Saturday, March 31, 2007


If you've been to Central, you would already have seen the Japanese floor - the one with Waraku, Tom Ton, Kyomomoyama, and also the upcoming Sun with Moon. One huge row of Japanese restaurants.

So I was eating in a large group at Kyomomoyama. First time into the place, which has a rather unimposing facade. The interior is done in an understated style that reminds me of Tatsuya.. see the central displays with the huge bottles of Sake?

The dishes are expensive though - the set lunches range from $12 to almost $30, and the individual dishes (other than the sobas and udons, which cost about $9) are generally in the $20+ range.

Some of my colleagues' set lunches - this is the tori karaage...

and the pacific saury. It looks really interesting, no? There was also a tonkatsu dish which tasted okay, but not spectacular.

For myself, I ordered a non-set dish. Normally the first dish I try is tonkatsu, but it just seemed kind of boring, know what I mean? So I ordered a hitsumabushi - grilled eel and egg ($21+++).

Not a complimentary picture, heh. The grilled eel tasted quite good, and the rice was fine. But the best part of the dish was the egg! It was just fantastic - a little bit juicy, and a little bit sweet, and a whole lot of tasty and delectable. It was cooked into this ultra-thin, delicate layer spread evenly all over the rice, and from my first bite I was pretty much hooked. I don't know if the dish was worth $20, but it was darn good!
(Note though: this dish comes with soup and chawanmushi, but the chawanmushi did not taste very good at all. Kind of stale tasting and powdery, somehow)

Overall, quite a nice place to eat, but pricey! Not as bad as Tatsuya though, definitely.

Changing Appetites

Key and I ate at Changing Appetites last weekend, at Marina Square, next to Carl's Junior. It smelled really good and the price looked reasonable...

The service was enthusiastic, but it pretty much fitted the casual atmosphere. In the sense that it was not really impressive.

So the food arrived, and mine looked like this.

Presentation was nice right? But the taste was lacking. The rice was dry and tasted worse than just plain Thai steamed rice. And the fish texture was a bit closer to dried wood.. I imagine, this is what healthy food tastes like. Now that I'm researching, the review I linked above said the same thing about the fish!

The vegetables were pretty fresh though!

We also ordered dessert, but I forgot to take a picture of the waffles. The waffles were really good though! The waffles themselves were tasty, went well with the ice cream, and both the strawberries and bananas were fresh and delectably delicious.

Overall, I would say the main courses were not up to standard, but the dessert was good. Plus, there's a special offer!

So, waffles! but avoid the fish here. At most I'll give it one more try, maybe try the burger and chicken fillet next time. If that's disappointing too, I'll probably condemn the place to just dessert...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Subsidies tend to end up going to big companies

A lesson on legislating subsidies and imposing controls on any industry - those subsidies and controls tend to end up creating profits for big enterprises.

This post at Fast Company talks about how cotton subsidies meant to help small farmers ends up subsidising large agri-businesses. One commenter says
It is always the case that programs designed to help the little guy end up helping some large corporate body.

A separate story in the Washington Post called "Dairy Industry Crushed Innovator Who Bested Price-Control System" (also picked up by both Marginal Revolution and Greg Mankiw) talks about dairy programs in the US and provides a case study. One company was operating outside a pooling and price-setting system, and was able to sell milk which was cheaper than other suppliers by twenty cents. It was forced by law to stop!

Choking yourself half to death and enjoying it

We’ve all heard the rumours – CSI, for instance, had an episode on this as part of a sex fetish. But it seems kids are doing this all over the US. Is this a serious problem in Singapore too? I hope not…


I’ve been reading Jeff Lawson’s reviews at Hop Step Jump. His favourite material is a bit different from mine – more of the so-called “girly” anime, whereas I tend to go for a more action-packed bunch. But lately, his reviews of Kamichu and Kanon have got me interested to find out what exactly I'm missing...

Byousoku 5 Centimeter

I haven’t watched any anime in a while…. Ever since Bleach went into filler mode, anyway. Mostly, no time!
Here’s the first of two shows I want to catch though:
Makoto Shinkai’s Byousoku 5 Centimeter

I’ve watched both his previous two shows, Voices of a Distant Star, and The Place Promised In Our Early Days. At first it was because he was famous for having done Voices on his own – just him and his Mac. But both shows conveyed a certain atmosphere very well – nostalgia and sadness, set in brilliantly thought out sci-fi settings. In a sense, an anime version of my favourite sci-fi short stories.

I especially loved the two dialogues of the two protagonists running in counterpoint in Voices, and it brings a tear to my eye every single time...

Now this appears to be a longer production, much less sci, but with the same beautiful animation quality. Definitely a show to catch!

