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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hey... you... guys!!!!!!!

You know those moments you have after you've watched a really good movie by your favorite director, and you wished you could just meet them in person and tell them what a great job they did, and how their movies have profoundly changed the course of your life and you would appreciate it very much if they could adopt you as their charity case? Well, it was a little like that for me today, though not the movie director and adoption part. So as some of you know, the project I'm on works closely with Sesame Street, and is also partially funded by the Department of Education and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which runs PBS and NPR). So the other people at the presentation today were producers of all these shows on PBS- like Sesame Street- who are also supported by the DOE. And guess what? I got to have lunch with the very people who created Between the Lions, Blues' Clues (they have a new show coming out in Sept '07, for all you parents out there... and are such wonderfully funny people), Zoom (the now online-only science program that Sam loved when she was younger), and get this Eric and Amy, the man who brought Thomas the Tank Engine to the U.S.!! I spoke to him actually and told him how I know a 2 year-old who would give anything to hang out in his office. He gave one of those full-bellied laughters only a man above 60 who's worked with kids is capable of giving... :)

I also met the puppeteer behind Bear in the Big Blue House and Sesame Street, and the most awesome of all, I discover that the woman I've been in contact with for the past month about this presentation used to work at Cartoon Network and was in charge of creating the Powerpuff Girls, Rugrats, and Dexter's Laboratory!! If all this means nothing to you, that's coz you don't have a sister 17 years younger than you who made you spend so many hours so many years ago plonked in front of the TV with her... These characters were such a huge part of her formative years, they were practically family.

Anyways, it was just heartening for me to learn about all the effort and care that goes into producing a children's TV show, especially ones that try to reach out to low-income children in order to teach literacy and numeracy (a certain yellow sponge was brought up disparagingly several times as being antithetical to all that these people are trying to do...) The research behind it all, the testing and trialing with the kids in actual settings (it's a little like user-testing really), we were shown storyboards of brand new seasons of many PBS shows, mock-ups, scripts- it was so exciting, I felt like a kid all over again!

But the piece of news that really thrilled the socks off me is that PBS is going to bring back The Electric Company!! For those of you not old enough to remember the Electric Company, it was conceived in the '70s by the Children's Television Workshop, building on the success of Sesame Street, but targeted at older children. It was cool, groovy, hilarious, and so much fun. And most importantly, it focused on teaching literacy skills to pre-teens who were otherwise not getting it anywhere else. That was when I first encountered Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno (she's the voice that screams, "Hey-You-Guys!!!!!"), and the Spiderman (a.k.a. Spidy) who spoke only in bubble words. It was such a big part of my Saturday afternoons as kid that when I saw some of the old footage today, I could feel my heart just swell three sizes larger :)

One of the highlights of the new Electric Company is that they've gotten the help of Freestyle Love Supreme, an improv hip-hop troupe. Their specialty is improv rap, which is perfect for teaching literacy components like rhyming, phonics and decoding. You have to listen to one of the tracks on their MySpace site where fans challenge them to come up with a rap with the word "orange". It's brilliant!

So yes, Electric Company 2.0- and you heard it first here :)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Of Peanuts and presentations

How festive- I'm listening to the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack while ambulance sirens have been blaring on and off for the last 3 hours... It's hard to get in the mood for Christmas when all you're thinking about is why ambulances are driving past your hotel in droves.

So I'm in D.C. for 2 days to give a presentation to the U.S. Dept. of Education at George Washington University. Sounds fancy I know, but honestly, I'd rather be home. I have so much work to finish before I leave for Singapore, it's not even funny. Which is why I have more books and notes in my suitcase than clothes. No sightseeing for this girl- it's going to be just me and my computer all night, with the soothing blares of ambulances outside to calm my fraying nerves...

But guess who's also going to be taking a break to hang with Charlie, Snoopy and gang on ABC later tonight? :)
I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.
-Linus, A Charlie Brown Christmas

Monday, November 27, 2006

Tiger, tiger burning bright

My happy new desktop picture- all pink and orange :) Thanks to Julianne!

