Tuesday, September 30, 2008

All I want for Christmas is...

... a bigass tank of sulphur hexaflouride!Bwahahahaha!

12 MHz 286 chip. Who remembers what that looks like?

I'm not sure I do. But I do remember playing Double Dragon on a 4-colour CGA monitor and being dazzled by the amazing 16-colour 3D graphics of Mechwarrior:

This is from 1989. Looks like everything was made with cardboard and crayons, doesn't it? Compare that with, say Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries from 2002:

Or maybe even with Chromehounds, released 2006:


I've met a couple of people who think the technological singularity is impossible, that the human brain is simply to vastly complicated for us to even think about augmenting*. Just looking back at how computing power has progressed in my own short life, I'm inclined to disagree. Anyway, what brought this on was me stumbling on some stuff John Cleese did for Compaq. Enjoy:









LOADS more on Youtube. Go peek if you're bored and interested...

* Ignoring, of course, the infantile protests of those who stand against the Singularity on the utterly primitive and ignorant grounds that such activity is in the realm of "playing God".

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stop ogling the MILF...

... and listen for a minute to what she's saying:



Now you tell me, just how batshit insane do you have to be to vote for this woman? Actually, never mind. The very fact that Bush has been president for nigh 8 years now is testament to the sheer power of the rich and stupid in the US...

What's the worst thing you can have in a spacesuit?

I'm thinking diarrhea. Or one of these. Yep, that's right. In space, while humans can suffer nausea, vomiting, vertigo, headaches, lethargy, muscular atrophy, bone degeneration, flatulence and lower red blood cell count, among others, our old nemesis, the cockroach, will grow bigger, faster and tougher than it's Earthling brethren. Lovely.

What actually led me to look up the effects of zero gravity was in fact an anime. Planetes (or ΠΛΑΝΗΤΕΣ, or プラネテス, if you like) is set in 2076, a near enough future in which spaceflight is commonplace, the Moon has been colonized, at least 5 manned missions to Mars have been sent successfully and work is underway to prepare the ship that will visit Jupiter, the Von Braun. The anime series follows the story of a bunch of misfits whose job it is to collect space debris, an exceedingly unglamourous yet vital task in an age where a screw travelling at 8 km/s* can send a multibillion dollar spacecraft down the toilet.

Our main protagonists are Hoshino Hachirota, an EVA specialist and Tanabe Ai, the newbie just assigned to work with him. Hoshino is loud, brash and crude, but for all that he's a skilled astronaut with an intense love for space. Tanabe is a bit dim, but she tries very, very hard indeed and has a head full of more high ideals than a university student.

One thing that struck me about this anime was the attention to IRL detail. For instance, astronauts wear diapers under their spacesuits, but in all the glamour and romance of space exploration, we generally don't get that fact pointed out to us quite as explicitly as this:


And that's how I learnt the Japanese word for 'diapers'. One of the more charming aspects of this attention to detail is the existence of Lunarians, that is, children born on the Moon, who are abnormally tall due to the reduced gravity:

Unfortunately for Nono-chan (right), aged 12, this means her body can't actually handle the stresses of Earth's gravity, and she's cut off from Earth for now.

There are a few things that struck me as odd, though. For instance, one of the characters has a serious smoking habit. In space, this means there are very, very few places indeed where she can smoke, i.e. special rooms with all the right filtration and waste disposal systems. So why bother go through the astronomical expense of allowing smoking in space? And I'm not sure if they quite covered all the angles to the growth of a child in space... But, what the hell. Compared with the ridiculous liberties taken with the laws of physics in anime in general, Planetes is an encyclopedia of space exploration and aerospace design.

Of course, like any other anime worth watching, Planetes waxes existential at times, with protagonists, most notably Hoshino, occasionally facing their inner demons against the epic backdrop of space exploration. And of course, there will be those opposed to space exploration. Why expend so much resources on space exploration when there are still nations on Earth torn apart by war, famine and poverty? Thus, a terrorist group exists to try and cause as much low orbit havoc as possible and make the Kessler Syndrome a reality, filling the skies with debris and cutting off humans from space. I leave it to you to find out how it's all resolved in the end. I have to say, it has the best game of shiritori I've ever witnessed.

