Friday, September 25, 2009

The meaning of hunger

You just gotta love the recession. It gives you more time to spend with family and loved ones, with good measure left to do what you like doing. I want to say 'what you do best', but I'm unsure if what you like doing is what you do best, it may be the case for some but not others. I believe in talent, however the old timer in me believes that you develop your skill set with repetition and commitment.

One of the things that tops my To Do list is cooking not only by interest but of late, by necessity. Everyone's gotta eat! We are in many ways blessed with the abundance and variety presented before us. Of course the downside is that we probably consume more than the 2100 calories that we actually need per day as a healthy diet. These days, I am constantly surprised at the raw ingredients that we can get our hands on, the latest being real vanilla pods from Madagascar. I grew up using those artificial vanilla extracts in little bottles that resemble those 2-shot liquor they serve in planes, so you see that this opened up a whole different world of baking.

I have also recently met a few aspiring chefs too. Chefs I feel are like photographers, are like artists most of whom are obvious know-it-alls: You just can't really talk to them, their info probably came from spending too much time on the Food Channel. I think that for every wannabe chef there are 10 wannabe foodies. For the record, I hate the word foodie, or anything cutesy that ends with an 'ie'. I don't know who came up with that word but that fella ought to be shot.

We have so much food we end up talking about food, we end up criticizing food, and having a channel dedicated to food. This post is not about food but rather, the lack of it.

I've come across the World Food Programme (WFP) before but I don't know if I was too busy or too indifferent to bother. That sort of attitude perhaps describes more than half of us who if nothing happens, will assume everything is fine. I was only reminded when I was watching Letterman last night and President Clinton was on, and he was talking about the Clinton Initiative which was an interesting concept where you go out offer assistance to the people who need it by making a commitment. It is not that we can't, and with just a little effort, money, time, or skill we can allocate any of these things to the people who need it most.

And then today I had the time to sit down and read look through the entire WFP site. As you and I are sitting down awaiting or preparing our next meal, about a billion people will go to bed hungry. What more, the worst hit are women and children, and just 25 cents will feed a hungry child and $25 will feed a child for half a school year. That works out to about RM180 to feed a child for whole year! So, do think about that the next time you're thinking about buying something you want but don't really need. I've placed a link on my site permanently so you can go have a look, or donate immediately. We are facing tough economic times and everyone including I am affected but that is all the more reason to go through with this as the personal donations will surely drop due to this. Can you believe that Malaysia isn't even on the donor list? That places us way below India, Thailand and even Singapore! There is no minimum donation amount either so do what you can.

Its funny to think that also because I grew up in a Chinese family we were encouraged to 'finish your food because there are many children in Africa with nothing to eat'. I don't understand the logic of fattening our kids because some kid in Africa is starving, and I remember I once said, 'Ok, why don't you send this to them instead?', which left the adults speechless.

For a kid, I think that would have been an ideal thing to do. Its all about allocating resources to the places that need it most.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Let's get cookin'

I think the only thing worth watching nowadays on Astro is probably AFC, or the Food Channel. However, I must say that while some programmes are good, I have seen some other crap as well that's come out of these people's kitchens, like for one was this craptastic thing this guy made with 'bak choy'(I can't stand these foreigners calling it 'bok choy'), and coconut milk served with chapati. What the hell is that?

Some honest cooking can be found with Jamie Oliver and Laura Calder. Honest, passionate, and easy going, that's what cooking's supposed to be. Also I've been catching Spain...on the road again with Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Bassols. Its basically 4 people travelling around Spain drinking wines and eating spanish food and generally making everyone else jealous.

I on the other hand, have been doing loads of cooking on my new stove. Its not your fancy Electrolux crap that you pay and display. I know of people who don't even use their kitchens which is such a shame, I got one of those stainless steel industrial ones they use for 'tai chow', or literally 'big-fry'. The amount of heat generated from the roaring stove made my knees feel weak the first time. But it is a fantastic stove, it really is, and as you know the old-timer in me always liked everything to be manual, with the switches and knobs that allows you to control everything.

In a time when everything is automatic, electric and with technology that makes you lazier, this works out for me.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Certified by the Master Brewer

Its a rare honor to be able to hang out for an evening with Fergel Murray, and what makes it even better is that after that you can walk out of there Certified to pour a perfect pint. Indeed, who is this Fergel Murray, you might ask?