According to Dan, she had initially said, "Well, I kinda want to keep it..." Then she graciously let me use it after he explained that she didn't technically have to give it away... :)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Video of the week

Slacker turned musical wunderkind Beck, playing on Saturday Night Live:

Think Stomp, but with silverware. And if you didn't know better, you'd think Malcolm Gladwell had quit his day job at the New Yorker and joined Beck's band...

I suggest you watch the video quick before NBC pulls it off YouTube the same way it's done with almost all the SNL clips.

Oh, and I want to get myself one of those Beck puppets... :)

[Update: They've removed the video- I knew it! Here's the backup. The video mentioned above is the second one.]

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The day after

So it's 11.17am the morning after and I'm still not hungry. The last time I ate? About 3.45pm yesterday. I think the menu speaks for itself:

Thanksgiving Dinner @ Rick & Emilee's (11/23)
Vanilla & Cranberry Biscotti
Dinner Rolls
Creamy Mashed Potato
Sweet Potato Mash with Brown Sugar and Pecan
Green Bean Casserole
Spicy Mac 'n Cheese
Herb and Bread Stuffing
Spicy Cranberry Sauce
Deep-fried Turkey (with gravy)
Miniature vanilla cheesecake with strawberries

See what I mean? How can we not be hungry for another 4 hours? And I just have to say one thing- people, wake up and smell the deep-fried turkey! There should be no other way of cooking the bird- because of the direct contact with the heat source, the turkey became extremely crispy on the outside, locking all the yummy juices inside so the meat stays all moist and fall-of-the-bone yummy... Is it dangerous to cook a 14lb bird in a vat of boiling oil over an open propane flame? Yes. Should it be of concern that to date, no turkey deep-fryer has been endorsed as safe by the FDA? Probably. But is it worth it? Definitely. The day after, Serene Koh gives thanks for leftovers... :)

She also gives thanks for the indulgent luxury of two movies in a day (both about the Brits- one she could watch over and over- and probably has because it's one of her all-time favorite holiday movies, and the other about one man's globe-trotting mission to save the world from global terrorism which she's glad to have to watch only once because it was incomprehensible from start to finish, Uganda to Montenegro.)
We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger.

Thanksgiving photos here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Give thanks

Our family, friends, good health, and happiness in each other- for these we are thankful :) Here's wishing everyone a Thanksgiving graced with good and simple things!
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving."
-Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Local indie covers by LocalBarBoy

Former Padres frontman and "Mee Pok Man" Joe Ng's new band Localbarboy only belts out cover versions of local band music and "aims to create a karaoke-friendly environment at our shows, with lyrics on cue boards for the audience to sing-along". All this according to their MySpace site. Joe has also made recordings of localbarboy's shows available on his blog.

I am not sure how aware Joe is about the limits of copyright that he is pushing with this band project. And I am not sure that he cares either. My impression of the music scene in Singapore is that it is still a nascent community that draws little mainstream acknowledgement. Perhaps localbarboy's efforts may be a little naive legally, but I think Joe's got his heart in the right place. When there are few official channels to publicize and make local music known, you DIY. Joe's offering of the recordings of many other Singaporean bands on his blog is not only a community building effort on his part, but also harkens back to the days when listening to a grainy, poorly recorded bootleg recording of a live show. And as testament to Joe's community building efforts is the fact that members of the other bands that localbarboy covers often play on stage with them. In solidarity with Joe, (and perhaps a little foolishly) I offer you a sampling of a localbarboy show above. As evidenced by the reception of the crowd at these shows, there is lusty enthusiasm and familiarity for these songs. And to think that a couple of years back, local media had pronounced that the Singaporean music scene was all but dead.

