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Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

I love it when my brother visits. Not because I love my brother, which I do (though, all things considered, it’s a “small doses” kind of thing. If we had to live together the story would be very different), but because of his whole attitude. Dave lives in Broome —which is basically an oversized tropical resort in Australia’s northwest— and given that he spends all day examining blood and vomit and semen and whatnot (medical scientist… go figure) he doesn’t get to visit Perth all that often.

And by “doesn’t get to visit Perth all that often” I mean “doesn’t get to visit a city with more than two shoe stores all that often”, or “doesn’t get to visit a city with a decent bookstore all that often” or, well… “doesn’t get to visit a city with an abundance of stores in which he has any interest at all all that often”. Being a tourist center, Broome isn’t so big on the things that the modern man needs from day to day — like JB Hi–Fi.

…and somewhere that stocks technical books…

Consequently, any time he (and his wonderfully geeky girlfriend Sarah) are in town, they go nuts and shop ‘til they drop… which is something I can certainly identify with and participate in. For all our differences, David and I do have some things in common. Shopping is one of these. For the two days they were in town, he and Sarah must’ve spent upwards of a grand on shoes, DVDs, CDs, clothes, and books… which was great fun to participate in; and while we were at it I picked up a copy of Eric’s CSS2 Programmer’s Reference (Sarah grabbed the definitive guide), a Belkin Voice Recorder for my iPod, and a book I grabbed at random from Boffin’s called Lovemarks… which, for want of a better description, is an interesting meditiation on modern branding by Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts. A light read; moderately interesting thus far.

Anyway.

The reason Dave and Sarah would fly from (always hot) Broome to (incredibly cold right now) Perth for a matter of two days is quite simple.

Many years ago David and I, for one reason or another, watched Due South religiously. We also watched Home Improvement a lot, so I’m not going to vouch for our taste. A Canadian mountie and an Italian–American cop upholding the law in Chicago? Buddy cop show? The original odd couple? It was high–larious knee–slappin’, toe–tappin’ fun with a wolf and a touch of MacGuyver, too. Everything a growing boy needs. Now, towards the end of the first season there was a great big story arc concerning the mountie’s forbidden love for his on–the–run felon ex–girlfriend, Victoria. Great stuff.

Story aside, the theme music for this entire torrid love affair was Sarah McLachlan’s Possession, from her third album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Dave fell in love with the song (and McLachlan) instantly, and has since then bought every album and DVD he can get his hands on. I, by fraternal association (and because I like women, music, and musical women) also came to love Sarah McLachlan’s stuff… though my purchasing is a little more, uh, subdued.

Add to the mix Sarah. Sarah is a rabid Sarah McLachlan fangirl who, by sheer coincidence I’m sure, ended up dating my brother. Perfect match. A rabid Sarah McLachlan fangirl who, by sheer willpower, scored front–row–center tickets to last night’s Sarah McLachlan concert. A rabid Sarah McLachlan fangirl who, by sheer awesomeness, scored passes to a pre–show meet–and–greet and had the devotion to make us hang around the stage door after the show. Now you know why they were in Perth for the weekend. And now you know what my birthday present was this year, even though my birthday isn’t for a few months.


Warning: gushing fanboy ahead

If hanging around and chatting with Sarah McLachlan after the show weren’t cool enough…

and, y’know… posing for photos

I also (having nothing else on me to get signed) got my iPod signed; which, according to her, was her first.

It’s official, mine is the only iPod in the world with Sarah McLachlan’s signature on it; and if it weren’t all scuffed and whatnot, I’d probably consider selling it on eBay.

Well, if it weren’t all scuffed and if I weren’t so attached to it. I’m just afraid to use the damn thing in case I buff off any of the Sharpie®.


D’oh

On June 29, moments after the stroke of midnight and the dawn of a new day in Thailand, I’ll be doing one of two things. I’ll either be partying my ass off in the company of my old friend Scotty and (undoubtedly) some lovely young ladies (they’d be Scotty’s doing, not mine. Slick bastard)… or I’ll be in a Thai internet café, surrounded by shouting gamers and whatnot, watching the WWDC ‘Tiger’ keynote.

Sadly, you can probably guess which I’d prefer to be doing… and I’m not even sure if it’s possible.

How long do these shady back–alley cafés stay open? Do they have wi–fi? Can I get coffee? If all of the above can be satisfied, where the hell am I going to find it? What’s Scotty going to do while I geek it up for a few hours? Women? Probably.

These questions, and many more, plague my mind. The perils of holidaying in foreign countries while the Apple event of the year is being webcast. The horror.


