The Bear Problem

on Saturday, June 30, 2007

Global warming means extreme weather throughout the world. Hundreds die in floods in Pakistan while at the same time hundreds also die of heat wave in Eastern Europe and Greece. Meanwhile floods also hit England and Oklahoma. Manitoba gets hit by multiple tornadoes on two consecutive days. This was all in the last week.

Even before this, it was noted that the sea ice in Northern Canada was forming later in the year and there was less of it. This is severely impacting the polar bears that rely on the ice to go out to sea to hunt for seals. The lack of sea ice has led to reports for the first time of large numbers of malnourished polar bears, reports of bears eating their own cubs and even for the very first time, reports of bears drowning because there was too much sea between ice packs.

Some fear that this could be a serious threat to the polar bears and could lead to their extinction. The few optimists that remain think that nature will learn to adapt.

For polar bears, adaptation may mean finding alternative food sources or moving to where the food is and as bears of all sorts begin to move southwards, this invariably could lead to more human animal clashes. As a service to those in potentially affected areas like the USA and Canada, I have included the following advice on safety from the Alaskan Deparment of Fish and Game. For all our sakes, please read it carefully to the very last line.

World Food Spot 7: Satay

on Thursday, June 28, 2007

This is Pakcik. That is a name of endearment meaning "uncle". I have known him and his wife for more than 30 years. They run a satay stall near my home and my family and I must have consumed and enjoyed thousands of sticks of satay over those years. He can actually remember me as a small kid, watched me grow up, remember when I first started work, remember when I got married and he has seen me grow sideways too.

I write this post with a tinge of sadness because he and his wife retired last month. He has definately earned his retirement but I will miss him as he has been practically a timeless institution in my life. Of course, I will also miss his delicious satay. Nevertheless, I wish Pakcik and his wife many happy years in retirement.

Satay consists basically of three flattened, marinated pieces of meat which are skewered and then grilled over a charcoal or wood fire. A key characteristic of the dish is the prominant use of tumeric and ginger in the meat marinade. The meat used in predominantly Islamic Malaysia is commonly that of chicken or beef. Non-muslims, especially Chinese in Penang and Melaka have a variant which uses pork as a meat and pineapple in the marinade and sauce.

Once cooked, the satay is served with a peanut based spicy dipping sauce. Also common accompaniments include rice steamed in pandanus leaves (called ketupat) and sliced cucumber and onions.

As with all barbequed meats, it has a powerfully pleasing aroma. Well cooked, its meat is tender and both sweet and savory to the taste. The spicy peanut sauce is also heady with spices and some people like the sauce so much they will eat it with rice.

The origin of satay is hotly disputed and shrouded in the mists of time. Most likely, the original concept could have come from Chinese or Arabian merchants as early as the 14th Century. The modern form of satay is likely to have originated in Indonesia but it has become a common sight in many Southeast Asian countries.

If you get a chance, try this dish. The tumeric and ginger marinade will seduce you. The smoky barbeque flavour will evoke a sense of mystery and for a squirrel, nothing beats a peanut based spicy dipping sauce.

(All pictures by LGS)

Dungeons and Dragons (Part 2)

on Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Having chosen or rather been given no choice but to choose a thief, I was ready to be drawn into the Dark Realms conjured up within the twisted mind of Almighty Wally, our host and Dungeon Master.

The Plot
Wally explained that our party had come across this small village at the foot of the mountains. In recent times, some ancient religious sect had taken over the abandoned castle on a nearby mountain. Since then, strange things and creatures have been seen. The villagers dare not venture out at night due to the presence of werewolves and other creatures of the night. Then last month, members of the cult met the village heads to demand 10 virgins each full moon for sacrifice to their demon God. That first sacrifice was due in two weeks time. The village leaders offer to pay us to go to the castle and defeat the cultists before then.

We, of course, agreed to do this gallant task as they were paying us a lot for a succeessful mission. But the way to the mountain castle is protected by a thick thorn hedge and patrolled by packs of werewolves and Giant trolls. We first needed to visit the labyrinth of Gath because at the centre of the labyrinth was a mural that would tell us more about the ancient castle and a map to guide us through the thorn hedges. Oooo. I listened intently to Wally. Not a bad story to give us a little semblence of sense in what would otherwise be a series of senseless encounters and fights. Before long, our merry band consisting of a Paladin, a Barbarian Warrior, a Ranger, a Cleric, a Druid, an Assasin and a Thief (squirrel jumping up and down, that's me! that's me!) entered the dark underground Labyrinth of Gath.

The "Staying in Character".
Woweee. In the labyrinth, it seemed that everywhere we turned there was some beast or monster to be killed. Most of the time, the Ranger got them at a distance with her bow and arrows. Whatever got past that were soon chopped down by the Barbarians axe or the paladin's sword. Even the Cleric (or Mage as they called him) and the Druid got the occasional beast using their magical powers or by calling on their deities for help. I was happily sneaking past all the fighting and collecting hidden treasures and artifacts. This was okay for awhile but I soon got fed up of missing the glory and excitement of the fight.

So in the first encounter after the morning tea and rest room break, I decided to live dangerously. We had entered a chamber and there was a giant Troll in it. Every one took their expected action stations. Once again I was expected to stay out of the way until the big heroes dealt with the baddie. But enough was enough, I told Wally that I chose to sneak behind it and attack with my dagger.

Jaime said, "Are you mad? You can't do that."

"Why not?"

"Cause you're a thief! You've got to stay in character. And what are you doing? You're pricking away with a puny dagger, for goodness sake!"

"I may be a thief but I am a brave and fearless thief!" I replied.

