 minute) rain showers, but no real rain yet.

Posted at 2009-01-13 16:26 | Permanent link | Comments

Second to Fifth day in Singapore

I forgot the power cord for my laptop at NUS on the second day, was too hyped up to write anything on the third day, and was too tired and stuffed to write anything on the fourth day.

Second day - Thursday

On the second day, I had breakfast at a cafe called "The Grinning Gecko", overlooking a jungle mini-valley at NUS. You'll be amazed at the pictures when they come probably next Sat. I had their breakfast set C, which consisted of eggs, toast, chicken bacon, lettuce, and a tomoto. I also had some mango lemonaid, which tasted ridiculously good.

I then filled out more forms, collected a PC from tech support and a mac mini from my supervisor's other lab, and met most of the other people in the research group.

I've never been in a research group before. Sure, at UVic there were a bunch of people who occasionally worked on projects together and some of whom sat in the same room, but it wasn't like this. Dr. Wang's group gets together to play sports and have spring music evenings and stuff. They even eat lunch together!

Speaking of which, the first lunch was a disaster. They all got Chinese food, so I followed suit, but that particular stall was out of vegetarian dishes, so somebody suggested something with chicken in it. For those who don't know me, I'm very picky about meat. Fatty or bloody parts trigger my gag reflex. This chicken dish was not composed of pure breast meat. I managed to choke down about half of it.

Oh, and you know those little spoon-like things that you use with chopsticks to pick up hard-to-get pieces of spoons? I thought they were spoons, so I took one and left the chopsticks alone. Score another point for ignorant Westeners! (if anybody knows what those spoon-things are called, I'm curious)

In the afternoon I got a walking tour of NUS from my supervisor and discussed research plans in general. He also commented that I was very overdressed (black jeans and an olive button-up shirt), and that nobody at NUS cared how you were dressed and he could even give lectures in what he was wearing. That relieved me, since I'd noticed that working Singaporeans all wore buttoned shirts, but I figured it was better to make an initial impression as being too smartly dressed rather than insufficiently dressed.

For dinner, I went back to the same food court but had pasta (spaghetti) from the "Western" stall. Their notation of "Western" seems to resolve around fried chicken, and included a few dishes that definitely weren't Western... but pasta definitely qualifies. It was very cheap (S$1.80, which is about CDN$2.00 or US$2.25), but I discovered that it didn't have any meatballs in the sauce.

Third day - Friday

opened a bank account. I then had the same breakfast as as the second day, followed by more forms.

The morning ended with a presentation to 33 high school students from a "top high school" -- evidently Singapore does the sensible thing and streams students, instead of the silly Canadian system where everybody goes to the same schools. Anyway, he gave a short presentation about music computer research. As part of that, I inserted a mini-lesson about the relationship between frequency and string length, mass, and tension. He had the formula on the slide, but I figured that a one-minute speech with violin demonstrations wouldn't hurt. The kids even predicted what would happen when I put my finger halfway along the string... although in retrospect, grade 12 students aren't stupid. If I couldn't have done that by grade 8 -- even without having played cello -- I'd have been mortified.

I also criticized the slides just before the presentation. One slide in particular had a lot of black text and was unnecessarily confusing. I suggested removing some text (in particular, "music -- appreciation -- ears -- brain". You can't appreciate music until it's reached your ears, let alone your brain!), as well as adding some colours. After the presentations, I also sent more criticisms to him.

I was a bit cautious about my initial comments, because some people don't like criticism, but he loved it. That was a great relief for me, since I hate working with people who don't like criticisms. Eventually I stop making suggestions to avoid upsetting them, and then I just sit and stew with the knowledge that I could have made things better. But that isn't the case here; I definitely made a positive impression with my suggestions.

I also wrote a long email with suggestions and links for the mobile device orchestra. They were using the accelerometers in the ipod touch to trigger drum sounds. Some of you may remember my performance of the Swan and Rachminoff's Vocalise while I was an undergraduate student at UVic. It seems like I'll be returning to that kind of work, which is nice -- this was the first area of music technology that I pursued.

For lunch, I tried the Indian stall and got something that looked like a big, thick crepe. It might have been mashed potatoes covered in batter, although that sounds a bit weird. It came with some sauce which was somewhat spicy.

