Thursday, 1 March 2018

Speaking of Immigration...

I just got around to watching the official Papers, Please short film.

I'm just blown away. It so perfectly encapsulates the feel of the film. The quality of the props. The quality of the acting – Igor Savochkin is utterly masterful in the main role. The sheer attention to detail. How it captures the gameplay aspects in an unforced manner. How it communicates the bleakness, the weariness, the hope – and the utter despair.

I can perfectly empathise with the unfortunate souls trying to enter Arstotzka – matters pertaining to immigration and citizenship fill me with dread – but also with the checkpoint inspector. How often have I wanted to do the right thing, only to be held back by the rules? How often have I thought, this time I'll let it pass, only for the other person to shamelessly take advantage? In real life, we can never know when mercy or intolerance is the better choice. The film captures that uncertainty, even better than the game did.

The only missing aspects are the expenses management – reduced to a lone photograph – and the fact that allowing someone through without the proper paperwork immediately ends in a citation. The latter is unrealistic, of course, but without these gameplay aspects, a lot of the tension is lost. My other issue is the ending. It's...unemotional? It's startling, but it seemed to lack impact, somehow. It doesn't stay with me, the way the beginning and middle of the film did. I think an ambiguous ending would have worked better to preserve that bleak, desperate feeling.

Nevertheless, for a ten-minute film, it is genuinely excellent. I love the fact that more and more independent works, including the original Papers, Please, are being produced with such excellent quality. These works only prove that creativity is far from dead.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Cloudy February

Another month has drifted by. There have been some upsets here and there, but I like to think that I'm getting better at handling them. I'm still working hard to improve myself. It's a hard battle, and I'm my own enemy. But I am seeing progress, and I won't stop now.

Unfortunately, I'm starting to see diminishing returns with my touch-typing. I think there's only so good I can get while working with a laptop keyboard. I really would like to own a Model M keyboard. There's probably one in the storeroom somewhere, but I doubt it works, and the connector probably wouldn't fit my computer. One of the old computers in the lab had a Model M. It was rather dirty, as was normal for shared equipment that no-one was responsible for cleaning, but the keys were well-spaced, and made nice clicking sounds. I once spilled tomato soup on it by accident. The keyboard survived, but the Esc key was always a bit odd after that.

Recently, I managed to reach IKEA just in time to try out their breakfast dishes. The waffles were somewhat hard, dry, and underwhelming – probably because I got to them late – but the scrambled eggs and hashbrowns were genuinely good. It's definitely worth the extremely low price. I'm not a huge salmon fan, but their salmon croissant is pretty good too. 

I've reached the age where ghost stories don't scare me very much, but stories of home invaders and creepers are frightening. Is it a sign of being an adult, to fear hypothetical creatures less than other people? People are terrifying, and there are some exceptionally terrifying people in this world.

This entry was rather stream-of-consciousness, wasn't it? I do have some more things going on, and a frozen cheesecake recipe to post, but I think I'll stop here for now.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Recipe: Breaded Chinese Rolls

Another recipe from my childhood! These are the slightly more filling counterpart to the fish cutlets.

Breaded Chinese Rolls
Makes 20–25 rolls

2–3 (400–600 g) large potatoes
400 g can tuna or mackerel in water
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1–2 tsp salt, to taste
1 tsp ground black pepper
1–3 tsp red chilli powder, to taste
1–2 tbsp canola oil
2 green chillies, chopped
8–10 cloves garlic, finely minced
1" ginger, finely minced
2 Bombay (red) onions, finely chopped
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tomato ketchup or paste (optional)
50× 7.5" package frozen spring roll wrappers, thawed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
200 g panko breadcrumbs or crushed cornflakes
4–8 tbsp (30–60 ml) soybean, peanut, or canola oil

Pierce potatoes all over with a fork, and boil them in their skins until fork-tender, about 30 min. Allow to cool slightly. Peel, mash, and set aside.

Drain tuna, and flake with a fork. Season with vinegar, salt, pepper, and chilli powder. Mix in chilli, garlic, and ginger.

Heat pan over medium heat, and add 1 tbsp canola oil. Once oil is shimmering, add tuna mixture. Fry, stirring often, until most of the water has dried up, and the tuna is fluffy (30–60 min). Add onions, and stir-fry until soft. Season with soya sauce, and tomato ketchup or paste.

Mix in mashed potatoes in batches. Continue frying the mixture until dense and very difficult to stir. Allow to cool.

