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Hokusai Manga

March 28th, 2020

Oh Japan. It’s so crazy. Never nuke a nation twice, right? Well I think they were crazy first.

One of the most famous images of Japan is The Great Wave off Kanagawa [wikipedia.org]:

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai

Hokusai is probably the most famous Japanese artist, and last November when we were in Amsterdam we can across a three book set of his wood block prints called Hokusai Manga [goodreads.com] at the Van Gogh museum shop. I didn’t buy it then but I got a copy later from Book Depository [bookdepository]. Flipping through it there are many silly, intentionally or not, prints of everyday life in Edo Japan. There are some very silly sumo and old men doing exercise. And then, on page 73 of volume one, “Edo Life” is this:

Geisha butt death ray!

Who knew gesha could shoot death rays out of their butts? So, yea, maybe the crazy wasn’t caused by the nukes. Maybe they were already crazy.

COVID19 Lockdown

March 19th, 2020

I should have returned from Bali today. It’s spring school holidays this week in Singapore and we booked a villa in Bali from Sunday to Thursday. There was a lot of debate if we should cancel or not due to COVID19 but in the end we decided to go. We were planning on chilling in isolation in our villa for 5 days.

It all started out good, on Saturday afternoon the airport was less busy than it could be but it was not a ghost town. The flight was only half full, and we made it through immigration in Bali in less than an hour —which is a rare feat. We checked in and enjoyed swimming in our private pool all morning Sunday.

Then, Sunday afternoon we found out that Singapore was going to impose 14 day Stay Home Notice [moh.gov.sg] (SHN) to all travelers from ASEAN countries entering Singapore after 23:59 on the 16th of March. So we decided to try and change our flights from Thursday to Monday. It was remarkable painless, the Singapore Air website worked well, somewhat surprisingly. We flew in at 10:30 PM on Monday.

So, all good. Right?

Nope. Today, due to a large surge in imported cases, made up mostly of Singaporeans and residents that were returning form overseas, the government announced [moe.gov.sg] mandatory Leave Of Absence [moh.gov.sg] (LOA) for students and staff in public schools who have recent travel history to lots of places, including to Indonesia (link is for an older advisory so the list of affected countries is now longer but the rest of the order is the same)

14 days from the date of return… meaning my kids can’t go to school next week, until April 1st (ha ha ha…). And while the LOA for the kids does not mean my wife or I are locked in, effectively one of us is as no one else can come over to watch the kids. So they are stuck in here with me for the next two weeks doing e-learning…

On the bright side we did miss a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Bali [channelnewsasia.com] today.

Simian Eyes 2.0

March 11th, 2020
IMG_6656

Photo of a Long-tailed Macaque [wikipedia.org] taken at the Tree Top Walk [nparks.gov.sg] in the Central Catchment Nature Park (aka Macritchie Reservoir). Compare with 1.0 version [confusion.cc] from 2005.

Class War in America

March 7th, 2020

For all the talk of market efficiency, the “information economy” has created a vast category of professionals who do nothing but copy and paste McKinsey info­graphics into presentations for no social or even narrowly commercial purpose.

Julius Krein, in The Real Class War article in American Affairs Journal

I know people like that.

A friend shared this some time ago. It’s an interesting, if long, article on where the classes and allegiances of Americans are and how they got to where they are. There is some emphasis on the rise of bullshit jobs and how popular has somehow granted authority to loudmouths. Best line:

Many of these people presumably possess some narrow technical ability, though if so, it is less and less evident. But they conspicuously lack any self-awareness, much less insight into issues of broader human concern, … The case of Donald Trump speaks for itself.

Julius Krein, in The Real Class War article in American Affairs Journal

Emphasis mine.

COVID-19

February 29th, 2020

We’re more than a month into COVID-19 now. Time to write something about it. Things have calmed down in the past week or so but everything is on edge. While things in Singapore seem to be under control the economy is so deeply dependent on people shopping and dinning out and Business travel, in and out, that other countries inability to control the outbreak could tank Singapore very quickly.

