I remember when I was a kid that I was always very good at English spelling tests. Whilst the other kids would read their lists of assigned words before every test in an effort to remember how to spell difficult words like “cheetah”, or “castle” I would just sit around reading my Enid-Blyton book about assorted children-on-adventures, confident of my abilities to score full marks (I did the same thing for my Chinese spelling tests, except hat usually it was due to anticipation of scoring next to nothing).

And I always used to score full marks, even without studying.

Which is why I remember the very first word I spelt wrong in a test.

It was “pencil”.

I spelt it “p-e-n-s-i-l”, but even as I wrote it down I knew in my heart that it was wrong, that it looked funny, and that I had failed for the first time in my life (if I had known then that it would merely have been the first of a long long list of mistakes, it might have made me feel better. Or worse.)

But it was merely that one word, and disappointed though I was that I had not scored full marks, neither my parents nor I were of the freaky overachiever variety of people, so I continued my non-studying ways for English tests.

This has, in my adulthood, manifested in a rather embarrassing problem. I think possibly because I never took the trouble to consciously think out the combinations of letters required to spell, I cannot spell wthout writing words down. Also, I realize with some dismay that I am having problems with words like “calendar”, “scissors” and (ironically) “misspelt”, because I have seen these words in print misspelt as often as correctly-spelt, making it difficult to recognize the correct form. This would be less embarrassing if I did not so often exhibit an ostensibly high standard of English, for my bluff is called every time I am called upon to spell something.

Of course, no one ever expects me to be able to write in Chinese, so instead they are always impressed when I can spell complicated words involving more than five strokes.

I recently got an interview with a publishing house, editing children’s textbooks. If you read this blog with any regularity, you will no doubt derive some small amount of amusement from the irony of this oft-erroneous author correcting others’ spelling and grammatical errors.

It’s been three days since the interview and I haven’t gotten a call back. I feel like a bad date. And that doesn’t feel good, possibly ranking only just above having to endure a bad date.

It’s really my own fault, really. I’ve only been to 2 interviews in my life before I got into my current job (not including all my part-time jobs before that) and they’ve always loved me. Somehow I always entertained the notion that once employers got to see Alex in the flesh, they wouldn’t be able to keep their hands off of his hot brain, sizzling fingers and alluring work ethic.

I thought I was desirable.

And this particular interview went so well, too. We laughed, we joked, we had a good time… I wasn’t nervous at all, mostly because she spoke excellent English and so I didn’t have to fake a Singlish accent to try to fit in; I gently made fun of her having been a Math major, she jested in response that all we Physics majors were weirdos with bad hair; she complimented me on my ability at editing and I humbly replied that I would need much more experience before I would ever be as adept as she was; we shared a jasmine tea under the subdued lights of her rather cramped and too-full-of-childrens’ books office (she ingested her share – I got mine on my resume when she spilt her tea reaching for it); the background music gently rolled along to the tunes of various children’s favourites…

It should have been the perfect interview. I was everything she was looking for.

She wanted me, wanted me now!

But I couldn’t do it. I admitted that I was already working for someone else, and I could see the fire dim in her eyes. I confessed that, with the project I was working on I would never be able to leave until December, and she popped the question:

“Couldn’t you come to an arrangement with your current company to release you earlier?”

Oh, would that I were able! But I knew my responsibilities – and I told her it was impossible, and that it just wouldn’t be the right thing to do. She patted me on the hand, and told me that I was an ethical person – a good person, and that she would consider the other candidates and call me back. And I knew it was over, that I had blown my chance and that I would never know what she might have offered me.

And so I left her office, feeling rather elated.

For you see, I didn’t really want the job. I’d really just taken the interview to boost my flagging morale. It was the first interview I’d had since I started sending out resumes two months ago, and it was getting depressing, not getting any interviews at all.

She was wrong about me being ethical, though. I was cheating not only on my current job – I was playing with her emotions too.

I’m a bad person.

Which is why, yesterday at the library I borrowed Making Good – How Young People Cope with Moral Dilemmas at Work.