Jaime appeals to the Dungeon Master to intervene. Wally decides to let me do what I want. He's sure that I will soon learn the folly of my ways.

I have a small theoretical chance of throwing the dice where the outcome would be that I had a lucky stab at the monster and it just happened to sever the juggular and the monster keels over mortally wounded. Like a gambler at Las Vegas, I blew on the diced and willed for the right numbers to appear. Like most gamblers at Las Vegas, I lost.

The battle goes something like this;

I jump on the back of the troll and stab him with my small dagger. (Roll dice). Miss. No damage.

Troll busy fighting with Paladin. So I try to poke him with my dagger again. (Roll dice) Hit but only 1 damage point against the troll. Equivalent to a bee sting.

Troll decides to swing his club at me. (Rolls dice) Hits me with 12 hit points. Wally tells me this means that I have lost my left arm and am suffering from internal bleeding. My character may be suffering but my adrenaline is up.

Being the gallant thief, I stab away again with my dagger. (Roll dice). My blade breaks off because of the hard troll skin.

Troll swipes at me. (roll dice) Another 15 hit points. Wally tells me I am now splattered all over the cave and am definately dead. Ah well.

They thought that I had learnt my lesson about staying in character but I can be really, really stubborn about learning things. So they allow me to rejoin the group as a new character (also a thief) and I am promptly fried to a cinder while on a suicide run towards a dragon with my little pocket knife. They respawn me again and I die two more gruesome deaths before lunchtime.

Wally and Karen come to me and say, "Look, stay in character or else you're not resurrecting after the next death." It seems my attempts to make my thief a hero is not going down well with everyone else. They don't think I should rise above my station. It's also slowing down the quest as each time I die, they have to return to the village to get a new thief. Okay, now that my sense of immortality had been lost, I decided to conform and stay in character.

The Great Boredom
Before long, we had killed everything there was to kill in the labyrinth and all we needed to do was exit the labyrinth. Our party turned left, left, left. Dead end. Right, left, right. Dead end. Left, left, right. Dead end. We keep going. Before long 15 minutes of fruitless wanderings had passed. Almighty Wally speaks from heaven, "look you guys are supposed to be bloody scientists! The way out has a simple mathematical solution!"

With one voice we murmured, "Oh, a mathematical solution! Why didn't you say so!" One hour later we were still stuck in the labyrinth. People were beginnning to yawn, read magazines and nod off. We were going nowhere.

Finally, Wally asked what did we want to do next. We said go left. Not because we knew what we were doing but because we didn't know what else to say. Wally solemnly rolls his dice and says, "hurray! you are out at the base of the castle!' Now, we all suspect a bit of divine Wally intervention there but we were so glad to be back in the sunshine we kept quiet.

The Climax.
By dinner time, we had reached the inner sanctum of the castle. Victory was at hand. There were a few minion guards to occupy the heroes. But my thieving eyes was on this beautiful giant crystal sitting in the arms of the bronze idol in the centre of the room. I rushed towards it, skirting the fighting (notice, I am keeping to character) and as a thief would do, I placed my sweaty hands on the crystal and lifted it up. Before Karen the Assasin can call out a warning to me, Wally rolls his dice and proclaims that white smoke begins to rise from the idol.

The cleric and the Druid rush to my side and attempt to call on their Gods to stop the billowing smoke. (Roll dice). The smoke grows in volume.

The cleric and the Druid try throwing holy water on the idol. (Roll dice). Smoke turns black. Team memnbers are blaming me for picking up the crystal. I say, I am a thief, what do you expect! They say, they would expect me to check for traps before picking up the crystal. "Oh" I say.

The Druid takes out some scrolls and begin chanting but the black smoke gets worse and sparks appear.

Then I had an inspirational thought! I told Wally, "I smash the crystal to pieces on the floor." Wally looks pale as he rolls his dice. He turns paler when he sees the result.

"Um. There is a big explosion, an earthquake, volcanic eruption. The castle collapses. All of you have to do saving rolls to see if you survive."

The team is not happy with me cause half of them are dead and the other half gravely injured. I am dead for the fourth time. They drag their sorry, battered bodies back down the mountain to the village only to find that the villagers have lost everything in the earthquake and eruption and they were attacked by angry mobs.

Everyone was stunned.

The aftermath.
It was almost midnight when Karen and I walked to the bus stop. We had left the place like every one else a little shocked and subdued by the game outcome. We sat at the cold bus stop for a few minutes before Karen turned to me and said,"You know, that almost never happens." I nod solemnly.

She added, "I wish it happens a bit more frequently. It was so funny." The bus came and the driver found us laughing hysterically. Karen, Wally, Jaime and I remained friends but I was never ever invited to another campaign. Jaime never got over the fact that his Paladin was lynched by the village mob!

Dungeons and Dragons (Part 1)

on Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This is the story of my experience, while I was at University, with the strange gaming world of Dungeons and Dragons.

The Initiation
The world of Dungeon and Dragons is a strange and secretive one. I was always interested in it and made my interest known but I got no response from my colleagues other than some vague mumbling about how they had read about it somewhere. Yet every Monday, I saw sleepy, bloodshot eyes all around - evidence that each weekend, there was a secret gathering with long, wild, serious D & D marathons going on.
For weeks, I felt left out. Then one winter day, Karen asked me what I was doing for the weekend. I said "Nothing much - feeding squirrels."

"How would you like to see some real action?" she asked teasingly. Of course, I was ecstatic. "Meet me outside the labs at 9.00 am Saturday. Come alone and don't be late!"