Font disparity

Just today I switched this site’s default font to Verdana from (yawn) Arial after years of use… if only because single and double quotes are that much better defined at small sizes in Verdana than Arial. Well, that and the fact that I know squat about choosing fonts. Compare.

Arial
“double quotes” and ‘single quotes’.
Verdana
“double quotes” and ‘single quotes’.

Besides that poor–ass excuse for changing horses midstream, there’s the issue of the ol’ mini–tab navigation. Different fonts, for reasons still unknown, have a nasty tendency to render differently in different browsers. Worse still, the rendering is even more eclectic on different platforms; though that much could be expected. Consider the picture below… in one case the colored tab line sits neatly on the title box’s border, in the other case it hovers a pixel above it. That hovering, for an awfully long time, has been like a clarinet blowing sharp in an otherwise harmonious orchestra. It’s pissed me off.

“in one case the colored tab line sits neatly on the title box’s border, in the other case it hovers a pixel above it”

Using Arial, the hovering would be impossible to predict; in Camino there was no hovering, but in Firefox and Mozilla… hovering! Safari and OmniWeb hovered, Opera didn’t. It was madness, particularly when you consider the disparity between Camino and the other Gecko browsers; they use the same fucking engine! But now, after changing the font to Verdana, almost all of the hovering is resolved… on the Mac.

See, the switch has fixed it so that Safari, Mozilla, Firefox, Camino, Shiira, and Opera all display correctly. This brings me much joy. OmniWeb is still floundering a little, but not with hovering… the tab has sunk down a pixel instead; something I attribute to Omni’s “customized” WebCore engine. But, since they don’t use WebKit, their rendering is somewhat… unique… to Safari and Shiira’s anyway. You’ll note I haven’t mentioned Internet Explorer. The reasons behind this should be obvious.

On Windows, however, the results of this little font–swap aren’t nearly as pleasing. Mozilla and Firefox both hover (at least they have internal consistency), Opera sinks, and Internet Explorer is, well, Internet Explorer. Since it doesn’t render the mini–tabs at all, I consider it to be of little consequence in this experiment.

Perhaps this is an indicator that I should rewrite my tab code; perhaps lifting code from other sources who’ve effectively mastered the concept [read: Dan Cederholm]… which I probably will, but for now I must study. All in good time, people.

Update

Perhaps more frustrating than the seemingly random nature of hovers, flushes, and sinks amongst different browsers and platforms is the bizarre report I received from Julius Mattsson telling me that the tab sinks in Safari on his Mac.

He, exactly like me, is running Mac OS X 10.3.4 with all the latest patches applied, with Safari 1.2.2 (v125.8), and (just to be extra precise) the same copy of Verdana. On both of my Macs I have no such trouble… but Julius’ screenshots certainly confirm it, and I’m ready to tear hair out.

Having the tab sink in Safari is like a big kick in the teeth… worse because I can’t reproduce the problem.

Maybe killing people would be a healthier expression of anger and bewilderment than self–destructive hair pulling. Web design is not for the weak of heart.

Update²

Thanks to Sven’s fine handiwork, it has been discovered that the some–mothers–do–‘ave–em tab sinking in Safari and the “everybody’s fucked! everybody’s fucked!” display problems on Windows are due to custom font sizes. Well, not custom font sizes per se… but default font sizes set at something smaller than the Apple–prescribed 16px.

To be fair, who can blame anyone for changing the default font size to, say, twelve pixels? Not I, certainly… but the interesting part of this lesson is not that the fonts on this site are affected by a browser’s default (they aren’t… all the font sizes are CSS–defined), but that the line height is affected by the browser’s default font.

Think about it for a moment… you define your font-size in CSS thinking everything will be hunky–dory, but unless you define your every line-height as vigilantly you might as well toss your pixel–perfect shit out the window. Consequently, I’ve added a new rule to my nav–bar CSS and (as a handsome side–effect) all modern Mac and Windows browsers now display my shit correctly.

Waves of happiness engulf me.


Finally

Exams are such a perverse means of testing one’s mental acuity; not so much in the Arts and pseudo–Sciences (like Psychology and Linguistics, both of which I have dug immensely during this round of exams), but in computer programming. How exactly does my scratching at a piece of paper for two hours demonstrate my ability to program effectively? If I make an error on paper there’s no feedback loop, no testing or debugging, no mailing lists, and no consultations; so it really just comes down to “got it right first time” or “wrong wrong wrong”. This is, perhaps, why I managed a splendiferous 93% on my first CS123 assignment, but only a lousy 46% on my mid–semester test.

