The losing battle with the bulge

My weight is threatening to return to my “chubby” level of 65kg. Sigh. I’d worked hard and reached 57kg in December but now all the weight is back, not helped by my laziness and all the food I get at press conferences. Damn you, delicious deserts!

The only thing that has really helped take the pounds of is, unfortunately, stuff I hate: vigorous exercise. 3 days a week of running as well as portion control gets me dropping a decent 1kg a week. There are no magic bullets but sadly have been too caught up with work and personal life drama to really look after my waistline.

Things must change so I’m forcing myself to blog my progress every day until the end of 2011. Wish me luck.

Health Plan progress:

Breakfast: Nasi Lemak
Pre-lunch: More nasi lemak
Lunch: Sushi take, cawan mushi, sunagimo, onagiri
Tea: Ice cream
Dinner: Nothing, thank the gods.
Exercise: On The Run exercise plan, Day 1

Feeling: Tired, but determined.

Learning to work with the iPad

It’s been 2 weeks with the iPad and though I miss my laptop on occasion, my iPad is the superior traveling companion.

Whether it’s the bed, sofa, coffee house, car or pub, the iPad has proven capable and sturdy enough for what I needed. Paired with the iPhone and a camera connection kit, I take more photos now and share them easily.

For long-form writing and editing, my MacBook is still the superior machine but for everything else, I am happy to use my iPad.

The iPad does require a high degree of flexibility and a willingness to experiment with apps until you find what you need. For work, Writing Kit allows me to research and add source material from within the app itself without switching and copy-pasting from Safari.

For blogging, my WordPress blog is served just fine from the elegant Blogsy. Blogsy’s only real letdown is being unable to set categories or tags.

I have yet to really try video editing on the iPad but my brother and significant other both love GarageBand. In five minutes they can make rough song demos and in a pinch, accompany me singing with virtual instruments.

And I was glad to have the iPad when the book I’ve been waiting for, George R R Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, launched worldwide. The Kobo app allowed me to download it in a pinch and read it in bed, with the lights off. I also love being able to subscribe to Esquire and Wired, and I honestly prefer the digital editions of the mags more, thanks to the multimedia extras.

It is an amazing machine and worth the price I paid for it, methinks. Sure, a netbook is cheaper but it isn’t quite as portable. Where games are concerned, I can now play Monopoly and Scrabble using my iPad as a virtual board. Countless games of Monopoly kept me entertained while waiting to board my flight.

For work, play and portability the iPad really is a versatile little machine. For heavy duty editing, writing, gaming and such, desktops or a very high-end laptop still rule. But the iPad handles everything else and has been a wonderful traveling companion.

One niggle: the iPad can’t really multitask when it comes to instant messaging. You can’t run an IM program in the background, which is a tad annoying but a great way to minimise distractions.

Otherwise, my fears of it being a mere toy or expensive paperweight were clearly unfounded.

My essential extras for the iPad:
Good protective yet lightweight case
A stylus (Griffin makes a good one)
Camera connector kit for my iPhone
Extra-long USB wire (MacAlley makes one as long as 6ft)
My Essential Apps: Writing Kit, Soundnote, GarageBand, DropBox, NotesPlus, GoodReeder, Blogsy, Kobo.

The state of journalism in Malaysia

I know many Malaysians, especially those who attended the Bersih rally, are angry the events were badly misreported in the mainstream media.

Yes, it irks me too. But I also feel sorry for the reporters forced to take the fall and bear the brunt of public vilification.

News reporters are mere foot soldiers in what I like to call the big Mainstream Media Propaganda machine. What happens is this – a reporter goes to a scene and later files the story. But what the reporter wrote might not be what gets to the written page. Facts are distorted, opinions are injected and a reporter finds that the end result is not something he would want his byline on.

For a long time, the government kept a firm rein on what would come out in the media with help from draconic laws like the PPPA. And then the Internet happened.

It is easy for the idealistic to vilify the mainstream media. The truth is that the MSM is not independent in this country and functions for the most part as unofficial wings of the information ministry. “So you lie for a living,” someone said to me when I told him my job.

Journalism’s first obligation should be the truth, its first loyalty is to citizens. But in Malaysia, MSM’s obligation is to stay alive and its first loyalty is to the government. Otherwise, the only news organisation left practicing would be Bernama.

The government is learning the hard way that no, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. But it will keep trying.