I was there early and had to wait for her. Eventually, Karen appeared out of the blowing snow and led me into the white landscape. We took some creative short cuts through some hedges and fences and we walked along some streets for a good fifteen minutes. I realised that we had been going round the same cul-de -sac for the last five minutes and it was a familiar cul-de-sac too.

"Karen, are we headed for Wally's pad? I ask only cause we've gone round it four times."
"Shhh!" and she pushes me up the driveway and to Wally's front door. "Had to make sure we were not followed" she offered.

She tapped the door three times, paused and then tapped twice. Wally, opened the door and ushered us in without a word. Only when we were inside did they both relax. "Sorry about the cloak and dagger but not every one's significant other or supervisor knows where we are today and we want to keep it that way!"

I was led into the den and there assembled were six other comrade at arms waiting and eager for the coming adventure into the Dark Realms.

The Rules
I enthusiastically asked lots of questions but nobody really wanted to waste time helping the novice out. So the rules were simplified and summarised for me. Chose a character. Play the character. When the character does something, I get to roll the dice which determines the outcome of the action. Everything else was under the control of the Almighty Wally our host and Dungeon Master.

The Pecking Order
The wonderful thing about D & D is that you get to chose from a variety of characters. For example, you could be a wizard, not unlike Gandalf. Or perhaps a super-righteous defender of all that is good, a Paladin. Even a Ranger with special abilities like talking to animals seemed like a cool character. Or perhaps a cleric, skilled with knowledge of the supernatural.
"Why can't I be the Paladin?" I asked.
"Andy is the Paladin." Karen replies.
"How come he gets to be the Paladin?"

"He brought the beer."



"Jaime. He brought the chips."

"Ranger? Wizard? Elf?"

"Taken, taken, taken."

"What's left?"

"You can be a thief."

Beggars can't be choosers. "Okay!" I said cheerfully. "I'll be the best thief there ever was. Let the games begin."

(end of part 1. To be continued......)

on Monday, June 25, 2007

An Immersing Experience

on Sunday, June 24, 2007

Photocredit: Lorraine
Two weeks ago, my church had an exciting time as we had a baptismal service for 10 people. One church member saw three members, representing three generations of his family taking part in this testimony of faith. First there was his father who was 75 years old, then his wife and finally his 16 year old niece. His father and his niece were also both the eldest and the youngest taking part. The group was truly a mixed bunch as some had grown up in Christian homes while others were from other backgrounds and only recently accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour.

So that you can get a visual picture, the church actually has a small pool sunken into the front of the church on an elevated portion. You would be able to see them, one by one, enter the pool and stand waist deep in the water. The church elder will be in the water next to them. He will ask them if they believe in Jesus Crist as Saviour and accept him as Lord. The candidate will then respond and on his affirmation, the elder will lower them into the water until they are horizontal under the water and then they will be raised again and sent off to waiting towels and warm drinks.

I was given the privilege to give a short message to those assembled; friends and relatives. The objective of the message was to share with them the meaning of baptism and what the baptisismal candidates were testifying to by doing it.

I chose to approach it by quoting from 3 sources of literature. For the first literary reference, I turned to the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy written by Douglas Adams. This is a series of books (seven, I believe, in total) which was increasingly wrongly refered to as a trilogy. It was of the science fiction/humor/satire genre. A key idea of the story was the quest for the "answer to Life, the Universe and Everything". A supercomputer was built and it spent billions of years to discover that the answer was 42. The computer then went on to advise the super-intelligent pan-dimensional beings (they look like white mice but that's a different story) that had built it that all would be clear when they discover the "question of Life, the Universe and Everything.

Anyway, playing with suspense and using great marketing skills, Douglas Adams gets us to buy all the books in the seires before he reveals the discovery of the Ultimate Question which is "What is 6 multiplied by 9?" At this juncture, those gifted mathematicians amongst you would have realised that "6 x 9 = 54" and not "42".

At which point, one of the story's protagonist dryly remarks, "I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the world." (Did you get it? I assure you that most of my Malaysian audience hadn't a clue what I was saying! I really ought to stop using Hitch-Hiker's Guide with Malaysian audiences.)

The second piece of Literature I used was Shakesphere's MacBeth. Specifically I refer to the remorse and guilt shown by MacBeth and Lady MacBeth after they had killed King Duncan. ( A bit more recognition amongst the audience with this quote).

“Will all the water in the ocean wash this blood from my hands? No, instead my hands will stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters red.” MacBeth

Lady MacBeth while washing her hands of imagined blood; “ Out damn spot!” “Will these hands never be clean?” “ Here's the smell of blood still,; All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

Finally, I read from the Holy Bible, quoting from the Good News according to John, Chapter 3 and verses 1 -18.

John 3
Jesus Teaches Nicodemus
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."
3In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.[a]"

4"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

5Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You[c] must be born again.' 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

9"How can this be?" Nicodemus asked.

10"You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[d] 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.[e]

16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

The Three Points of the Message:-

  1. There is something fundamentally wrong with this world is corrupted by sin (disobedience to God).
  2. We are powerless to remove the guilt of sin or to remove ourselves from its control.
  3. Only Jesus can set us free from sin.

Jesus did this by taking our place and our sin and paying the penalty for us by dying on a cross at Calvary, being buried but after 3 days rising from the grave having defeated bith death and sin. Likewise, the candidates as they are immersed in water and then rise out of it, testify that a miracle has happened in their lives and they too are dead to their old ways and are reborn in God.

Okay, written out, it seems like a long message but actually I took less than 8 minutes. I did not want to detract from the main event of the night which was the personal testimonies of each of those 10 as they shared about the difference knowing Jesus had made in their vaired lives.

It was a great night of celebrating lives made anew. We could do with more of that.

