Saturday, March 31, 2007

Same (Gators) Team, So Same (Beating the Bruins) Result

We spent our first night at our new home last night. Actually it was already past mid-night when we went to bed after all the setting up of the new home following our moving earlier in the day, with hired help.

And it was an auspicious day for the Gators when its semi-final game against the Bruins was the very first collegiate basketball game that we watched in our new home. This time, though, we have basic cable, which means we got to watch the game in clear picture and vivid color (we had to depend on a TV-top aerial for reception in our previous home). Same Gators team, and what else but the same result.

Jeff Goodman has this to say in his piece entitled Florida better not expect same UCLA teamThe Gators could very well still come out with a victory, but this one definitely won't be a double-figure win.”

After the Gators came up top tonight 76-66 and a double-digit lead for most of the second half, one can say Jeff Goodman is only half right, that the Gators was victorious, but with an exactly double-digit margin.

In comparison, my prediction seems to have fared better, that the Gators won with sort of a mini runaway triumph. The Gators team has simply too many weapons for the Bruins to handle despite the latter's reputation for playing stifling defense. And tonight is Corey Brewer's turn to do damage. And the Gators' big men were phenomenal on the offensive board.

As for the final on Monday, the Gators have already handed the Buckeyes two landslide defeats: one on the basketball court in last December despite that the game was played in Gainesville, and the other one on the football field early this year, so it would not surprise me at all if history is repeated come Monday, given the balance, the depth, the chemistry among the players, and the championship game experience, not forgetting the coach.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Moving and Strength Training

After toying with the idea of getting friends to help out in our moving mission, we decided on a combination of self help and hired help.

The self help part started early this week when we made daily trip to our new home in our loaded minivan. My wife did the packing into boxes marked by different letters/numbers to signify different destinations in the house, e.g., K for kitchen, 2L for second floor left bedroom, and so on. And I do the heavy lifting, loading the boxes onto and unloading them from the minivan. I am very careful so as not to hurt my back: knee bent, and using the thigh and hand rather than the back muscles. And one box at a time, maybe two if they contain light materials such as clothing. So yesterday was the fourth strip, and each trip is like the image below so you get an idea of the efforts involved.

My wife commented that despite my not exercising as much as she does, I am still able to undergo some “hard labor”, thanks to my “grounding” during my earlier years.

My late father was a rubber dealer, buying and selling rubber sheets and scraps, the former from small holders and the latter, to rubber smoking factories (a literal translation) where they smoke-dry the machined rubber sheets made from rubber latex (a sap/secretion from rubber trees) into high quality rubber products. Since it was basically a family business, all the male siblings had one time or the other helped out in the rubber store.

Basically we would cycle every weekday (after school and lunch) about half a mile to the store. There the small holders would deliver their machined rubber sheets or scraps (these are remnants of rubber latex that have dried up overnight and are pulled from the cut grooves on the rubber trunk, sometimes containing some of the tree barks, and hence, are of lower quality and would fetch a lower price) in bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and small trucks/pickups.

Our job is to carry the rubber products by hand to a weighing machine. Each load could run from tens of katis (one kati is more than a pound but less than two, I’ll have to look that up) to over 100 katis, shared by two persons. And we started doing this while in elementary schools (aged 11) but on a graduated scale starting from smaller loads in proportion to our (growing) physique. And this weight training for me lasted until my Junior High when I had to skip town for further schooling but would still be around to go through the same drill during holidays. So I have had really good physical training that would last me a life time of strength and health as I’m enjoying now.

But the physical toil did take its toll on my blogging, which has become a case of mind willing but body failing. So the past few nights I’ve been going to bed earlier than usual and I’m getting worried that I would fall victim to the very thing that I have ranted about, the virtual cobwebs, here. And not at a time when the same blog article has inspired our D from Oregon to start dusting off her blog site. There’s where the hired help comes in.

And I let my finger do all the walking, thumbing through the Yellow Pages, under the Movers section. After a few phone calls, I had our reservation. It so happened that we wanted to move on Friday (March 30), an auspicious day for conducting such a business as moving according to the Chinese calendar, and moving services are hard to come by on weekends. So University Moving it is.

The mover’s truck with two men came right on time at 9.00 this morning. And even as I was blogging, stuff was gradually disappearing from my view. And it looks like this would be my last blog from this house that has been our home for the past three years.

So long Post Hyde Park. And USF/MOSI here we come.

Monday, March 26, 2007

My Century Mark

Just realized yesterday that I hit the century mark for the number of blog articles published since day 1, way back toward the end of last September, a period of just under six months. And this excludes the other blog of mine, Going Global, which is on its own destiny toward the magical 100.

What is 100? It’s full mark on a typical test, for one thing. A perfect score. It’s also a milestone where one takes some time off to take stock of matter. Especially in the political arena, leaders like to talk about their achievements after 100 days in the office. Or the media will grade them as a harbinger of things to come, for better or for worse.

I do not have such grandiose plans. Nor would it attract any attention if I were inclined toward doing it. But I do want to take the opportunity to make a point to my family, and to my friends who have been the most faithful bunch of readers any blogger could have. The point is perseverance.

However, it’s hard to persevere if one is not passionate about doing something. And obviously one can’t develop passion for something that one doesn’t like. It has to be your own volition; but it can be cultivated, being nudged along the way by well-meaning people out of concern.

Take blogging for example. I have seen bloggers who jump on the bandwagon and charge right into blogdom. Next, the frequency of posting drops. Then it just fizzles out, or rather, the blog is entombed in virtual cobweb.