You can’t expect the mainstream media to change overnight, not until it can free itself from government shackles. What can be done now? Perhaps it is time MSM at least attempts neutrality instead of preemptive self-censorship or unabashedly trumpeting propaganda (I’m looking at you, Utusan).

And you, dear reader, have a choice. The choice to cancel your newspaper subscriptions or at the very least, get your news from various sources before you make up your mind about something. Question what you read, heck, question me if you doubt the veracity of my claims.

The Internet isn’t killing MSM. It might just help it win back the dignity it has done without for so long, by proving that credibility is currency in this day and age. So let us pray that our media organisations start their march out of credibility bankruptcy.

Joining the iPad converted

I resisted the call of the first iPad but finally succumbed to the lure of the iPad 2.

Rumours have it the iPad 3 will be announced next month so some will tell me I should have waited. And wait another year for it to come to Malaysia? No thanks.

You still can’t just walk into a store and buy an iPad 2 these days. The easiest option would have been to order it online and wait the 2 weeks or so for it to arrive. But Malaysian customs has been known to delay shipments and waiting around for the DHL dude to arrive? Not my thing.

Instead I resorted to buying one online from the Lowyat.net forum. Slightly more expensive than retail but I had my iPad delivered to me in person.

The main reason I needed one was because I was traveling to KK for a week and didn’t want to bring my laptop along. Also have been toying with idea of getting one for work as I already have a Bluetooth keyboard I can use with it and since I don’t drive, it is a bit of a pain to lug my laptop everywhere.

Though some advised me to get a netbook instead, the iPad made the better investment due to its higher resell value. Even first-gen iPads still fetch decent sums on the Internet so should I decide to sell the iPad I won’t have lost too much money.

I ended up buying an extra-long charging cable as well as the standard screen protector & case combo. When you buy pricey electronics it makes sense to invest in protection for said electronics, no?

So far I find writing on it not as much a hassle as I’ve been led to believe. I doubt I’ll be writing whole novels on one as my MacBook Pro is far more suited to the task but for blogging and filing stories, the iPad is perfectly competent but with a few tweaks of course.

Have also subscribed to Wired and Esquire magazine as they’re so much more affordable in digital versions. Have fallen in love with Flipboard and the way it displays my Facebook feeds in a magazine-like format.

The iPad for some people is more expensive toy than anything else but I hope it proves a useful work and travel companion. Here’s to a more mobile me (spot the Apple reference).

Even old dogs forget old tricks – Tool the First

Cover of "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Str...

Cover via Amazon

I find myself reaching for Roy Peter Clark’s “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer” now. The realisation that more people read my work has made me even more self-conscious. And my friends know just how much a nervous wreck I can be under scrutiny.

 

The first strategy or tool: “Begin sentences with subjects and verbs” seems like common sense.

I should know that by now, shouldn’t I? Looking at my writing, I think I have forgotten more than I actually know right now.

Writing is a discipline. You spend your life, if you care enough about it, mastering it and always working to be better than you were yesterday.

You take your work, and oftentimes yourself, apart. You question – does that comma really need to be there? – you verify, you obsess over ridiculous minutiae.

Clark advises, “The next time you struggle with a sentence, rewrite it by placing subject and verb at the beginning.”

For dramatic effect, he suggests, to occasionally place subject and verb at the end of a sentence.

So I try it to write a short paragraph about my father.

“He looms tall in my childhood memories. I still vaguely remember the days when I was small enough to wrap around a leg as he walked, gleefully holding on while he stomped around the room until finally he would pick me up and carry me. In my mind, he was a giant among men. To this day, I still believe that.”

I didn’t set out to put the subject and verb at the beginning of each sentence. Yes, I did consciously do so in the first sentence but after that it was all about fleshing out my childhood memories of my father. I find it funny how I placed subject and verb at the end of both my final two sentences. The two sentences are parallel in beat, in rhythm.

But too many writers, in a hurry to say what they want to say, write sentences but forget the subject. There was a very good reason our English teachers would laboriously make us find the subject, the clauses, the predicates in our sentences. You have to take apart sentences and then figure out how to put them back together, perhaps in better ways. Much like how children played with toy bricks, rearranging them in as many ways as they could manage. Miss a brick or put in the wrong piece and down your little toy castles would go.