Unburied Nuts from 23rd November 2006

on Thursday, June 21, 2007

Another post from the early days of the blog is unearthed. I hope you will enjoy this one which originally came out around Thanksgiving 2006 whichwas the flimsy premise for sharing about how comics have been a major form of education for me.

Thanksgiving for Comics

It came to my attention that this is Thanksgiving weekend for our American friends. A time for gathering the family and stuffing oneself on stuffed turkey and giving thanks for all of God’s blessings. As a tradition which strengthens family ties and reminds us of God amidst our often busy lives, it is to be highly commended. I wish all Americans a happy thanksgiving.

However, the cynic in me cannot help but note that the number one thing Americans should be thankful for was that the Native Americans did not massacre the Mayflower pilgrims when they had a chance. Instead, they even taught the early settlers how to survive winter and introduced them to new foods. In hindsight, a bad decision by the native peoples.

However, it’s not my intention to become all political on this joyful occasion. Instead, I was thinking of thanksgiving which led me to think about turkeys (which by the way was proposed by Benjamin Franklin at one time to be the symbol of the USA . It’s true. Can you imagine instead of the 101st “Screaming Eagles”, we would have the 101st “Clucking Turkeys”? I think in this alternate universe, America would be more peace-loving. It’s harder for turkeys to go to war!!!). From turkeys, my mind wandered to hunting for turkeys for dinner which led me to the great turkey hunt which led me to the comic strip, B.C., which has a great turkey hunt as a recurring theme which led me to think that I am very thankful for the influence of various comic strips in my life which led me to this blog entry. I like to call it lateral thinking but friends call it the wanderings of a nutcase.

Comic strips have been a major source of education in my life. Seriously. The first and most influential was “Peanuts” by Charles Schultz. This was full of wonderful ideas and lessons on philosophy and human psychology. I remember that Charles Schultz once said that there is no humor in happiness which therefore meant Charlie Brown was to suffer a lot in the name of humor from unrequited love, insecurity, a rebellious dog, a losing baseball team, etc. But Charlie Brown was also a lesson in perseverance and hope and a belief that trials make you stronger. Hence the famous quote, ”Good Grief”. There was even a book entitled; “The Gospel according to Peanuts.” Which did a good job of illustrating the good news about Jesus through the thoughts and actions of the Peanuts gang.

Next, I learnt about political systems and beliefs through the work of Johnny Hart in “B.C.” and with his collaboration with Brant Parker in “Wizard of Id”. B.C.’s adorable but clueless cavemen introduced me to the war of the sexes and to sarcastic humor. For a while I went around trying to be the king of sarcasm, then learnt that you made few friends that way. Valuable life lesson. Wizard of Id made me think about despotism, feudalism and other forms of government and how it impacts the people. I remember an episode where the king promises firewood in every home and a chicken in every pot and was surprised that the people were angry until an aide explained that the people would rather have a home and a pot first! Some people have even less than we could imagine.
My favourite quote from Wizard of Id - “If people from Cyprus are called Cypriots, what do they call us citizens of Id?”

The Adventures of Asterix the Gaul, by Goscinny and Uderzo, was the next influential comic. The diminutive Asterix showed that size does not matter but most of all I learnt a lot about Roman and European history as I followed his adventures throughout Europe, Egypt and even the new world. From this, I also learnt to appreciate different cultures and picked up my interest in traveling. Quote from Asterix has to be - Romans: “These Gauls are crazy.” Gauls: “These Romans are crazy.”

Bloom County’s weird assortment or should I say menagerie of animals and humans, by Berke Breathed, was more accessible to me than Doonesbury and allowed me to understand a bit more about U.S. politics and also about big business. I also liked how the strip drew inspiration from a wide variety of forms and topics. Most memorable moment:- Opus to animals being experimented on/tortured in a cosmetics laboratory, "You're not volunteers, are you?"

Next comes, Groo the Wanderer, by Sergio Aragones. The perfect antidote to the macho barbarian archetype like Conan and the Beastmaster. The series focuses on the misadventures of an idiot with only one skill – that is to slay anything. Yet along the way many important social and environmental issues are examined. In one series, Groo lands on an island paradise but due to his ignorance, he begins to upset the balance of nature turning abundance into shortages and leading to distrust between villages, the introduction of fences and finally war. The lesson was that people depend on the intricate balance of nature or biodiversity. Famous Groo saying, “Did I err……again?”

My latest discovery was Bone by Jeff Smith. This has revived my love for good story telling. There is little in this gem that is not good but one highlight is the episode entitled, “The Great Cow Race”. I am proud to be a Bone Collector.

Finally, the Lone Grey Squirrel would like to end with a valuable lesson about squirrels which surprisingly comes from the comic strip, Blondie, where the husband, Dagwood, learns the following from a pet shop owner,” He is nobody’s squirrel. He is his own squirrel.” He could have been speaking about Spikey

Running Through Barley

on Wednesday, June 20, 2007

PhotoCredit: LGS

As I followed after you into the fields of barley,
My heart beat with the force of youth within my breast.
The future glimmered, a distant mirage, a blur to me.
But that I flew on wings of love, mattered more than the rest

The summer sun beat down on us with warmth and assurance
The breeze blew steadily and swayed the stalks heavy and bowed
And as we passed, we would feel the barley beat upon us
Like gentle caresses, or sweet applause, or kisses stolen and proud

You moved as if Life itself choreographed your dance
The sway of your hips, the fall of your feet, the sound of your laugh
And I was caught up in the music, the spell of romance,
Every sense alive, every smell, every sound as bright as the sky above.