Long story short, Planetes is 26 episodes of perfection, a triumph of the art of anime and a testament to the epic human journey into space. There's no shortage of adequate torrents out there. Go watch and be amazed.

Edit: On a related note, check out this offering from XKCD. This guy's comic is t3h r0xx0rz.

* Perfectly normal relative velocity for an object in orbit, apparently.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's good to have heroes...

... but I'm betting it couldn't have been easy being a kid with a name like this:


I don't know about you, but I'm thinking Photoshop.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Poaching is fun!

Poaching eggs, EGGS, dammit! Well, I have to confess, I don't actually like poached eggs, but this article on B3ta gave me a newfound appreciation for them. The URL says it all:


Go see! #2 gave me a damn good laugh...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Mm chee kui ngup mut."

Ask me to point out a sentence encapsulating the very worst anti-intellectualism I've witnessed in my life and the title would probably be it. They've haunted me my whole life, and to this day, the very sound of them gets my blood boiling quicker than any other sentence.

It's Cantonese, and I must confess I don't quite know the proper romanization of those words (hoping a Canto speaker may see this and help me out here) but the sentence translates approximately as a fairly vulgar way of saying: "I don't know what he's on about."

By itself, it appears harmless enough, but as with any collection of words, the impact comes from the context. These words are almost always used derisively. They are blurted out, an anti-intellectualist dismissal of anything the speaker doesn't comprehend. Someone speaking in a foreign language? Mm chee kui ngup mut. Talking about evolution? Mm chee kui ngup mut. Putting forth logical arguments undermining faith in gods, ancestral spirits and feng shui? Mm chee kui ngup mut. Explaining why there's more to life than your bank account? Mm chee kui ngup mut.

This phrase belies an attitude of "Don't know, don't care to know." that has been deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of Cantonese speakers around the world. To be sure, this attitude isn't restricted simply to Cantonese speakers, but having been around them for most of my life, I'm especially infuriated to hear such talk spilling forth from the mouths of Chinese youth. I could throw a rock into Sungei Wang Plaza and reasonably expect to hit 5 dyed-blonde airheads who would look at any popular science book and not be able to come up with anything more than "Mm chee kui ngup mut.", then amble off again, looking for the latest from Samsung, Jay Chou or Ferragamo.

"Mm chee kui ngup mut. Bwahaha! Why bother with such silly things?" How many times have I watched a bright young mind's flame snuffed by derisive laughter from his peers and elders in this fashion? How many times have I seen inter-cultural understanding curtailed by those simple, insensitive words? Never heard about it before, so they're uncomfortable with it. Uncomfortable with it, so they reject it. And thus they reject it in the fashion that most reinforces the message: "I'm Chinese. Your way is different and I'll have nothing to do with it. Because I'm Chinese and that's that." Mm chee kui ngup mut.

So stand up, young Chinese around the world, and thirst for knowledge! Break the shackles of stagnant tradition, do the world a favour and SMACK the next son of a bitch who brushes you off with "Mm chee kui ngup mut." Gweilos, feel free to smack 'em, too. You have my moral support in this. And to everybody I've ever known who's ever uttered those loathesome words to me: Diu gau lei ah!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lighten uppening required

Last post had far too much fail. Apologies. Here's some Monty Python to restore a measure of win to this blog and restore our faith in humanity:



And some of us can only hope that our local police have even half the eptitude of these people:



Ah, well. Have a good weekend, all. I'm a-go spin my staff until I hit my head very hard, now...

Friday, September 19, 2008

No. Lower. Limit.

After posting about a certain diabolical perversion of Mickey Mouse*, I was led to doubt somewhat the accuracy of the translated subtitles. When you stand as an explicitly anti-religious infidel regularly visiting the RDF forums you quickly become aware of a lot of religiously inspired silliness, and as such it's quite easy to fall into the trap of dismissing things as religious stupidity without examining it closely enough. Given the sheer, mind-blowing insanity of the content we were seeing on the previous two clips, I wondered for a moment if it was actually humanly possible to be that stupid.