Perhaps by blogging again I will remember just how the bricks of writing work so that my readers will see what I’m trying to build for them with my words. I will have failed if all they can see is not the meaning or message, only the words.

Tomorrow I’ll write about a writer who totally misses the point of putting words together.

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The case of the bitchy reporter and the missing press release

Maybe it’s old age. But I find myself increasingly impatient when I go to events that are poorly coordinated.

I recently hurt the feelings of the communications people for a company I shall not name lest they make me do a #defahmi.

See, said people decided to have a launch. For some reason, they decided also to mention they were giving away goodies at a lucky draw.

Oh God, I thought. I hate it when they announce/make a big deal about lucky draws. Because that’s when people like the lucky draw vultures show up.

I call them the lucky draw vultures because these people will go to any press event in the hope of snagging goodie bags or lucky draw prizes. They’re the hanger-ons, who just want a free meal or freebies. So instead of media company A sending one photographer and one reporter, they send one reporter, one photographer, and three freeloaders.

I arrive on time (I thought) at 11. In front of me in the media registration line, is some silly twit, who spends nearly 10 minutes asking lots of questions to the person in charge. HELLO, WAIT FOR THE PRESS CONFERENCE CAN?

Silly twit goes away. Then as I sign in, I’m told, sorry no release, haha, we only prepared 50 haha, you’re the 62nd person to arrive haha.

“We’ll send it to you later”. Then comms person goes directly to the next person in line, leaving me flummoxed. OK whatever. I go into the press conference room and it’s full to the brim with only the front seats unvacated.

Yeah, I was feeling like hell. No press release. Tired. Irritated. Slept at 5am as I was keeping up with the WWDC coverage. I just wanted the damn press release but had to stand around hoping I’d get something out of the event.

Blahtherblahterblahter WE’RE THE BEST blahtherblahterblahter REALLY, WE’RE THE BEST

This is why most product launches are a waste of time. Look, give me hard facts instead of self-praising yourself can? The irony of it was all the information that I really needed were all on promotional product flyers. I should have just taken one and gone into work.

But decided to hang out and talk shop with the other journos, get a sound bite or two from one of the spokespersons. Yeah, it’s much more interesting talking to spokespeople I find, when they’re not having to read prepared speeches or “approved marketing copy”.

The very next day, I get a call from communications person about my complaints. Well, that’s after he sends me this huffy Tweet:

(Twitter handle removed to prevent #defahmi)
@ernamh we appreciate your comment. would much appreciate if you could come direct to us rather than tweet and gossip around.

What…the…

So I reply: “It’s not gossip but fact. You brought only 50 press releases to an event which would probably attract at least 100 people.”

I get a semi-apologetic phone call later, the gist of which was mostly excuses:

1. They’re a small company, understaffed, not enough people, only two people to man the booth. OK, why were there loads of people in (company name) t-shirts standing around looking bored to death?

2. I got the press release, right? Yeah, 3 hours after the damn thing was over.

3. Spokesperson tried to talk to me after event, saying to me “Jemput makan.” Err, yeah, dude, I heard you. So that’s what I did. Went to the buffet line and ate. Then said spokesperson got all huffy, saying I didn’t even look at him, didn’t strike up a conversation with him. Huh. You asked me to go eat, so I went to eat. How was I to know you were trying to initiate a conversation? Then you say I was looking at you as if you disgusted me.

What. The. F…

Crossed signals, much?

Also:

1. You had enough money to book KL Hilton for venue. On the same floor as the Business Centre. You could have, oh, walked a few metres to said centre and printed/photocopied a few releases, right? No?

2. If (company name)’s staff overheard me bitching, they could have come over and said something right? No. Instead they bitched to communications person about the whiny reporter who bitched about not getting a release.

Ok. First up. I am a bitch. But I am not a demanding one. I have a reputation for showing up on time to events, except if I’m held back by work/another event. When I get to a launch, I just want the release so at least I have a gist of the proceedings and make it easier to see what’s left out so I can, oh, ask at the Q&A?

Because I get pissy when I hear reporters ask stuff that is, oh, in the damn release?

Yes, I know. The people who don’t know me/haven’t dealt with me can find me intimidating. And when I’m annoyed/angry, you can see my hackles rise from 20 metres away. But I don’t make scenes. I don’t yell. You know I’m really mad when I use my very quiet, very sinister sounding voice, dripping with lots and lots of sarcasm.