The barley parted before us as we ran and as we pranced
It surrounded us and supported us and it hid us
I followed overjoyed, my head spinning and my heart entranced
It seemed all nature joined to celebrate and cheer us.

But for the shortest moment, my eyes strayed, I turned too late.
Suddenly you were gone and only the silent field stretched before me,
I looked all around and called out but you had left without a trace,
Even our path behind was covered and I stood alone in the barley.

Again and again, I asked what might I have done differently,
That my highest joy would not have been so short lived a flame
I was still slumped in the field when the rains found me
The barley kept me company, heavy, burdened, silent and ashamed.

One Week Special

on Monday, June 18, 2007

Okay, I have succumbed to pressure from certain quarters. It seems some people actually do not believe I am a squirrel and that my usual handsome hairy faced, long whiskered portrait that adorns my profile on my blog is actually that of a body double. Others are so cynical as to think that the Lone Grey Squirrel is actually a man in a suit (and they want to see the man in the suit!). Where is the trust in the world? Next you'll be telling your children that Santa is really Daddy in a beard. Or that Big Bird is actually an overweight cigar smoking puppeteer in a yellow costume. Shock horror! Where will all thus cynicism end?

Anyway, under a miniscule amount of pressure (I cave in easily), I have decided to shave my whiskers and pose for this photo. But it will be up only for this week. A one week special. It seems that any longer and I risk being identified and located by the police who want to talk to me about a certain cat and buttered bread scam.

How should you react to this once in a lifetime opportunity? You should lie and compliment me on my good looks and start sending money to me for my obviously much needed plastic surgery. What I know some of you will do (and I wish, you won't), is to doctor the photo and embarass me by having me next to Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. And Ivan, resist the temptation to put my face on your dartboard. Gerbil, don't use my face to line the cage. Cruel world, I am at your mercy.

Eight is Enough with Contradictions.

on Sunday, June 17, 2007

I turned on the computer and .....Blank. My mind, not the computer. Couldn't think about what I wanted to write. Then I realised that I had been tagged by Stock City Girl to do a meme on 8 random facts/habits. I thought to myself..........I can do this. In fact, I'll give you one pre-list fact for free:- I always tend to follow the path of least resistance which is why I am fated to do this meme.

The rules are:
1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

8 Random Contradictory facts about me.

  1. I like to climb mountains but I am actually scared of heights. It's easy climbing up but I really find it difficult climbing down.
  2. I studied science but have more than a passing interest in the arts. Even while I was at University studying Sciences, I was getting awards for writing and art (cartoons).
  3. I am good at map reading and outdoor orienteering but can get completely lost in a covered carpark or shopping mall. Friends tease me by saying that I need the sun to navigate.
  4. Coffee and tea do not help keep me awake - they have no effect. On the other hand, diet coke will keep me bright eyed and bushy tailed.
  5. People seem to remember me. For example, I can go to a restaurant and not return there again for another three months but when I do, the waiter remembers what I ordered. I on the other hand need to be introduced to someone at least three times before the name sinks in. I have met many people on the street who seem to know me but I can't place them at all.
  6. Perhaps because I grew up with Chinese food, I enjoy Indian food the most.
  7. I am basically an introvert but my work requires me to make public and even TV appearances frequently.
  8. I like comedies and horror genres. Diverse as they may seem, I really enjoy movies or shows that succeed in having both.

That's all folks. I have decided not to tag anyone but if you want to do it, let me know so I can drop in and read about it.

Hero Career Guidance

on Thursday, June 14, 2007

As of midnight (GST – Grey Squirrel Time), the polls were closed with only 24 votes cast. The first obvious question was why the poor voter turn out. Where have all the Heroes and hero-wannabes gone! Are we turning into a society that are missing its heroes? Ah, this may be too deep to be getting into in the wee hours of the morning.

The clear winning category was for “Humanitarian Heroes”. Clearly 33% of the readers of this blog are bleeding heart Liberals. meggie, geewits, evalinn, cheryl and becky, I am so proud of you guys. You believe in sacrificing for the greater good. It’s because of people like you that I still have hope for the world. I was tempted to join your ranks but I made a list of my modest possessions and found that I was barely willing to sacrifice one-tenth of my possessions for the good of other people. So as you set off on your humanitarian missions, you’ll find me waving banners, cheering and giving you moral support and don’t worry, I’ll feed your cats while you are away. I am right behind you,.....way behind..... back home.

From one end to the other, nobody wanted to be a military or sports hero. How strange. Then who’s been watching the war programs on the History and Discovery Channels? And who’s been glued to the TV for the NBA finals, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, F1 racing, Wimbeldon etc.? I am not ashamed. I admit I considered these categories when I was very young. I wanted to taste the blood and glory and it looked so safe. Only the bad guys died and the good guys only got flesh wounds and medals. At least that was what I learned from war movies until I watched M*A*S*H, which then showed me that the line between good and bad is not always clear, the soldiers who died had families and that war killed civilians too. Don’t get me wrong. I know we need soldiers as there are bad people and bad things out there but it just wasn’t for me.

Once I realized how bad violence was, I gave up my dream to be a military hero and would have settled for breaking teeth and bones as the best Rollerball player in the world. Unfortunately, I went instantly from scrawny weakling to pudgy couch potato with no time clocked in the “jock” zone. I was therefore frustrated but could not pursue this goal.

Scientific Heroes and Cultural Heroes are tied with 17% of the vote. It seems as if the results represent the eternal war of reason and emotion; of mind and of heart. So proxima, kat, janice and mago feel the need to save the world through science, logic and intellect but as top cat, several anonymous voters and all good artists know, cold science needs to be tempered with heart and soul, society has always needed to see their reflection and seek there direction from the artists, our cultural heroes. Scientists invent the atomic bomb, politicions invent detente but the flower children led by the likes of Joan Baez and Bob Dillon stopped the war.

