darthfar: (Default)
Well, I'm back from vacation... and it's only taken me all of four days to get around to updating. *facepalm*

Things acquired


- Galactic North (Alastair Reynolds)
- Revelation Space (Alastair Reynolds)
- Redemption Ark (Alastair Reynolds)
- Absolution Gap (Alastair Reynolds)
[Are you seeing a pattern here? I haven't fallen this hard for an author's books since I found Asimov at age 14. -Okay, so Arthur Clarke came really close-. It's just that case of finding an author whom you're so comfortable with that you'll readily buy *any* book they come out with. And really, I'm a big sucker for old fashioned space opera, with a generous side of technology. Side note: The bookstore I went to had EVERY book Reynolds ever published, and I can't tell you just how tempting it was to buy the whole lot all at once.]

- Lost & Found (Shaun Tan): I loved ST's graphic novel, The Arrival (which is one of the genre's most beautiful books ever published), and I love his art style; this is an opportunity to see how the man works with colours for a change.

- Hellblazer: Original Sins: Seriously? Getting started on the Hellblazer series is a bad, bad, bad idea because it just about runs forever. But I'm a big fan of the fellow from his appearances in the Tim Hunter comics (and that's the original blond, womanising bloke from Liverpool, thank you very much. Not Keanu Reeves), so it sort of makes sense to transition from BoM/NoM/AoM to Hellblazer. I think.

- The First Three Minutes (Steven Weinberg): There's just no escaping Weinberg, and Sean Carroll's From Here to Eternity (which I read on vacation. Yes, my idea of a vacation is reading physics books, apparently) was just the umpteenth reminder how I should track down his book on the early universe, once and for all.

- The Eerie Silence: Searching for Ourselves in the Universe (Paul Davies): Just because I hero-worship Stephen Hawking, it doesn't mean I necessarily frown upon making contact with aliens either, haha. The book synopsis alone makes me think of Sagan's work, and his theories on what form extraterrestrial life would take... and that invocation of the memory of Sagan alone is about enough to sell me a book.

- Post Captain (Patrick O'Brien): I would have gotten HMS Surprise as well, but would you believe it... the bookstore had EVERY book in the Aubrey-Maturin series BUT HMS Surprise. *facepalm*

Electronics & Misc

- GARMIN nuvi 2465 GPS navigator: Because I couldn't find my way around the block on my own if I tried. KIDDING. ... Okay, not really. My mother's constant worry is that someday I'll miss a turn and  find myself on the other end of the country. At least now if I do, I can blame it on a little GPS device for getting me lost.

- The Sims 3 Late Night: Okay, so I caved in. I have every expansion set that ever came out for TS1 and TS2, and it looks like the same is going to be true of TS3; compulsion keeps me collecting, even if the sensible voice in my head screams, "NO, not again!" Considering that the last ten games I've played consisted of a player character brutally maiming and killing other characters (or, in the case of Amnesia, the other way around), LN is a nice change of pace, *and* I get new Build/Buy stuff for my architecture/interior design obsession. Oh wait, I kill Sims too. Never mind.

- The Complete National Geographic: Every issue from 1888 to 2009, on six DVDs. I have no idea how long it'll take me to put even a dent in the 8,000+ articles in the collection, but I figure it's always good to have the whole set at your fingertips, right? Not to mention... 200,000 photos' worth of pic reference. I'm such a magpie.

- Pandemonium Tour CD+DVD (Pet Shop Boys): Home for four days, and I'm already burning a hole in this. ;) [But seriously, Neil Tennant, what the hell's with the dancing Christmas trees? ROFL]
darthfar: (Default)

God! Three days of internet failure! During which time I could not work/ surf/ read the news/ chat/ contact people/ do research/ play games. It's appalling how much of life as I know it depends on my connection to the World Wide Web. Oi.
darthfar: (Default)
MOULDY BREAD - A mysterious black dust cloud has settled around the neighbourhood of Spooky Hill, baffling both residents and officials alike.

"It's most peculiar," says Affected Neighbour #1. "I was in the kitchen yesterday, getting the salad ready, when all of a sudden the sky went pitch-black. At first I thought we'd been hit by a storm, but there was no thunder or lightning. It turned out to be a massive cloud of dust."

"We've never seen anything like it before," admits a Department of Environment officer who declined to be named. "It's not like your regular haze, that disperses over wide areas. This black dust cloud seemed to just - hover in one area, like an insect swarm."

