王夢麟: 小草 Wang Meng-lin: Small grass

Decided to take it easy today for my usual half-day weekend walkabout. Think I may have been pushing myself too hard with my hill sprints, and gym squats and deadlifts routines: all the niggling injuries, pains and aches my body had accumulated over the years have been complaining and starting to make themselves heard/felt this last two days; my doozy lower back is starting to act up again, and even my knees are giving me some problems. Need to listen to my body and heed the warning signs carefully this time, don’t wanna end up flat out on my back for weeks and months again…

Did only eleven hill/slope runs in total today, mostly at moderate sprint pace, no all out maximum effort sprints. Today, used the slopes at the central parks and reserves, a less hilly area but with much longer and better trails for hours and hours of walking. Perfect for my reduced intensity workout today, with moderate pace but long distance walking to groove and grease the joints and ease the aches somewhat.

As I walked, I found myself humming 劉藍溪 Liu Lan-xi’s cheerful little song, 如果/If:
如果你是朝露 我願是那小草
如果你是那片雲 我願是那小雨
If you are the morning dew, I wish I am that small grass
If you are that patch of cloud, I wish I am that little drizzling rain

Guess I was in a pretty good mood today. As I walked, and as the mostly clear skies of the early afternoon gave way to some noncommittal patches of dark clouds by late afternoon, which hemmed and hawed and eventually opened up with some brief intermittent showers and drizzles, the slight rain and damp didn’t put me off. I just walked on along, enjoying being within all the greenery and grasses, both tall and small; and getting damp and glistened with the rain just like the blades of grass around me.

But the lower back and knee were acting up, and I had to stop a few times to bend and stretch it out. The aches were even getting to my traps and neck, so had to stretch that out too. Found myself stopping a few times in the light rain, bending stretching straightening my back, raising and shaking my head to stretch out my neck, even doing some calf raises and stretches to ease the knees; and all while getting drizzled on.

All of a sudden rather than 劉藍溪 Liu Lan-xi’s 如果/If, another old song popped into my head, and this time, I found myself humming 王夢麟 Wang Meng-lin’s 小草/Small grass, as I was bending and stretching amongst the green grass and in the rain…

王夢麟: 小草 Wang Meng-lin: Small grass

王夢麟 – 小草 Small grass




Big wind rises, shaking its head side to side;
The wind stops, and straighten its back up once again.

Big rain comes, bending its back letting the rain drench it;
The rain stops, raises its head standing up straight on its feet.

Unafraid of the wind unafraid of the rain, determined to grow up tall;
Small grass, truly is not that small.

I remember when I first heard this song as a kid, the simple almost childish lyrics made me think of the song as a children’s song, or as song meant to encourage children during their growing years.

But anyone hearing the song will immediately know there is probably more to the song beyond its simple lines. From the dramatic song intro with its thundering and rumbling drum-roll, to the marching band sounds of big brass trumpets and trombones, and to the booming sonorous vocals with even its own accompanying resonating echoes…the whole setup of the song seems more befitting a military band or army anthem, than a children’s song.

And indeed, that’s what the song 小草 Small grass, really was – a militant and defiant song filled with the political overtones of its time. Written during a particularly trying period for Taiwan in the late 1970’s, the song was a reflection of the estranged and increasingly isolated and marginalized state of affairs the country found itself in, ever since the 1972 Nixon-Mao détente left Taiwan expelled from the UN and most other major international institutions, stripped of allies and friends, and the sense of being betrayed and abandoned by its largest political and security sponsor.
Little Taiwan felt like a pawn being shuffled around on a much larger chessboard by much larger forces; or in the imagery of the song, like a small vulnerable blade of grass being shaken, bent and drenched by the immutable forces of Wind and Rain…

In a way, that was the magic of Taiwanese 校園民歌 or campus folk songs, marrying the pure unadulterated sounds of the local 民歌-folk songs/music of the 50s and 60s, with the growing political and social ethos of the 70s.
And actually for me, there is another Taiwanese song from this same period, which was written and suffused with even greater political sentiment and perhaps, bordering on ethnic chauvinism, and which Mum carefully taught to me the political and historical references charged within its loaded lyrics. This song made a tremendous impact when it was first released, and surprisingly, eventually even became popular as well across the hostile straits on the Mainland…


蔣勳 (Jiang Xun) feat. 劉藍溪 (Liu Lan-xi)

Just got reminded of the writer, artist, and aesthetics scholar 蔣勳-Jiang Xun.