I clearly was a Vulcan who was abducted and raised on Earth. This explains my large ears and my predeliction towards Science and having Spock as my pin-up model in my extreme youth. Then I discovered the movie Dr. Strangelove and the wonderful music of the 60's and have been in conflict since. I did study science and saw how hard it is to make a name for yourself in science today. All the easy discoveries and inventions have already been done. Also in my field, the best one can hope for was to have a disease named after you.

Josie and michael want to be leaders. They will have to try harder as they got only 8% of the vote. They believe they can change the world for the better. I applaud them for trying to make a difference within the system. I don't know much about how josie wants to change the world but I know michael's platform and all I can say is that cubicle dwellers rejoice and office managers run in fear! Politics is not for me. I need to blame someone for the mess the world is in and politicians come handy. There are politicians that I do respect but I can count them without using all my fingers and toes.

That leaves the Business Heroes and the Explorers/Discoverers tied with 13% of the vote each. Heiresschild and an anonymous voter want to be business heroes and return part of their success to the community. This is perfectly in line with the new business concept of Corporate Social Responsibility. Well done. I'd make a poor businessman with the operative word being "poor". I don't want to be in the rat race cause the winner is still a rat. I generalise, of course, some corporations are showing the way with better practices and benefits to local communities.

Squirrel and I are the only two who chose to be Explorer/Discoverers. Only Mrs. Wolfe almost swayed to our side but at the last moment decided to be more human. What can I say? It's a squirrel thing. "To go where no nut has gone before!" I admit that there is not a lot left undiscovered but it's enough. I just love to discover new places, things, animals, plants and cultures. The work never goes stale at all cause something new is always just around the corner. It's nice to have hero work that you also enjoy. That makes it my number one choice.

Thanks for playing the heroes game. Before I go, a quick mention to a few who refused to vote. These are the anti-heroes. They have important roles to play in modern literature and movie making. Their models include reluctant hero Jackie Chan, Batman and maybe Forrest Gump. They make the world a better place whether they want to or not. Perhaps all of us should just try, even to be anti-heroes.

Eureka! I've Got It!

Eureka! I have finally made the discovery that will win me my Nobel Prize in Science to add to the one I got for "Partying". At last, I will agin recognition as a mad scientist. Mwahahahaha!

I wish to thank all my boring science teachers and the one good one! Most of all, I must thank Josie. As with all great advances of Science, it was 1% coincidence, 2% stolen idea and 97% inspiration. I was reading Josie's latest post in which she refered to the indisputable physical law of the fallen buttered bread; which is that a buttered bread always falls with the butter side down - also known as the "butterfingers go starving law".

I know it was just a matter of time before Josie stumbled on the relationship between this and another obscure biological principle but I got there first! Mwahahaha! ......And the credit is all mine.

By the clever application of the "butterfingers go starving law" and the biological principle that cats always land feet first when dropped, I have invented the perpetual motion machine. This could be the end of all the worlds energy needs and all we would need is several million cats and slices of buttered bread. Please observe the demonstration below. After which I am sure you will want to invest in the company I am setting up to develop and market this miracle product. Please send cheques, cats or slices of buttered bread to Slippery Squirrel Enterprises, c/o Florida Swamp Developers Ltd., Timbuktu.

Click on photo to get full effect.
Originally swiped from

Your Hero Fantasy

on Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I believe we all have fantasies at some time of our lives that we might rise to some form of greatness. Perhaps some of us acheived our aspirations while for the rest it remains in the realm of our fantasies. My great ambition of winning a Nobel Prize was only just recently accomplished when Stock City Girl awarded me the Nobel Prize for "partying". I would have prefered medicine but beggars can't be chosers. Um, Stock City Girl, I am still awaiting my certificate and the promised beer.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to have a poll here on what type of hero you would like to be or that you look up to. Apart from voting, please leave a comment to explain why you made that choice. I promise to post on my own choice and the reasons for that choice.

Before and After Magic

on Monday, June 11, 2007

Regular readers will know that after almost six months of anticipation (and actually some several years of procastination), I finally got myself a scanner just recently. In keeping with the brotherhood of men, my behavior since been dominated by the "Ooo. Cool Gadget. Must Play" gene which is known to be asssociated with the Y-chromosome. I have scanned almost everything I can think of to give it a try. Photos, I mean.

Anyway, I am thrilled with the results of the scanner and the packaged Paintshop PhotoAlbum 5 software. When I felt that I still wasn't getting the best result, I tweaked the images further with Google's Picasa. I am so, so happy about the results.

I tried it out on a bunch of prints that I had, that had seen better days. They had been decolorised by heat and humidity and looked nothing like what I remembered the prints to look like. Yet by scanning and software magic, I have been able to recover much of their glory.

The software had problems with things like shafts of light against a dark background. Those just come out as a flare of light. However, the overall result has me in good spirits and high hopes that I can at least recover a semblence of my old, damaged images.

The set of before and after images in this post were done with a set of decolorised prints from a trip to Norway. Bear in mind that these prints are 22 years old. I will blog on something more substantial when my scanner breaks down. (Can you imagine that I am this cheerful despite the fact that Ducks owned by a Mickey Mouse Corporation now have their hands on the Stanley Cup?!!). Have a good week.

(Oh, almost forgot. All photos by LGS. From top left and going clockwise: 1. Pretty guide from the Folklore Museum in Bergen; 2. Ferry on the fiord; 3. Naerofiorden and 4. Highest point on Oslo-Bergen Railway.)

