Sunday, July 25

Odds and Ends, Sun 25 July 2010

   1. Star Wars

   * "19 Things You Didn't Know About Star Wars"
   * "Fancy, Your Pants Are: Star Wars Gentlemen"
   * "John Woo: 'He Wears It' Star Wars Meets Today's Fashion"
   * "StarWars the baroque version"

   2. Brand Power

   * "15 Brand Names Decoded"
   * "20 Corporate Brand Logo Evolution"
   * "50 Fantastically Clever Logos"

   3. World Cup and Chinese Astrology (Revisited)

   After the 2006 FIFA World Cup, I noticed some interesting coincidences
   between Chinese Astrology and the winner of the World Cup:

   Based on that "analysis", since this year's tournament was held in the
   Year of the Tiger, I speculated we could have a first-time winner.  As
   we now know, Spain won the Cup, for the first time.  Spooky ;)

Monday, July 19

Play "Phone Grip Roulette"

   In case you haven't heard, there's a bit of a ruckus regarding Apple's
   latest iPhone.  Not so much from the overwhelming majority of the three
   million (3,000,000!) people who actually bought an iPhone 4 in the past
   three weeks, just various bloggers, journalists and commenters.
   Personally, I think Apple has responded appropriately.  But then I am a
   long-time Apple fan and wannabe iPhone developer ;)

   Regardless of your standpoint regarding the so-called 'Antennagate', the
   fact that other phones can do the disappearing signal trick means people
   have a new game to play when they get together: whoever can make their
   phones drop the most bars in 30 seconds, wins.  People could play "Phone
   Grip Roulette" to break deadlocks, instead of "rock, paper, scissors".

   Apple has put up a page showing various phones having the signal wrung
   out of them without much effort:
   Featured phones include RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700, HTC Droid Eris, and
   Samsung Omnia II.

   And it's not just 3G and/or smartphones.  I can make my eight year old
   Sony Ericsson drop from five bars to two.  Here are some amusing videos
   of other phones dropping bars:
   * Nokia E71
   * Nokia 5800
   * Motorola Droid Incredible
   * RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650
   * Google Nexus One
   * Palm Pre
   * HTC Hero

   I guess a lot more people are going to want free cases!

   Some other thoughts and observations:
   1. Maybe it's a good thing that the signal can be blocked easily by
      human flesh, since phones get placed near our brains and there's no
      conclusive guarantee that they're 100% safe.
   2. Maybe the problem extends beyond the small percentage that have
      returned their iPhones, and they consider it a feature to be able to
      disrupt a call at will without actually hanging up?
   3. If this 'problem' has existed with many phones over the years, why
      have other manufacturers been left off the hook?
   4. If it all turns out to be a massive beat-up, I'm sure those people
      profiting from the advertising and other revenue via their blogs and
      the press will donate their ill-gotten gains to charity.  Somehow I
      doubt it.

Monday, July 12

Spain - A Rough Guide

   This is about the band called Spain, not the country and winners of the
   2010 FIFA World Cup.  The timing is purely coincidental :)

   From All Music:
   "Spain do have some decided jazz influences, particularly in the
    refined, spacious arrangements and precise rhythm section, both of
    which reflect the influence of cool/lounge jazz. But they are most
    definitely a rock band, performing songs with lyrics and vocals in a
    sedate but moody style that bears some resemblance to the work of
    early Cowboy Junkies, or (more vaguely) the Velvet Underground's
    third album. The songs are slow, but not quite lethargic; reflective,
    but not quite depressed; moody, but not chilly."

   The singer, bassist and songwriter is Josh Haden, son of Jazz legend
   Charlie Haden.  He has three sisters, who also have performed with
   alternative rock bands.  Critics often point out the limits of Josh's
   vocal delivery, but the music makes up for it I think.

   The band's official web site:

   Pretty much all of the band's songs can be listened to in full on
   the official site, so instead of linking to YouTube clips, this rough
   guide highlights some of the standout tracks from the band's work so
   far.  You can listen to the tracks via the Music Player:

   If you want to see videos of the band, check out the clips on the
   or try searching on YouTube.

   The "rough guide" ...

   1. "It's So True"
   The opening track from the band's debut album, "The Blue Moods of
   Spain", released in 1995.  The song features a simple melancholy
   melody over a hypnotic bass line.

   2. "Dreaming Of Love"
   A single and probably my favourite track from the first album.
   There's some nice guitar playing and a great little solo.  The vocal
   delivery builds a bit of tension, and the use of effects helps flesh
   the vocals out.

   3. "Untitled #1"
   The first single from the debut album.  This is the first track I
   heard by the band.  It stood out from the teen angst stuff that JJJ
   were playing at the time, and prompted me to check out the rest of
   the album.

   There are several other strong tracks on the debut album, such as
   "Her Used-to-Been" and "Ray of Light".  The closing track, the aptly
   named "Spiritual", was covered by Johnny Cash.

   4. "Every Time I Try"
   In 1997 the band put out a track on the soundtrack for "The End Of
   Violence".  It's a slower, more contemplative version than that which
   would appear on the band's second album, and I still consider it the
   definitive rendition.  There was an official video, but the only
   place I could find the clip is on this Chinese site:
   You may note the source of the clip was the ABC's rage.  Apologies
   for the ads.

   5. "It's All Over"
   In 1999 the band released its second album, "She Haunts My Dreams".
   It shares the distinctive style of the first album, with the song-
   writing and performance, maturing.  The use of a hammond organ on this
   track is a welcome addition to the band's sound.