Like when I asked another company’s rep: “So, you’re telling me, that you changed the time by an hour and I’m supposed to just wait around for an hour until the event actually starts?” Instead of yelling at the rep, I took the release, left…then went nuclear on Twitter. Heh.

I am sorry if I am not nice. I’m not a nice person. No. I am impatient. I am blunt. I have no toleration for bullshit. But on the other side of the coin: I don’t give you bullshit either. I don’t pretend to like you when I don’t. I won’t suck up to you because I don’t expect you to suck up to me. You give me a story, I will write the story and most times, I write fairly decent. If I say something has merit in print, I mean it. If I praise you in an article, I believe you deserve that praise and not because I want your advertising moolahs. I don’t write what I don’t believe…which is probably why I’m not making the real money as a copywriter. Ha bloody ha.

I give a shit about my stories. I give a shit about my job and I take it damn seriously. So please, help me help you by making it easy to find that story. You give me a story, I write it, we’re good.

But if it takes you 3-4 hours to get me a release – which I like having to be absolutely sure I’m accurate – then pardon me if I get mad. I thought PR’s job is to make it easier for a journalist to get his/her story and if you get mad when I accuse you of not, oh, doing your job…well, let’s agree to disagree.

In the online world, we do not have the luxury to wait on a PR company for hours. There’s always a new story waiting around the corner so why the heck should I be waiting on yours?

The Chinese chauvinist agenda or…WTF?

So. I get this email through the contact form on my blog from this dude I’ll just call ‘H’:

I just wanted to write to you to say that I agree with most of what you write. However, I still think that you are supporting the chinese chauvinistic cause. As you know TMI still slants in favor of the minority, who as you know still dominate malaysian economic and professional spheres.

I work overseas in a country where a majortiy hate the chinese. I had a call from an anglosaxon manager working in KL. He was prompted to call me by my friend, who is malaysian chinese. The most disappointing thing was the job he offered is far below my expectation, and will be replacing a malay girl who has jumped away from his company.

Now, I feel that my malaysian chinese ‘friend’ is actually showing his true colors. He probably spoke to that manager that I am only qualified for a lower position, despite my multiple accreditations,degrees and years of experience (overseas and local). I told the manager that I don’t want to join just to fulfill a bumi quota, so they may bid for government/Petronas jobs.

It is good that you are contributing to TMI. It is useful to present the ‘other side’ of the picture. However, I hope you will not serve to be the tool of the TMI editors.

Most news organisations have editors who want to create their narrative to promote their bias or agenda. I can see the way TMI censors/edits comments that they want to promote one view. Also, how some stories are put on the top headline also reveals how they want to raise the minority cause (esp the chinese minority).

My point is that it is important to engage with the minority, especially the chinese. They are market dominant because they are proactive and vocal in their cause. Repeat a mantra long enough, and it will be true. They can repeat that the government is racist (which is a harsher way of saying ‘race-based’) so many times that foreigners I meet always repeat the same thing.

I really hate it when indians, chinese, americans, british I meet overseas who want to say how racism is the driving factor in the government, but little do they think about the ‘caste problem’, ‘uighur/non-han chinese problem’, affirmative action’, ‘positive discrimination’ that exist in their respective countries.

The affirmative action in Malaysia exists because of the imbalances in our society. The problem I see is how many Malays (incl. in my family) who don’t take advantage of the privileges. I have many in my family who don’t buy houses, because either they don’t trust the chinese developers, lawyers, loan officers, agent etc or because they are not used to concept of interest-based loans.”

LOL, dude, WTF?

Dude. You are just as bigoted, just as chauvinistic as the people you accuse of having an ‘agenda’. Until you get over yourselves, the Bumis will never get past being anything but an insular, paranoid, dependent on handouts majority.

Stop expecting fairness when you refuse to practise or preach it. And quit with the conspiracy theories already.

You know what? I disown myself as a Bumi. I don’t need privileges when it means having to be likened to people like you.

By Asgard, it’s the Thor movie review!

Chris Hemsworth as Thor as depicted in the upc...

Image via Wikipedia

I saw Thor on the long Labour Day weekend and thought it was a decent film.

My more geeky friends were calling it horrible and panning it as though it was another edition of Scary Movie. If you were expecting another “Iron Man” or “Batman Begins” you will be disappointed but if you want a fun superhero film, then this fits the bill.