Procrastinating is really the antithesis of perseverance. Its sinister nature rears its ugly head in the form of silently but surely chipping away at the very fabric of perseverance. That brings up the issue of time management.

Oftentimes not doing something is not that one has no time, but it has to do with the fact that that thing is not important enough to warrant the time it commits. I often tell my children, if you find doing a thing to be important enough, you will find the time to do it. So saying no time is in fact giving out the message that it has little importance in your scheme of things.

That’s nothing wrong in setting priorities in life, nor changing priorities to suit the changing circumstances. But there needs to be a balance. Our time in this world is finite, so apportion your time prudently. Once a target is set, persevere.

And I’m looking forward to my second century mark, and the third …

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Next Stop: AtlanGators

I was both right and wrong as regards my prediction of the outcome of the Midwest regional final match between the Gators and the Ducks. First, the Gators prevailed, 85-77. But on the flip side as evident from the scoreline, the Gators did not win big. But a win is a win.

Another conclusion from the game is that size does matter, at least in basketball. And the two blocks by the Gators’ big men in the second half are the definitive statements of that. First, the block by Big Al on a Brooks' layup, and Al got the ball too, while going airborne out of bound, and had the presence of mind to throw it to his team-mate before he landed outside the court.

Then, in the dying seconds, Corey Brewer made another spectacular block that really sealed the fate of the Ducks.

However, the day belongs to Lee Humphrey, my namesake. I had a premonition of that early in the second half when Lee Humphrey, who is known for his 3-pointer prowess, got a steal and scored on a layup. This happened at 6:30 left in the first half.

Then Lee’s ferocious back-spinning 3-pointer attempt, also in the first half, tore through the net, literally. The game was suspended for about 10 minutes for the net to be replaced, putting the technician on national TV, probably his first time.

At the end, Lee got seven 3-pointers, out of 12. And Tajuan Porter, the diminutive guard of the Ducks that practically demolished the Running Rebels two days before, was practically helpless against Taurean Green of the Gators because of the height disparity. Offensively, he only had 2 points in the first half. What a fortune reversal. But I think he would learn his lessons well.

During the half-time commentary, the hosts brought up a term, spurtability, it being, I guess, the ability to score in spurts. But what sustains a team is the ability to play consistently at both ends of the court, and keeping a cool head under pressure. I think several shot selections by the Ducks in the last few minutes of the game bear testimony to the team losing their cool, shooting blank with their two 3-pointer attempts.

As for my projection of the Gators being due for winning big, today’s result is only delaying the inevitable. That means the Bruins is in for a rude awakening, psyching themselves up for revenge after their lop-sided loss last year to the Gators, despite a convincing win against the Jayhawks.

If only North Carolina defeats Georgetown in the remaining regional final that is ongoing now, then my selection of the Final Four makeup would be complete.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

NCAA Basketball Tournament: The Battle of the Extremes, Geographically

Except for the first game when the Gators blew their opponents away (that also in the second half), the last two games have been epic struggles compared to the stroll-in-the-park kind of victories last year. But that shows the mettle of a champion: when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

So by the law of averages, I think the Gators is due for a huge, convincing victory. And in my reckoning, tomorrow is the night when the territorial Gators is up against the (mighty?) Duck of UO. This is a battle of the extremes, of sort, geographically. The southeast against the northwest of the contiguous US, spanning the largest physical distance possible across the US (let's treat both Washington and Oregon as comprising the US northwest region for now). [Both mascots below are taken from the respective university websites with thanks.]

Frankly, the Ducks has never featured in my grand scheme of things, the Bracket, at this late stage. I picked them to lose to the Badgers in the sweet 16 and that the Number 1 will meet the Number 2 in the Midwest Regional as in the other three regionals. However, this remains the only blemish in NCAA Tournament ranking, the Badgers got beat by the Running Rebels who in turn lost to the 3rd ranked Ducks. But the order will be restored in the matchups in the Elite 8, at least for the Midwest Regional as I pick UCLA to emerge from the West Regional. An inconsistency you would say? But I would really like to see the Gators manhandle the Bruins, again.

I’ve never watched the Ducks in action before. The only Pac10 team I pay attention to is the Bears, UCB being my other alma mater. But now I know of this freshman phenom called Tajuan Porter, who was shunned by most colleges because of his stature, or rather lack of one, according to what I read.

Well, Porter is 5 foot 6. That in basketball lingo, is a shortie in the land of giants. But wait a minute, don’t we had a Muggsy Bogues in the NBA not too long ago? Bogues at 5 foot 3 is reputed to be the shortest player in NBA history and yet is a big-time assist leader. I guess being short has its advantages too: able to weave in and out of traffic and swatting the ball away from those big men who dare to put the ball to the ground and dribble. Here Bogues is seen holding his ground agains Latrell Sprewell of the NY Knicks, courtesy of USA Today.

Add to that Porter is a veritable 3-point threat as attested to by yesterday's game against the Running Rebels. But I believe he would be smothered by the Gators relentless defense with the big frontline blocking the daylight out of Porter’s sight.

So the Gators will win big come Sunday, their attack and defense having been tweaked in the last two games to adjust to the tempo of a single knock out format of the NCAA tournament.

Sentiments aside, my D and son-in-law being UO alumni and I love Donald Duck, the Gators will be methodical this time and the Edward Jones Dome of St Louis will be turned into a swamp and all that matter are the CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP.

So Dan and Kitty, care for a little wager by the side?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dear Children Letter: A Pleasant Discovery

In preparation of the big move coming up next week, my wife has been busy packing stuff into boxes that I've been busy sourcing from my office and grocery stores. Now we are just starting to realize how much things we have assembled/stocked up in the past three years.