He is the Master Brewer at Guinness in Ireland. Guinness, enjoyed all over the world is brewed in only a few select places and only one man controls the whole operation, that is the job of the Master Brewer, and its a pretty fine job at that. Fergel makes sure that the quality and taste is consistent and travels globally to ensure that standard is met. He speaks with passion about his product and rightly so, no question about Guinness is too menial for him.

Guinness, as I have enjoyed for years is available in Draught on tap at all good pubs, and Foreign Extra Stout, or FES, which is the supermarket variety. FES has been around for a while now, but has a recent update in flavor, the alcohol content has dropped from 8% to a current 6.8%. Its now mellower, with a more balanced taste of roasted barley, sweetness and a slight bitter aftertaste. Its actually not bad, and Fergel is quick to stare you down if you ever snub his FES.

The night's event was nothing short of fantastic. It was truly a place where all the Guinness drinkers gathered round and talked about all things Guinness. Its a given that Guinness drinkers mix easily at bars outside but to get them all together in an event is something else. Its also funny to note that we all have the same mindset too, like for instance since Fergel was there and showed us how a perfect pint ought to be poured, we were required to pour our own drinks, and thus continued the entire night, most of us thought that was a marvellous idea, where they ought to have pubs with unmanned taps and we just help ourselves to it. We talked about how bartenders don't know how to pour a proper pint, and learned that if it wasn't poured or served right, we can always send it back.

In the end, it was all worth it. I always liked knowing where my stuff came from, and who made it. The people behind the product, the engine of the entire mechanism, and to be able to sit down and have a pint with the guy who brewed the pint? Priceless.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How do you stop a pandemic?

Its nothing new, really. If you look at the mid 90s they have already made movies such as 12 Monkeys with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt about the wipeout of the global population by a virulent strain. The reaction is similar. People just couldn't care less. No matter how we are warned, we still maintain a 'well, if I was to worry about it that much then nobody has to work, is that it? Who is going to run the real world?' Here's news, you can't run the real world if you're dead.

The problem with people is just that, we assume risks because we no longer regard it as a risk. We prioritize living our life by going to work, doing our job, being responsible because the risk versus reward does not seem significant. To illustrate this point more clearly, it is simply like gambling. If you head to a casino, and you start gambling, the risk is there, right? You might win, you might lose. Now, if you lose, that is fine, because sooner or later you will reach your threshold and you quit because you have bet the maximum amount that you have allocated when you walk in. However, what if you started winning? Not big amounts, but you started winning hands, right? Right at that moment your mentality changes and then the risks start to become smaller. You think to yourself, 'I can win this,' until you reach that point where you will believe that ,'There is no risk.' But think for one second, the risk is still there, your odds are still the same, how your perceive your risk has just changed, thats all.

That is the mentality that we have. We apply this to every aspect of our lives. If nothing happens to us, we assume it is safe. We started having a ruling here recently about using our rear safety belts which I feel was a good idea. They made rear safety belts for a reason anyway, but the perceived mentality is that we don't need to use them because they are bothersome, and that they have been doing fine all these years, why now? You see? Perceived safety. Just because you have never crashed into the front passenger killing them with the force of your mass times your current acceleration doesn't meant that it will never happen. The risks are always the same, its just your state of preparedness that prevent an incident from turning from bad to fatal. People don't see that, we are raised as eternal optimists.

Its because of this state of mind that prevents us from containing this flu pandemic. We were proud enough to declare ourselves free of an outbreak. I never believed it for a second. That's why I don't read the newspapers. Now we are closing schools and yet people don't feel the need to take preventive measures. How could they if they think that wearing your safety belts is too much trouble? So people continue to travel, to go out even if they feel sick because 'I feel fine, its just a small thing, it happens all the time.' Optimism can kill you.

I was at the supermarket recently and this seriously ill woman was shopping. Coughing, runny nose, her face was swollen and all. She just couldn't care less about the people around her. Her companion, looking irritated just snapped with ,'Ok, we'll just go to a doctor later, okay?'. I don't know if she was there against her will or what was the story, but that is how we will never be safe. Taking into account that this virus can mutate and become more virulent, their estimate is sometime year end, but I think that it can happen sooner and render these anti-virals ineffective. Don't need a PhD to tell you that.

