Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where Ideas for Unwritten BlogPosts Converge

Otherwise known as the random post.

I was in the midst of trying to fall asleep when I was bothered by the urge to violently sneeze. Eyes watering, I sneezed like there was no tomorrow. By the time I was done, my eyes were still itching, and whatever sleepiness that had manifested earlier was also gone. I had two options, read or blog. 10 points for anyone who can guess which option I picked ;)

On reading materials
I'm trying my best to read A Clockwork Orange, a book which seems to be in a lot of people's good books. Ha ha. I'm finding it an extremely difficult read, though and it's not because I have to learn a whole new language to actually get it. That's the least of my problems - I actually had fun trying to guess some of the words.  I can't seem to explain it, but the book just doesn't interest me as much as it should. 

On another note, I recently downloaded The Golden Bough from Project Gutenberg. Interestingly, I came across the book being mentioned twice - once in The Folklore of Discworld  some time ago (after which I downloaded the book) and more recently in Night Shift - short stories by Stephen King (after which I thought I'd start reading it) It's long - 1313 pages using the e-reader I use, and what I thought was hilarious is that in the beginning of the book, the author tells us that it's an abridged version!
 
The Golden Bough by Turner - source wikipedia
On blogs
As though being an author in this blog all by myself and being a co-author in another blog wasn't enough, I have recently agreed to being a co-author in yet another blog. So far I haven't had any brilliant ideas on what to post there as a first post (The first post is always important to set things in motion, methinks, but then, I could also just jump in the middle and throw in whatever comes to mind) My friend has posted a bit so far, though... you can visit the blog here: http://thepaintedguitar.com/ if you so wish. 

Other Stuff 
a. I have a serious addiction to this game called Tetris Battle (which you can play through Facebook and all your friends can know how you suck at it) I stayed up twice till the wee hours in the morning getting my fix this week. 

b. I wrote an e-mail at work describing a test I did and threw in a basic scientific term, basically to show that 'Hey, I've considered the possibility of this error and have eliminated it' Someone who received a carbon copy of the email thought throwing in the scientific term was 'cute'. That's a first. 

c. So my current phone, a 2009 Sony Ericsson is kind of on it's last legs. It's my fault, really,  for not protecting it from my careless fingers and violent ways that it falls down to the floor almost every single day. The keypad is being stubborn and typing texts is bothersome (I need to use texts to communicate with my boss when she needs info while she's in a meeting) and it recently took to pretending my SIM card doesn't exist. I was thinking of a new phone - and I don't really care if it's a smart phone or something a bit more basic. Any recommendations?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sweet Seduction

"Whatever you do, Terra..." he paused for dramatic effect, taking another sip of his canned iced lemon tea "don't ever buy anything from that machine"

"Why not?" I asked, my fingers smoothing the creases of the RM 1 note which I had extricated from the mess in my pocket with the intention of using it to get something from the vending machine for the very first time. 

"I'm now on my third can for the day" he said, raising his can in his right hand. He took another sip. "It's crazy. Hear that sound?" he asks.

I nod my head.

"They're refilling the machine now. After this there'll definitely be guys lining up to get themselves a can or two. It's like everyone's addicted. Did you know the machine needs to be refilled every two days?" 

Vending machines and I had a very interesting relationship while I was in Japan
This *conversation happened over two weeks ago when I had asked B who sits opposite me in the office if the vending machine downstairs accepted RM 1 notes. It apparently does.

Since I've always been able to exercise self control to a certain extent, I didn't worry too much about B's sugar high filled laments about the seductive effects of the vending machine. Besides, I was planning to work **late that day and didn't like the idea of doing so with an empty stomach, giving the opportunity to over-excited gastric juices to launch an attack. So, I went downstairs, B's words still ringing in my ears and picked the healthiest drink I could find - apple juice. 

The next evening saw me at the vending machine again. As I scanned what they had, I spotted Mountain Dew and mindlessly pressed the button.  Mind you, I wasn't planning on leaving work late that day. I was there again the day after that, a can of iced lemon tea for myself and a Mountain Dew for my sister. The weekend came and saved me from further damage for slightly over a week.

Yesterday, I succumbed to the machine's charms once again. In my defense, I had to pass by it several times as I speed-walked between my building and the next doing my job (Note: If you want a job that can actually keep you fit, get a job as a process engineer in a Japanese company) Finally, after all that speed-walking, I saw B with yet another can in the evening and I decided to get myself a can of iced lemon tea.

As I sit ***writing this, all thoughts are on that machine and it's sweet seduction.