Every little thing seems to be of some sentimental value that parting with it becomes an agonizing decision making. Then there is the joy of discovering something anew, something that has been locked up away so deep that its discovery can only be described as uplifting. Here is one, in the form of a letter, replete with motherly concern, that my wife has penned to our children. In her words, albeit translated from Chinese:

My dearest children,

Lately Mom has noticed that you seem to be engrossed in doing your own things, most of which revolve around being one-on-one with the computer, or rather, the virtual world encapsulated in the Internet. Consequently, you have grown to be sort of detached from your surroundings, oblivious to the many social interactions that characterize a vibrant society.

Perhaps this has something to do with the present-day manifestation of being cool, bordering on aloofness. However, Mom feels strongly that a vital ingredient for a peaceful world is love and compassion.

All we need is a little caring, a little tolerance, a few good words, a few good deeds, having good thoughts from everyone to make this world a heaven on earth.

Bear in mind that communication requires practice and giving. The quantum of return one receives is in direct proportion to the amount that one dishes out, sometimes even generating a many-fold return, though that should not be our reason for giving.

Those who come into contact with us are not happenstance; the seemingly chanced meeting is the realization of conditions that converge at the right time and at the right place. Therefore, we should treat each encounter with gratitude, aimed at fostering rapport and establishing a long-term relationship founded on mutual respect, help, and learning from each other.

When you exercise positive inter-personal traits, more people will be attracted to helping you, thereby easing your life’s journey considerably. We are by nature gregarious beings, and solitary habitation works only for the selected few who have the fortitude to ponder life detached from the masses.

Love needs to be cultivated, nurtured and propagated with the heart. It just does not appear out of nowhere nor is it a “given” under any circumstances. We need to be appreciative of others, including our loved ones, whose affection for us tend to be taken for granted. Being appreciative also helps develop compassion, and augments our capacity to love more.

Mom also noticed that you are susceptible to tantrums at the slightest provocation. Sometimes I’m even confused at the cause of your displeasure, with no apparent candidate in sight.

My dearest children, be more receptive of criticisms, and show more patience. Give others a chance for them to be heard, and listen well. If you need to, clarify and explain clearly. This is character molding exemplified by an even temperament.

According to an ancient Chinese adage: we are born virtuous. It’s the gradual contamination of the environment that puts a hard crust over our true self, sequestering it such that we become blind to our virtuous nature.

Mom wants to awaken you to your true virtuous nature to become a happy being, one who does not succumb to the temptations and vagaries of the environment, one is able to be in control of your disposition to render it one of joy and poise, impervious to mere words and deeds designed to rattle you.

My dearest children, you’re smart, and so you would understand why I’m doing this at great length. Furthermore, a quick temper is obviously no good for health. Mom really hopes that you can make an attempt to learn to control your temper.

Mom loves you, and obviously is not perfect in every aspect, though I really try. So let us try together to cultivate and propagate the gospel of love and compassion.

Affectionately yours,

March 11, 9.30am.

Monday, March 19, 2007

From Inter-generational Rapport to Inter-personal Relations

While dropping our S off at UF yesterday at the conclusion of his spring break, he introduced his future (as in the coming fall) roommate, Charles, to us. Charles hails from Orlando and is a pre-med freshman. So we took the opportunity to elicit from him some first-hand information on the requirements and course loads for enrolling in the pre-med program, the GPA and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) requirements to get into the medicine program eventually, and some recommended plan of attack. Charles, seen here to the left, was of course most helpful. Thanks, Charles.

Then we visited our old friend, Lin, and his family, who have made Gainesville their home after graduating from UF. It so happened that his son, Edward, a UF undergraduate, was there too. Edward was a childhood friend of our D at Oregon, when both Lin’s family and mine were staying at Corry Village back in the early 1990s.

As is the case with the mother of William Poy Lee as blogged here, Lin has tried to bring up his son, Edward, as a Chinese at heart. Also as with most Asian parents, he has great expectations for Edward, and in the process, may have been over-zealous in proscribing how Edward should prepare to seek out his career path. On the other hand, Edward, being educated through the American system that emphasizes thinking on one’s own, has his personal way of visualizing his future, and would like to strike out the way he deems fit.

That the two paths, spawned by inter-generational differences in worldview, are seldom in congruence is not necessarily surprising, nor is it decidedly undesirable, provided the line of communication continues to be open, and the tone of exchange frank and respectful, each trying to understand the other better.

Being a father myself, I know it’s difficult to acquiesce to our children (they always are in our eyes though they may be young adults)’s point of view, especially when we are convinced that we have seen more than they have had the opportunity to be exposed to, and, hence, know what’s best for them (or rather our version of them). But sometimes we just have to step aside and let them lead their lives, and let them make their fair share of mistakes (hopefully, nothing that would be unduly consequential). But only after we have said what we have to say, not out of the urge to control/dictate, but out of our love for them and bringing to bear the benefits of our experience. Otherwise, we would have failed in our duty both as a father and as a friend to our children.

Through his interactions, sometimes perhaps less than amicable, with Edward, Lin has come to realize that his tendency to talk down to his son may not have helped matters. So he has written using Chinese calligraphy a couplet that would serve to remind him of the need to be careful with his words and to maintain poise as shown here.

Similar in spirit are the following sage advice from Deepak Chopra, whom I’ve blogged earlier here, as excerpted from an interview that appeared in today’s Tampa Tribune (Baylife, p. 1 and 6):

On self improvement:
Anything you do, any choice you make, make it out of love. The best way you can feel good about yourself is to make someone else feel good.