Lay out two spring roll wrappers, one on top of the other, onto a flat plate or cutting board. Place 1–2 tbsp tuna filling close to one end of the stacked wrappers, centred. Shape the filling into a small log, about 2" long. Fold the ends of the wrappers together over the filling, followed by the two sides. Roll up tightly, and press down the seam. Repeat for the remaining filling and wrappers.

Dip the rolls in beaten egg, followed by the breadcrumbs. If desired, dip the breaded rolls in a second layer of egg, and bread a second time. Breaded rolls can be fried immediately, or stored in the freezer. For frozen rolls, thaw 30 min in the refrigerator before frying.

Deep-frying: Deep-fry rolls in preheated oil for 2–3 min each.

Oven-frying: Line a large dark pan with aluminium foil. Pour soybean, peanut, or canola oil inside; swirl to coat the bottom and sides. Place pan in the top rack of the oven, and preheat to either 200°C (canola oil), or 220 °C (soybean or peanut oil). Once oil has heated up, remove pan from the oven. Carefully place rolls into the pan, roll once in the heated oil, and space out evenly. Bake 15 minutes. Retrieve pan, overturn each roll, and bake another 12–15 min until golden-brown.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 Retrospective

It's year.

I don't think I regret any of it, not really. I've worked to improve myself. I finally learned how to touch-type (still working on my speed, and the numbers row still gives me pause, but I can now type without looking). I joined Khan Academy, and started learning all the mathematics and economics I always wanted to know, but could never quite comprehend. I started writing again. I touched a horseshoe crab.

There have been hard lessons as well. Humility is not something I used to have in very great quantities. Paradoxically, neither was confidence. I like to think that I've been working on both, gradually. I know I'm a better person than I use to be. I also know that there's room for improvement. I do want to be a good person. I've never intentionally tried to be cruel, but...people are judged by their actions, not their thoughts. The current me looks back, and knows that I have acted cruelly.

There is no true purpose to life, I don't think. Life exists because it can replicate. Sentience exists because it can manifest within a replicable body. But a sentient mind is capable of giving itself a purpose; anecdotal evidence suggests that a purpose drives it to function better. I think, for my purpose, I would like to improve myself, and perhaps even bring some measure of happiness to others, if I can. A resolution for the New Year.

Goodbye, 2017.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Good Things Jar

I can't recall where I first heard the idea for a Good Things Jar - it may have been Reddit - but the concept is a simple one. Every time something good happens to you, write it down on a strip of paper and keep it in a jar. On bad days, or simply when you feel low, take out all the paper strips and read them.

My Good Things Jar is a Word document, ordered by date. It's mostly little events like successfully preparing a new dish, or meeting up with friends, or having an exceptionally productive day, or reading a thought-provoking essay, or simply viewing a nice sunset. All the little things that make me happy. And when I read about them again, weeks later, it's like reliving those happy moments again. It reminds me of how many good things happen every day.

I think I need that reminder, sometimes. That I am living a good life. That nice things are happening to me, all the time. That I have the right to be happy with what I have.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Brown Glue

So, I learned something new today!

I have an old, old scientific calculator, bought for school use almost 17 years ago. It has survived multiple examinations, being carried across international borders, and usage of varying frequency.

Yesterday, it suddenly developed an error. It physically would not let me enter 2-digit numbers. I could type, for example, '5', or even '5 × 5', but not '55'. Opening up the case, I noticed that the circuit components had been carelessly attached, with glue smeared all over the circuit, which was not entirely unexpected of a relatively cheap school calculator. More importantly, the single button cell was rusted. That's the problem, I thought. I cleaned up the contacts, and inserted the new battery.

No dice. Exactly the same problem as before.

I reopened the calculator and had another look inside – the keypad design was fascinating – but nothing stood out, other than the smears of brown glue. Wondering if there was something to it after all, I looked up 'brown glue on circuit board'. When Google auto-completed the phrase for me, I knew I was on to something.

It appears that the glue was chloroprene rubber adhesive. It starts off yellow, but slowly turns brown over time. It also becomes conductive. And this dried, conductive material had been carelessly dribbled all over my calculator's circuit board.

I very carefully chipped the dried glue off the conductive tracks using a small screwdriver, dabbed away the dust with a damp cotton swab, allowed the circuit board to air-dry, and replaced the casing. The calculator effortlessly informed me that 55 × 11 = 605.

It's nice that my old friend will continue to function at least a little longer, but I'm also pleased to have found something new to look out for when repairing electronic devices. There's something very fulfilling about getting a broken device to work again.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Happy Birthday, Singapore

You know a show is good when it literally moves you to tears.


Happy birthday.