This brings me to a "rockumentary" that was screened in the Detroit Flim Theater a couple of weeks ago and that we tagged along with Eric and Amy for. "It Came From Detroit" highlighted the Garage band scene that was at its peak during the 90s in the city. One line in the movie stuck in my head "everyone's band was like their own little gang, and there's all these little gangs intermingling with each other ..." Kinda sounds like Joe's little project here.

Oh BTW, the track performed is a song called "Siti" by former Singaporean enfants terrible, Force Vomit. The recording was taken from a show that localbarboy performed at Homeclub on 28th July 2006.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


It's about time someone gave this show the accolade it deserves. Here's a NYT article on one of our favorite TV shows, Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel.

Is Mythbusters the Best Science Show on Television?

Basically it's a bunch of stunt-men/science geeks/ daredevils coming together to investigate if myths about certain phenomenon are really true. Like electrocution by throwing an appliance in the bathtub- is there a voltage threshold? Does having pee in the water intensify the effect? What about beating a security system? Can you really do what Tom Cruise did in MI-1? What if you covered yourself completely in mud? Would you be able to evade the motion/heat detectors?

My favorite cast member is Kari- she's the babe with the tools and she rocks! She wields a hammer and screwdriver in a way that would make Rosie the Riveter proud! So definitely try to catch the show if you can- it really is blast and you'll learn more in that hour than any chemistry or physics class you've ever taken. In the words of co-host Adam Savage, "It's Jackass meets Mr. Science". And that's no myth :)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Snowed in...

I don't really know what it is about this song- maybe it's just the mood I'm in today, the stress from end-of-semester work, and/or the fact that's it's snowing outside and it's just one of those physiological things that happens to your disposition when the weather drastically changes. It's not as if it's an exceptionally well-composed song, and I'm not even that huge a Snow Patrol fan at that, but there's just something about it today that I'm responding very viscerally to. The lyrics maybe- that combination of desperate longing and mute, repressed pain(?). It's almost sexy, in a "I-need-to-sweep-you-away-now-because-you-grip-the-madness-of-my-soul" way... Am I even making sense?

You decide for yourself.

Open Your Eyes
All this feels strange and untrue
And I won't waste a minute without you
My bones ache, my skin feels cold
And I'm getting so tired and so old

The anger swells in my guts
And I won't feel these slices and cuts
I want so much to open your eyes
Cos I need you to look into mine

Tell me that you'll open your eyes [x4]

Get up, get out, get away from these liars
Cos they don't get your soul or your fire
Take my hand, knot your fingers through mine
And we'll walk from this dark room for the last time

Every minute from this minute now
We can do what we like anywhere
I want so much to open your eyes
Cos I need you to look into mine

Tell me that you'll open your eyes [x8]

All this feels strange and untrue
And I won't waste a minute without you
-Snow Patrol

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The end zone

Watching the game was supposed to be stress-relief for both Jude and I. Isn't sports supposed to be relaxing and fun? Shouldn't it allow you to take a break from the frantic cardiac palpitations that already plague the other 15 waking hours of a grad student's life? Apparently not- those three hours were instead nail-bitingly, nerve-wreckingly anxiety-ridden. Everytime we thought Michigan had control of the game, Ohio came back with an even better play, and in the end, it seemed clear that the Buckeyes were the better team (or so I was told of course- I just cheered whenever everyone else was squealing, and dutifully boo-ed on command...). With 19 seconds left to the game, we resigned ourselves to second place with a infinitesimally narrow score of 39- 42. And this was despite a momentarily euphoric touchdown in the last 2 minutes... :(

I can see how supporting a professional sport- even at the college level can consume you. It was intoxicating enough even without quite understanding what was going on. Kinda like when my family used to watch soccer when Singapore was still in the Malaysia Cup (the intoxicating part I mean, not the lack of understanding...). So Mr. Petersen, I think I might just take up your suggestion and read Don DeLillo's End Zone over the vacation. I could be convinced about this whole American football thing... :)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hail to the victors...