Singapore’s preparedness for an epidemic is impressive, I guess having a recent memory of one helps. I personally missed the SARS outbreak [wikipedia.org] in Singapore but it killed 33 people here. When I first came here in late 2004, over a year after SARS, things had settled down. Even so there were a lot of reminders, many signs in public and workplace toilets about how to wash hands, widespread use of hand sanitizers —both personal portable bottles and larger bottles at hotel receptions and other public places— and people using surgical masks when they had any cough or other sign of illness. Over the intervening years most of that has gone away…

As I said, things seem to have mostly settled down but all the precautions are back with a bang. Hand sanitizer is everywhere again; at the coffee shops, at the restaurants, in office lobbies. Many people are wearing masks —the government keeps telling people you only need a mask if you have flu like symptoms, in which case get yourself to a doctor to be tested— but there is a large number of people who are just wearing them all the time. Entrances to office buildings have thermal scanners. Business Continuity Planning is a hot topic. Many companies, including one of my local customers are using “Blue-Green” teams; staff at one site are forbidden to visit the second site and vice-versa and they are forbidden to meet outside the sites as well. Our onsite teams can’t visit our company offices. Other places have staggered working hours. Schools have canceled most activities; my older daughter missed her fifth year over seas trip last year as it was supposed to be to Hong Kong and the riots got in the way, and now COVID-19 has caused school to cancel her sixth year camp week, so sad. And since Singapore has “community spread” of the virus (meaning locals with no travel history to China or other direct link have caught the virus locally) my planned travel to South Africa next week has been canceled by the customer.

And a few weeks ago it was full on panic mode… there was a lot of panic buying and hoarding, I spend close to an hour in line to buy a few things I needed for packing school lunches because I could not get a slot for delivery via Amazon Prime, my usual way of doing weekly shopping. I saw people buying 96 rolls of toilet paper, 24 two-liter waters, shopping carts full of instant noodles or rice. I didn’t take any amazing photos but the internet has not disappointed, these are from a few WhatsApp groups, all scenes in Singapore:

The government is trying to keep people informed, setting up a WhatsApp group with regular updates, which link to more detailed updates posted on government websites:

The efficiency of Singapore’s tracing of the transmission is a bit scary. I guess it’s the positive side of all the CCTV surveillance cameras around the island.

Links between previous cases found

3. Further epidemiological investigations and contact tracing have uncovered links between previously announced and new cases. This was made possible with the assistance of the Singapore Police Force.

Six of the locally transmitted confirmed cases (Cases 31, 33, 38, 83, 90 and 91), as well as Cases 8 and 9, are linked to The Life Church and Missions Singapore. These six cases are linked to another 23 confirmed cases (Cases 48, 49, 51, 53, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 73, 74, 78, 80, 81, 84, 88) who are linked to the Grace Assembly of God.

Nine of the confirmed cases (Cases 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27, 28, 34 and 40) are linked to…

Ministry of Health Singapore, “Three More Cases Discharged; Two New Cases of COVID-19 Infection Confirmed”, [moh.gov.sg] press release

I think a lot of Singapore’s ability to handle this is not replicable in other places. The foundation and the money, is just not there and the face that Singapore is so small that there is no issues with coordination across city, state and local agencies and officials.

In the beginning COVID-19 spread quickly in Singapore, we were number two after China (a very distant number two…) but we have dropped down to number six now. Hopefully the rest of the world gets things under control quickly, but I doubt it.

Kafkaesque vs Seussian

February 1st, 2020

A few months ago Netflix released a show, Green Eggs and Ham, based on the Dr. Seuss classic.

In the first episode there is a scene where one of the protagonists walks through a big office full of “bean counters and pencil pushers.” The room is filled with characters at desks literally counting beans, one at a time, or pushing pencils across a desk, one at a time. It’s a funny sight, if a bit predictable, but after watching it I felt that it was a lazy joke but there was something else about it I couldn’t put my finger on.

Describing it the next day to a colleague it came to me: the problem was that pencil pushers and bean counters is simply not Seussian! Seussian is defined as:

Seussian
Relating to or characteristic of the Dr. Seuss series of children’s books, especially in being whimsical or fantastical.

(definition from: The Oxford English Dictionary [lexico.com])

Emphasis mine.

Dr. Seuss wrote about people who make thneeds or sneeches with and without stars on their bellies. About wacky Wednesday’s and fights over which side you should butter your bread on. He wrote about wockets in pockets and a fox who wears socks while rhyming. I just don’t feel like he would fill an office with bean counters and pencil pusher —at least not by those names, beans and pencils are too mundane for Dr. Seuss.

Bean counters and pencil pushers called to my mind a different authorial adjective —Kafkaesque.

Kafkaesque
Characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.

(definition from: The Oxford English Dictionary [lexico.com])

But that’s not right. The bean counters and pencil pushers are not nightmarish or oppressive (at least not in the show, I’ve met some that are in real life!) I thought of kafkaesque as more “absurdity of modern life.” But the dictionary disagrees. Maybe pencil pushers and bean counters would be more Roald Dahl, not Wonka but the world outside the factory gates? I’m not sure. I even looked up The Myth of Sisyphus [wikipedia.org] which is about the absurdity of life in the modern world, but it resulted in a bit of circular reasoning as “The essay contains an appendix titled “Hope and the Absurd in the work of Franz Kafka”. And “[Camus] maintains that Kafka fails as an absurd writer because his work retains a glimmer of hope.” So maybe pencil pushers and bean counters are kafkaesque after all. It’s all so confusing. But the central premise stands: they are not seussian.

