Friday, August 31, 2007


After several fruitful bird-spotting trips around campus, I've posted here the best shots I could get of various colourful birds I've successfully spotted and photographed. Some of them have been eluding my lens for weeks, and I'm quite happy with this set.

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This is a yellow bird that I've seen frequently, but this is the first time I've gotten a semi-clear shot of it. It is possibly a black-naped oriole (Oriolus chinensis), although I cannot be sure of this.

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This looks like a pigeon. Is it a pigeon?

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This white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) was found near some rubbish (I wish folks wouldn't toss their trash like this) by the stream.

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This little heron (Butorides striatus) was looking for small fish in the lake. It's fascinating to watch him hunt as he darts his head forward and pecks a fish out of the water.

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A bird of prey circles high overhead. The zoom on the H2 is pretty good, as this bird was pretty high up. It looks like some kind of kite.

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A yellow-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) perches near the stream behind my workplace. This bird has a stripe on his head and yellow bit near his rear end. I wasn't looking for this guy when I was seeking birds to photograph, but finding him was a welcome surprise. He also didn't mind having his picture taken.

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Two birds on a bush are worth less than one in the hand. However, I don't have a bird in the hand, so these two mynas will have to do.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAll year round, I've seen movies that range from spectacularly bad like Transformers, to mediocre like the Fantastic Four sequel, to fun and entertaining movies like TMNT and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. However, for the entire year I have not seen a movie that I could say was magnificently good... until now. Brad Bird, the director who brought us The Incredibles is back with Ratatouille, Pixar's latest 3D animated flick. Brad Bird never disappoints. This movie is brilliant. If you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now as there are spoilers ahead.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe story is about a rat named Rémy, who has a superb sense of smell. Despite being a rat, he enjoys good food, and dreams of being a chef like his hero, a famous French chef named Auguste Gusteau who has one of the finest restaurants in Paris. However, his family has assigned him the mundane job of sniffing food for poison, and he frequently sneaks around looking for good food in the kitchen of the house that his family hides out in. He learns to read the cookbook of the little old lady that lives there, and experiments with various herbs and condiments. One day, when the old lady discovers the colony of rats living in her attic, she chases them away with a huge gun, and the rats are swept away in a sewer. Rémy gets seperated from his family and end up in Paris, underneath where Gusteau's famed restaurant is. Gusteau himself had recently passed away, and the place is run by a grouchy sous-cook named Skinner.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIncidentally, a dorky new guy named Linguini is hired at the restaurant as the janitor, and when Linguini accidentally spills the soup, he tries (unsuccessfully) to concoct a new pot. Rémy, outraged at Linguini's incompetence, decides to sneak down and help out. Linguini catches Rémy in the act, and nabs him before anyone can see the little rat. However, the nasty Skinner catches Linguini messing with the soup. Linguini's soup had already been served, and to everyone's amazement the customers love it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSkinner grudgingly hires Linguini as a cook, but since he cannot actually cook, Linguini forms an alliance with Rémy where the little rat hides under his hat and controls him like a culinary battlemech by tugging on his hair (it works, somehow). Linguini is made an apprentice to Colette, a tough woman cook who trains him mercilessly. Linguini, with the help of Rémy, makes the best dishes and Gusteau's restaurant surges in popularity. This doesn't go down well with Skinner, who secretly discovers that Linguini is actually Gusteau's heir. Skinner also suspects something is fishy when he keeps seeing glimpses of a rat apparently interacting with Linguini. Skinner is eventually kicked out of the restaurant, and he isn't happy.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe rest of the movie centers on Skinner trying to bust Linguini, as the restaurant faces a huge challenge as the snobbish and arrogant food critic Anton Ego makes an appearance at the restaurant to critique it to death. Linguini does eventually gets found out, and his entire kitchen staff walks out on the night of Ego's visit except Colette. To save Linguini, Rémy's entire family of rodents show up at the kitchen to help cook (this is a delightfully cute scene). Rémy makes ratatouille for Ego, and he finds it so good he is reminded of his own mother's cooking back when he was a child. Ego asks to meet the chef, and he is very, very surprised when he finds out it's a rat. He goes back a changed man, humbled by the experience, and writes a very flattering review.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHowever, Gusteau's restaurant is shut down because a health inspector (tipped off by a vengeful Skinner) discovers the kitchen is full of rats. However, Linguini, Colette and Rémy start up a successful little bistro called La Ratatouille, financed by Anton Ego.

I can't think of a single flaw in this movie. The animation is beautiful, the voice acting is superb, the pacing is good, the story is brilliant, the direction and set design and everything else is top notch. This wonderful little movie is like a fine meal, which washes away all of the lingering bad taste from the previous awful duds I've seen this year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Global Warming

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Today, Professor Frank Sherwood Rowland visited my university and gave a lecture on global warming and climate change. In the picture above, he's sitting in the middle on the stage and he's flanked by two university officials.

Professor Rowland was one of the key people who discovered the detrimental effect of CFC emissions on the ozone layer, which led to the Montreal Protocol which was aimed at reducing CFC pollution in the upper atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol was hugely successful, and Prof Rowland is quite happy with this.

He talked about the rising level of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere which is causing a gradual increase in global temperature over time. We got to see the data he collected over the years, and how he started off in this direction from the data collected by James Lovelock. For me, it brought back memories of playing SimEarth way back in the day, when games had very nice manuals with actual scientific facts inside them.

Time will tell if we will be successful at reducing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, temperatures continue to slowly rise, despite what the oil companies tell you.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Flying Critters

It can be fun and challenging to take pictures of birds, as I have learned since I tried my luck to catch them with my camera over the past few weeks. Spotting them requires patience and a keen eye, and most of the time I just fumble with the camera and find that they've flown away.

However, I do have a few successful shots, and here are some of them.

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Here's a Phillippine glossy starling (Aplonis panayensis) picking berries in a tree in front of my workplace.

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This is (probably) an Australasian pipit in a field. I call him "Skippy".

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A magpie robin (Copsychus saularis) perches on a parking sign on campus.

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This may not be a bird, but it's still a little flying creature. I found this butterfly in my yard today, resting on a branch. According to my friend Michelle, it is a Delia hyparete (Painted Jezebel).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sleepy Cats

On lazy afternoons, the cats will all snuggle up into a big pile of fur and whiskers and sleep. If you can't sleep, maybe this photo will inspire you to take a nice, comfy snooze.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

You're The Man Now, Dawg

After years of grading awful undergraduate essays, my friend Kem has started a blog to help young, aspiring writers to not suck at writing. Behold, Kem's Utterly Merciless Guide to Essay Writing. It isn't just another essay writing guide, it is written with acerbic wit and without mercy as advertised. If you want to learn how to write well in English, do yourself a favour and read it. I know I need to.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

SCO Loses

Remember SCO? It was the company that made a bunch of bogus claims about how Linux developers allegedly "stole code" from Unix, raised a huge fuss in the media and then went to court by suing IBM over the alleged code theft. Since then it has been involved in quite a number of lawsuits, one of which involves Novell. In the Novell vs. SCO case, Novell claimed ownership over Unix.

This week, the judge in the Novell vs. SCO case has ruled that SCO never owned any of the Unix copyrights at all. This effectively means Linux is in the clear, SCO has lost all of its Unix-related lawsuits, and they are in a huge pit of trouble now.

Goodbye, SCO. Good riddance.