And immediately thought of his poem, 願-Wish:

我願是滿山的杜鵑 只為一次無憾的春天
我願是繁星 捨給一個夏天的夜晚
我願是千萬條江河 流向唯一的海洋
我願是那月 為你 再一次圓滿

如果你是島嶼 我願是環抱你的海洋
如果你張起了船帆 我願是輕輕吹動的風浪
如果你遠行 我願是那路 準備了平坦 隨你去到遠方

當你走累了 我願是夜晚 是路旁的客棧 有乾淨的枕席 供你睡眠

眠中有夢 我就是你枕上的淚痕

我願是手臂 讓你依靠
雖然白髮蒼蒼 我仍願是你腳邊的爐火 與你共話回憶的老年

你是笑 我是應和你的歌聲
你是淚 我是陪伴你的星光

當你埋葬土中 我願是依伴你的青草
你成灰 我便成塵
如果 如果你對此生還有眷戀
我就再許一願 與你結來世的姻緣

While I quite like this simple poem from 蔣勳-Jiang Xun and particularly appreciate some lines, but without fail this poem for me serves another purpose: to bring me back to an old old 1970s song and oh-oh-so-lovely young Taiwanese singer and actress who would make my little boy’s heart beat faster simply by holding her vinyl record in my little boy’s hands and looking at her cute photos on her album cover. Within Mum’s music record collection, 劉藍溪-Liu Lan-xi’s albums were my favourite which I played all the time. I didn’t know it at that time, but she was probably my earliest sappy crush; I just knew that I adored her and listening to her sweet crystal-clear voice and light happy songs and looking at her pretty album covers made me happy…

劉藍溪 – 如果 Liu Lan-xi – If:

劉藍溪 – 如果

如果你是朝露 我願是那小草
如果你是那片雲 我願是那小雨
終日與你相偎依 於是我將知道
當我伴著你 守著你時

如果你是那海 我願是那沙灘
如果你是那陣煙 我願是那輕風
終於與你纏綿 於是我將知道
當我伴著你 守著你時

Awww…just hearing her sweet voice and I feel a flush rising up my cheeks and a silly big grin on my face. I remember doing this all the time, putting her record on, sitting on the floor and leaning against the glass door of the built-in records shelf of the grey and white Yamaha music hi-fi system, holding her album cover in my hands, looking at her pictures and feeling my heart go flitter and flutter…

[劉藍溪-Liu Lan-xi was considered as one of the 后期瓊瑤女郎-a leading lady of latter Chiung Yao movies in the late 70s/80s, together with a couple of other scintillating leading ladies Mum absolutely loved then.

I have a series of posts on 劉藍溪-Liu Lan-xi, her songs, and on a couple of much-loved 瓊瑤-Chiung Yao movies and theme songs, and one other leading lady, written in the drafts folder. I really really should get them out somehow…

A perfectly useless afternoon spent uselessly at eternal resting places

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.

–Lin YuTang

It was a perfect day today to spend a lovely grey and cloudy afternoon in a subdued, quiet and out-of-the-way spot far far away from the sounds and bustle of the festive holiday. With lush greenery, gentle slopes and terraces, gurgling ponds and fountains, and very pleasing and comfortable 25 degree temperatures and even a slightly chilly but still agreeable December wind, it was the perfect conditions to pack a flask of hot oolong tea, some favourite 饼-piah snacks and teatime nibbles, a little book of old shared poems, an assortment of colourful fresh flowers, and a quiet mind and mood, to spend the holiday with loved ones at their peaceful and eternal resting places.