Dr. Seuss used his wacky worlds to write about many real world problems: deforestation, racism, the nuclear arms race… [buzzfeed.com] but I don’t remember any about pointless jobs. Pointless jobs, or bullshit jobs [wikipedia.org] are plague on society that has been around since before Dr. Seuss, and I expect will continue for many years to come… but that theory is a topic for another day.

These are the rules of the internet

January 6th, 2020

“People love koalas and countries not being consumed by fires, but what people really love is nudes. These are the rules of the Internet.

James Felton, in US Model Raises Over 500,000 for Australia Bushfires by Sending Nudes [iflscience.com]

Annular Eclipse, Singapore, December 2019

December 26th, 2019
IMG_8219

There was an eclipse today in Singapore. Unlike the last one [confusion.cc] this was an annular eclipse, so at maximum there was a “ring of fire” (aka an annulus, hence the name.)

Unfortunately some clouds rolled in just before maximum and so the eclipse was partially, and sometimes totally obscured. Still I managed to get some dramatic shots, as in a scene from Game or Thrones or The Witcher.

After cleanup I have about 90 photos [flickr.com], some taken with the 200 millimeter lens and some with a 500 mm with a 2x extension tube, so 1000 mm. The ring of fire above was taken with the 200 mm. The one below, taken just after second contact, as the moon begins to move off of the disc of the sun, shows a small dot of light at the bottom, disconnected from the rest of the crescent of the sun. Proof that the moon is not a smooth sphere. Cool. Super cool!

IMG_8697

Friendship Through Cyber Stalking

November 25th, 2019

For all the reasons to hate Facebook, there are some times when it is an amazing tool. I am currently in Amsterdam for holiday and the other morning while I was scrolling through Facebook I happened upon a post from an old colleague who lives in Moscow. Coincidentally he was in Amsterdam for a few days of work. So we managed to meet up for drinks and dinner after a decade. This is one of the best reasons to keep Facebook. I suck at keeping in touch with friends who live overseas, but I do stalk a significant number of them on Facebook. It’s a double edged sword because I don’t interact with them but I do feel like I’m still in touch with them. So, as dangerous as Facebook is if you are a bit picky about your friends post significant things and things like travel to your friends it can yield some serendipitous moments.

Facebook isn’t alone. I am writing this while waiting for another ex-colleague who lives in Amsterdam that I have kept up with, off-and-on, via a WhatsApp group. But even my WhatsApp groups are mostly random, far between posting of funny things or rankings and not real contact. Oh well.

The moral of this story should be “I should be a better friend”. But I prefer: post enough of your life to Facebook so others, who you have selectively chosen —never post to the open internet, remember the internet does not forget— can stalk you.

Bounty Hunters and Pirates

November 19th, 2019

Vice has a story about how the fragmentation of the streaming video market is driving people back to piracy to get their fix. It focuses a lot on the cost of having all the streaming services —welcome back to the cable era— but it has less to say about a major issue with streaming services: different launch dates and offerings by country.

As a Star Wars fan in Singapore my only option to watch The Mandalorian before the internet shoves terabytes of spoilers in front of my eyes is to pirate it. There is no official launch date for Disney+ in Singapore yet. What the fuck house house of mouse? I understand the level of technical complexity to rolling out global services on this scale. Netflix only conquered the world a few years ago but it suffered for many years from VPN leakage. And Hulu and other streaming services still don’t have global offerings. Maybe a VPN will work for D+?

A major part of the issue with most streaming services is how content has always been distributed. It complicated but in general studios make a show and its purchased (before or after being made) by a distributor who, well, distributes it. In the old days it was distributed physically, with rolls of film shipped around. Back in high school the older brother of a friend was the manager of a local theater and the amount of money they spent to rent the reels of film for a new movie was crazy. I understand why the popcorn and coke is so expensive, I suspect that even with digital distribution the cost didn’t go down… just more profit.

Under this physical distribution model it took a lot of layers of middlemen to get content around the world. And contracts were put in place. As new distribution technology and new touch points with consumers emerged the same model was used. So someone could own the broadcast rights to a move and someone else the digital distribution and someone else the physical distribution (DVDs). And of course exclusivity of a popular title meant more money. Back when music streaming and download was the big battleground another friend was in charge of the Nokia “comes with music” product where Nokia bundled a year of streaming with your phone. He had a small army of lawyers working for most of a year to get the required rights contracts in place, just for Singapore!

Now Disney is the owner of it’s own content, and the distributor via Disney+. So why can’t I watch The Mandalorian in Singapore?