Singapore Scotts Tower: now this is beautiful…

Wow.... in Singapore! Like out of a dream, or a sci-fi cover, seriously…

From this link

The scarcest resource is your time and attention

Great article over at Communities Dominate Blogs

Heads up, all you working people!

I always feel like there’s so much I want to do and no time to do it in. Boardgames, basketball, Magic, guitar, anime, reading, golf, cooking, even blogging – all things which I wish I had more time to do, but each day is so short!

“What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention ...The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The argument against slippery slopes

What's a slippery slope argument? Something all young parents of our generation should be familiar with. "If you give in to her now, then she'll learn that crying can get her stuff, and from there on she'll cry whenever she wants stuff until you give in, and then she'll end up a crybaby".

Courtesy of Greg Mankiw, a link to a good argument by Eugene Volokh against slippery slope arguments:

"If you accepted this slippery slope argument, then you’d end up accepting the next one and then the next one until you eventually slip down the slope to rejecting all government power (or all change from the status quo), and thus “break down every useful institution of man.”


I hear voices...

Well, not quite. When I'm really tired (like after a late night gaming) and I go to bed but can't quite yet sleep, I have auditory hallucinations - I can hear voices, or someone screaming, or breaking glass. It's like my brain is buzzing and projecting all these noises into the silence. Sometimes I'll be almost falling asleep and then I "hear" a scream, or someone say something, and that wakes me right back up.

And this NYTimes article says I may not be crazy!

But if you don't believe the article, or think that it's a mild form of schizophrenia showing up, let me assure you, it only happens when I'm really tired. So I'm normal, most of the time. Just don't sleep-deprive me.

Friday, March 23, 2007


I was at a seminar today, on the topic of regulation and competition. The seminar was keynoted by Mr Lam Chuan Leong, who was very impressive throughout the seminar. He spoke with great clarity, cutting aside through all the chaff to strike at the main point of the matter, and sprinkled interesting anecdotes liberally. Basically, a very impressive person!

Anyway, his responses aside, one other speaker's point struck me. This person commented that Singapore had a very interesting system of liberalisation without privatisation and offhandedly remarked that this was "contrived competition". Now, Mr Lam noted that even if two competitors were Temasek-owned, they nonetheless competed vigorously - a point which I tend to agree with.

But I had another thought. See, I was in UK when the train network when down due to poor maintenance. Some commentators had noted that the failures had come X years after privatisation, and that X happened to correspond to the maintenance cycle of the tracks. Combined with evidence of sloppy maintenance of the tracks, it pointed to privatisation and resultant cost cutting pressures as the reason for the breakdowns.

So I'm thinking that in any privatised system which forms part of the national infrastructure, this is a serious problem. That is, every private company, profitable or not, experiences cost cutting pressures and is tempted to chop some basic maintenance off. And the advantage of having a GLC owning it is, the GLC is just a teeny weeny bit more invested in making sure these bad things don't happen to the infrastructure.

Just a thought...

Fu Qing Seafood Gourmet at Hindoo Road

This is a nice coffeeshop at Hindoo Road, HK-style zi cha. Ate there the other day, but didn't take pictures. It's not fantastic in that way, but the food just goes down easily - you take one bite, take another, and before you know it the dishes are gone. And it's quite affordable too, $10 per head gets you a good meal!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Slooooooooooow service at Sony-Ericsson

The good thing is that after 4 months of charging my phone by leaving my PC on, I finally got my phone charger replaced.

The bad thing is that I waited one and a half hours in order to get it. I arrived at S-E repair outlet at Wisma at about 7.30pm, got my queue number. It said 1hr 19 min, so I put my sms in the queue, went to the library and returned 3 books, got a new library card, and borrowed 3 books. Came back an hour later, and the queue had shortened by less than half.

Basically, in 1.5 hours, or 90minutes of time, it went through 35 queue numbers in 6 counters - and of the last 12 before me, only 3 people were there.
That means 26 queue numbers over 6 counters = 4.3 persons served per counter
Which means each person took 20 minutes to serve.

Either (a) the people are a lot less efficient than they should be, or (b) S-E has way underestimated their staff requirement or (c) Sony products are failing lots!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

River Island - good customer experience

I got ambushed at River Island last week while looking for some office wear. I mean, I was in general looking for office wear at usual suspects like G2000 or Zara, but I certainly wasn't expecting to buy anything at River Island - it just didn't seem like my kind of clothes.

But, before our show started, she wanted to go in and look at clothes. And since there didn't seem anything better to do, I went to look at the jackets.