On his successful marriage of 36 years (or any relationship between human beings, I would add): Complete abandonment of trying to control or manipulate the other person. Concentrate on affection, attention, appreciation, gratitude, love, and compassion.

May we all take the above to heart and make this world a better place for all.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Some ongoings and Musings on Saint Patrick's Day

Before yesterday, the three things that I know about Saint Patrick’s Day are that it falls on March 17, i.e., yesterday, it’s celebrated by the Irish people, and it’s a wear-green day. But that would soon change as the day progressed.

Since our S is back on Spring Break from UF, we decided to show him our newly acquired home, which is going to be his too. The entourage included his friend, Alexandra. The image below shows several shots of the inside of our soon-to-be-new home, albeit empty at this time, and the surroundings.

While on our way, we passed several restaurants featuring special Saint Patrick’s Day menu. So we decided to pick a restaurant that celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day as a theme for lunch, and settled on Bennigan’s Grill and Tavern along Fletcher Avenue not far from University Mall.

Sure enough, the place was decorated with green clover-shaped leaf designs and the restaurant’s helpers were all wearing green. So were some of the patrons. The right image is a miniature but exquisite piece of cut leaf decoration loosely wrapped around the light fixture above our table.

At first, we ordered Grilled Salmon for me and my wife. Soon after, the waitress returned, breaking the news that they were out of Salmon. So we settled for our second choices as shown here (the names of the dishes escaped me). The top left is my wife’s and the top right is my choice. Our D order the bottom left, with the food secured in a metal contraption. The remaining two are my wife’s order of Irish coffee (what else on Saint Patrick’s Day?), and the dessert dish of caramel-dripped creme brulee cheese cake.

The food was great, and so concluded our very first Saint Patrick’s Day lunch. Upon reaching home after a detour stop at the local library for my D to pick up a collection of used books for her Spring Break, which is just coming up, reading (soft cover goes for $0.50 while hard cover, $1. I too checked out the latest thriller novel by Brad Thor, one of my favorite authors of the Scot Harvath’s saga as a Secret Service man, more on that perhaps later in a another blog), I was trying to google Saint Patrick’s Day to learn more of the Irish Festival.

And this is what I found out as the gist of the Saint Patrick’s Day here. First, the man himself:
  • Believed to have been born in the late fourth century, Saint Patrick was the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland.
  • Saint Patrick is most known for driving the snakes from Ireland.
And on Saint Patrick’s Day:
  • While Saint Patrick's Day has come to be associated with everything Irish (anything green and gold, shamrocks and luck), Saint Patrick's Day is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide.
  • Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17th because that is the day that St. Patrick died, according to one theory.
As with Christmas, the religious and spiritual underpinning of the occasion has been swept aside seemingly by the deluge of hedonistic reveling and the ubiquitous stamp of commercialism. Later in the day, I could see throngs of people spilling on to the side walk at what seemed to be Irish Pubs, mug in hands and chattering to loud background music.

I’m glad that I have made the effort to know more about the Saint Patrick’s Day and I hope that the spiritual message that Saint Patrick’s Day brings is not lost amidst the celebrations.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Watch, Listen, Learn, from Robert and Kim Kiyosaki

Last night, while I was blogging in front of the computer at one corner of the living room, my wife hollered from the other corner (the TV corner), alerting me to a TV program being delivered by Robert Kiyosaki of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame.

I have heard of Robert while still back in Malaysia. I even own two copies of the aforementioned book by him, the other copy being the Chinese translation. But I have never actually read the book, either one.

I remember those days there was even a game in the genre of Monopoly called Cashflow 101 designed by Robert for players to learn basic financial management and accounting principles. And for a while my brother/sister-in-law and my nephew were actually hosting the game on weekends.

I did not go over and join my wife immediately, but continued blogging until it was done. Entitled Rich Dad’s Guide to Wealth, the TV program was part of the March Membership campaign for the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) telecast by a local TV station affiliated with the University of South Florida, WUSFTV.

I only caught the last half hour of the show, including an appearance by his wife, Kim. This is the first time I was seeing Robert and Kim on TV and they came across as very passionate about achieving wealth and financial freedom and were eager to share their experiences.

While growing up, Robert was not doing great in schools. But he believes that every child is born a genius. Using the extended form, Genie-in-us, he stressed that there’s magic in us and all we have to do is to "have the courage to find the environment that lets your genie come out". For him, he learned best on the street.

For most of us, our careers span the period from the age of 25 to 65. Dividing that into quarters, each one a decade long, he asked the audience how many were in each quarter. I could see that the majority was in the first two quarters, signifying perhaps a relatively young audience. The first two quarters are separated from the last two by what he called the half time, or mid-life crisis, he added jokingly. After the second half, where ideally we should have been financially independent and enjoying our retirement, there are two more periods he termed as overtime, and out of time.

These are apt descriptions to me, and I hope to avoid charging headlong into overtime, and God forbid, out of time. While I have successfully navigated through the mid-life crisis, I’m still building my retirement nest, while spending more time doing the things I enjoy, like being with my wife, children, and blogging.

Citing a Japanese friend who called the social security the so-so security since it is just plain ho-hum, Robert said that the biggest problem would-be retirees face is not social security, but medicare. Paraphrasing him, most of us spend a greater part of our health looking for wealth, but then in our later years spend a greater part of our wealth hanging on to our health.