For instance, as Mike mentioned, in its day, Islam would have been a memetically useful vehicle to get large numbers of people to practice a measure of hygiene regarding vermin, appealing to the adherent's sense of disgust to further drive the message home. But then the video beggars the question: How in blazes did that narrow-minded old goit manage to reach that age and never figure out that animated cartoon mice don't quite fit in the same category as plague-bearing rodents? And, apart from his truly appalling use of the English language, how did I know that the translations of what that bloke in the mouse suit was saying was accurate?

So, I poked around Memri TV's site a bit, and, though I'm very much accustomed to abyssmally dire feats of head-up-arse from Christians, Memri TV came as quite a shock to me. The videos that have turned up on my blog thus far are but the teeny tiniest tip of an iceberg. Take this one:



I for one am very interested to hear what Armstrong would have to say about that. Baldy back there was spouting garbage of truly Hovindian proportions. Or how about this touching cartoon for the kiddies?



Ah, all the basic education you need... Dying is good! Killing is good! And doing both at once is best of all! And just for good luck, here's a happy little dance number:



Note how the happy little chappie on the right is simply bursting with enthusiasm. Here's a "debate" shown on Iraqi TV which, though it isn't quite Creation Vs Evolution, should strike a chord with scientifically inclined infidels everywhere. Embedding disabled by request, but to cut a long story short, the Earth is not a sphere, nor an oblate spheroid but it's turtles all the way down. Thus spake a myopic old git with absolute faith in the scientific accuracy of the Quran.

So there you have it. Lotsa Kent Hovinds in the world and what do they have in common? Religion. Simple as that. Allow the faith virus to spread, and you open the trapdoor to depths of stupidity where no man has gone before. That having been said, I suppose from the point of view of the cutthroat game of international politics, religion is fact a terribly useful way to intellectually cripple rival nations, but that's opening up a completely different can of worms now...

* Which I've done before, I think, but I can't be arsed to dig up that old post right now.

Screw all you Doomsayers!

Yeah, you! The schmucks who keep nattering on about the Large Hadron Collider blasting us into oblivion! The LHC is in the best hands possible and here's the simple photographic evidence to prove we're all safe as can be:

If Gordon Freeman can't save us, no-one can! Go get 'em, Gordon!

The Onion on Singapore

Eheh... :-)
From Onion's Our Dumb World. Go check it out!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hall of Shame: Palestinian children's TV

This came to my attention in a thread from the RDF forums. I've really no idea what to say. Just watch the video:



If you haven't been driven to projectile vomit yet, it's interesting to note that in the capital of paedophile worshipping stupidity, the attitude towards mice is somewhat different:



Remember what I said about intellectual rigour and religion being mutually exclusive?

I try to keep an open mind...

... but really, it's a funny old world...



One can only shrug...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The art of complaint

I just got this from my sis. Far too good not to share. Apparently, this is from a real live letter of complaint sent to NTL. Won a competition, too! Ah, I love the British sense of humour...

Dear Cretins,

I have been an NTL customer since 9th July 2001, when I signed up for your 3-in-one deal for cable TV, cable modem, and telephone. During this three-month period I have encountered inadequacy of service which I had not previously considered possible, as well as ignorance and stupidity of monolithic proportions. Please allow me to provide specific details, so that you can either pursue your professional perogative, and seek to rectify these difficulties - or more likely (I suspect) so that you can have some entertaining reading material as you while away the working day smoking B&H and drinking vendor-coffee on the bog in your office:

My initial installation was cancelled without warning, resulting in my spending an entire Saturday sitting on my fat arse waiting for your technician to arrive. When he did not arrive, I spent a further 57 minutes listening to your infuriating hold music, and the even more annoying Scottish robot woman telling me to look at your helpful website....HOW?

I alleviated the boredom by playing with my testicles for a few minutes - an activity at which you are no-doubt both familiar and highly adept. The rescheduled installation then took place some two weeks later, although the technician did forget to bring a number of vital tools - such as a drill-bit, and his cerebrum. Two weeks later, my cable modem had still not arrived. After 15 telephone calls over 4 weeks my modem arrived... six weeks after I had requested it, and begun to pay for it.

I estimate your internet server's downtime is roughly 35%... hours between about 6pm -midnight, Mon-Fri, and most of the weekend. I am still waiting for my telephone connection. I have made 9 calls on my mobile to your no-help line, and have been unhelpfully transferred to a variety of disinterested individuals, who are it seems also highly skilled bollock jugglers.