If you ask me, if you feel ill, quarantine yourself. If you're out and you're spreading disease, someone in a biosuit should haul your ass to quarantine so fast you wish you never went out. Maybe a quarantine + interrogation room, that should keep more people indoors.

And yes, that someone in that biosuit would probably be me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

SNL with Timberlake

I've been catching Saturday Night Live whenever I can. Its great one-hour entertainment for my lunch breaks, but as anyone following it will know, they have their ups and downs. Sometimes comedy for comedy's sake ends up being a really tired skit that you just want it to end. The last good one that went particularly well was when Anne Hathaway was hosting it recently.

However the Justin Timberlake one is by far the funniest of them recently. Its so good its been making headlines all over. Best skit I think was 'Plasticville' where he gets dressed up in a weird fat suit that not many can pull it off, and the best part of it was the Lady Gaga improv. That's just something you really have to watch,

Can't wait for a 'Best of' to come even though he's only hosted it three times. Brilliant.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nothing less than 50, please

I'm in the market for a new TV, well not right now, but sometime this year would be realistic. And how television has changed. My 32" LCD TV, the epitome of flatscreen LCDs of its time while it was battling a winning war over the large chunky CRT TVs that weighed a quarter of a ton, has now entered into a price range that costs less than an iPhone. In fact, I think you could even get 2 of those for the price of an iPhone today.

The new LED TVs are pretty interesting, insanely thin at less than 10mm, thats about as thick as a Zippo, they can be mounted flush to any wall and look like part of your deco. The 55" one will set you back about 15k, but it comes with a free mount and Blu-ray player among other things.

Talking about Blu-rays, these are the definitive things to collect if you're really into details. I mean the first Blu-ray I tested was Mamma mia, which I am proud to say I have never watched it except for that few moments where it was so vivid you could see the freckles on Pierce Brosnan's face. One of the best places to get Blu-ray discs are on, hands down. Check out their deals and their ever fluctuating prices and you might just walk away with a couple for a song. (Does anyone really talk like that anymore?)

Here's what I would be putting in my library, not a complete list, but if you were thinking about building one at the same time, this would help with not buying anything completely useless like Mam...ok in all fairness my niece was really into it so I won't say more.

- Taken: Completely fantastic edge of your seat entertainment. Liam Neeson scores big and it makes you want to tell these overexcited lying scheming teenagers 'I told you so.'
- Slumdog Millionaire: Well deserved award winning movie. Its a shame the actors are still living in the slums, some even got kicked out and their houses demolished. More should be done for them, these invading Brit opportunist directors...
- Transformers: Robots and Megan Fox, you really can't go wrong there.
- Batman Begins: Best Batman movie ever, and I think even better than the sequel, which is why it isn't on this list.
- Serenity & Firefly: I never watched Firefly until there was nothing left to watch and once I did I was hooked. A sci-fi western? Doesn't sound right, but one of the better series that doesn't deserve to be nixed midway. Huge fan following until today.
- Iron man: The idea of a guy who spends all his time at home working on his hobby and eliminating bad guys? That's everyone's favorite ambition.
- The Godfather: Come on, its a classic.
- Wall-E: Something for the kids, this was a particularly well done animation, I enjoyed it. Almost bought plush toys, imagine that. Keyword: Almost.
- Generation Kill: Gritty, intense, realistic combat action of the Marines in Iraq. Very well done and easy to follow even for non-military nutheads.
- V for Vendetta: I bought this on VCD, I bought it on DVD, I bought the comic book that started it all too. Loved the movie, loved the theme, and Natalie Portman was great in it too.
- Underworld Trilogy: Kate Beckinsale in tights. Guns and vampires.
- Sin City: This is also another classic and others that tried to mimic it failed. Its a long movie so make sure you have enough time to really get into it.
- The Bourne Trilogy: Matt Damon says 'I don't know who I am, but if you cross me, you die'. Love it.
- Bolt: Fairly adult animation about a little girl and her dog. Extremely engaging but I'm not sure the kids will fully get the dialogue.
- Black Hawk Down: Yes yes, I am after all a guy. Great action flick overall.