Kim actually achieved financial freedom while still in the first quarter. But the journey was not easy. She recalled the purchase of her first property, a house in Portland, Oregon, her first investment in 1989. Come closing time, she was so scared to death of the many what-ifs that her signature could not be recognized as her fist was clenched shut so tightly. But then as they say, the rest is history. She proudly proclaimed, “I want Robert, but I don’t need him.”

Both engaged the audience enthusiastically, and were repaid by the rapt attention displayed by the audience, even a TV audience like me. A favorite refrain from Robert is, “Does that make sense to you guys here?” which appears to be a crowd puller.

Will I read the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad now? Maybe. But I certainly recommend it to everyone else.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March Madness With Little Surprises

One of the most intense team competitions in NCAA (AKA collegiate) sports is soon to unfold, guaranteeing to capture the attention of most TV viewers, potentially wiping out competing TV programs for the next three weeks. This is also the time when colleagues will close rank to throw in a wager or two, euphemistically called the office poll, as to the members of the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and the eventual national collegiate champion.

This is March Madness, and the game in town is college basketball. For the next three weeks, the list of 64 pretenders to the coveted championship will slug it out, progressively being pared down to the Final Four, the winner of which will be decided in the Georgia Dome come early April.

Those college teams who did not merit entry into the elite group will have their own tournament to claim their fame, the second-tier NIT championship.

In my office poll for the previous year championship, I came out top as I was the only one who went out on a limb for the Gators. Kind of unwavering faith, being a Gator myself. I even predicted correctly the total score of the final game, which stood at 131. Talk about clairvoyance, or luck.

Unlike last year, the Gators are ranked number 1 in one of the four regions, fresh from a blow-out series in the SEC championship where they swept their opponents (three in all) by an average margin of 19+ points. So the team morale is high, and all of the starting five have been there, done that. In fact, the Gators are the only team which returns the starting five.

So, for me, the pick for this year’s office poll is easy. And I see no reason to doubt the team’s passion, firing up for the first repeat national champion since Duke did that in the early 1990s. Despite a brief slump toward the end of the regular season when the Gator lost three of their last 5 regular games, all on the road, they recovered in time to dominate their opponents and are poised to start another mini-winning streak right up to the end of the national championship games.

Picking a worthy opponent for the Gators in the final takes some analytical work, which to me is a toss up between North Carolina and Ohio State. In the end I’m going with NC, which has a more balanced team makeup. That means Ohio State will inevitably suffer the same fate as their football brethren but in the hand/foot/head of the mighty Gators earlier in the year, but one game removed from the national championship game this time.

In the other semi-final, I pick UCLA to emerge as the regional champion, but only to be crushed by the Gators in a repeat of last year’s championship game.

In a nutshell, I don't see any George Mason reincarnate this year, the only mild surprise, thought not from my perspective, is UCLA upending Kansas according to my projection.

The only thing left to do now is to enjoy the championship game series, potentially savoring Gators’ every victory along the way. So in this case, the pleasant surprise may just lie in the event that there is no surprise, which I surely can live with.

Is this (courtesy of the GatorZone) becoming a familiar sight or what? Go Gators!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pin-point, A Spot, A Sharp Placement

I will deal with the somewhat strange looking and sounding title in a little while. But first, the inspiration for that. My brother has alerted me to the online story, Pi fans have their day, which falls on March 14. Written in numerals, it’s 3.14. If you really want to get it down to the second, then it’s 3.14 1:59 pm, since its am counterpart would seem rather unworldly. Does 3.14159 ring a bell? If not, read on.

Some interesting Pi vignettes from the story:

a) The beauty of Pi lies in the fact that “the number seems to go on forever and yet has no discernible pattern to it”.

b) Pi spots a mind-boggling string of numbers that trails after the point and is known — so far — to be more than one trillion digits long.

c) The world record for reciting (b) belongs to Chao Lu, a Chinese chemistry student, who rattled off 67,890 digits over 24 hours in 2005. It took 26 video tapes to submit to Guinness.

d) A software engineer in Virginia named Mike Keith wrote a poem to pi, a "piem." where the number of letters in each successive word corresponds to pi's digits. To whet your appetite, here are the starting verses:

A Poem
A Raven
Midnights so dreary, tired and weary …

If you keep a tally as instructed, then the above should translate to 3.1415926535 … Not a bad mnemonics to memorize Pi by.

So by now you would have realized that the title is my feeble attempt at the same word play, which actually incorporates the decimal point (in word), but only till the 5th decimal place, which is the approximation I use daily in my work.

Pin-point, a spot, a sharp placement
3 . 1 4 1 5 9

Like everybody else, Pi entered my life when I was in secondary (middle) school. It’s that constant of proportionality between the circumference of a circle and its diameter. Those day, calculators had not evolved beyond the size of a table top machine and so we were asked to use a fraction approximation, 22/7.

Later in high school, I learned that it’s part of the Greek letter system (alpha, beta, and so on). Then in University I was introduced to it as the symbol for the product of a series of numbers in statistics.

Then in grad school, I used the Buckingham π theorem in my analytical work. According to Wikipedia, the Buckingham π theorem is a key theorem in dimensional analysis. The theorem loosely states that if we have a physically meaningful equation involving a certain number, n, of physical variables, and these variables are expressible in terms of k independent fundamental physical quantities, then the original expression is equivalent to an equation involving a set of p = n − k dimensionless variables constructed from the original variables.

Then one of my favorite TV detective series is PI Magnum, where PI stands for private investigator, starring Tom Selleck. Till now I still can vividly remember the way he twitched his eye-brows in the opening credit.