On a slightly different note, I also wanted to know – is it really wrong for me not to seperate content from design and leave my HTML full of inline styles mixed with HTML layout attributes? Is it bad of me ignore Marketing Girls’ <font&glt; and pointless <span&glt; tags when they send their updated pages to me for uploading? If I know that I should create a new object and start a library, will I burn in hell for instead coding everything into an anonymous hack in a subroutine with an inappropriate name???!!!

Let’s hope this book teaches me something, or the world will see yet-another-bad-coder.

I admit I don’t regularly read Nathan ’s blog, which is why I only recently discovered that he had blogged about me.

He was doing a meme, and I quote:

Do you think 8 is attractive?
Well, he’s a guy.

8 referring to me, Alex Huang

What that answer means, in essence, is:

Attractive? Not really – if he were really objectively attractive in any way I would waste no effort saying so, and if he possessed even the slightest smudgeon of aesthetic quality I would say ‘he looks ok, I guess’, grudgingly concede my masculine pride in my own looks. What I really mean to say is:

‘He is completely and utterly plain and I do not find the question even vaguely worthy of thought, as indicated by the offhand manner in which I have dismissed the issue through a feigned homophobic contempt for expressing judgement on the aesthetic qualities of those of my own gender.’


In other news, I have finished watching the first (and only) season of Believe Nothing, a BBC comedy featuring the longest one-lines I’ve ever heard on a comedy sitcom. Sample punchline for a chair-pulling gag:

One would have thought that my high-pitched girlish contralto voice might have indicated my gender without your needing to palpate my breasts.

I haven’t had to use a dictionary to watch TV in a long time. I’m recommending it, just for the record. Made in 2005, and addresses some (rather) current issues. Watch it before it becomes dated!

Pollutant Standards Index

October 7, 2006

The PSI is now in the 100s in Singapore. But just what IS the PSI? I relized that frankly, the numbers had no meaning for me.

The NEA website contains some useful information, but doesn’t really explain what the PSI is, other than the standard table listing how the numbers affect the populace. Via Wikipedia:

The Pollutant Standards Index, or PSI, provides a uniform system of measuring pollution levels for the major air pollutants. It is a scale devised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a way for broadcasts and newspapers to report air quality on a daily basis.

Trolling the web, I discovered that the PSI isn’t the only system for measuring air pollution – in fact the Us has since moved on to use the Air Quality Index since 1999 and our neighbour Malaysia uses the Air Pollution Index, which is essentially similar to the PSI but uses different units of measurement.

From www.sarcs.org:

PSI vs. Air Pollutants
PSI value Effect on health 24-hr.PM10 24-hr.SO2 8-hr.CO 1-hr.O3 1-hr.NO2
(μg/m3) (ppm) (ppm) (ppm) (ppm)
50 Good 50 0.03 4.5 0.06
100 Moderate 150 0.14 9 0.12
200 Unhealthful 350 0.3 15 0.2 0.6
300 Very-Unhealthful 420 0.6 30 0.4 1.2
400 Hazardous 500 0.8 40 0.5 1.6
500 Hazardous 600 1 50 0.6 2

ppm – parts per million
PM10 – particulate matter smaller than 10micro-metres in diameter, which is one tenths the length of 1mm, the smallest marking on your ruler
μg/m3 – microgrammes per cubic metre of ambient air

The PSI Index is actually calculated based on a complicated formula that I don’t really want to type out in HTML, based somewhat on the values listed in the table above (for more info, you can check out this long PDF article from the US EPA). The worst value obtained from applying the formula to the various pollutants is used as the Index, meaning that there could actually be a low level of SO2 in the air but lots of those microscopic particles. Of course, from SARC I also read about adjustments having to be made to this formulae as there were high levels of everything, so I’m not certain how rigid the equation is.

What really got to me about the PSI thing was that someone had remarked to me that being outside was like sitting beside a smoker, which I thought was somewhat exxagerated. So I did some surfing.