For dinner, I didn't eat before I left campus, since I'd spent all my cash on my initial bank balance deposit (actually, I had to withdraw some cash from my Canadian debit card... I shudder to think of the bank charges I incurred in doing so), and the first bank machine I visited was out of cash. So I started walking along the main street in front of my apartment, and eventually (10-15 minutes?) arrived at a shopping plaza. It had a McDonalds, which I started to walk towards, but then I noticed a pizza hut sign.

I got a regular (9") pepporoni pizza. It was S$16 (including drink), which is ridiculously expensive by Singapore food prices, but I figured that I deserved a treat. I think this might become my standard Friday night thing... it's too expensive to have on a regular basis, but I was dangerously low on one of the main food groups (grease), and it felt very good to stuff myself.

Fourth day - Saturday

My normal breakfast place at NUS was closed, so I went straight to the lab and started working. After about half an hour, some more people arrived. Just as I was going to leave to have breakfast (about 10:30am), my supervisor arrived. He was horrified that I hadn't eaten yet, so he took me to eat. We went to a Chinese stall, and I got him to order something vegetarian for me. Apparently at this stall, you get rice plus X side dishes, so he simply pointed at three different vegetables. There were some asparagus-like things that were quite good. I think they were a type of bean?

More discussion about research projects followed, and in the afternoon I finished proofreading my second paper and started looking at iPhone/iPod touch development. Around 2pm I went and got lunch at the Subway on campus, and by 3pm I headed home to sleep.

I dozed for a few hours, but then woke up at 7pm and went to find more food locally. I found a food court almost immediately, but it was really intimating -- very noisy, everybody speaking non-English (and non-French and non-Japanese) languages, and not a scrap of English on the signs for each stall. I ignored that area and kept on walking.

After 5-10 minutes of walking, I discovered another food court, but this time I went in. The best bet seemed like a Muslim or Indian place, where I got some small pancake-looking things. Judging from a quick glance at wikipedia, it was naan. Anyway, that came with a soup (or maybe just runny curry?). I tried dipping the pancake-like thing in the soup, which seemed quite nice. I have no clue if that's what I was supposed to do, but it seemed to work.

Fifth day - Sunday

I'd decided early on -- actually, I meant to add this to my resolutions for Singapore -- that I wouldn't go in to university on the "day of rest". That was reserved to catching up on lilypond, writing blogs, and housework. (Mao, it's already 16:15!)

My MRT station is almost at the end of the line, and I'd heard that there was a big shopping centre at the end, so I went there. I also needed to buy a SIM card for the phone my supervisor lent to me, and I figured this could count for my "tourist thing of the week".

I ended up having breakfast at Burger King. As per usual with Western food places, a meal comes to around S$7. That might not sound too bad (and it certainly isn't), but complete meals at non-Western places are generally S$3 or S$4. And you know that I'm a ridiculous skinflint.

I returned to my apartment, then set out for lunch. I went slightly farther than last night, since I'd heard that there was a mall there. I found the mall, then went to a food court. I got some sugar cane juice. This is produced by putting a length of sugar cane through a juicer. Like, right there and then. Fresh squeezed sugar cane juice!

It turned out to be quite bad. Somehow it had the consistency of milk, with a sugary taste. Almost like strawberry-flavored milk, but... somehow wrong. I'm sure it could be an aquired taste, though. Anyway, to choke that down, I found a vegetarian food place and asked for rice and 2 veg, then pointed at two of the vegetables I'd had for breakfast on Sat (including the bean-like things). To make life more interesting, I tried using chopsticks.

I really should have learned how to use chopsticks before coming to Asia. I'll have to ask somebody to teach me at lunch tomorrow.

Posted at 2009-01-11 16:26 | Permanent link | Comments

First day in Singapore

I'm now competent at getting around in Singapore, have a grown-up email address (percival@location -- previously only my father has one of those!), and have my employment pass.

Getting the MRT (their version of skytrain, which is Vancouver's mostly-above-ground subway) was ok. I made trips to a few electronic ticket booths before finding out that I was to buy the EZ pass (prepaid debit card system for transit) at the counter.

I then might have committed my first cultural blunder. There was an escalator that was crowded, and stairs that were unused. I assumed that everybody was being lazy and went up the stairs, but when I was almost at the top I noticed an "exit" sign. There wasn't a "do not enter" sign at the bottom (I think -- I'll have to check on my way home). And I haven't noticed any distinction (other than running escalators) in other stations. I felt a bit conspicuous, though.