Contrast this to linguistics, where I nailed the exam and my last three assignments garnered scores in the range of 91–100% (I kid you not, 100%. And you wondered why I love linguistics so much) and you might think I’m just a little milquetoast when it comes to programming. Or hell, it might just be functional programming I’m sucking at; I guess we’ll see what comes of Java next semester before we start making guesses as to my poor exam performance with Haskell.

In any case, exams are done with for another semester. As I walked through the parking lot I half–expected to see my car festooned with ribbons and candy canes, a massive “You did it!” banner strung across my windshield; but alas. This afternoon doesn’t feel that much different to yesterday afternoon, and I spent so much of last week partying (I had a week’s break between today’s exam and my previous one) that I’m not all that psyched now that exams are finished for real.

So tonight I’m going to sit down and have dinner with my parents and my grandparents (who are in town for my grandfather’s 80th birthday) and have a decent meal for once. Then I might sit back and watch Spider–Man, sighing occasionally for the fact that Spider–Man 2 will be opening while I’m away.


Mwung mwung (that’s my name)

Coolest thing I’ve learned in linguistics to date:


Timeliness

There’s an odd component to this hobby we call blogging, more akin to conventional journalism than personal writing, called timeliness; the relevance of written work to the setting in which it is published. Sure, everybody loves a good old–fashioned reminisce, but the timescales involved in reminiscence are orders of magnitude greater than those in our online documentation of the everyday. Memories are to be savored, but tardiness is just plain gauche.

How is it that a week is just too late to describe a fine night out, sinking pints with other Perth bloggers? Or that five days is too long a break for me to regale you with stories of The Witches of Eastwick… the musical (awesome, incidentally. Sukie Rougemont is a stone fox). Hell, how can three or four days be too long to talk about the myriad DVDs I’ve enjoyed over the past, well, three or four days?

The answer, dear friends, is freshness.

And not just freshness–as–in–vegetables, either. It’s quite plausible to publish something, anything, a full week after it was written… if not more. Some of our best work is done after tediously careful revision —well, most of our best work is done after tediously careful revision— but our best work is often something instructive, or something enlightening, or something inspiring. But for everyday blogging, when you’re archiving an experience, it’s the freshness that counts; not freshness for the reader, but for you. Timeliness. Immediacy. Edit your post for a week if you must, but write the bulk of it as soon as possible.

This isn’t a rush to blog a big event first and beat the competition (mercy yes we got to beat that competition), it’s the rush to document an experience before the color fades in your mind’s eye. For every day that passes, your initially–unbridled enthusiasm is chipped away… and in two weeks it’s just a bunch of crap that happened two weeks ago. Try documenting that and you’ll end up sounding as bored by your subject matter as your audience will be.

Human memory is frightfully inaccurate and terribly subjective, getting even worse with time, but to blog something fresh is to freeze it in carbonite. This is why writers and comedians carry notebooks and pencils wherever they go, why we take photos at parties; this is why we’re bloggers, and not just amateur journalists.

These are our lives, and we’re blogging them one day at a time.


Thaitinerary

I’m gonna go ahead and say this just as carefully as possible so there are no mix ups: Thailand is great. Koh Samui is great. I’ve barely been here three days and I’ve already done so many great things… kinda makes me wonder what I’m going to do for the rest of the time here. Lazing around and doing not–too–much of anything is looking pretty appealing, though.

Day one

Waking up at five in the AM has never been my cup of tea. Hell, it’s still dark outside, and if airports weren’t so picky about people checking in late I’d probably demand an extra hour or three for sleep. But hey, I’ve got a plane to catch — gotta meet Scotty, Emma, and Pamela at the airport at 6:30, and God forbid I let them down.

Emma and Pamela won’t actually be joining us for our little vacation, they’re headed to Phuket for a shopping spree, but by a happy coincidence we’re on the same flight from Perth to mainland Thailand and the same flight home. It’s nice to have plane buddies. But as it turns out, there’s no Wi–Fi at Perth International Airport and no Wi–Fi on Thai Airways flights… so I’m internetless. As an added bonus, there are no electrical outlets (unless you count the shaver outlet in the bathroom), so computer time is at a premium on this twelve–hour trip. Scooby Doo might just be the worst film I’ve seen all year. Thank god for the free booze on international flights.

Fly from Perth to Phuket for six hours, say goodbye to the girls and hang around in Phuket for an hour; fly from Phuket to Bangkok for an hour and a half, then spend two hours in Bangkok talking (or not talking, I’ve lost my voice for some reason) to a nice girl from Perth named Ruth; fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui for an hour and a half in a turboprop the size of a school bus, then spend half an hour looking for your luggage. Catch a cab to your hotel, dump your gear, then step outside to inspect the local scenery.