Then my wife loves apple pies. I guess that’s the closest she would ever get to Pi, Pi-themed food that is.

I recall a trick question once asked by a professor in a class in UF. Say, you enlarge the Earth’s diameter by one foot, what would be the increase in the earth’s circumference? Lest you think it’s an astronomical number, think again. It has everything to do with the innocuous looking Pi.

I’m no pi fan(atic), so I will stop my self-acclaimed Pirotechnics right here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chanting Buddha's Name

After a brief rest upon returning from the 2nd Session of the Middle Way Buddhist Session [(not for my wife though as there was more cooking to be done to contribute to the pot luck dinner in conjuction with the Buddhism lecture meeting organized by Gainesville Buddhist Association at the campus of the University of Florida (UF)], we hit the road again at 3.30pm, bringing along three other Buddhist friends in our Minivan.

It so happened that our S at UF is also starting his spring break this weekend, and we took the opportunity to expose him, and his sister, to Buddhist teaching. We arrived at UF just before 6pm, and went straight to Diamond Village after picking up our S.

While in the Campus, we drove past the apartment in Corry Village that we had stayed for four years when I was a UF grad student during the early half of the decade of 1990. We thought it would be nice to knock on the door and introduce ourselves to the present residents, “Hi, we stayed here more than ten years ago." That’s what a previous resident did to us while we were there, holding a bottle of wine in his hand. However, the thought stayed as that as we drove past.

We were the early birds at the venue, the commons room in Diamond Village, a family housing for UF students. Then the attendees started to trickle in, bringing their contributions to the pot luck. Soon the table was filled with yummy food items.

While the scheduled lectures are to be given by Brother Shieh on the Diamond Sutra, this evening session was a special one conducted by his wife, Sister Lily, on Chanting Buddha's Name (Namo Amitabha or the shorter version, Amitabha). Also, unlike the morning session at St. Pete, this evening’s session was in Chinese, which means that any error that arises in my translation is solely mine.

In his introduction, Brother Shieh stressed the distinction between knowing/understanding and realizing. In learning Buddhism, knowing/understanding results from a shallow level of understanding that is commonly associated with our acquisition of worldly knowledge. But realizing can only come from a deep level of understanding of the Buddhist scriptures.

Buddhism emphasizes actualizing Buddhist teaching through practice, not merely acquiring the ability to recite verbatim nor shelving the teaching at a corner in the mind. Then only would we achieve a complete transformation, a thorough revamping of our value system in consonance with the teaching of Buddha.

At the start, Sister Lily circulated a set of notes to give an outline and the gist of the lessons that she would cover. I have to admit that the notes make frequent use of excerpts from scriptures and Sutras that address the what, how, and the results of chanting Buddha’s name, and a literal translation just would not do nor would it serve any purpose. On the other hand, the associated meaning of each is profound that defies my feeble attempts at translation primarily because of my limited understanding of Buddhist concepts and terms myself. But I guess one can’t really be faulted for trying. And feedback would be the best judge. So make use of the comments capability here liberally.

The basic premise for chanting Buddha’s name is the manifestation of the causal relationship that links chanting Buddha’s name (cause) to achieving buddhahood (effect).

As a broad definition, the action of chanting Buddha’s name would lead to one’s liberation from the cycle of rebirth so that one could, or rather would, be conveyed to the Western Pure Land, a heaven of buddhahood, upon leaving this present physical world, so that we could mingle amongst the enlightened denizens and become one.

As a narrow definition, the action would lead us to a focused state, thereby spawning wisdom. Being focused, we would not be trapped in the make-believe world of impure thoughts. Therefore, chanting Buddha’s name is a panacea, a purifying agent if you will, for impure thoughts that haunt us.

The direct way of chanting Buddha’s name is to recite through the mouth. A way that has worked for her is to recite the short version (Amitabha) that consists of four Chinese characters (hence, four sounds since the Chinese language is monosyllabic) in rhythm with breathing: two during inhaling and two during exhaling. Start with a small number target (say, five) and graduate to bigger number (in thousands daily) over time. In this way, the mind will achieve a focused state.

She also recommended ascending to the next level of mental recitation. First, study an image of Buddha and memorize it by heart. Then while invoking the mental image of Buddha with the eye closed, silently recite the Buddha’s name.

With diligence and perseverance, in time one would even be able to do the chanting, either verbally or mentally, by meshing it with any rhythmic motion/sound such as the to-and-fro swiping action of the car wipers while driving in the rain or the tick-tock of a clock.

The benefits of cultivating the habit of chanting Buddha’s name are threefold:

  • Obliterating bad thoughts, thereby nipping the seeds of bad action in the bud, and neutralizing bad merits that have accrued.

  • Promoting good/virtuous thoughts, thereby sowing the seeds and laying down the conditions for meeting up with Buddha.

  • Through practice, the action becomes implanted and repeated action cumulatively provides for the emergence of right mindfulness at the time we are about to depart from this physical world.

The benefits of chanting Buddha’s name accrue cumulatively. Hence, it is vital that Buddhist practitioners commence and cultivate the habit of chanting Buddha’s name as early as possible. And now it’s as good as any other time to initiate that first step toward preparing for the final moment of our present life as time is forever marching inexorably forward, so is our aging, and death is a certainty.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Trip Down Memory Lane (Part 2): In Memoriam of Ir. Dr. Hiew Kim Loi

I started earning my keep in March, 1978, about two months before I received my "license" to work, a Bachelor of Engineering degree from University of Malaya (UM), in May. Actually come to think of it, that was the result certifying that I’ve satisfied all requirements for the award but I would receive the scroll during the commencement ceremony about another month (June) later. But that was enough to put me on the official roster of the Public Services Department as a Drainage and Irrigation Engineer (or Pupil Engineer as stated on my service record).