Experts have pinpointed Ground Zero as a red-gabled house in the neighbourhood. Several people living in the are have confirmed seeing the mysterious black dust blow out of a northern upper window at approximately 6pm, shortly before the area was plunged into darkness.

"The question is not so much how the dust got out, but where it even came from in the first place," says environmental expert A. Cyd Raynes. "And quite frankly, we have no idea. I propose aliens."

Affected Neighbour #2 has his suspicions."If you ask me, I'd say that the reclusive little geek who lives there has something to do with it," he says, pointing out that Occupant #3 of Red Gables has already been responsible for numerous bizarre happenings in the neighbourhood, ranging from a mysterious rain of pebbles upon the roof of the house next door several years back, to the frequent emission of Massively Burnt Toast Aroma on slow mornings, and occasional ear-splitting shrieks of what sounds like buffaloes being murdered by motorcycles. (According to sources, Occupant #3 is also an aspiring musician).

And the neighbours are mad - with good reason. The black dust, it seems, is attracted to surfaces, particularly light-coloured ones. Green plants have turned black, laundry has turned sooty, and carp have turned to crap. "Not to mention our lungs are probably also coated with a nice layer of black dust," Affected Neighbour #3 mutters darkly. "Sure, I got insurance, but what kinda insurance protects against Strange Black Dust Caused By Rude Neighbour? eh?"



Okay, maybe just a little.

My computer fan has been making tortured little animal noises lately, so I decided to open up the tower and give the fan a good clean. I turned the back of the tower towards me so I could get at the screws - and noticed a thick layer of dust gathered around the vent. Oh, that's not good, I thought, as I removed the side panel. After unscrewing the fan, I pulled it out and HOLY SHIT IT'S BURIED IN FINE BLACK DUST. Think of the meteor that hit the earth about 65 million years ago, the one that supposedly sent up a massive dust cloud that Plunged The World Into Darkness. Now multiply the cloud by three. That's about how much crap I cleaned out of the fan. Some of it even looked like it had evolved sentience.

It took me a good half-hour to get things nice and sparkly clean again, by which time I (and everything around me) was nicely coated in said black dust. Even so, I'm feeling a tad nervous. Because who's to say that, as I lie sleeping tonight, the Enraged Sentient Brothers of the Black Dust won't come to seek retribution, creeping over me and into my gaping nostri
darthfar: (Default)
So I started the new year by going out and buying my mother a laptop. <3

She's been wanting to get one for yonks. In fact, every time we go past a computer shop, she says longingly, "Maybe I should get a laptop. Then I could go surfing when I go travelling! And it would be so cool having something to carry around." So anyway, back in Hong Kong after her accident I was already thinking, She's going to be spending the next two months in the guest room downstairs, she's going to need a portable entertainment system, and there's no way I'm going to lug The Behemoth And All Its Peripherals down from her bedroom, so hey... why not get her a lappy after all? Since I have all that money put away for either an Oris TT3 or Hammy X-Copter that I don't see myself getting anytime soon because most of our trips abroad have been cancelled,  I might as well use the dosh elsewhere.

So I went shopping. And found this ludicrously sexy lappy going for half of what I was expecting to shell out:

The cooler it's resting on came free with the laptop. (As did the bag - duh -, the mouse, the keyboard guard and the 4GB Kingston pen drive).

I fail at sticking on keyboard guards. But at least the blue lights are pretty, yo.

Admittedly, I wasn't as interested in its uber prettiness as I was in the specs:

Platform Notebook PC with Intel Centrino Duo Technology
Processor Type Intel Core 2 Duo Processor
Processor Onboard Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor T6600 (2.2 GHz, FSB 800, Cache 2 MB)
Chipset Intel 45PM

Standard Memory 2 GB DDR3 SDRAM PC-8500
Max. Memory 4 GB (2 DIMMs)

Video Type ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 1278 MB (shared) (holy cow, mom, you could play Left4Dead on this if you wanted to)

Display Size 14" WXGA LED
Display Max. Resolution 1366 x 768
Display Technology Clear SuperView TFT

Audio Type Integrated
Speakers Type Integrated

Hard Drive Type 320 GB Serial ATA 5400 RPM
Optical Drive Type DVD±RW

Networking Integrated
Network Speed 10 / 100 Mbps
Wireless Network Type Integrated
Wireless Network Protocol IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Wireless Bluetooth Integrated