In the end, I came out with a jacket, matching pants, and office shoes.
Well first off, the clothes were nice - stylish cut, good fit - and the price was fine - I got my jacket at just $230 and the shoes at just $105 (the pants was expensive though). But it was the customer service that sold me the clothes, not the clothes themselves.

I felt like a valued customer, worth the time of the retail adviser. First, good advice on the jacket, to help me pick out the right size once it was clear I wasn't actually sure about the sizing. Then, after Key had picked out a nice pair of shoes, commenting on the shoes and how best to find out if it was a good fit. And later on, when measuring the pants for alteration, checking what kind of fall I wanted for the pants legs.

So some of it bordered on obsequiousness. (And of course, that's flattering). But I felt like it was good advice too, which generated positive value for me far beyond looking at the clothes alones would have done. I guess that's the key, that they viewed themselves as retail advisers, like friends to the customers - kind of like going shopping with your friends and helping them pick out clothes. At least, that's what I felt like.

I was reminded of several posts by one of the FastCompany bloggers, Valeria Maltoni, whose posts focus on customer service, in particular the post "Customer Service is a Mindset". In it, she refers first to the bank ING Direct, which, in a world full of automated answering machines, has the tagline in theird ads:
“To Speak to a Person, press 1 then 800 ING Direct.”
She goes on to identify the key principle of good customer service: provide a service that makes the most effective use of your money. This can mean cheap as in low cost, not in experience...
I'm re-reading this and thinking, it can also mean, not necessarily low-cost, but high-value. And in River Island's case, well-delivered advice meant that for a non-fashionable person like me, I got nice clothes at a good price rather than either buying a whole bunch of icky clothes or buying a single nice, over-priced set.

Definitely going back there to shop again if I need clothes. Maybe not the pants though, that's just a bit expensive... only reason I got it was to match the jacket for the more important occasions.

Does low marginal taxes at the top cause inequality?

Related to my discussion with Yitch, an interesting post about how, possibly, low marginal taxes at top rates encourage risk-taking, and thus generates large differences in outcomes and therefore inequality.

Somehow, I'm reminded of an earlier conversation where someone told me, that it is in the nature of entrepreneurs to fail, and it is only the very few who manage to see success on a given instance.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The best investment advice you'll never get

Via The Simple Dollar, a very good article about investing, using Google's experience just pre-IPO as the background story.

The advice? One economist said:
“Don’t try to beat the market,” he said. Put your savings into some indexed mutual funds, which will make you just as much money (if not more) at much less cost by following the market’s natural ebb and flow.

Don’t try to beat the market, he said, and don’t believe anyone who tells you they can—not a stock broker, a friend with a hot stock tip, or a financial magazine article touting the latest mutual fund
And most cuttingly:
Bogle’s closing advice was as simple and direct as that of his predecessors: those brokers and financial advisers hovering at the door are there for one reason and one reason only—to take your money through exorbitant fees and transaction costs, many of which will be hidden from your view. They are, as New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer described them, nothing more than “a giant fleecing machine.” Ignore them all and invest in an index fund. And it doesn’t have to be the Vanguard 500 Index, the indexed mutual fund that Bogle himself built into the largest in the world. Any passively managed index fund will do, because they’re all basically the same.

Index, index, index!

Also summarized here.

Questions couples should ask before marrying

Duh, I'm thinking about marriage... lol.

By way of the New York Times:

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

Does econ make people conservative?

I was running through my old reader stars trying to clear them up, and ran across this post, "Does econ make people conservative?" by Greg Mankiw.

I was suddenly reminded of a conversation I had with Yitch two weekends back, where we were discussing (not arguing about) inequality. More specifically, whether low wages for some workers and high profits for the companies which hired them, indicated exploitation of said workers, and whether government/society should force companies and rich people to give said workers a "fair" wage.
(Well, obviously this is my view of the matter, nuanced against such interference. The fairer interpretation of the discussion would be to say that we started with the question, "is workfare enough?")

Anyway, here we were, me using economics arguments to beatdown on him. And, with regards to the question, Mankiw says,

I believe the answer is, to some degree, yes. My experience is that many students find that their views become somewhat more conservative after studying economics. There are at least three, related reasons.

First, in some cases, students start off with utopian views of public policy, where a benevolent government can fix all problems. One of the first lessons of economics is that life is full of tradeoffs. That insight, completely absorbed, makes many utopian visions less attractive. Once you recognize, for example, that there is a tradeoff between equality and efficiency, as economist Arthur Okun famously noted, many public policy decisions become harder.