As if the century-long rivalry isn't enough to make me give American football another chance to impress me, former UM football coach Bo Schembechler passed away this morning, making tomorrow's U-M vs. Ohio State game even more emotional than it already is. How big a deal is tomorrow's showdown between the two unbeaten teams and the impact of Schembechler's death just the day before? See here, here, and here.

Till today, I still don't understand the game. When our friend Terence came to visit, he attempted valiantly to show me the beauty of the sport as we watched a game together (ok, he watched and I watched him watch so I could pretend that I was watching too...) But I won't be watching for the game tomorrow. I'll be watching for the players. And I'll be watching for the fans. And I'll be watching to see the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes to claim the Big Ten Championship title.

Go blue!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

BSS update

To complete the triptych of blogposts on the BSS concert, here are some videos of it that we found on YouTube. The sound quality isn't the best in some of them and others are a little Blair Witch Projectesque (cue: motion-sickeness and nausea), but you kinda get a feel for why until today, we're still reeling a little from the experience :)

Warming up

The ladies of BSS- Lisa Lobsinger on vocals and Julie Penner on violin ("Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl")

The crowd was invited onstage during "Hotel" (it was a virtual stampede- someone broke a pedal.)


A less known track- "Canada vs. America"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What's that?...

[thanks to Rachel and Wikipedia]

It's been 48-hours. That's it. We have tinnitus.
Tinnitus (ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-i-tus) is the perception of sound in the absence of a corresponding external sound. It can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. Tinnitus is the Latin word for "ringing", and usually it is described as a ringing noise, but in some patients it takes the form of a buzzing, hissing, humming, or whistling sound, ticking, clicking, roaring, "crickets," tunes, or songs. It has also been described as a "whooshing" sound, as of wind or waves.

Although there are no specific cures for tinnitus, anything that brings the person out of the "fight or flight" stress response helps symptoms recede over a period of time. Calming body-based therapies, counselling and psychotherapy help restore well-being, which in turn allows tinnitus to settle.

Libby says if she sticks her finger in her ear and then pulls it out really fast, she can hear for like 5 seconds. Beats psychotherapy.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Is the Social Scene broken?

[photo from NYT]

I am typing this as a desperate ringing in my ears threatens to drive me criminally insane. That's what you get for sitting four rows from the stage as Broken Social Scene spent three hours jamming their rambunctious Canadian hearts out in downtown Ann Arbor. And it was sublime...

They've been called everything from a musical co-op to a network to a "tribe and a cult" (see this wonderfully written NYT article about the Toronto music scene in general and BSS in particular). With a revolving set of band members, they can have anywhere between 9- 15 people on any one track at the same time. Which makes for a great live show because you see the full range of instruments and creative vibe just explode synergistically. Today, I counted seven guitars, a keyboard combo, two drum-sets, four horns, one saxaphone, one trombone, several tambourines, one violin, the cow bells, and one harmonica. And sometimes simultaneously.

BSS does not have a sound- that's not what they do, that's not who they are. Which is what makes their music so great. One minute they sound like a folk-band straight out of North Carolina, another they are jamming as hard as rock bands come, and always, as Rachel says, subtly symphonic. This is clearly a function of the fact that each of the various members brings with them something to the music which becomes a different creation depending on who takes the lead. One of favorite tracks, Ibi Dreams of a Pavement (see video) starts of head-bangingly hard-rocking, but then has a violin solo in the middle, and crescendos to the blast of the brass instruments at the end. And Jude just finds the social dynamic of the band utterly fascinating, especially how it contributes to the organic, electic nature of their music.

And yet this could also be what may spell the premature death of what could be one of the greatest bands of our generation. There are just too many sensitive artistic souls for one stage to accommodate. Some splinters were already beginning to show in the concert tonight as lead singer Kevin Drew said something to the effect of how the band is messy, disorganized, and how this might be BSS's last concert. It certainly was the last performance of their 2006 touring season (which was why there was an almost epic tenor to the whole concert) but the way he said it and the tension that seemed to transpire between him and some of the other band members (on stage no less...) seemed to suggest that we might be the last people to see BSS perform together again, whatever together might mean for a band like that.