Keyboard Type QWERTY 82 keys
Input Device Type Touch Pad
Slot Provided Optional
Card Reader Provided SD, MMC, Memory Stick / Stick PRO
Interface Provided 2x USB 2.0, VGA, LAN, Audio, eSATA

Built in Web Camera with SmartFaceTM Technology

O/S Provided Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium

Battery Type Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery
Power Supply External AC Adapter

Dimension (WHD) 340 x 38 x 232 mm
Weight 2.35 kg

3-year Limited Warranty by Authorized Distributor

<3 <3 <3

Windows 7 has, so far, proved to be far more user-friendly to less tech-savvy users like my mother. Which is good, because she's been handling the lappy far more confidently (and with far less questions) than her Behemoth.

Now I need to get her to kick her soap opera habit, and get her addicted to Plants vs Zombies instead.
darthfar: (Default)

Doing tech support makes me want to cry sometimes. I suppose it doesn't help that (1) I have a very low tolerance for bullshit, and (2) I think that (a) people should attempt to *think* things through before calling for tech help (since it's very often a case of sheer laziness rather than genuine inability) or at least make an attempt to do a particular task first before asking, and (b) tech support should NOT have to cover helping the person check their email for grammatical error, or asking for the best way of saying "hi" to acquaintances one is emailing.


"Feuilly was a fan-maker, an orphan, who with difficulty earned three francs a day, and who had but one thought, to deliver the world. He had still another desire - to instruct himself, which he also called deliverance. He had taught himself to read and write; all that he knew, he had learned alone. Feuilly was a generous heart. He had an immense embrace. This orphan had adopted the people. Being without a mother, he had meditated upon his mother country. He was not willing that there should be any man upon the earth without a country. He nurtured within himself, with the deep divination of the man of the people, what we now call the idea of nationality. He had learned history expressly that he might base his indignation upon a knowledge of its cause. In this new upper room of utopists particularly interested in France, he represented foreign nations. [...] This poor workingman had made himself a teacher of justice, and she rewarded him by making him grand."

from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Charles Wilbour translation)

My concept of Feuilly, probably a little younger than in my other pictures of him. Fictitious character or not, I have a deep respect for self-educated people, who pick up skills and knowledge on their own without the benefit of formal instruction, which might explain why Feuilly's the Ami I root for the most.

I can't remember the last time I had so much fun painting something: it felt like a wonderful release of pent-up energy and fulfilled need. And a deep love for the work I created - which is a very rare thing for me, since I'm fully capable of hating a picture just because I messed up some small part. I think I did well by forbidding myself from painting for the past month, allowing myself to build up the craving to paint again. I've learnt my lesson: painting too much in too short a period of time is so energy-consuming an effort, so arduous a journey that it burns me out; I need timeouts like these.

[Strangely enough, while I usually deplore painting backgrounds (just because I do them doesn't mean I have to like them), this was one that I had way too much fun doing, that I wanted to stretch on a little longer, and did not feel the strong urge to be done with as soon as possible so that I could get to the "meat" of the foreground.]

And because I'm sneaky and I love Easter Eggs, here's a close-up of the painting (at 50% zoom), showing some of the details that probably nobody else is going to pick up on:

darthfar: (Default)

After possibly scaring three of my students off pork and sushi forever the other day when I explained the life cycle of tapeworms, I've been mulling anew over mankind's tendency to overreact to microorganisms.

It amuses me when people get into a panic over microbes. Seriously. [The worst was when the world learnt about H1N1, and my community went right into a, "Don't talk to anybody; for heaven's sake, don't even leave your house!" frenzy. (I am not kidding, though I wish I were).] Oh sure, I agree, precautions have to be taken when a highly communicable disease is on the rise, or if there's a chance you might catch something from the lifestyle you lead or the food you eat. But there's a great deal of difference between precaution and paranoia, between making sure you boil your water and cook your pork chops well and put off your travel plans, and oh, say, swearing off meat all together, distilling your water and going about in a gas mask, y'know? [Oh sure, Ty and I were idiots in our second year of college when we swore off beef, but that didn't last long, because we eventually worked out for ourselves that life had to go on. LOL.]

Yet, if it only tickles me that people respond to any information about pathogens with panic, it annoys me when someone claims, "Microbes are bad!" And it enrages me when I see products like antibacterial soap and antibacterial mattresses and antibacterial underwear in the market. Seriously, WTF. You're surrounded by microorganisms, like it or lump it. They're the first to welcome you into the world, and they sure as hell are going to be the last to usher you out of it when you die. So what's all this about trying to get them off your walls and off your hands and your bed and your clothes? you can't fight them off forever. Nor should you1.