Of course there are more, but these are the few must have ones, at least for me.

Over and out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Too accessible

Ever notice how this communication gap is closing and as we get more and more tools to communicate we get further and further away from our contacts? We got Friendster, Facebook, Twitter and what not and they are incorporating chats, location trackers (for Google accounts), so that we always know where each of our friends are. But the more these tools become available for our utilization the more we want to deactivate it.

Look at the 'Away' mode for instance. That currently signifies that 'I don't want to talk to just anyone, but if you're in the loop, I'll reply your message'. Or that 'Do not disturb' mode that says 'I'm not really busy but I just don't want to receive any messages.' We have become so socially adept that we've become unsociable!

We end up trying to find features to shut off our online presence instead. What's up with that? I reckon that if you don't want to be found, don't log in or even sign up for chat. If you don't want your pictures shared or edited or used in a malicious manner, don't post your pictures up. If you don't want people to know what you're doing every other second of the day, don't post Twitters every other second of the day. It really is that simple! The more information you share, the more information that can be used against you.

I think at some point people would think, 'How nice would it be if I just lived in a cave and people can't find me?'.

Then maybe a few hours after you've found the cave you'd think, ' Why doesn't this cave have WiFi?'

Never say never

You'd think that if there were more robberies and other theft related incidents happening people would generally be more aware, but they aren't. You know that we have a problem when someone you know, or someone that knows someone you know has been robbed, its not even six degrees of separation anymore, that could be down 50%, and yet, people tend to repeat this six words in their head 'It will not happen to me'.

Call it ignorance, optimism, or whatever you want to, but these are not the carefree 70s, or for my time, the 90s (I reckon they were particularly carefree, for me at least), but today, and possibly for some time to come, optimism can only take you so far, and where the line ends what would you do? What can you do?

Most of us aren't prepared for the worst since we strive for the best and most of that time is spent in our comfort zone. Let's call that zone: White. White zone is when you let your guard down, you're probably at home, doors locked, alarms activated (if any), and you are thus 'free'. The mistake most people make is that when they get out of the house, they are still in the White zone. For me, the moment you step out of your house, you're already in Yellow.

Yellow is a heightened state of awareness. You observe things more carefully, you are aware of your surroundings, you are aware of the people around you and what they are doing. Yellow does not cripple you, nor does it make you less competent, it just means that you'd have to take a little more effort to look a step ahead. If an area is too dark that you shouldn't tread, or if people are rapidly approaching you as you are entering your car. Being in the Yellow zone means that you would do what it takes so that you can get back to the White zone safely. That means lcoking your doors the moment you get into your car, not lingering around the ATM after your transactions, that sort of thing. A lot of accidents and robberies can be prevented by just simply switching your mode to Yellow whenever you are outside your comfort zone.

We'll continue next time on the other two zones, Orange and Red, but right now, this should help at least a bit.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

We are out of time

A year has passed and nothing has changed. People still annoy me, people that walk and read especially. I don't understand why a person finds the need to walk and read at the same time. What's so important that you cannot keep your eyes on the road? What's worse is when they run into you, because they think that since they are pursuing something intellectually stimulating you are required to make way for them. I say to hell with that, I ain't changing my path. Crash and burn.

Ever wonder why radio ads are so cheesy? Personally I prefer the old time jingles, yes you can say that they have jingles too nowadays but you don't find anything that sticks to your head because it was good, more often than not its there because its annoying. What's with the 'informal' conversations too like you get two people talking over excitedly about a product and how they can't live without it? One that bugged me recently was this Starbucks one where they were advertising their 'handcrafted' beverages. Now that's over the line, I say. As a craftsman, you do have to make something exceptionally good out of your hands before you can say you are 'handcrafting' something. If you're just making coffee, you're just doing your job. Otherwise you would see me handcrafting something everyday in the toilet. The thing is, thats the kinda stuff I pull the flush and get on with life.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Let's just start with a song in my head

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d'amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio
che ti fa mia!
(Il nome suo nessun saprà!...
e noi dovrem, ahime, morir!)
Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All'alba vincerò!
vincerò, vincerò!

Nobody shall sleep!...
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, o Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know...
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!...
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!


It really is quite a beautiful song.