Tonight, amidst a sound system that performed beyond what the acoustics of the Michigan Theatre could support, copious amounts of alcohol consumption on-stage, and a near stampede when the audience was hauled up to bogey with the band, BSS played their hearts out. Everything from the ethereal Anthems of a Seventeen Year-Old Girl to Jude's favorite Handjobs for the Holidays was heart-renderingly and exquisitely delivered. The whole theatre was enraptured, swept up in the electrifying combustion of a group of people just coming together to make good music. And Jude, Rachel, Libby & I had the time of our lives.

Will Broken Social Scene tour again? Who knows?... But I'm glad they toured today.

[I couldn't find a video of their concert here tonight. Here's one of them performing at Berkeley. I think it suitably captures the euphoric energy that is so much a part of BSS, especialy tonight.]

Radio scan of the day

Via BoingBoing. This is a radio scan from the Burning Man festival in Nevada. Sound familiar to anyone ;)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

There she goes...

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

So get this, I've had my nano for more than two months now, and I've been religiously using my NikePlus transmitter when I run and downloading the data after. But did I think to look at the chart of my progress? Nope, not till today-*dumkopf*.... I'd always just looked at the History folder in the nano and used the last run as a gauge of how hard and long to run this time. But voila, I log on to my NikePlus account today and what do I discover? In the past two months, I've completed a total of 19 runs covering 65.45 km (40.66 miles)! Now that's incredible... Geez... I'm impressing myself...

Ok, this might not seem a huge deal for some of you but you try bearing the indignity of never (I stress that word with all earnestness) having passed a single physical fitness test in your entire life because you could never complete the 2.4km-run under 17 minutes. Trust me, this is nothing short of miraculous. If my math hasn't completely failed me, based on my last run, I'm clocking 2.4km in just under 15 minutes. And it could potentially be shorter if I disregard the time I take to cool down.

Now by my standards, that's incredible.

This all given appropriate motivation of course. That's what the nano's for- Arctic Monkeys great for running; Damien Rice not so great. The Radio Dept. good for warming up; Cat Power for cooling down. And gotta have that PowerSong. At the end of my run, I have Paula Radcliffe congratulating me for completing my workout. Now that's sweet :) Can I run without my nano? Honestly, I don't know. I might have to say No.

So I promised Sam I'll run with her when I'm home over Christmas. Hopefully I'll keep this up and won't end up eating her dust when she leaves me sputtering in her tracks...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Goopy Interweb arts

I love this set of arts about teh interwebs ;) I found them via and fell in love with them immediately. For the complete set of interweb speak arts check out Goopy's flickr set. Best of all, he's using an open license and all are free to use his interweb arts as long as we credit him. FTW Goopy!!!

BTW can anyone guess what the above interweb acronyms stand for?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Georgia on my mind

So, I'm off to Atlanta tomorrow for an early childhood conference. It's just for two days and I'm presenting in a symposium on professional development for teachers. It's a different audience from what I'm used to so it'll be interesting I'm sure.

The furthest south we've traveled in the States is Kentucky (because Florida isn't quite considered down south, and if you think about it, Miami's like a whole other country anyways so that doesn't count...), so it'll be cool to see a little bit of Atlanta. I asked around about what might be interesting, and someone's response was that 1) people talk funny there, and 2) they serve everything with grits.

Fun... ;)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Oh, the horror...

Ok, so I thought I'd left the nightmare of taking stats behind me: three semesters of quantitative methods and a Masters degree later, I'd believed that I can now run a one-way ANOVA without reeling from post-traumatic stress disorder after. I've never seen myself as a quantitative researcher although I use it for my research, but at least I can distance the use of statistics from the pain I had to endure to learn it. Till today, my friends and I still think of that whole sequence of quantitative research classes as our Nam- we were stats PoWs...

