Looking back at Singapore

We recently had a heat wave in Vacouver -- it was over 30 degrees for approximately one week. This reminded me a bit of Singapore, so it seemed like a good time to look back.

Although the temperature reached 35 C, it didn't feel particularly bad. You see, the humidity only reached 40% or so. Sure, it was warm, but I didn't get completely covered in sweat. If I hadn't gone to Singapore, it would have seemed unbearable, but having experienced hot and wet, a mere hot didn't really bother me.

Granted, it helped that I spent most of my time in the basement, which is always 5-6 C colder than upstairs. That's not so great in the winter (13-15 C room temperature), but it's certainly nice in the summer. :)

Another difference is that the high temperatures were temporary. One week after the daily high was 33 C, it was back to a daily high of 15 C.

Anyway, having been so reminded, do I miss anything?

Surprisingly, yes. Doubly-surprisingly, some of the food. The Muslim place at one of the local food courts made some fantastic fried vegetables, egg, and rice. I have no idea why it was so good... as far as I know, the vegetables weren't particularly special, and I generally dislike fried rice... but something about was really tasty. Especially the side cucumbers with their spicy red sauce.

I also miss prata, especially the prata I had on the last day. It's basically a pancake, except that in Singapore they started putting things inside it. I had one with cheese and tomatoes inside, and another with chocolate. I definitely recommend prata to anybody visiting Singapore, although you should probably get kaya prata if you can find it.

... huh, apparently kaya is coconut egg jam. I had it all the time I was there (one of the first things I bought at a supermarket were kaya buns), but never actually looked up what it was. Anyway, it's quite popular there.

I also miss some of the drinks, notably the honeydew melon milkshakes and lime lemonade. I don't miss sugarcane juice -- I tried it three times, but couldn't get used to it. However, it was definitely cool seeing the fruit shops with all the fruit, and watching them press the raw sugarcane into juice.

I miss supervising/teaching the other people in the research group. I do a bit of this with lilypond, but it's harder over email. I've taught music privately, and introductory programming to classes, but Singapore was the first time I was teaching project development and research to individuals. I really enjoyed that, which is a good sign for when I become a professor. (as if I needed any confirmation!)

Any regrets? Well, they boil down to one: I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been nervous about being out at night.

It was a totally silly concern; I'm sure that Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world, if not the safest. And even if the MRT (transit) system shut down for the night, cabs are relatively cheap in Singapore, so I wouldn't have been stranded.

But despite that, I really tried to be home by sundown. And since Singapore is so close to he equator, that happened between 7pm and 8pm. Yeah, that cut out a lot of things. I didn't mind going to the local grocery story -- although given the chance, I even avoided that -- but I never planned on being beyond walking distance of my apartment.

This cut out a few famous tourist attractions, such as the Night Safari (which is supposed to have more big cats than the zoo, since they're generally nocturnal) and Orchard Road (the nightclub area). Not that I particularly wanted to see the nightclubs, but I probably should have wandered around the city at night. At least once.

But the biggest reason this was a problem is that it almost eliminated any social interaction with the other group members. I mean, if you're working 6 days a week and you insist on having one day to yourself to catch up on emails and do chores, nights are the only time left. There were a few group activities at night that I (fortunately) couldn't avoid, and after the big deadline I only worked 5 days a week, which left some time to meet group members socially... but I really should have spent more time with them.

Shrug. Oh well; that's life. You make mistakes, miss opportunities, and ruin other ones. The first step to avoiding a repeat of those mistakes is to identify them. That's not the only step, of course -- there's no guarantee that I won't make the same mistake in Glasgow. Granted, most students (including me) live within walking distance of the university, so it might not be a problem. I'll still probably need to force myself to socialize with people downtown at times, though.


Ultimately, I guess the question of Singapore boils down to: would I ever return? If I could wave a magic wand and appear in Singapore, would I do so? Yes, actually. Only for a week or two, mind you... unless it was an extremely lucrative job... but yes, I'd visit it again.

Now, I probably wouldn't visit it without a magic wand. I mean, I wouldn't pay for airfare, go through the 19-hour flight, etc. Going back would be interesting, but not that interesting. But if I was attending a conference in the area, and could make a slight detour without disrupting other plans... then yeah, I'd go back for a week.