I have been informed that a telephone line is available (and someone will call me back); that no telephone line is available (and someone will call me back); that I will be transferred to someone who knows whether or not a telephone line is available (and then been cut off); that I will be transferred to someone (and then been redirected to an answer machine informing me that your office is closed); that I will be transferred to someone and then been redirected to the irritating Scottish robot woman...and several other variations on this theme.

Doubtless you are no longer reading this letter, as you have at least a thousand other dissatisfied customers to ignore, and also another one of those crucially important testicle-moments to attend to. Frankly I don't care, it's far more satisfying as a customer to voice my frustration's in print than to shout them at your unending hold music. Forgive me, therefore, if I continue.

I thought BT were shit, that they had attained the holy piss-pot of godawful customer relations, that no-one, anywhere, ever, could be more disinterested, less helpful or more obstructive to delivering service totheir customers. That's why I chose NTL, and because, well, there isn't anyone else is there? How surprised I therefore was, when I discovered to my considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment what a useless shower of bastards you truly are. You are sputum-filled pieces of distended rectum incompetents of the highest order.


British Telecom - wankers though they are - shine like brilliant beacons of success, in the filthy puss-filled mire of your seemingly limitless inadequacy. Suffice to say that I have now given up on my futile and foolhardy quest to receive any kind of service from you. I suggest that you cease any potential future attempts to extort payment from me for the services which you have so pointedly and catastrophically failed to deliver - any such activity will be greeted initially with hilarity and disbelief quickly be replaced by derision, and even perhaps bemused rage. I enclose two small deposits, selected with great care from my cats litter tray, as an expression of my utter and complete contempt for both you and your pointless company. I sincerely hope that they have not become desiccated during transit - they were satisfyingly moist at the time of posting, and I would feel considerable disappointment if you did not experience both their rich aroma and delicate texture. Consider them the very embodiment of my feelings towards NTL, and its worthless employees.

Have a nice day - may it be the last in your miserable short life, you irritatingly incompetent and infuriatingly unhelpful bunch of twats.

John

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fuller crap...

I'd read Steven Fuller's The Intellectual a couple of months ago (almost entirely while sitting in KL traffic jams, I might add) and was left with a bad taste in my mouth. After wading through a veritable quagmire of erudite gobbledegook, mostly directed towards glorifying the intellectual based on his own narrow definition of the word, I closed the book, and the lasting impression was as follows:

What a lot of sanctimonious, pseudo-philosophical masturbation!

I dug around a bit for more information on him, finding on his Wiki entry that he defines himself as a 'social epistemologist', which, in empiricist circles, I understand translates best into common parlance as 'poser'. I bunged the wretched book into the arse end of the shelf o' books I'd never read twice, though admittedly I felt kinda bad about putting that waste of paper next to Tolkien*.

So it was that this evening I found out on Panda's Thumb that the irksome goit had been debating for the cause of IDiots, going so far as to fill a book with irrelevant nonsense entertaining his infantile theistic fantasies. Happily enough, A C Grayling rose to the challenge of tearing down this silliness with a brutal book review, which Fuller duly responded to in the manner typical of theistic debaters everywhere: straw men, sidestepping and misdirection with a further deluge of irrelevant rubbish. Oh, and ad hominem attacks. Grayling replied with a vicious volley, his words dripping with the condescension infidels worldwide save for either theists or extremely stupid and wilful small children.

At first sight, I'm inclined to disapprove of adopting such a tone in matters of intellectual debate - why should good infidels sink to the level of arrogant, delusional theists? Then I realised after a while that, given the content of theistic silliness, it's actually impossible to tear down articles of faith without sounding condescending, which is something of a Catch 22 as this makes the more open-minded theist that much more repelled by the infidel's arguments. Quite vexing!

But long story short, I'm just bitchin' here. I'm grouchy that I've wasted precious hours of my life reading The Intellectual. I'm annoyed that Fuller continues to waste everyone's time with his epistemological wank. A word of caution to the wise: Don't waste your time with Steve Fuller.

* Tolkien's got skills and everything but really, I can't be arsed to wade through his descriptions of scenery twice in this life, however poetic.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tyranny is fun!