But this video has opened the floodgates of painful memories all over again- I feel the rising nausea, the bile, the dull throbbing ache of an oncoming migraine, that sickly familiar cold sweat... What's the chi-square? How do you calculate the F-statistic? What does this standard deviation mean? Read the p-value!! I'm an English major!!!

And yet, I laugh... and laugh... and laugh :)

The scary thing is how much of the video I actually understand...

[video courtesy of Kevin @ theory.isthereason]

Sunday, November 05, 2006


So as part of Serene Koh's continuing initiation into American culture, I decided to foray into a culinary unknown today.

I ate my first Pop Tart. Frosted Brown Sugar and Cinnamon if you must know.

It was... how shall I say this... OK. I mean, I wasn't sure what to expect, but maybe something more exciting? I hear people talk about it as the quintessential American snack- Lorelai and Rory love it on Gilmore Girls, there's a Smashing Pumpkins song all about it, and didn't it essentially kill someone in Pulp Fiction? Maybe I was hoping for something which snapped, crackled and popped, or exploded with taste, tickled my tastebuds, tantalized my senses... I don't know, the pop tart was just... fine, I guess. Kinda like a cross between a cookie, a covered pineapple tart from home, and a biscuit. And it's way flatter than it looks on the box. I was a little bummed...

Maybe I should start looking out for a deep-fried Twinkie.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Time Lapse Road Trip LA - NYC

Found this on Digg. I'm not familiar with the artist performing the music- Lacquer's "Behind"- however, this is a new video from the minds of Michel & Olivier Gondry. This one is for all you folks that have done that coast-to-coast drive (well from Michigan to the West Coast at least)- something that we would like to do at least one in our lifetime. Hopefully it'll happen sometime soon, though doing it multiple times could become a pain after a while (as some of you can attest...)

Challenge: Can you identify the different landscapes through which the guy drives? :)

First snow

My frosted phlox
Originally uploaded by jyew.
Yup- it was the first official day of snow here in Ann Arbor. The freak "blizzard" that couple of weeks ago doesn't count... The snow today was sustained and actually came down quite hard in the afternoon- I somehow managed to get snow on my sweater which was under a zipped jacket- go figure... And as you can see, my darling plants are bearing the cruel brunt of the frost :(

It would also seem that Michigan drivers have forgotten how to drive in the snow. The news reported a 10-car pile-up on Huron Parkway, and many freeways all across Southeast Michgan were experiencing crawling traffic as well. Trust me, come January, these same people are going to be hurtling through blizzards at 100mph...

As for my husband, we get snow, and what does it make him think of?

Ice kacang.

See, that's why I love the man... :)

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Mr. Nervous post-carving, pre-lit
Originally uploaded by jyew.
Every year we tell ourselves to get more candy, and every year, we don't get enough. Once again, I had to turn trick-or-treaters away because we just ran out... Of course, it didn't help that Audrey screamed from half a block away, "C'mon guys, let's go to Serene's house!!", after which I was promptly assailed by a motley crew of Spidermen, ninja witches, fairies, princesses and a chili pepper. But my favorite this year has to be a the little girl who was a stick of bright red Crayola crayon :)

Anyways, Rick and Emilee came over with three monstrously huge pumpkins and we spent the night listening to The Pixies and Rickie Lee Jones (whose song, Ghetto of My Mind, incidentally, is what this blog is named after...) while hacking those gourds to bits... For some unfathomable reason, my pumpkin ended up with a perplexed expression *again* (see last year's)- it's as if I'm incapable of carving a scary pumpkin... Rick's Big Dipper pumpkin was awesome and so was Emille's Casper the ghost, especially with the flickering candles inside. It was good fun and Emilee even ended up with a huge bowlful of pumpkin seeds to roast.

Hope everyone had a ghoulishly good Halloween!