*Conversation was in the Malay language. I may have dramatised it a bit for effect, but the gist of it is the same. B is still addicted to 3 cans a day till today. 
** late in this post means leaving work after 8 pm. 
*** Yes, I actually wrote this post on a piece of paper using a pencil. As I'm typing this, I'm proud to announce that I did not go near the machine today.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Runaround

It's been almost 3 weeks since the incident involving the rogue lorry and 22 other vehicles. I thought it would be all over by now, and Kets (that's how I call my car, although his full name is actually Ketsbaia) would be with me right now, but apparently that is not the case. The damage done was far worse than anyone had initially anticipated and it turns out that the one of the major repairs require some sort of approval from the Road Transport Department (RTD)

Earlier this week, the agent who was in charge at the workshop handling my repairs called and said that I have to go and swear an oath at the RTD (this was literally translated from 'angkat sumpah kat Puspakom). Having never met with an accident before and not knowing anyone else who's been in such a situation, I honestly thought I'd have to sign the form and swear in front of the RTD officer. Turns out, that's not how it's done. You take the forms to a commissioner of oaths, get his (it's always an old man) signature, a few stamps here and there and then you submit the forms to RTD to approve. Two weeks later (after all, the RTD is a *government agency and is prone to extreme sluggishness) they'll apparently call you and tell you it has been approved (or not) and then only you can take your car to them for a physical/roadworthy test. If everything is good, then you get your car back. If not, I really don't even want to think about it.

I could only get yesterday off, and duly went to get the forms from the office at the workshop. The agent's boss gave me the required forms and told me what to do. She also said that the RTD officers had the tendency to reject the application at times citing incomplete documentation and added a few more papers to the pile she'd given me earlier. My dad (who kindly drove me there) asked her why didn't the shop runners do it, and she said they could, but it would require extra payment. I figured that it wouldn't be too difficult to do it ourselves and therefore took the forms and left. Besides, I had taken the whole day off and thought it'd be a waste to get someone else to do what seemed to be quite a straightforward task.

I was dead wrong, though. The Commissioner of Oaths was efficient. He signed my form immediately and I was on my way to the RTD within a few minutes. About half an hour later, we finally reached the RTD and went looking for the correct building to submit my form. It was a Friday and it was already 11:20 by then. Government offices close at 12:15 (officially) on Fridays to cater to the Friday prayers, but someone who was pointing us towards the correct building told us that by 11:45, they kind of unofficially stop working. After walking quite a bit and almost submitting the form to the wrong counter (the accident cases have a different building, I was told by the wrong counter dude), we finally found the correct counter. He took my forms, made a comment about my small signature, and then told me the forms were incomplete. My heart fell. It really did. I tried using my rusty girlish charms (I usually don't need it, and try my best to not use it because I want to be taken seriously) but he said that he could accept it, but his boss would definitely reject it.

He made a comment about how the workshop should 'know better' than to send me with incomplete documents. I called the lady at the workshop to tell her what extra things he needed and she said that what she gave was already complete. It was, but he just wanted extra stuff. And then understanding dawned.

I decided that I'd use the services of the workshop runners and went back to give them my incomplete documents and paid up the required amount for the services, RM200 (roughly 64 USD) There was no receipt for this amount. The person in charge of my documentation shrugged and said that many of those who chose to submit the documents themselves have complained that their submission was rejected by the RTD due to incomplete documentation, whereas the same documentation if sent through a runner was immediately accepted.

Now, while I don't have an issue paying for good services, I don't see why we need to pay for someone else to do a job which you can do yourself. Submitting a form is easy enough, and with the documentation given by the workshop, everything should have been accepted immediately. I hate to say this, but I don't think I'd be too far off to point out that the reason there's no receipt for runner services is that the money gets split around to allow a smoothness in the flow which wouldn't be there otherwise. Hence their higher success rate compared to individuals who thought they could do it on their own. It's so sick that everyone just accepts that they have to use the services of the runners to get things done, and they do it. Government agencies are so used to runners, that when you opt out of the so-called system, they give you a runaround until you succumb to it as well. I could have argued that the documentation was sound, but what if they held it against me and purposely took ages to approve my car just to spite me for fighting back? We, as the citizens of this country are allowing such things to happen right under our noses!

This is the only running around I'm willing to do. Thank you very much.
Anyway, I was wondering, since quite a number of you are from different countries. Do you have to deal with third parties handling stuff for you when dealing with government agencies in order to get them done? Or if you're Malaysian (or not), have you been in a similar situation?  I'm curious, is this a local problem, or one that is universal.

*So far, I think only the Inland Revenue Board is the most helpful and efficient government agency, but that also could be due to the nature of what they're handling - taxes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Most Unlikely Hacker in the World

When you know for a fact that something should only appear on your "wall" or "timeline" as they now call it, if and only if you were the one who put it there, wouldn't you almost have a heart attack when you see something you have no recollection of ever putting up there? Does it make it worse if the time that the something you have no recollection of putting up there ended up on your wall or timeline when you were positively sure you had no access to the internet? 