Some have previously raised eyebrows in askance at my peculiar and even a little macabre way of spending the holidays. But after the previous night’s christmas eve dinner of feasting drinking and conversation, what better way is there to spend Christmas Day, than with some light fasting as a penance for the previous evening’s overindulgence, some solitude to regain a little equanimity from the dissipation, and to quieten the heart and mind for an afternoon of peace, light tea and snacks, some favourite verses, and pleasing memories.

And over the years, I’ve even gotten to be quite good at 花道-flower arrangement, snipping arranging tweaking Mum’s favourite flowers into a little colourful and flowery ‘盆景’ and vista, in the various little vases set up permanently at the alcove. Nothing approaching what Mum’s skilled hands could produce of course; but I’m sure she would still be pleased at my clumsy efforts.

Lighting up matches and votive candles for loved ones in heaven…
And the song in the head for this peaceful afternoon, one of our favourite old song we were always playing on the old turntable, from a long time ago:

浮生千山路 The thousand mountain roads of this fleeting life







人間咫尺千山路。 x2

The thousand mountain roads of this fleeting life

The small stream at the deepest places during springtime, ten thousand jade willows give shade,
Forgetting the road whence I arrived on, placing my heart upon the full moon,
Whose house tonight a wanderer (prodigal son) still roams on his lonesome boat.

The moon above flowing away upon this long creek below, the trees on the misty slopes filling (reflected in) the clear glassy river,
The lone man stands wordless, abruptly turning his head back to look,
Fearing there is someone yet to return from the red dust (worldly cares/events/relationships).

Spring late so late, the sky-realm of the swallows,
Grass lush so lush, the young man grows old,
The waters leisurely so leisurely (or sadly), the time of flourishing has passed,
The thousand mountain roads of man and world may be measured in just inches and feet.

The small stream at the deepest places during springtime, ten thousand jade willows give shade,
Fogetting the road whence I arrived on, placing my heart upon the full moon,
Whose house tonight a wanderer (prodigal son) still roams on his lonesome boat.

Walking to where the waters are shallow (end), sitting down to watch the clouds rise,
A peaceful breeze cools and quietens, the world continues on,
Carefully counting the ten thousand threads of this fleeting life.

Spring late so late, the sky-realm of the swallows,
Grass lush so lush, the young man grows old,
The waters leisurely so leisurely (or sadly), the time of flourishing has passed,
The thousand mountain roads of man and world may be measured in just inches and feet. x2

Very appropriate lines for my afternoon today:


Walking to where the waters are shallow (end), sitting down to watch the clouds rise,
A peaceful breeze cools and quietens, the world continues on,
Carefully counting the ten thousand threads of this fleeting life.

Guess that’s what I was doing today, 細數浮生千萬緒-counting the ten thousand threads of this fleeting life.


Candy coloured Gallardos and jade gems

Was sitting at the waiting/lounging area of the hospital earlier this evening when I decided to give my book (yes, an actual old-school real-life book with paper pages you have to physically turn to read…no ebooks or marvin A.I. app here) a rest, and turn up the volume of the TV on the wall to watch the local evening news. Don’t recognize the news anchor, a rather pretty young lady in a pink top and I think slightly over-rouged cheeks.

But this news bulletin caught my eye:

[Can’t seem to embed the CNA video. Here’s the video link instead]



Luxury market insulated from ongoing global economic woes: analysts

The luxury market appears to be insulated from ongoing global economic woes, as demand for luxury goods continues to be driven by the strong Singapore dollar and the growing number of wealthy tourists this year.

Experts have told Channel NewsAsia that the sector is poised for further growth due to the rising number of ultra-rich in the region.

“Normally if there is a crisis, sales will be affected. But fortunately, we haven’t felt the effects yet… people are more willing to live the life, willing to spend their wealth,” said Melvin Goh, managing director of EuroSports Auto, a luxury automobile dealer.

Previously, most owners of Lamborghinis, a luxury car, were in their 50s. However the age group now is getting younger, with entrepreneurs who have made it in their 30s owning luxury sports cars. More women are also going behind the wheels of a Lamborghini.