Posted at 2009-08-22 20:48 | Permanent link | Comments

This is awesome!

There's a manga about a Ubuntu Linux, published under a Creative Commons license. Self-described as a "Ubuntu romantic school comedy". It's the perfect triangle of linux, copyleft, and Japanese popular culture!

I've put left-to-right versions (i.e. standard North American cartoon reading style) on my blog, as is permitted under the Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial license.

chapter 1
chapter 2
Credit of those files:
Author: Hiroshi Seo
Publisher: ASCII MEDIA WORKS Inc.
English translation by: Fumihito Yoshida, Hajime Mizuno, and Hiroshi Seo
English translation image editing by: Martin Owens and Arturo Silva

You can find translations into many other languages (Spanish, French, Korean, Italian, Indonesian, Portugese (Brazilian), Thai, Serbian, Russian, Vietnamese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Persian/Farsi, Asturian, and Galician) on the Aerial line Ubunchu page.

I normally wouldn't post such a blog-ish blog post, but this was just too awesome to resist.

Posted at 2009-08-10 00:15 | Permanent link | Comments

I'm an idiot: forgotten GPG passphrase

Since nobody was using my GPG key, this doesn't matter to anybody right now. However, it may be relevant to people wanting to send me encrypted email in the future. I forgot my GPG passphrase, so I generated a new one.

Lost key:

pub   1024D/AB00B807 2008-10-11
uid                   Graham Percival 
sub   2048g/2BAF95B3 2008-10-11

New, good, key:

pub   1024D/C352022F 2009-08-09 [expires: 2011-08-09]
uid                  Graham Percival 
sub   4096g/95D7E0AF 2009-08-09 [expires: 2011-08-09]

Such announcements should be met with extreme suspicion -- after all, if a Bad Guy can convince you to use a different key, without offering a signed revocation of the old key, that completely defeats even the most powerful encryption techniques. In an attempt to convince you that it's safe to trust this announcement, I'll make the following points:

I first realized that I couldn't remember the passphrase the first time I tried to use it -- last Spring, about half a year after generating it in the first place. This gap was the reason I forgot the passphrase in the first place... I don't have problems with things I use daily, but trying to remember a very complicated passphrase that I haven't used in six months is evidently beyond me.

I spent 4-5 hours over the next few days trying various phrases to no avail. I even tried running a cracking tool on the passphrase for a week... I still had my private key, after all. However, that didn't come up with anything. Admittedly, I was using a security researcher's "proof of concept" code. I spent fifteen minutes looking at it and managed to make it 10 times faster, which certainly gave credence to his "this is just to demonstrate how it would work, but it's not at all useful in practice".

Eventually I decided to wait until I returned to Vancouver from Singapore; perhaps it would come to me when I was sitting in my bedroom, surrounded by all the things that surrounded me when I first invented that passphrase. As it happened, I did remember part of it. At least, I think so. I'm pretty certain that I got that part right. However, I still couldn't remember the other part, so no go.

For the rest of the summer, I kept on putting off generating a new key, since I "might" remember it later. But today, one month before I leave for Glasgow, I figured enough was enough.

What does this mean? Well, I had uploaded my key to the public keyservers. Without the passphrase, I can't generate a revocation key. I suppose I could abandon my current public email address, but I'm reluctant to do so... even if I seriously put down roots in the UK, I'd still be a proud Canadian, so I'd still want to retain percival-music.ca.

So this means that anybody wanting to send me private emails in the future will find two gpg keys. To dispell that confusion, I'll need to point them at this post, reminding everybody that I'm an idiot. Ouch. My geek cred is certainly taking a beating over this mistake. :(

On the other hand, as far as "permenant mistakes" go, this is a pretty minor one. I mean, just compare it to all the other mistakes that people in their 20s do. I didn't get drunk and crash my car, I didn't get a girl pregnant (accidentally, I mean -- I guess it wouldn't be a mistake if it was planned), I didn't start doing drugs, I didn't cheat on any exams or papers.

I'm still an idiot, though.

Posted at 2009-08-09 19:31 | Permanent link | Comments

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