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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.

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

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)