After the mandatory interview at the headquarters of Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) conducted by Ir. Cheong Chup Lim and Ir. Khoo Soo Hock, I was dispatched to Muar, Johor. A vivid scene that I still recall from that interview was my response to Ir. Cheong’s inquiry as to the nature of my graduating thesis when I said, kind of smugly, “It’s complicated.” [Judge for yourself. It’s entitled The effect of a lignin-based additive on the shrinkage characteristics and strength development of cement mortar, or something to that effect. And that’s the best I could come out with from my recollection effort, the thesis copy probably misplaced in some dark corners of my house back in Malaysia.]

And so I thought, until I was challenged by Ir. Cheong’s curt reply, probably accompanied by some raised eye-brows that may have escaped my then rattled state of mind, “Try me.” Fortunately, I really did put in an honest amount of work into the thesis, albeit sharing duty with my co-author, Ir. Kan See Yam, except for the writing part, from casting the cylindrical specimens in the lab, curing them, stowing them away in a temperature-controlled glass-walled cabinet, and measuring their daily “growth”, and testing for concrete strength to failure.

At the end of my rather lengthy explanation interspersed with concrete (as in the material) jargons, I was smart enough to suppress the urge to issue another wise crack when Ir. Cheong commented, “That wasn’t too tough, right?” So there goes my first less than confidence-instilling interaction with a senior member of the engineering community.

I reported to work at DID Muar on my old faithful, a 125-cc Honda motorcycle that I had acquired while doing my 3rd year industrial training at Johor Bahru, from a Public Works Department (PWD) junior technician, as one of the Assistant District Engineers. The District Engineer then was Ir. Ferng Meow Chong, a meticulous, by-the-book engineer in the traditional Chinese mold with a somewhat philosophical outlook on life in general, perhaps a consequence of more than ten years of having his square edges rubbed off by the reality of the engineering world, whatever that may mean [I found out later that Ir. Ferng was 13 years my senior in UM]. But that he had a lot of old tales to tell is not an exaggeration. Ir. Ferng had definitely opened my eyes to a lot of stuff that one does not learn in a university setting, e.g., contract management, for which I’m thankful.

I first met the late Ir. Dr. Hiew Kim Loi in DID Muar, in 1979 [He had not been minted a Ph.D. yet then]. As a Senior Planning Engineer, he had stopped by the Muar office to discuss the technical requirements for a proposed pumping scheme the construction of which I would later supervise. A man of relatively tall stature, he exuded technical proficiency in his apparent mastery of the pump characteristics (e.g., negative/suction pressure, lift head which I later had to read up). Not knowing any better, I was suitably impressed.

The subsequent interaction with Ir. Dr. Hiew would have to wait another five years when I was transferred from Raub, Pahang to the Headquarters. To work under him directly. And my desk (yes, those day the office layout was like an open office where even Senior Planning Engineers like me were only allotted a desk), was just outside his room, with glass partition. The first impression I got of his room was this guy must be overworked: reams of reports cluttered the space, and computer printouts strewn all over the floor. Hey, this guy actually did Fortran programming.

From that moment on, I knew that him being known as the technically smart one in DID was no fluke. And some of the things that filtered through the grapevine such as being a result-oriented man that he was, he liked to hand-pick engineers who could exercise technical rigor to work with him, did have a ring of truth to it. Some would and did call it a discrimination bordering on elitism but it did make one feel good to be recognized.

Ir. Dr. Hiew was not one to heap praises openly, but preferred to give the guy a pat at the back for a job well done. He chose his words carefully, and seemed serious most of the time. But he did occasionally let down his guard, so to speak, though to even imagine him letting down his hair, metaphorically of course, would be quite, well, unthinkable.

I found that I could always interact with him on technical matters, often ending up as the beneficiary in the exchange. He was always meticulous, questioning and revisiting assumptions and procedures of analysis, and yet not one who shirked making decisions when called for. He might have appeared to be pushy to some, evincing impatience if the work was not up to the mark or speed. He was quick-witted, thinking fast on his feet, and that in itself could be “intimidating” to those who were not well-prepared.

I would like to think that my “fetish” for thoroughness and details, often opting for lengthy account rather than concise summarizing, and prompt turnaround time, especially in the preparation of technical minutes, had impressed him to certain degree.

After more than a year under his mentoring, he left on study leave to do his doctoral graduate work at Colorado State University (CSU) at Fort Collins. And I followed more than a year later, but to UC Berkeley to do my Masters. While there, we talked to each other over the phone a couple of times.

Just before I returned to Malaysia after my Masters in July 1987, I and my family visited him and his family at Fort Collins while on a 2-week tour of the western one third of US by car. His daughter was just born then and I remember him showing us around the CSU campus.

He finished his Ph.D. work in three years. That in engineering is quite a feat (I got mine in over four years from University of Florida about 8 years later). Upon his return to DID in 1987, I worked briefly under him. Otherwise our contact was sporadic, except during the Annual series of Senior DID Engineers Conference, a 2-3 day retreat during which senior engineers meet to discuss matters of strategic importance to DID.

Even when I was on secondment to the National Hydraulic Research Institute (NAHRIM), a sister department under the same Ministry but at a different locale, at the completion of my Ph.D study in early 1995, I had always made it a point to drop by his office to chat on a variety of topics (DID works, NAHRIM works, Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM) matters, etc.).