People, most microorganisms are good. You use them in industry, to make cheese and bread and alcoholic beverages. You use them in medicine, synthesizing insulin for people who've stopped being able to make them, and antibiotics, which are the golden bullets in the arsenal of medicine (even if antibiotics abuse has threatened to crumble its pedestal). In the lab, where you clone genes into them, or use their enzymes in DNA technology. Hell, they even perform community service, synthesizing vitamins in our gut, digesting oil spills and breaking down our wastes, so that we don't have to drown in seas of The Dead. And even those that don't do good don't generally bother us either. And yet, for all the good they do, people remain fixated with the minority that WANT TO KILL US SO WE HAVE TO DECLARE WAR FIRST OMG2.


I'd wax lyrical about how their so-called "war" against us isn't even personal (unlike most workplace spats), that they're just eking out a living, and that they don't even realise what they're doing, and how humans encroach on their turf and encourage their spread (and resistance), but really, that isn't the point, and besides, even *I*'m not naive enough expect that level of empathy from the common folk. The point is this: respect. There isn't enough of it on the human side of the human-microorganism relationship. I'm not talking about reverence of microorganisms. Reverence of anything is wrong, because it goes beyond the realm of logical thinking. Respect for anything or anyone, even your enemy, is all about recognising them for who they are and what they can do, and how you stand with them. In this case it's simply a case of not carelessly disregarding their potential (be it good or bad; the ones that do bad *can* get really nasty), but not going too far in overestimating their capacity for harm either. Unfortunately, it's pretty much a losing battle there. Medical professionals are trained to deal with them as nothing but adversaries; the general public know next to nothing about them (hell, even science students don't encounter them until the sixth form), until the latest epidemic hits - and then of course, all the bad stuff comes out. And we know the majority of the public never stop to think, or do their own research anyway...

Gotta get them young.

And maybe I should ease off a little on the enthusiasm in sharing the beauty of parasite life cycles. LOL.

Enough blathering!

1The only exception is if you really have reduced immunity, or you're caring for somebody who has.
2Abusing antibiotics and vaccines isn't the answer either.


Mother recently got herself a Nokia 6303. No frills, but it's sufficient for someone whose usage of phones doesn't extend beyond the realm of messaging and voice calls. Only annoying thing: she's not too keen on exploring the phone because she's afraid to break it. That about sums up her relationship with her PC, and why I'm called upon to do tech support several times a night. [No problem, except when I'm up to my neck in a major horde attack (haha), and I can't go on answering the same questions over and over...]

That's the key to mastering any new technology, isn't it? You can't be afraid of it, to begin with. Exploring your device on your own and experimenting will get you much farther than getting someone else to do something for you, or watching over their shoulder as they do it, because you'll not only be finding out what you should do, but what you *shouldn't* do. (A negative answer doesn't mean no answer!). And, as an added bonus, you might also find something you'd never have discovered if you played safe. And if you're afraid of damaging it... Hell, shit happens. Things break. You can deal with it when it happens. That's my motto anyway. ;-)

Oh, and a little thinking will get you places. If you know 6 x 9  = 54, you should also know that 9 x 6 = 543. I'm just sayin'.

3Unless you're operating in Douglas Adams' universe, in which case 9 x 6 = 42. Which is perfectly correct, btw. Just not in base 10 arithmetic.


I've been playing Godfather II, which a mate at the gym was nice enough to give me his copy of. Haven't played enough of it to be able to write a decent review of any sort yet, and it's hard to evaluate the experience objectively rather than succumb to the temptation of comparing it to Godfather I (you can't compare apples and oranges) and other mob-type shooters in general. We shall see.

In the meantime, meet Don Dominic, who probably looks more at home stacking books in the library than slamming people into cash registers, and commanding whole armies of made men:

Yeah, my player characters all tend to wind up slightly geeky. Gosh, I wonder why.


1. Why is it impossible to find Simpson's Forensic Medicine textbook in even the biggest bookshops?
2. For gizkas' sake, I helped my cousin get his copy for USD26 a few years ago. Now I check on Amazon and it's something like USD55 - WTF?
3. Where can I get a copy of the 12th edition for something even resembling a reasonable price? Granted, I've wanted my own copy for years, but I'm not paying through the nose for it either.

July 2016

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