Second, some of the striking insights of economics make one more respectful of the market as a mechanism for coordinating a society. Because market participants are motivated by self-interest, a person might naturally be suspect of market-based societies. But after learning about the gains from trade, the invisible hand, and the efficiency of market equilibrium, one starts to approach the market with a degree of admiration and, indeed, awe.

Third, the study of actual public policy makes students recognize that political reality often deviates from their idealistic hopes. Much income redistribution, for example, is aimed not toward the needy but toward those with political clout. This Dave Barry column, which is reprinted in Chapter 22 of my favorite economics textbook, describes a good example.

For these three reasons, many students in introductory economics courses become more conservative--or, to be precise, more classically liberal--than they began.
Of course, the economists should believe that this more conservative viewpoint is actually the more correct viewpoint, right?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why we overspend

The Simple Dollar has this interesting observation on one of the reasons why we overspend: We're perpetuating a lie about our own finances, either because we don't want to let people think we're poor, or possibly even because we may be lying to ourselves as well...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Strange feelings..

I'm not the possessive sort - or at least that's what I thought. I mean like, she was in US for 3 months, and I didn't worry at all.

So now she's going to HK with her friends and stuff and invited me to join in for the second half when her family's going. I can't go, can't get away from work. Who said civil servant's life was easy?

Okay, can't go, should be cool right? But I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Is it because I can't go? Or is it that even if I could go, I have an ominous feeling about the trip, that I should not go? Or is it because she'll be there hanging with a bunch of cute guys for a week or so, and deep down I'm insecure and unsure?

Gosh, I'm so insecure. I always thought that relationships needed both trust and insecurity. Trust, so that blind jealousy and careless miscommunications don't take on their own life and sink the relationship. But insecurity as well, because as long as you don't take the other for granted, you're on your toes, doing a little more for the person and just generally playing nice. But more importantly, because no matter how secure you are in his or her love, you never know when something could take it all away - so insecurity means that you're able to survive and live on.

So I worry. But I wonder why I worry, and I worry that I don't know why I worry, and I worry that I'm wondering why I'm worrying, and so on. A sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I don't think I'm jealous though - maybe 99% sure it's not jealousy. The other 1% is just tragic Zim, the part of me that always imagines the worst possible outcome and then plans for how to survive it.

Argh - gotta get out of this mode.

4 books!

My reading life is being resurrected! Borrowed 4 books when I returned the Locus collection (previous posts here and here) - George RR Martin's A Feast For Crows, Jim Butcher's Death Masks, Year's Best SF 11 (not the Dozois collection), and Terry Pratchett's Going Postal.

I've given up on finding a copy of George RR Martin's first book in the Song of Fire and Ice, a Game of Thrones. Gosh, every library I drop by only has a Storm of Swords, and the same applies to the bookstores. Crazy, innit? I just want to read it before I start on the boardgame!

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Recently bought Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Was ambushed while at PageOne, heh.

Anyway it's amazing! The book was released in 1992, and seems to predict alot of what we are already seeing in how data is collected and people are being represented online. I especially like the concept of the "Earth" programme.

And it's a really cool bonus that I started reading the book about 1 week after I saw future Hiro in "Heroes" with the cool getup and katana on his back - of course Hiro Protagonist is half-black half-Japanese/Korean, but that's not the point.

Anyway - worth a read, especially if you're a mythology addict like me. He links the whole story up using Sumerian mythology as a base, though other than his theories about the primordial language, I would also say that the way the story turns out, there is also an element of prophetic mythology, as in how many of the myth / belief systems seem to re-run the same event multiple times within the stories, either by having the same pattern of events re-running in two character's stories, or by having prophecies for the future set-up based on the events of an existing mythic story. It could even be both, with character A, in his story, being told a prophecy which mirrors a mythic story of character B who A is also aware of, and then going on to fulfil that prophecy, so that we actually are aware of the story 3 times - once in B's life, once in the prophecy in A's life, and one in A's life when he actually enacts the event.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I caught a play at the National Library Centre Drama Centre, Titoudao.

It was not "world-class", but it was entertaining. An interesting format built around wayang - on the one level, there was the wayang play within a play, but on the other, the story of Mdm Oon Ah Chiam which was being told outside it, was told in a blend of wayang and modern play conventions. Like the mixed use of Hokkien, English, and Mandarin, this generated some confusion, but in the end, I didn't have to understand every last detail to see the broad strokes being painted.

And the broad strokes painted an oxymoron, of a artform which was perhaps crass and outdated, yet tinted with nostalgia and restrained longing. I had never watched a wayang before, and as I watched the wayang sections I wondered, "was it really exactly like this? So transparently obvious, the clear winks to the audience and self-mocking humour?"