Got to NUS, but couldn't reach my supervisor's office -- it was behind a keycarded area. I hung out in front of the door for a few minutes, trying to see if I could send him an email (I couldn't), and a girl (or woman) came along. I asked her to knock on his door, but she just let me into the area and I made my way to his office and met him.

He was suprised to see me so early; he'd told me that I should be well-rested for my first day in Singapore and we didn't have to meet until 11 or so, but since I woke up early I figured there was no point not going. We then chatted a bit and then saw the HR person for advice on which formalities should be done next. Unfortunately the answer was "get the employment pass", so I headed off downtown to visit the Ministry Of Manpower. And yes, they do actually abbreviate it as MOM.

When I arrived and got my ticket, they were processing number 265. I was 404. That's not quite as bad as it sounds, though -- in the first 10 minutes, they handled 25 numbers. Later on I estimated that they'd done 60-70 in half an hour.

What is as bad as it sounds is that after receiving my documents, they took them off to be processed. Come back in 3 hours. I wondered whether to transit back to NUS, but it was two MRT lines and a bus ride, so I opted to wander around in downtown Singapore.

Ravenous for food, I started looking for some. I ended up in the food court in the main mall in Chinatown, whereupon I... well, I'm sure you can all guess. I left as soon as possible and wandered in the direction that seemed most likely to get me Western food.

Yes, I know that I'll be unable to survive in Singapore if I don't try other foods, and yes, I should have done more preparing. I was actually intending to suggest Asian take-out whenever my friends got together to watch anime, but that hasn't happened sinnce... I don't know. September? July?

Anyway, there's a time to try new food, and a time to stick with what you know. On a day like today, you stick with what you know.

After about 30 minutes of walking in the insane heat and sun, I saw a 7-11. I considered going there and getting whatever they had (warmed-up hot dog, maybe? I don't know what they have in 7-11s here), but it was on the other side of a major street and there weren't any cross-walks around. So I kept on walking, and saw a KFC in the distance.

Just as I was about to enter the KFC, I noticed a sign for Subway on a bus stop. It was pointing towards the building, and I then noticed a mall entrance beside the KFC. Inside the "electric town" mall, I found the subway. Which was good, because I had been seriously considering asking somebody for directions. Now, that might not sound so terrible, but I'd have asked for "Western food", not just "food". I don't know quite where that ranks in the list of stupid American tricks, but it's got to be in there somewhere.

On way back from that mall, I noticed other Subway store and Western food that I'd missed -- mere meters away from the MRT station I left. I spent a good deal of time walking through that mall ("Central mall"), which seemed to be aimed at tourists.

At MOM again, I was 470 and they were processing 380. I waited for another 60 minutes in the queue. I don't know why we couldn't pay when we drop off our passports and whatnot. The pickup would take a minute! Come to think of it, even though we had to pay, I still don't know why it took some people longer than a minute. I mean, I handed over my ticket number, my old ticket number, and S$100 in cash. The clerk gave me back S$50 and told me it was only S$30, fetched my bundle, and gave me another S$20. Literally over in 60 seconds!

It was 4:40pm at that time, and I'm still jetlagged, so I went straight home. I've got the wireless working now (the magic words were "wep_key0", which do not appear anywhere in the man page for wpa_supplicant. Looking up help online for how to connect to the internet is one of the most frustrating things. Especially in this case, where I knew it would take at most 3 minutes... oh well. Got it working now.

What I don't have working is email. After trying to send email a few times from both NUS and my apartment, I realized that my computer was still set up to use shaw's smtp server. No wonder it was dying! However, I haven't found any info about smtp servers here yet.

Posted at 2009-01-07 19:03 | Permanent link | Comments

Singapore room

Room description without pictures. Pictures are not a priority and will happen later.

First impression: sweet mao this is huge!

At the door, I paused to take my shoes off, but the manager told me not to bother. That surprised me -- I thought all Asian cultures were very down on shoes inside -- but she's the boss.

My personal room is bigger than my old bedroom at home. It's over twice as big as my room in Victoria. This really surprises me -- I've heard so much about the density of cities in Asia, and I read somewhere that Singapore was either the densest (sp) or second-densest country in the world. But I guess that once you start going vertical in a big way, you get a lot of "extra" space. My room is on the 8th floor of 15, by the way.