The answers are yes, and yes. And that is how I spent my lunch time panicking over the fact that I may have been hacked, thanks to a friend who commented on the link I supposedly liked on my wall. I replied to my friend's comment, and told him I might have been hacked, then I updated my status update with something to do with my fear of being hacked. I changed my password and then went back and deleted the offending link I supposedly 'liked'. What if it was something that would infect your PC once you clicked it? I didn't want any of my friends clicking it and then, saying "Damn, TerraShield gave me a virus and now I have to reformat my PC!" Naturally, when it comes to having to reformat their PC, they will probably use words that are much worse than "damn".

Meanwhile another friend responded to find out what had occurred, and yet another friend e-mailed me and gave some really good advise on how to rescue my system from suspected malwares, spywares and keyloggers. With that in mind, I told myself that by hook or crook, I was going to flush out all the offenders from my laptop tonight. 

I spoke to my sister later and told her how I suspected I had been hacked. She started laughing uncontrollably, and pointed out that our mother was the 'hacker'. Firstly, the link that I supposedly 'liked' looks like something my mom would read. Secondly, my mom uses my iPad to surf, and I must have forgotten to log off facebook on that device, and knowing how sensitive the touch screen is (embarrassing memories of accidentally clicking 'add as friend' on strangers comes to mind), it made perfect sense although this didn't occur to me at all - I had completely (and very inconveniently) forgotten about the iPad. I checked with my mom and she confirmed that she was online around 9-ish this morning and yes, she had been reading the article that I had 'liked'. I can't describe how relieved I was hearing that.

And now, we have a new funny story in the family. My mom, the unlikeliest hacker. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do I Have to Give this a Title?

The day begins. A brand new day, you tell yourself as you prepare to get to work. You hear a bit of an interesting conversation on the radio before more important things drag you away forcefully and you leave not knowing how the topic was concluded. You make a mental note to download the podcast with your new superspeed internet connection and almost brand new laptop when you get back home later that night.

Life goes on. The hours you spend solving problems you didn't create in the first place vanish with almost the blink of an eye. Soon, it's time to face the superspeed internet and your new laptop, but the mental note you made earlier stubbornly stays a mental note. So you lie down on the floor with the laptop and play Tetris Battle until you spend all your energy. Literally.

Repeat the cycle the next day.

*Edit: Mark mentioned something about being stuck in a rut in the comments below, so I thought I'd just add this video by one of my favourite 'current' bands.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

ADDICTED TO: Coffee or Caffeine?

Around two weeks ago, I almost went cold turkey on my daily dose of 2 cups of fully caffeinated(?) coffee no thanks to my sudden fear of having more cellulite than I think I can handle. Besides, I've already hit and crossed over the BIG 3-0, and although people whom I've just met mostly ask if I'm still studying (instead of where I'm working), it's still best to be on the safe side. I also figured I'd give giving up coffee a try because I had done something similar for almost three weeks back in 2009. This time, it lasted for merely a few days before everything went down the drain. Everything except for the coffee, that is.

After the unfortunate incident with my car last week, my coffee intake increased up to about 3 cups per day. I don't know why - maybe some subconscious part in me thinks that the extra coffee will make me feel better/healthier/more energised or something to that effect. Besides, without a car, I've also had to give going to the gym a miss (I'm not a fan of running in my neighbourhood - I've actually seen elderly neighbours take their daily morning walks with a good sturdy stick to ward off would be muggers,thieves and murderers) To be honest, I wasn't feeling all too good (mentally) after the accident although I don't think anyone I've interacted with actually noticed.

Earlier today, my sister put up a status update regarding her caffeine deficiency (she's been slightly more successful than me, I think, hence the deficiency) and as I sipped my coffee while reading her status update, it suddenly hit me: Are we actually addicted to the caffeine in the coffee or are we addicted to the coffee itself?

I'm beginning to think my addiction is towards coffee itself rather than the need for caffeine. See, I come from a family that used to have tea at least once almost every single day. In fact, right up till the end of 2010, I used to have some plain tea every morning for breakfast/brunch. I also used to sporadically take green tea whenever I bothered to remember that it has some benefits, but have stopped that as well for at least a year. Tea is now an almost endangered culture in my life and it's absence doesn't seem to have had much effect on my sanity. I actually dislike drinking Coke and Pepsi (although I do take them sometimes when I get my meals from McDonalds if I forget to change my order to something else being the dreamer that I am), but have never even considered getting addicted to either. I love chocolates but can go for weeks without craving them. I don't take energy drinks like Red Bull. But take away my coffee, and I feel like the day isn't complete.