Heading out to the streets on the first night probably wasn’t such a hot idea. The smells, the sights, the traffic, the hookers; they all kinda blemish whatever ideas you might’ve had about this tropical paradise. If your first experience with a new country is fighting off a feisty hooker, you’re probably not going to give it a great evaluation.

Night time is crazy. The stores on Beach Road don’t open until about midday and they all shut at midnight, so the hours between nine and midnight are about as hectic as they come. Shopkeepers shouting at you to try their wares, hookers grabbing your ass, cab drivers tooting their horns just to let you know they’re available should you need a ride; it’s about as in–your–face as it gets. The buyer/seller dynamic is strange — you’re just walking down the street, minding your own business, and everybody is trying to sell you something; and they ain’t subtle about it. If you like what you see, you immediately offer them just a little better than half their asking price. If they scoff and look a little insulted you know you’ve gone too far, but if they think about it for a second before they counter–offer, you know you aren’t too far off the price you’ll end up paying. You have to wonder how many people get screwed paying an over–inflated price for a two dollar watch, especially with the language barriers inherent in such a tourist wonderland, but everything is negotiable.

Walking down the streets of Koh Samui is like walking down the streets of Bedrock. Every fifth store is either a clothing store, an internet café, a massage parlour, a bar, or an art dealer; and if you walked past them all fast enough you’d assume the background was on a loop. The art dealers are all selling the same cheap copies of famous paintings (although, to be fair, they are all painted by hand… which is pretty cool), the clothing stores are all selling the same brand–name knockoff clothes, the bars are all full of the same yelling Thai women, and the internet cafés are all, well, none of them have Wi–Fi and all of them close at midnight. So I won’t be watching the keynote tonight, obviously.

As the clock strikes twelve and the stores start to close, the streets suddenly die. The traffic subsides, the lights go out, and the racks of shoes and sunglasses are nowhere to be seen. Chaweng Beach goes to bed and gets ready for a new day. So do we.

Day two

For reasons beyond my understanding, I’m awake early. It might be the heat that does it, or the early–to–bed/early–to–rise/early–to–bed again pattern that’s been forced upon me these last two days, or the fact that Scotty would appear to be an early–bird and we’re sharing a room, but for some reason we’re awake, fed, and on the beach by nine in the morning.

This is what should command your first impressions of this island: the beach. The white sand, the blue water, the coconut trees, the women in bikinis; it’s the paradise you were expecting all along. Sure, the big, dirty, bustling city is there right behind you, but the beach is probably all you need. Jet skis are great fun, but as a word of advice: don’t hire out a jet ski then ride a banana boat… the banana boat pales in comparison. Better yet, forget all about the banana boat — just ride the jet ski for twice as long.

As an additional word of advice, don’t go too nuts trying to pull sharp turns at top speed — you’ll just end up flying off the jet ski and hurting your shoulder pretty bad in the process. Then you’ll be bitching and moaning about your sore shoulder for the next couple of days, but at least your voice will have come back for you to be heard.

And oh yeah: wear sunscreen. It’s so goddamned hot over here you’ll burn to a crisp. Aloe vera after–sun gel is your friend.

Take a nap.

Day three

Hiring a motorcycle is probably the smartest thing you can do on this island. Suddenly the walk to the other end of Beach Road isn’t an hour long in the sweltering heat, it’s a ten–minute wind–in–your–hair ride away. The bike is 150 baht per day (about six Australian dollars), plus fuel (70 baht will fill the tank, and that tank will last a full lap of the island… and then some), and you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want with it. The police don’t seem to mind who rides what around these streets, as long as you don’t crash into anything, and the relaxed pace on the roads means even the most bicyle–inept person can manage themselves. Buy yourself a pair of bad–ass aviator sunglasses and you’ll look like a total stud.

The only problem with a hiring a bike is that you feel pressured to see everything. We don’t plan to hire one every day, in fact we figured we’d only bother getting one today, so we circumnavigated the whole damn island. The aquarium, the tiger zoo, elephant trekking, monasteries, waterfalls, beaches, towns… it really doesn’t leave too much left to see. There’s the full moon party on Koh Pha Ngan in a couple of days, of course, and a snorkeling trip to Koh Tao we’ve booked for a few days after that, but we’ve basically seen everything we wanted to see. We didn’t plan to do much shopping while we were here, and aside from that pair of bad–ass aviator sunglasses and a few gifts I need to pick up for loved ones back home I’m pretty–much done with the shopping. So it looks like the beach will be garnering most of my attention for the coming seven days; which is as it should be.

White sand, blue waters, women in bikinis. Awww yeah.