Helen - Greek Goddess

on Saturday, June 09, 2007

Helen of Chelsea (photo by LGS)
This is Helen K. She is Greek (funny enough) and she is known to many of her friends as the Greek Goddess. We got to know each other at University and have remained friends ever since. Today she is married with two kids and is a respected and popular teacher but back then.......... hah!

Back then I was staying at the Ingram Court Student's accommodation for my final year at Chelsea College. The University guarantees one year in student accommodation and a few of us all independently decided to delay taking that offer up until the final year. The idea was to be closer to college and the libraries and not have to commute in the final year. The idea was to be more focussed on studying. That was the idea but........hah!

Well, there was some studying but there was a whole lot of other things going on too. For one thing, the place was populated by all kinds of whacky and eccentric characters. A high percentage of them were also known to lurk the corridors late at night on clandestine missions to play pranks on unsuspecting fellow residents.

The place was organised into corridors with about 12 rooms each corridor sharing common toilets, bathing facilities and a kitchen. There were 2 corridors per floor and several floors. Most of the pranks tend to be played by residents of one corridor on residents of another corridor in some form of reverting to a primitive tribal spirit. My corridor did no such thing. It was very happy to play pranks on anyone even those on the same corridor. Heck, we even had friends come round and join the fun.

In the midst of this chaos, Helen was our corridor's mother hen. She took care of us. She was the voice of reason, "Umm, don't you think you should leave Kate alone for awhile cause she's having exams and play your pranks on someone else for now?" She was the one that kept the peace as best she could or at least reminded everyone toplay "nice". She had a lot of Greek guys coming by to visit her.

Strangely, it seemed that none of them had a sense of humor and they frowned on the going ons at that place. Perhaps they felt that their Greek Goddess was being sullied by contact with us.

There was one time when I had had a very bad day and was in the showers late at night, unwinding under the stream of hot water. Unfortunately, two groups of residents decided to have a water balloon fight and stray baloons and buckets of cold water came flying over the shower room walls and drenched me. I was in a funk and in no mood to be blasted with icy water. I grabbed my soaking towel and to avoid the water fight in the corridor, made a bee line to Helen's room. I had a towel round my waist and a wet t-shirt on. I knocked on the door and said, "Helen, I need sanctuary."

Helen, bless her, took me in without a thought. She fussed over me; gave me a towel for my hair and placed a mug of hot coffee in my hands. I told her I was going to just sit in her room until the ruckus died down and she said that was fine. Not long after, there was a knock on the door, and Helen opened it to find one of her Greek suitors had come over to visit. She denies that they were suitors. She says they were just friends.....hah!

Anyway, this Greek guy walks in and sees me with my towel round the waist and another round my head and with a wet T-shirt, sitting in Helen's room in the wee hours after midnight. Can you imagine what he was thinking? Well, I did! I was imagining the Greek Mafia (is there such a thing?) being informed about this Malaysian guy who shows no respect. No respect to our Greek Goddess. I was imagining getting real pally with the fishes of the Thames River.

As it turned out nothing happened, no Greek mafia appeared on my doorstep. I think Helen, bless her, managed to convice him I was harmless. Anyway, Helen, if you read this. Thanks for being the sort of friend who was willing to accept me for who I was. I was always comfortable being me with you. Thanks for staying friends all these years. Thanks also for forgiving us for all our pranks.

Helen K is our Greek Goddess.......a personification of grace and patience, of calm amidst chaos, of the mother goddess. The picture above shows further proof of her special qualities. If you haven't already noticed it, revisit the photo and see if you can find the evidence of her magical powers.

Red Alert

on Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Photo by LGS:- Power plant across the bay (U.K.)
"Red sky at night, shepherd's delight;
Red sky in the morning, storm warning;
Red sky all day, Climate Change is here to stay,
Red alert warning ignored, Climate Change will wreck havok."

Today is World Environment Day and the main message is that Climate Change is not a theory or an opinion. It is happening already today. Eleven of the last twelve years were the hottest on record. The ice caps are melting, the ice shelf is breaking up and the glaciers are retreating. Sea levels are already on the rise and Indonesia reported last month that up to 200 of its islands is in danger of disappearing. Violent storms are becoming more frequent and at the same time, other parts of the world face severe drought. The effects of Climate Change are numerous and life changing if not life threatening in some parts of the world. I will just make a quick list here but encouracge you to read more on the topic yourself.

1) Loss of ecosystems - many ecosystems from the sensitive Artic tundra, Antartica, alpine and coral reef ecosystems will be affected. Corals may bleach with rising sea temperatures and all life on coral reefs may be affected.

2) Loss of species - already the extinction rate of plants and animals is the highest since the disappearance of the dinosaurs but climate cjange is likely to affect many plant and animal species and push them off the edge of extinction.

3) Water shortages. Severe drought is occuring in parts of USA as well as in parts of Africa. Australia's long drought may mean the loss of billions in agriculture as no water is available for farms in Southern Australia this year. Glacial fed rivers like the Mekong have more waters in Spring from melting glaciers, causing flooding but the water is insufficient for the rest of the year.

4) Agriculture crop failure.
This would range from food staples, fruits and animal products. Food shortage and food security are important issues.

5) Severe storms like the ones that hit Stanley Park in Vancouver last winter become more frequent and severe, causing a lot of damage.

6) Rising sea levels would put many coastal areas under threat of disappearance or erosion. This would also project saline intrusion and loss of major agricultural lands.

7) Diseases will spread out of their normal ranges. Hence the appearance of Western Nile Virus in New York. Vector borne disease may increase.