For comparison’s sake, I’m assuming that the most visible difference from the forest fires causing the haze are from particulate matter – a study on cigarrete smoke versus diesel engine exhaust says cigarette smoke results in particulate matter levels in ambient air around 830 ug/m3, which is still much higher than the “Hazardous” PSI rating. Of course, the same study states that diesel results in particulate matter levels of only 88 ug/m3 (I find that fishy, but I can’t find any more data), so if we’re looking solely at particulate levels what we’re experiencing is sitting in front of a diesel exaust pipe.

Whew. So now I know.

Maybe only in Singapore

October 7, 2006

It’s crude and not really that funny, but I think only in Singapore could this be plausible.

Sometimes we make mistakes about what is absolutely necessary for our survival.

I’ve been trying for a month to get Father dearest to use the internet using my old laptop, since I no longer have any use for it. The results have been promising – he’s online every day, although he has mastered only Google to search for 4D and gambling results.

Today, whilst trying to teach him how to copy and paste, I realized that he had no concept of right-clicking. Every time I instructed him to ‘right-click to bring up the context menu’ (I work in IT support – can I help it if I act a little more professionaly than is required?) he would click and yet the context menu would not appear. Only after several unsuccessful attempts did I realize that he was clicking the left mouse button.

‘Why are you clicking the left mouse button?’ I asked him, a little miffed that my impudent student was wantonly disobeying my lawful and correct orders (I was swollen with the unholy power of the role-reversal in our parent-child relationship).

Left mouse button?’

My father turned to look at the mouse slowly… he stared at it for a moment – and I stared at him staring at the mouse for a moment.

And in that moment we gained epiphany.

In that moment, he realized that there were two mouse buttons on the mouse.

In that moment, I realized that I had been disobeyed not because of a wanton rebellion against the now perverted switch in our inter-dependance, but rather that my father had not known of the existence of the right mouse button. And a wave of awe overwhelmed me, as I thought of the month he had spent firing up the laptop, logging into Windows, starting Internet Explorer, making Google searches and filling in web forms without the use of the right mouse button.

And for the first time in my life, I saw that I, too, could have conceivably lived without it.

The right mouse button, my friends – it is extraneous for our existence.

And I finally understood how Apple users have survived for so long, for I had always made the terrible joke that the only use for an iMac user’s middle finger was to point it at the iMac.

I am repentant.

Don’t discount the old folks. They can still teach you new things every day.

As a web designer (these days I use the term with a little self-derision – after all my boss has decided to outsource the design of its website, meaning my main role in the design phase is to sniff my nose at what the vendors churn out and say things like ‘huh. that’s not so wonderful’) it’s been bothering me that my blog has been looking a little peaky of late. It’s just that at work I stare a computer code all day, and coming home to do more programming – even if it is very basic PHP stuff isn’t quiet as appealing as watching vaguely-amusing American sitcoms.

So I loaded up a standard template, amended it a little and now have a working but buggy sidebar and messed up post-templates. But at least it’s better than nothing, until I have time to do something better.

In other news, it was Mother’s birthday today.

Brother bought her a cake, something which Sister and I had offered to do in the morning but had instructed not to because no one at home eats cake anyway. When he showed up at the doorstep with the cake and a ‘Happy Birthday, Mother’, afore-mentioned Mother got all misty-eyed and started muttering things about how much (at least one of) her children loved her, no matter what a rebel he was and how little he expressed it (I’m assuming she said all that – being in the shower at the moment I only caught fragments of the emotional dramatics). It helped that he’d made the trip from some god-forsaken camp in Jurong somewhere to buy the cake for her at 10pm, after which he had to go back (my brother stays in-camp, since he’s serving National Service now).

I am reminded again that women will never ask for flowers, but will always be impressed by them anyway (unless they were picked off the road, wrapped in newspaper, and are wiltering).

On the other hand, I guess its only reasonable that Brother buy the cake this year. I remember how much more I loved my parents when I wasn’t staying with them, too.