It was in early 2002 that I learned that he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I visited him once at the KL General Hospital. He was sitting on the bed, in what seemed like a work dress, and chatting with us in a normal tone, albeit seemingly on the emaciated side. That was the last time I saw him, but I continued to get updates on his treatment status from colleagues. And the prognosis did not look good.

Then the news broke when I was attending a conference at Cardiff in July 2002, Wales via a brief email from a DID colleague. Ir. Dr. Hiew had passed away. Just like that, DID has lost a great engineer, and I have lost a great personal friend.

I have always valued the mentoring period that I had undergone under Ir. Dr. Hiew’s guidance and would always cherish the interactions that I was fortunate to have with him. In a way, I can understand Welton’s admiration for Richard Feynman (read here), seeing a semblance of the parallel in my case. Likewise I would consider my knowing the late Ir. Dr. Hiew as a privilege. May him rest in peace.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Trip Down Memory Lane, the Academic One (Part I)

I had just finished reading the article “Memories of Feynman” by Theodore A. Welton that appears in the Feb 2007 issue of Physics Today (p. 46-52). Feynman is of course Richard Feynman who was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. The article, which is actually a memoir written in 1983, anecdotally reveals the creative side of Feynman that is now legendary: insatiable curiosity, wit, brilliant mind and playful temperament, and more. For example, he loved to pick locks and had become very proficient at it.

Throughout the memoir, the author cited many instances of awe-struck moments when his friend just blew him away. Yet the author felt none of the acrimony, the envy, and the feeling of dejection engendered by the realization that a peer is so far ahead in ingenuity. Instead, the author was “amazed at having been given the privilege of knowing so interesting a character.”

Not everyone is as lucky as Theodore Welton. But certainly we have had our fair share of inspiration, mentor, role model, guiding light, whatever you would like to call it, who helps mold us into becoming what we are today professionally. So the article got me started on scouring the deep and not so deep recesses of my memory bank to identify such characters who fit the bill.

Here I’m going beyond my immediate family (parents, siblings, close relatives, spouse, and even children) who obviously have had a direct and profound influence on the evolution of my moral fiber to focus on those who have spurred me on in my academic pursuit.

At the primary/elementary school, a Chinese vernacular school that is, I especially remember my Standard Five class teacher, a man who was kind with his words and yet was a disciplinarian who tolerated no slackers nor horse-play from his class. I recall that our class had one of the more well-stocked class libraries in the school and I must have read every one of the books. Needless to say I excelled under his tutelage.

In my lower secondary school/middle school, an English school, I must credit Mr. Tan Lian Hoe for setting my foundation in math, which put me in good stead to handle the increasing complexity of higher math that would come in later years with relative ease. Then there was Mr. Lim Kok Seng, whose sometimes sarcastic critiques of my “verbose, circumlocutory, and bombastic” (those are his exact words that had graced the pages of my painstaking works of creation) style of writing had led to many hours of rewriting on my part, but not always succeeding in meeting his notion of elegant and concise writing. But he certainly had helped me hone my English writing to be good enough to earn a distinction in my LCE (as was known then) examination.

In my upper secondary/junior high school, located 24 miles away from my hometown (that was the first time that I had ever stayed in a rented room, home away from home, which marked the start of my many years of wandering life in search of academic goals), my English writing continued to receive excellent guidance from Ms. Wang and Mrs. Rose Easaw, whose (both) literary skills were an inspiration to those of us who dare to aspire to write. Mr. Yong, our elementary math teacher, gave us so much homework that solving math problems became an assignment to be eagerly awaited. And I had a string of distinctions to show for the MCE (as was known then) examination that marked the end of my upper secondary school days.

Then it was across the causeway to Singapore for my high school (A-level), at National Junior College. Well, things got a bit out of hand there as I was not studying as much as I should. I was so preoccupied with setting up weekly rendezvous with my girl friend (who would become my wife later on) on the other side of the causeway, leaving our foot prints behind at the Lido Beach area, that I hardly noticed the brilliance of the array of teachers that the school had lined up, as noted with nostalgia by my good friend, Pang Chin, not too long ago.

Two years of A-level went by like a flash, but I did just enough, thanks to my elephantine memory capacity, to graduate with a full certificate.

Continuing my college education, I enrolled in University of Malaya (UM), Kuala Lumpur, and started my four-year sojourn in the Pantai Valley High School, a less than complimentary moniker bestowed on UM following the (in)famous varsity student demonstration that occurred in my first year and that led to the full-scale enforcement of the draconian, as some would call it, Universities and University Colleges Act of 1971. A particularly symbolic act, as I recall, by the then powers-that-be was the chopping down of the big tree that marked the speakers’ corner right in front of the main library. A fellow U-mate of mine kept a spent tear gas canister on the wall of his dorm room (we were staying in the 3rd College), a bounty of sort from the street standoff with the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), the red head squad, at the height of the varsity student demonstration.

That watershed event has had a telling/chilling effect on the campus mood: from a cubicle of future thinkers and conscience bearers of the society exemplified by academic freedom to a degree mill of the meekly subjugated whose raison deter is wholesale gobbling and regurgitation of sanitized knowledge, a revelation in hind sight. The ramifications did not hit me then, which was just as well as otherwise I would not have had the opportunity to have my interests in the water side of engineering kindled through such subjects as fluid mechanics and hydraulics ably delivered by Dr. Ong Boo Goh, which paved the way for my graduate works in hydraulic and coastal engineering.

And that shall be the part II of this trip down the memory lane of mine, while the door to my memory bank is still accessible, albeit creaking in protest.