As a writer and mythology buff, I was worried about how Thor would turn out. I’d also grown up reading Marvel’s Thor comics as well as watching the animated series and understood that this would be a very hard property to bring to the screen.

Thor, in Marvel’s mythos, is the son of Odin, king of the realm of Asgard which is pretty much Godville – populated by a breed of superhuman or gods, if you like. With his mighty hammer Mjolnir, he defeats evildoers while still having time to make googly-eyes at his mortal love Jane Foster.

Despite my friend Calvin’s disappointment with the film, I think Thor has some brilliant acting, a bar higher than most superhero flicks so far. Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Odin for instance could easily have become melodramatic or high camp but he bears himself with a suitable gravity. There’s a genuineness to the actors’ portrayals in Thor that is missing from films like the recent Iron Man sequel and the latest X-Men installment.

While I believe the script could have been stronger, as far as the direction goes I hope Brannagh returns for the sequel. The CGI is also perhaps the best I’ve seen this year but it doesn’t overwhelm the film.

I give the film a solid 7.5 of 10. Good fun, stellar acting and very entertaining.

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Man, it sucks to be Malaysian Chinese

Jit and Freddy are two of the funniest guys I know. They also just happen to be Chinese, and one night over supper they started a mock rivalry over who was more Chinese than the other. It was hilarious. It also inspired me to write a song parody about being Malaysian Chinese called, aptly, “We’re Chinese.”

It took three to four revisions before it was judged show-worthy and it got me thinking about the funny racial situation we have here in Malaysia. We like to think we get along but to be honest, in many ways it seems just a threadbare tolerance as opposed to a true acceptance.

I do agree the Chinese in Malaysia get a bum deal in many ways. Shouldn’t the poor of all races receive assistance from the government instead of just one race? Helping one race compete with the others doesn’t mean putting the others at a serious disadvantage. I wish the government could see that. And until it does, we will lose the best and brightest from all races. I think Malaysia would be a sad country indeed if it ends up becoming a Malay-sia – devoid of the colour and contributions of other races.

So I guess this parody is my “love song” to the Chinese community. I feel you. Even if I believe it would benefit from being a little less insular at times.

We’re Chinese (sung to the tune of The Bund’s theme song, Sheung Hoi Tan)

Verse One:

We’re Chinese

Yes, Chinese

So many of us we spread like some disease

If you don’t believe, come-lah see

Our Johor pornstar who even got DVD!

 

Verse Two:
Chinese know how to save money

Even weddings, we charge you attendance fee

Chinese here very lucky, we have our own Money Collecting Agency

Refrain I:

Balik Cina, they always say

But my family all come from Sungai Way

Never mind, just save money

To Australia we someday fly away

Verse Three:
If you’re Chinese, come, prove to me

Do you use chopsticks…to eat your Maggi mee?

If you’re Chinese, easy to see

Your face like lobster after two or three shandy

Refrain II:

KNN, NCB, only Chinese make singing swearwords nice

MCH, CCB, so many ways to call you a sohai…

Verse IV:

Economy bad? Blame Chinese

Contracts we sapu after paying Bumi fees

Take the blame, play the game

In the end, it always ends the same

Play it safe, just save face

In the end, we’ll all just emigrate

 

A Christmas story to remember

(This was published as a Facebook note Friday, 25 December 2009 at 21:26)

So, I lost my purse last night.

Yes, I very clever hor. The good news is I got it back. The unbelievable news is how I got it back.

Just an hour after I’d dropped it, some guy finds it and calls Maybank. Maybank can’t get my phone, they tell the fella to just leave my purse at the nearest police station.

But no. Instead, he rifles through my cards and discovers my workplace. He then sends an email to my colleagues who then call me.

Three hours ago, I got my purse back. He showed up at a cafe near his lodgings. MH, as I’ll call him, is a foreigner of South Asian descent. I offer to give him a reward and he waves it away, appalled. “No, no, I didn’t return it to get a reward!” Then he hastily walks off.

Half an hour later, he SMSes me, tells me that he had to rush off because he was running late.

“If you really want to give me something, remember me in your prayers.”

I could have cried.

It was against the odds that I would get my purse intact, and that a Good Samaritan would go to all that trouble just to return it to me.

God bless him and all the people who make the extra effort to do good in this world.