   6. "Before It All Went Wrong"
   7. "Nobody Has To Know"
   Another couple of slices of melodic melancholy from the second album.

   8. "She Haunts My Dreams"
   In 2001 the band's third album, "I Believe", was released.  Oddly,
   the first track shares its name with the title of their previous

   9. "You Were Meant For Me"
   10. "Mary"
   Another couple of standouts from "I Believe".

   In 2003 the band released a retrospective: "Spirituals - The Best Of
   Spain".  The band did split for a while, and Josh Haden released a solo
   album, "Devoted", in 2007.

   11. "I'm Still Free"
   Haden has recently reformed the band, and its fourth album will be
   released later this year.  This is the first single from the new album.

Monday, July 5

Mini-Reviews of Books Read, June 2010

   It's been a while since I've posted book reviews.  Unfortunately, I
   haven't found the time to write in-depth reviews worthy of the good
   books I've been reading.  Maybe one day.  In the meantime, I'll have
   to make do with brief summaries/impressions of books, starting with
   those I've read in the past month.

   1. "After the Quake" by Haruki Murakami

   A collection of short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.  The
   six stories share the theme of how various people respond to the major
   earthquake that hit Kobe in 1995.  There's a surreal element to some of
   the stories, which is part of the author's style.

   Back in March I read a full-length novel by Murakami, "The Wind-up Bird
   Chronicle".  That was a very interesting and enjoyable read, and a novel
   I'd like to write a proper review for.  Murakami creates intriguing
   characters, and writes about aspects of Japanese society: alienation in
   the modern era, honour and duty, and the influence of the West.  I look
   forward to reading more of Murakami's work in the future.

   2. "Lustrum" by Robert Harris

   A dramatisation of the life of the great ancient Roman orator Cicero,
   and sequel to "Imperium".  In particular, this book covers a five year
   period (the literal "lustrum" of the title) starting with Cicero's year
   as Roman Consul (equivalent to a co-President of the Republic).  As in
   the first novel of the series, the reader learns a lot about government
   and politics of the Roman Republic, before it became an empire.  The
   novel shows Cicero often using pragmatism while wrestling his principles
   during the corrupt and brutal times he lived in.  One could argue that
   the modern era is just as corrupt, it's just that some of those wielding
   power today resort to more subtle and sophisticated techniques.

   My earlier review of "Imperium" can be found at:

   3. "What the Dog Saw, and Other Adventures" by Malcolm Gladwell

   A collection of articles written for The New Yorker magazine over the
   past decade or so.  Like Gladwell's other books I've found some of the
   topics more thought-provoking and well-argued than others.  Topics
   covered include: what makes products or people successful, the problem
   with information overload, why some people panic and others choke, the
   importance (or otherwise) of talent, and the problems with traditional
   job interviews.  A couple of articles stood out for me: why dogs behave
   the way around certain people; and Gladwell's argument that, despite the
   recent prominence of profiling in criminal cases, the practice is not
   much better than the work of psychics.

   There's also a chapter about Nassim Taleb's ideas about managing risk.
   I've read and recommend both of Taleb's books, "Fooled By Randomness"
   and "The Black Swan".

   I've also read Gladwell's other books: "The Tipping Point", "Blink" and
   "Outliers".  I wasn't that convinced with "Blink", but I found the core
   arguments of the other two quite plausible.

   My reviews of Gladwell's "Outliers" and Taleb's "Fooled By Randomness":

   4. "Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour"
      by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

   This book looks at how humans can often make irrational decisions in
   their everyday lives.  The authors cite many examples across various
   situations and studies, and identify how and why we are "swayed" from
   being logical or rational.  The authors argue that by better under-
   standing these psychological factors, we can learn to avoid making
   bad decisions.

   The book covers some of the same turf as Dan Ariely's "Predictably
   Irrational", which I've also reviewed and recommend:

   5. "The Wonder of Whiffling: And other extraordinary words in the
       English language" by Adam Jacot de Boinod

   By the author of "The Meaning of Tingo", this book focusses on obscure
   and strange words in the English language.  For example, an "anecdotard"
   is an old man given to telling stories.  Phrases are organised by topic,
   and sometimes cite the era and source.  For example, P.G. Wodehouse came
   up with "whiffled", meaning drunk, in a 1927 story.

   There's a (small) section on workplace buzzwords, which probably
   deserved greater coverage.  I guess that's one of the failings of this
   book and the rest of the series: it can only scrape the surface and
   sometimes leaves you wanting more.  Also, the lack of indexes and
   pointers to other reference materials mean the books aren't as useful
   as they could be for research purposes.

   My review of "The Meaning of Tingo":
   The author also compiled a follow-up to the original Tingo book,
   "Toujours Tingo".

   6. "The Twenty-three Days of the City of Alba: Stories" by Beppe Fenoglio

   A collection of short stories by Italian author, Beppe Fenoglio.  Most
   of the stories relate to the author's experience as a member of the
   partisan anti-fascist resistance at the end of WW2.  Fenoglio does not
   attempt to glorify the partisans, but rather to portray them as ordinary
   people thrust into extraordinary situations by the war.

   Earlier this year I read one of Fenoglio's novels, "A Private Affair".
   It's about a partisan's quest, against the backdrop of a guerilla war,
   to seek out an old friend so that he an ask him about a private matter.
   Overall, I found the novel even more satisfying than the short stories,
   and worthy of a review in its own right.

   I was prompted to read Fenoglio's work after seeing a mention by my
   favourite author, Italo Calvino.  According to Calvino, Fenoglio's
   stories best capture the everyday lives, struggles and motivations of
   the partisans.