In some ways the room (not just my bedroom, but also the dining area and living area) are too big. They look quite sparse. Sounds seem to echo a lot and I felt like I was being really noisy when I was moving around at 2am, but apparently it didn't wake up anybody.

Went to sleep at about 3am, woke up at 7am. That's 3pm in the afternoon by Vancouver time, which seems reasonable as a continuation of my 26-hour sleep cycle.

I think the room is facing east. There was certainly a lot of sun. Remember that Singapore is basically on the equator, so sunrise/sunset is pretty stable at 7am/7pm. There's a lot of traffic on the street outside -- maybe a bit more than Canada Way (at home). Maybe the idea of being up at 9am every day will be easy!

Looking out the window, I was struck by the first time I wanted to use the term "riot of colours". The railing on my private balcony is light blue -- I hadn't noticed that at night. There's massive amounts of green on the sides of the road and surrounding the lake. I've commented in the past that my (old) area in Victoria makes Vancouver look pathetic; this place gives Victoria a run for its money. There's areas of bright red bricks on the road. Admittedly the lake isn't a nice brilliant blue. I think I'd rather swim in Burnaby Lake than this one.

Now for the comparison with my parents:

In summary, the room is much nicer than I expected.

Posted at 2009-01-07 07:37 | Permanent link | Comments

Traveling to Singapore

Ok, I'm here now.

The first flight was very nice. It was a Boeing 777-300, and it had LCD displays on the back of every seat, and power sockets on most seats (including mine -- I chose my seat for that reason). This means that I can use my laptop for the 13-hour 45-minute flight. :)

I've decided to do this blog post piecemeal; I'm writing stuff as it occurs to me. That's easier than trying to remember everything at the end. I'll probably be switching between present and past tense, though. It's currently one hour into the flight.

At 4 hours, I'm listening to current French pop songs. It seems that as long as I can't understand the lyrics, I enjoy popular music a lot more. (yes, I can speak French, but picking out lyrics in the middle of a song is beyond me, especially when I'm deliberately not trying to listen.)

Unfortunately all is not sweets and roses on this flight. The LCD is nice, but a number of features -- include the "Map" menu -- are not functioning. The error message is polite, but I wanted to see where we were on the map, how far we'd travelled to date, etc.

7 hours now. I don't feel too bad, which is good 'cause it's only half over. The thin slippers that Dad brought back from Japan (they was an omake for some first-class train tickets) help a lot. They're coming around with hot beverages, which will be followed by dinner. There's still one more meal coming; 2 hours before the end, they give out hot noodles. I've never been on a flight with three meals and six or seven drinks before... but then again, I've never been on a 13.75 hour flight. I was surprised by the amount of localization. Hot drinks include green tea, and the standard chicken hot lunch meal came with chopsticks. I'm not surprised because this doesn't make sense; I'm just surprised that the business is flexible enough to have different meals on different international flights.

I underestimated the amount of suckage involved in working on an airplane -- and the amount that I normally fidget. It's not unusual for me to have a foot on my desk, for example. Not in the classic "fat cat" pose, though. My laptop is on the desk like normal, and I kind-of slouch sideways. With one leg contorted around. Anyway, as of 12 hours, I've gotten about 5 hours of work done. Spent 5 hours watching movies/TV shows and/or eating, and about 2 hours of snoozing.

Hong Kong airport wasn't fun, since the first flight was delayed and they had poor signage. Seriously, who names the international tranfer flight check-in area "W1"? Also, either Air Canada shouldn't have printed my second boarding pass, or the security guard should have accepted it and not made me jog off to get a new one printed. I entered the security line-up at the time I was supposed to be at the gate for boarding. But after a bit more jogging, I arrived on the second plane.

The second flight was uninteresting in terms of airplane model (IIRC it was a 777), food, entertainment, lack of sights (pitch black and me not near a window anyway). I dozed for a bit.

Singapore airport was a model of efficiency; within 20 minutes of stepping out of the airplane, I was stepping out of the airport. The customs girl was very nice and smiled at me as I stuttered through my explanation of my job (she had previously asked when I was starting my studies, since I look so much like a student). She waved away my attempt to show her my exiting flight (you're required to show proof of the next destination if they ask).

The baggage carousel was actually the most nerve-wracking part. In the future, I think I might get some yellow paint and draw a huge happy face on the suitcase or something... there were just too many black suitcases.