8) Insurance rates will skyrocket as damage from rising seas, violent storms as well and agricultural losses.

9) Housing developments near the coastline will be endangered resulting in large financial losses.

10) Combined effects may lead to the largest number of refugees (e.g. residents of islands under threat, Bangladesh, Netherlands and even Louisiana.

The warning is over. We are now in the midst of a Red Alert - disaster pending. We must act to prevent further global warming or else we will be faced with catastrophic and non-reversible Climate Change scenario.

How it began

on Monday, June 04, 2007

Guess what? I finally got my photo scanner. It's not the best as it was actually a free hand me down when an office upgraded their equipment but it will do for now. It means I can access my non-digital photos and that means I can at last show you pictures of Spikey and Loonie the two squirrels that started my obsession and downward spiral into subservience to squirrels. By the next spring I was firmly entranced as their slave, dutifully buying nuts every week on my pitiful student allowance, for an entire circus of some fifteen regular squirrels and assorted transients.

For the whole sorry story, read all about it in "Introducing the cast and characters", the suspenseful "Did I kill him?" and the X-file episode "Dissecting Spikey".

Anyway, I am celebrating having the scanner at last as it gives me access to a lot more material. Happy days.

L for Lorraine (Shroud of Loneliness)

on Sunday, June 03, 2007

This is for Lorraine who has been asking me to post a poem. The topic is not significant other than this was the path down which my muse took me tonight. Coincidentally the topic of Loneliness starts with an "L" but that is pure coincidence. I'll throw in all the usual disclaimers including the fact that "no sea monkeys were harmed in the production of this blog" (which I stole from Top Cat so you'll have to ask him what that means). This poem was also tested for safety with laboratory animals (rabbits). When read to the cute bunnies, some fell into a deep sleep. So if you are a rabbit or some relative, do not read this while operating heavy machinery.

Shroud of Loneliness

PhotoCredit: swiatlo

Loneliness can be a blast of winter air,
Leaving you shivering and chilled to the bone;
No one to warm you, none to care,
The soul-sapping wind shreiks, "You are alone."

Tears fall, coming down like spring rain,
Cold on the skin and bitter to taste;
There is none to share our hidden pain,
Of never being part of life's chase.

The heart can be uneasy as summer storms,
Endless like breakers upon the shore;
When life is fullest, bursting in shape and form,
Ours is unchanged, as empty as before.

The slipping of time is marked in autumn's barren trees,
When solitude comes around and shows its face;
Foolish hope lies buried under decaying leaves,
knowing now, we pass on and leave no trace.

Loneliness is existing but never living,
It is being alone in the bustle of a crowd;
The heart yearns for the spark it is missing,
But learns to wear loneliness like a shroud.

Uncovered Nuts from 16th December 2006

on Friday, June 01, 2007

Friends, the early days of my blogging was a very lonely affair with few visitors and precious few comments. Some of my early posts mean a lot to me so I have decided to uncover some of these buried nuts from time to time. I hope this offering from December 2006 has survived winter well.

The Soul of a Man

Altar of the Church of the Good Shepard, Tekapo, NZ.

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded that the Christ child came into this world to bring light to the world's darkness and to lead us back to a relationship with God. The Word became flesh and His light lit up our darkness.

This song was originally written by gospel/blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in the 1930s but the lyrics below is from the cover version done by Bruce Cockburn in 1991 in his album, "Nothing but a burning light". Bruce, himself, has travelled a long road of discovery during which he dabbled into the occult and studied Buddhism before becoming a Christian. When he announced that he became a Christian, he lost a number of his humanist fans.

The Soul of a Man
I'm going to ask the question
Please answer if you can
Is there anybody's children can tell me
What is the soul of a man?
Won't somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won't somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
I've travelled different countries
Travelled to the furthest lands
Couldn't find nobody could tell me
What is the soul of a man
Won't somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won't somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
I saw a crowd stand talking
I just came up in time
Was teaching the lawyers and the doctors
That a man ain't nothing but his mind
Won't somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won't somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
I read the Bible often
I try to read it right
As far as I can understand
It's nothing but a burning light
Won't somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won't somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?
When Christ taught in the temple
The people all stood amazed
Was teaching the lawyers and the doctors
How to raise a man from the grave
Won't somebody tell me
Answer if you can
Won't somebody tell me
Tell me what is the soul of a man?

Now Watch the Video

Bruce Cockburn speaks about his faith (Excerpts from interviews)

My faith has undergone drastic transformations and reformations. I was brought up as an agnostic, even though we were surrounded by the symbolism, and when I first became a Christian in the Seventies I didn't really know what it was I'd adopted. I've always been aware of the spiritual side to life, and that awareness has sometimes been very tangible and vivid. But it's one thing to have this direct experience of contact with something that appears to be central to existence, but then there's all the uniforms people wear and the customs they adopt. For me, part of the journey has been deciding where I fit in. In the end, I've decided that I don't fit in at all. The proper place for me is outside all the groups.

I still think of myself as a Christian. The only definition of a Christian - I got this from C.S. Lewis - is somebody who accepts the reality of Christ. What is that reality? Well, there we get into fights, don't we? I know my own experience tells me there is somebody - and it's not a thing - at the centre of Christianity. I assume it to be Christ, and assume that's my point of contact with God, whom none of us have a very good definition for. I like to talk about Love rather than God. What we think of as love is his expression of involvement in the universe, and that is the glue that holds everything together, from the subatomic particles up. It is also the hand that breaks us apart, but that has to do with our failure to relate to it properly.

"If I try to understand what it means to be a Christian, I look at the two instructions that were given in the Bible that are paramount, . . . and those are to love God with all your heart and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That's it."

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