Hokay, time for a break. Rench just brought this disturbingly addictive game to my attention:

I did play the sequel to this game. It was crap. But that's ok, this one rocks. Well, at the very least it appeals to my inner psychopathic tyrant. Gameplay is very simple. Click and hold with the mouse to grab a hapless villager, like so:

Drag and release to hurl the scruffy bugger high into the air, then let gravity do the rest. Then repeat as necessary...

Upon expiry, they'll drop some coins, which you can use between levels to buy stuff. Of course, abusing helpless hobos in the sandbox quickly loses it's appeal. What makes the game interesting is stomping a village proper, like so:

As you may have noticed, some of the villagers have gotten wise to the usual trick of chucking them skywards, and employ wings and parachutes and such to cheat you of your pleasure. Please note that throwing them down is also an option, though it takes a little practice to release them close enough to the ground that they can't use their wings or 'chutes. There's also the option of using spells, which you can buy in between levels:

See the Pacifist tab? Believe me, it's not much better. Anyhoo, the spells do indeed make life much easier. Especially when you come across jokers like this:

Yep, he's dressed as Superman. And of course he's a whole heap tougher than the average villager. The question is: Will he stand up to the diabolical Power Gauntlet of squishy death?

Nope. Cue evil laughter. There's plenty more to the game for the curious - more powerful spells, cheeky thieves, sword-swinging knights and all manner of smartasses cooking up some ingenious method or other to escape your oppression. Verily, there is a time and place to be a ruthless, sadistic tyrant bent on causing as much mindless violence and suffering as possible. This is it. Enjoy...

Oh, big tip: Make good use of the space bar when casting spells. It's much quicker than clicking on that tab in the lower left corner.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's NOT a debate...

... but I won't fault Scientific American for making the effort to stamp out a very tenacious delusional meme on their home turf. A page is up on SciAm's website compiling lotsa goodies detailing the efforts of religious dogmatists in trying to sink science through sheer volume of childish bullshit.

Just as 2 girls 1 cup and BME Pain Olympics have shown us that there's no lower limit to human depravity, Kent Hovind, Ben Stein and VenomfangX have shown us that there's clearly no lower limit to human stupidity, either. Seriously, those three should just do the world a favour and go shoot themselves. Not familiar with them? Lucky for us, a certain comrade thunderf00t has a hilarious series of videos dissecting the continuous stream of garbage churned out by the creationists. Do go check his page out and be amazed! I know I was. Mostly by the incredible shit that Kent Hovind comes up with that could only have been conceived by a drug-addled mind, e.g. his "scientific hypotheses" that Earth was once enclosed by a 3-mile thick layer of ice, which melted and caused Noah's flood. Yep.

I'm quite aware that a lot of people, particularly personal acquaintances not involved in the education of children, don't see the Creationist mindset as a serious issue. They say, "So what? These people go to church, try to do good, and what they believe about the origins of life on Earth has no bearing on their ability to function as good auditors, lawyers and the like." And this is where they are wrong. Not just wrong, but hideously, naively, dangerously wrong.

Creationism is not just about undermining the most powerful known explanation for the diversity and origins of life on Earth. Consider for a moment what it takes to believe in biblical creation. Over 150 years have passed since Darwin's Origin of Species was first published. 150 years of observation, collection of evidence and an occasional absurd court case later, regard for Darwin's theory has risen from derision to reverence. In science, a theory doesn't survive simply because some scientist or other wants it to be true. Evidence is needed. Results must be replicated. Peers in the field must scrutinize every aspect of it. This is how theories are made or broken.

Yet in the face of scientific rigour, Creationism survives. The proponents of Creationism have no clever arguments turning the evidence against Evolution. They have no evidence, for that matter. More often than not, they don't actually have an understanding of scientific method, empiricism, let alone Evolution itself. The Joe Average Creationist's understanding of Evolution is nigh invariably a crude caricature, which almost always omits the timescale involved in evolutionary processes. They are not merely ignorant, but wilfully so. I for one find this utterly abhorrent, but putting my own opinions aside for now, look closer, and think: What does it take to deny Evolution?