Of course, the airport experience might be quite different if I hadn't arrived at midnight with nothing else arriving. Then again, my supervisor (the one here, not my old supevisor) says that he's travelled in over 40 countries, and the Singapore airport is the best.

Taxi ride was ok. A woman on the flight in said that it would be "really really expensive... like S$30" and tried to think of other ways I could get to my apartment, but in the end agreed that since the MRT was closed and there probably wasn't a direct bus, it wasn't worth it. The taxi ended up being S$40.20, but the driver gave me S$10 back when I handed him a S$50 and waved off my apologies for not having any coins. I figured that S$40 wasn't bad for a 35-minute drive mostly exceeding 100km/h. I definitely couldn't get a deal like that in Vancouver!

Impressions of the city at night: looked like any metropolist in North America. There's a huge port, lots of construction, big skyscrapers.

First impression upon stepping out of the taxi: sweet mao it's hot. And it's past midnight!

There wasn't anybody around when I arrived at my apartment, but the security was very nice and friendly, and called up the manager. She came down after five minutes, and was very friendly and got me checked in. I got the info for wireless, but my computer wasn't set up to deal with their particular encryption scheme (WEP), so I'm still just typing this and will send tomorrow from the university.

Arrival at room, 1:30am. I spent an hour writing blog posts, emails, and attempting to get the wireless working.

Overall impression: Singaporeans are extremely nice and helpful. The manager didn't show any signs of minding being woken up at 1am (she thought I was arriving tomorrow), the security guy didn't give me any glares for not knowing what I was doing, the only reactions to my braid (that I detected) was occasional mild curiosity, and the customs agent didn't transform into a tentacle monster and rip apart my paperwork and suitcases.

Posted at 2009-01-07 02:00 | Permanent link | Comments

Resolutions for Singapore visit

T minus 36 hours or so.

Suitcases are packed, other than this laptop + power cord + hair brush. Printed out invitations letters, copied map to apartment, etc. Finally finished moving all files over to my new laptop.

One friend had a really great idea: wear a shirt for customs. I'm taking this a step further and wearing my best clothes (well, best apart from full orchestra dress). Shirt, dress pants, braid, make-up... ok, not the last one. I won't be as comfortable when traveling, but anything that makes government officials easier to deal with is worth it.

I'm also making a few resolutions. New Year's resolutions are a big thing in North America, but I've never bothered with them. And I'm still not -- these are strictly aimed at Singapore, not life in general.

Posted at 2009-01-04 2:12 | Permanent link | Comments

Preparing for SIN

T minus three and a half days.

Getting ready for this trip has almost been a job unto itself. There was the proposal. Then forms for the university and forms for the government. Approval, then more forms. Finding a place to stay. More forms and sending an international money order to put a deposit on the place.

Oh goody, time to get my suitcases ready... oh wait, each airline has their own baggage regulations. And even though all flights were booked through Air Canada (and all tickets are under an AC number), I need to look through each airline's websites to find the info. Air Canada lets you take 2 bags of up to 23 kg each. Most Asian airlines let you take any number of bags, with a total weight of 20 kg. I've narrowed the luggage requirements down to: 1 bag of checked luggage (up to 20 kg), and 1 bag of carry-on luggage (up to 10kg).

I have the checked luggage bag packed. OK, it's a bit early, but I wanted to see what clothes I had, and once I had them all together, I figured that I should keep them together. It's a good thing I investigated, since I only have 6 pairs of white socks that don't have holes (or almost-holes) in them. I'm going shopping tomorrow.

In the interests of soliciting advice from anybody who's traveled more than me (i.e. more than once in the past eight years), here's my tentative list of what I'm taking:

Of course I'm not bringing my interesting t-shirts, like my De-CSS or the FreeBSD Daemon one. People often ask me about books, but I'm not planning on bringing any. Academic papers are on my laptop in pdf form, and any fiction books would only last for half the plane trip over. I'm not taking any musical instruments, since I don't have any musical things lined up and that would make luggage exponentially more difficult.

I keep on thinking that I'm forgetting something, but whenever I look around my room for anything I'm missing, I come up blank. I think it's just that I have no idea what I'm getting myself into -- I think the farthest East I've gone has been Italy (for about five days), and now I'm flying off to live in Asia for five months.

Posted at 2009-01-02 01:12 | Permanent link | Comments

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