Yet, that did not really detract from the appeal which the form had. Who says that plays and movies have to immerse you in another world, anyhow? Maybe we all need a little of this, an escape from reality into a brightly painted toy world where our faces are clearly painted for all to see.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Good Will Ticket

I've signed up for a Good Will Ticket...

Good Will
You Mark Below
All All Right With Love Afterwards
Why Not Say Yes
[] Yes
- Gone, by Jim Crowley, a Locus Award winner.

My last post from this book is also an uplifting one. It's a story about aliens bringing redemption for humans, but not precisely the way we expect.

I'm making a promise to everyone - good will, and love, and everything will be all right.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Breakdown in communications

I was watching the debaters from MGS and UWC in the Arena show yesterday evening, and getting totally disgusted. Not that their debating skills are bad - I mean, they speak good English, generally clear, slightly overstated use of bombastic phrases - but that the whole debating thing seems kind of skewed, at least from what I saw.

(And at this point I need to apologise to Lari and Penny if I offend them)

What I saw was - massive intellectual dishonesty, aggressively misunderstanding what the other party has to say, and grossly inaccurate distortion of the opponents' viewpoint.

A huge breakdown in communication, in other words.

I thought, probably mistakenly, that debating was about good logical deduction, communicated well, and incorporating the wise arguments of the other, while discounting the unreasonable statements of said other, in a beautiful dance/jiu-jitsu of words. What I saw was a battleaxe duel, two parties arguing relentlessly over the same motion but never actually engaging each other in an actual argument - because no-one ever acknowledged the other's valid arguments. It was a graceless contest, each side discounting the other's position, not because it was without merit, but because it must have seemed to them that accepting any part of the argument would have been weakness on their part.

Question: why do we value debate over negotiation? Why not value the process of listening to the other side, understanding their points thoroughly, and sieving out what is good and wholesome from what is illogical and flawed?

Debate shouldn't be about one side's initially adopted position crushing the other's into the ground. Instead, the result of a debate should be a wiser position, a result of iron polishing iron, view engaging view.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Friday, March 02, 2007

Reading: The Locus Awards: 30 years of Science Fiction

I picked this book up from the Bukit Batok Library two weeks back. I'm a real sucker for science-fiction, especially the short-fiction to novella length. I suspect one reason is that I do not like the space-opera kind of science-fiction, where basically the story is some long drama series which just happens to have laser guns and spaceships instead of swords, magic, and dragons.

Instead, I prefer thoughtful pieces - stories which comment in some way about society through the use of science. Short stories lend themselves more naturally to this format, because they have so little space to work with. Rather than trying to build up your identification with the protagonist, the author has to beef up the central idea of the story and communicate it in about 20 pages or so. Of course, there's good science-fiction and bad science-fiction, and at least with short stories you don't waste too much time on the bad ones. Plus, I normally pick up Gardner Dozois' yearly picks of the best sci-fi of the year - lazy me! So this book is a good fit for me.

(Disclaimer: I don't dislike all sci-fi novels or series - for instance, I'm reading a novel now which I will review soon, and I do love novels like Starship Troopers or books like the Ender series - but more on that another time).

The Locus Awards collection is edited by Charles N Brown and Jonathan Strahan, both editors linked with the Locus magazine. It contains 18 stories from 18 different authors, organized by decade - and naturally they're all good! However, as mentioned before, these are not space-opera type stories - don't expect to see swashbuckling heroes chopping their way through aliens! Most of them, in fact, are stories about the human condition - using the imagined technologies and crises of the future to comment about our frailties and strengths.

I'm going to highlight a passage from Buffalo, by John Kessel, which was particularly impactful. It may not be actually the most impactful in the book, as I'd perviously read and enjoyed some of the other stories included - I heartily recommend the stories Bears Discover Fire (Terry Bisson), Maneki Neko (Bruce Sterling), and Hell is the Absence of God (Ted Chiang), which have taken offbeat, humorous approaches to serious topics. Nevertheless, Buffalo is particularly relevant to all of us dreamers who love sci-fi.

"Through the music speaks a a truth about life that Kessel, sixteen years before my birth, doesn't understand, but that I hope to: that life constrained is not life wasted. That despite unfulfilled dreams, peace is possible."

Why do we love science-fiction? Because it speaks to us of our dreams of the future, unconstrained by the limitations of technology now. Yet forty years later, most of us would not be living in the worlds of our fiction. We're far more likely to be living mundane lives with family and children, not the stars of the story of our youth, but mere background fodder. But living a good life is itself reason for living a good life, and even if our lives remain constrained by the times, they are nonetheless purposeful ones - lives lived in the moment, for the good of those around us, with no greater result than to make life infinitesmally better for those around us.