Faith. Friend of the friendless. Like love, it is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise. The final refuge for the brutish, fearful animal in every human mind. Religion places it on a pedestal and reveres it as the virtue of virtues. In science it is worthy of nothing but scorn.

In Creationism, the religious dogmatists have drawn a line in the sand. Faith or science, nothing in between. Choose Creationism, and you explicitly reject science and its foundations. In so doing, you reject empiricism, the very backbone of the knowledge that has allowed us to establish civilization as we know it, and with it all the technical wizardry at our disposal.

But of course, they don't really go to such lengths. Well, there's the Amish, I suppose... But the point is, just as how they pick and choose the bits of scripture that suit their purposes, the religious dogmatists will in fact pick and choose what products of science suit them, with no regard for the framework of empirical truth.

And that's what it comes down to: Acceptance of Creationism is a massive step in either wilful ignorance or hypocrisy. In accepting Creationism, they have chosen to abandon intellectual rigour, they have turned their backs on an honest, sincere acceptance of empirically verifiable truth, preferring instead to fill their ears only with whatever suits them, to see what they want to see, and live by their word if and only if it is convenient to their purpose. Furthermore, without a solid backbone of intellectual rigour, this leaves their simple little minds open to all manner of childish myths, e.g. Heaven, Hell, God, Lucifer, 42 (or is it 72? meh...) virgins on the other side, Original Sin, and the like. The word of a Creationist is worthless.

Such laxity on an individual level is bad enough, but when, as in the case of the US Bible Belt, or Malaysia*, such intellectual laxity is the norm, rather than the exception, this allows people to rise to prominence on the basis of memetic strength, rather than actual ability to govern. That is, we find large numbers of highly malleable (read: gullible) people submitting to the rule of salesmen, rather than leaders.

This world is small, and getting smaller. There is no more room for the Creationist lie, or for the hypocrisy and wilful ignorance which it perpetuates. And that's all the time I could be bothered to waste on them, for now.

* Which isn't subject to highly energetic, obnoxious folly of Evangelical Christianity, but rather the infectuous, can't-be-arsed stupor of intellectually bankrupt Islam. Slipper theft optional.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fun quirks of language 06

I love the Chinese language, what with it being one of the oldest languages on earth, with script that just looks awesome when written correctly with a brush. However, it does have its limitations. Saussure had something to say, I think, about a language becoming inflexible if its written form, that is, the symbols, are too closely associated with the meaning. I'm inclined to agree, but I'm not here to debate that point.

What made Chinese REALLY annoying for me to learn was the ridiculous abundance of homonyms, the classic example being this poem:
石室詩士施氏,嗜獅,誓食十獅。
氏時時適市視獅。
十時,適十獅適市。
是時,適施氏適市。
氏視是十獅,恃矢勢,使是十獅逝世。
氏拾是十獅屍,適石室。
石室濕,氏使侍拭石室。
石室拭,氏始試食是十獅。
食時,始識是十獅,實十石獅屍。
試釋是事。
Can't read? No problem! EVERY single character is pronounced 'shi'. That's right, it is damn near impossible to verbally communicate this poem word for word to someone else. Well... at least it rhymes, eh? Have a peep at the Wiki for a translation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not a good time to be a Zimbabwean millionaire...

Enough inflation for ya?


I don't even know what the hell that is in USD. Not sure I want to know.

Adventures in Language

Well, I've just finished a beginner's course in Japanese and signed my raggedy ass up for something heavier, the final objective being to bring my skillz in Japanese to roughly the same level as my English. Recent readings since my departure from white collar land aroused an interest in cognitive and social linguistics in me, and the process of picking up a new language with such things in mind is turning out to be quite a mental adventure.

Japanese, as I'm experiencing it thus far is a wonderfully structured machine, it's written form a veritable archive of Japan's history and culture. The glory of Tang Dynasty China is forever embedded in Japanese culture in kanji. Japan's voracity for new cultural influence is manifest in the smattering of katakana. At the same time, the rigidly heirarchal structure of Japanese society is constantly imposed on you consciousness by the forms of address. I for one think it's kinda kyoot that you can often get away with saying many English words with a comically bad Japanese accent in order to achieve the same word in Japanese, e.g.:

Bus = Basu
Taxi = Takushii
Convenience store = Combini*
Toilet = Toire
Jam = Jaamu
Banana = Banana**

On a more serious note, there's been a little something which has been weighing on my mind regarding Malaysian education. I call it the Malaysian Language Trap, for simplicity.