So, to check out how far my theory can be used, I'm planning to go decaf while maintaining the rest of my lifestyle, although I will have to wait a bit before I can actually do it. Meanwhile, what do the rest of you think? Is it the need for caffeine, or the love for coffee itself?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Tales of A Miserable Extended Weekend

I became a reluctant contributor to some local statistics yesterday...

I can't say where it all exactly began, but if I had to pinpoint at something, I guess it would be the day I decided to apply for leave on the 30th seeing that my whole section at work was unofficially shut down until the 2nd of May. Due to the leave, I got roped in to help my sister move her stuff to her new place, which is roughly an hour away from where we live now. 

After getting some furniture from the local shops and a heavy lunch for the 'labour intensive' tasks ahead of us, we proceeded with the journey, went up to her new place, did some cleaning, assembled the furniture and performed magic to the room like one of those many reality shows where people get their living spaces pimped up by total strangers. 

I suppose we also picked up the wrong time to leave her new place as it was already after 5:30 pm when office workers would be making their way home after work through massive traffic jams. We had just passed the first toll booth and were moving in the middle lane at a pace that even snails would envy when I noticed a lorry moving haphazardly through the jam via my rear view mirror. "What the hell is the lorry doing?" I asked my sister as something (my instincts, perhaps) told me to try to get out of the way amidst the jam. I managed to smoothly inch my car slightly to the right before the lorry rammed into the left hand corner of my car, lurching me forward into the car in front of me despite me hitting the brakes. The lorry then proceeded to move forward and crumpled the bumper of the car that was in front of me. My sister and I looked in horror as *six cars piled up, bumper to bumper in front of us. By this time, the lorry had stopped and the driver jumped out of his vehicle and made a run for it. People started shouting from their cars " catch him, catch him" and a few men ran after him and caught him. The police too were nearby and managed to get him from a few very angry victims who would have beaten him into a pulp if they had their way. 

Turns out, the lorry had been pulling this stunt from the back and had caused **another series of accidents about a 100 metres behind us. Insurance companies were called, unscrupulous towing service operators and local workshop people tried to persuade some panicked people into using their services etc. At the same time, diesel was pouring out from the bottom of the lorry onto the road. It ominously looked like an explosion waiting to happen. The traffic on the opposite side got even worse because people were also happily taking photos and videos while they were safely on the other side! 

After the area was processed and we moved our cars (most on my section of the accident could still be driven a short distance save for one car), there was still no sign of the people from my insurance company as the agent himself was stuck in a massive jam. In the meantime, we exchanged stories with other victims and found out other relevant information and scandalous stories involving the driver of the lorry and how high he was or something to that extent. After waiting for a few hours, he finally arrived and we all went to the traffic police station to make a report. It was already 11 pm by then, and my sister's friend came to meet us there with some coffee, and most important of all - moral support. The report went smoothly as the Sargent was so bored by then after hearing report after report against the same lorry, that he didn't do any ***"my job is to confuse you" kind of interrogation.

It being an accident that resulted in a death, apparently all the 22 cars have to end up being quarantined for testing. I was informed that it'll take some time before I could get back my car after the test and after having it fixed. 

As I type this, I just realised how matter of fact this post sounds. I guess I just want to make sure I remember how it happened, because at that point I was scared and my phone decided to tell me that my sim card was not detected. I managed to get it working after that, but I was also low on battery! As my sister pointed out later, we were directly in the lorry's line of fire and managed to escape without getting hurt because of my habit of looking through the rear view mirror and moving to the side just seconds before collision. She said she saw the lorry drive past too close to us through the passenger side mirror, but didn't realise it had rammed into us. Otherwise, it would have been my car which would have had it's rear flattened, and seeing that I drive a hatchback instead of a sedan, I don't even want to think of what could have happened. I suppose we also have to be really thankful that Malaysian roads (despite the everything else we fail in, and probably the benefit of large amounts we pay for toll) are wide enough that one lane can actually accommodate 2 cars if necessary.

*we counted later
** The accident behind us was apparently worse. A motorcyclist died, a baby got thrown out (don't ask how, cos I have no idea myself), two 1-tonne lorries were also involved there, a Mercedes started burning. Someone was bleeding from his mouth, etc
*** years ago, when my sister was hit by a car, we had an awful time during interrogation with the Sergeant - a different one, of course. His mode of interrogation made us feel as though it was my sister herself who threw herself against the moving car!

Note: This hasn't been reported in any news as far as I've seen, but here is a forum (it's in the Malay language, though) with some pictures of the scene (if you have a similar kind of morbid curiosity as the average Malaysian) : Link