Here in Malaysia, we are taught Malay and English as compulsory subjects in schools. However, Malaysian education being what it is, even languages are subjects to be swallowed and regurgitated in exams, and left to swiftly decay afterwards, discarded like old toys. The fortunate among us will attend university, and when this happens, one language or the other will decay beyond recovery, whilst the other, the dominant medium of instruction in uni, will reach a level commensurate to that required to pass the exams.

So it was that I entered the white collar world, and found myself largely surrounded by people whose command of Malay had decayed to primary school levels, and whose command of English was just about sufficient to absorb financial information, but not much else. One lasting memory of my days as a salaryman was of me having to dissect my senior's report, sometimes throwing out paragraphs at a time as he tied himself in knots, describing a target company's activities in the most convoluted ways, using the word 'implemented' as though it was punctuation.

We percieve the universe with our senses. Out of what we perceive, a portion, consciously or subconsciously, sticks in the mind. Out of what we have managed to pick up, we can only communicate a portion of that to others, and, unless you're particularly skilled in the visual or musical arts, what we are able to communicate rests on our command of language. And to a lesser degree, our ability to manipulate our own thoughts, to work with them and make something useful of them, that, too is affected by our command of language. As such, without the vocabulary for abstract concepts to latch on to in our heads, we are that much less equipped to understand them, let alone manipulate them.

Here in Malaysia, the Ministry of Education has reduced knowledge to something you need to pass exams, nothing more. In a Malaysian school, a student is not taught what it means to love knowledge. Or to apply a measure of skepticism or critical thought. And so it is that knowledge has become not a gateway to exhilarating new worlds, nations, thoughts and ideas beyond our own corporeal experiences, but has instead been reduced to a mere tool. Skills to pay the bills.

I understand 'philosophy' quite literally translates as 'love of knowledge'. It pains me to say that I can attest to the absurd reality that in Malaysia, knowledge is not loved.

*Yes, it's true. The Japanese do indeed have trouble with the letters 'v', 'r' and 'l'. Don't believe me? Try getting a Japanese person to enunciate the following: 'volleyball', 'valuable' and 'variable'. And before you even think of laughing at them, you try saying 'atatakakunakatta' (lit. 'was not warm') fast.

** I LOVE this word! Wherever you go, a banana is a banana. Or バナナ. Or banaan. Or banane. Or банан. Well, except in China, which is lumped with 香蕉. Point is, everywhere you go (which isn't China) just say the word 'banana' and people know what you're talking about. Like Scooby Doo. :-)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mainichi benkyou shinakereba naranai!

First off, apologies all round for neglecting my blog. Been busy studying Japanese, 'onest guv! That having been said, I really shouldn't be spending so much time writing on this blog, given that I'm meant to be writing a book or two right about now. And of course, there's buckets of books that need reading. And a language that needs learning. Come to think of it, have I not just written about 1 book's worth in blog entrys by now? Dammit, I really need more focus.

Anyhoo, here's a little something I noticed pertaining to some encounters I had with sociolinguistics. Maybe there's something to it, maybe there isn't. Make of it what you will.

When an English speaker sallies forth on some endeavour or other, an exam, say, quite possibly the most common thing to say to him will be 'Good luck'. However, in Japanese, in much the same context as one would normally say 'good luck', one would say 'Gambatte kudasai', which translates as 'Please try your hardest'.

'Good luck' carries with it the suggestion that luck is a factor, that whatever the outcome, it's out of your hands. Failure is not your fault, you tried and that's all you could do. It's okay.

'Gambatte kudasai' implies it's ALL in your hands. Success or failure are entirely dependent on the effort you make. Failure is most certainly your own fault.

This is in stark contrast to the 'boleh lah'* attitude prevalent in Malaysia, where cutting corners and half measures is the norm, painfully apparent in every aspect of Malaysian life. Here, perfectionism and meticulousity are regarded not as virtues, but more often than not interpreted as simple anal retentiveness.

I'm not too sure how Japanese people are viewed elsewhere in the world, but where I've been, the Japanese have a reputation for working and playing harder than anyone else. They work longer hours, more intensely and are far less forgiving of failure or even mediocrity. Their society is a rigidly structured meritocracy and this mindset is further reinforced by the Japanese language, with its various degrees of politeness and accompanying pronouns. For example, in decreasing order of politeness, I can refer to myself as watakushi, watashi, boku or ore, depending on who I'm talking to. All of those words mean 'I/Me', by the way, and there are at least as many for 'You'. The point is, with Japanese, you are always constantly aware of your status in relation to the people around you, and with 'Gambatte kudasai' being one of the most commonly heard phrases, you are always being driven to work that little bit harder.

I'm not sure if this is a case of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in effect. In find that in all cases of Sapir-Whorf I've seen, one has a chicken-and-egg conundrum: Did the culture shape the language or did the language shape the culture?

Meh, I say, for now. I will figure this out at length later, after further readings into Sapir-Whorf. For the moment, here's a guy with a tree on his head:



* Literally, 'can lah', with lah giving the phrase an air of lackadaisalness. Translated more correctly into colloquial English, I suppose the equivalent phrase would be 'Can't be arsed to do better'.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Too much free time...

The break in between classes at the Japanese language school I attend is abominably long, though I suppose maybe it just feels that way because one of the teachers is the most ridiculously* attractive woman I've laid eyes on in a hell of a long time. Anyway, an hour for lunch is far more than I find necessary and as such, I've plenty of time to quietly wolf down some more Bertrand Russell and ponder upon certain matters such as the following scribblings.

Is it humanly possible to live life completely in accordance with the Law in Malaysia? I'm not sure it is. Speed limits on many long, straight roads here seem specifically designed to feed the odd traffic cop. I can't remember the last time I saw a bona fide, original DVD. Or even original software, that is, outside of my happy little Dell, though it came with the machine. Public transport is a joke, hence there are far more cars and motorcycles on the roads than is sensible, thus leading to a breakdown of a highway code designed for a society with some small sense of civic-mindedness. And, as I mentioned before, the standard bribe is pretty much common knowledge in Malaysia.

There is a massive disparity between the Rule of Law and the reality of living in Malaysia and I'm wondering why this is so. So many questions float through my head, the big one being:

What holds sway over M'sian morality?

Not Islam. I'm obliged to point this out up front, seeing as the government tries to paint a picture of Malaysia as a modernized Muslim nation. For a start, we haven't blasted ourselves back to the 4th century. This is good. For another, when a guy goes to a mosque for prayers, wearing his old slippers because he doesn't want his good slippers to get stolen, this beggars the question: What in fuck's name are these people going to the mosque for in the first place? So, no, religion is proving a complete and utter failure in regulating people's behaviour in a socially productive manner, and is offering nothing save a heavy dose of hypocrisy and anti-intellectualism throughout an adherent's life. If you haven't witnessed it firsthand, please take my word for it that the foolishness runs significantly deeper than slipper theft.

So, on to other possibilities of what could possibly be driving M'sian morality. Awareness of Rule of Law and the underlying ethical principles? Oh, please. Most Malaysians can't even pronounce that, let alone say that with a straight face. Collectivism? Hell, no. Individualism? Getting warmer... How about desire for social acceptance, in which moral standards are determined by the tides of pop culture? Close, but not quite. Tradition? Cold! Money? Feels that way doesn't it?

I don't know. This is the kind of thing that bounces around the inside of my head when I've got time on my hands. No answers yet, but that's not going to stop me from digging.

* Yes, ridiculously. So damn hot it defies all reason. I do try very hard indeed not to stare and keep my wits, but holy hell, if you saw her... Ahem.

Monday, September 1, 2008

LHC fun!

For the benefit of those not in the know, the Large Hadron Collider* is the world's largest particle accelerator, based in CERN, straddling 3 countries, funded by 60 countries and when it does its thing, it will either fill in the gaps in our present understanding of particle physics** or turn it completely upside down. The simple version, presented as rap, is as follows:



The physicists involved have every confidence that their experiments won't open up a black hole and obliterate this planet. Fine by me. LHC banzai!

* And you won't have been the first to say Large Hard-on Collider...

** You know, the bits even smaller than atoms.