Data from research firm Wealth-X shows that 26 per cent of ultra High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) with at least S$36.5m have a luxury car collection. Their appetite for the high life is unlikely to fade, said experts.

Heh, reminds me of what I said elsewhere a little while ago, regarding luxury consumption, candy-coloured Lamborghini Gallardos, jade gems, and the ‘non-linearity of the utility function’:


Toss Out A Brick to get a Jade Gem, from Don Chu
January 14, 2012


Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem (拋磚引玉/抛砖引玉, Pāo zhuān yǐn yù)

“Bait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him react to it (“toss out a brick”) and obtain something valuable from him in return (“get a jade gem”).”

This proverb is based on a story involving two famous poets of the Tang Dynasty. There was a great poet named Zhao Gu (趙嘏) and another lesser poet by the name of Chang Jian (常建). While Chang Jian was travelling in Suzhou, he heard news that Zhao Gu would be visiting a temple in the area. Chang Jian wished to learn from the master poet, so he devised a plan and went to the temple in advance, then wrote a poem on the temple walls with only two of the four lines completed, hoping Zhao Gu would see it and finish the poem. Zhao Gu acted as Chang Jian foresaw, and from this story came the proverb.


Apologies, have no precious jade or gem to offer. But note that your second point:

2) Some consumption will see large increases in both price and volume, including entertainment, pleasure, food-drinks, tourism, transportation, luxurism, exoticism, etc.,

is already happening in quite a few places around the world, especially in many parts of Asia as recipients of ‘hot money’ inflows or at least, as perceived relative safe havens. And in a perverse sort of way, I actually will welcome your expectation of:

a depressing trend … This should apply to real-estate, arts, antiques, many commodities, and the overall stock markets.,

especially here in my little city (Spore). Hopefully, a puncturing of the ballooned-up wealth effect here can rein in the luxury consumption which is currently very blatantly on display here. Too many Porsches, Maseratis and even ‘boy-racer’ GTRs roaring around the neighbourhood at unearthly hours. Just last night, a long line of candy-coloured Gallardos were blocking the entire front street. I shudder to think if this “consumption will continue to see large increase in volume.”

[One may interpret the ‘recursive’ words above as a little tongue-in-cheek illustration of the non-linearity of the utility function in action.

But evidently, my perverse and non-linear non-utility wish for ‘a puncturing of the ballooned-up wealth effect here’, is not coming to pass…

Even a few moments ago, as I am tapping this out at this early hour, I can hear yet another neighbour’s supercar roar into the estate driveway, screeching and shrilling around the entrance roundabout, before the throb-throb-throbbing drone of it’s oversized and overlarge engine fade away as it descends into the basement carpark.

Sigh…this neighbourhood is getting too loud and too crowded.

But rather than perversely wishing for a bursting of the bubble and the coming of depressed markets, which obviously is masochistic and shall be self-hurting as well, I should just raise the white flag and remove myself to a more amenable neighbourhood.

Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, this/my situation will improve soon…to a somewhat quiet and yet very urbane cul-de-sac, and closer to the Gardens.

Craving for LHS Rojak at 4.38 am

Am beat-up and worn-down. And try as I might, even after repeated scrubbings with perfumed bath gels, I can’t seem to get that sharp astringent smell of hospitals off me. Or is it just in my head…

Sudden craving for rojak at this early morning hour. Maybe I just want some strong and pungent taste and smell to smother up everything else. Rojak was one of the favourite supper food for Mum and me. Father never cared for it; he always wrinkled his nose and frowned at the strong pungent smell of the shrimp paste. I guess it offended his delicate palette and sensibilities as a discerning aficionado of fine Chinese/Cantonese cuisine.

Man, I really want some Lau Hong Ser Rojak right now…
Should have picked up some just now on the way back, before they closed at 1.38 am:



One word that separates the good from the great. Passion is what makes this man fry and grind his own peanuts whiles other get theirs from a factory. It makes him insist on using only the best Heh Gor from Penang and making his own chilli. It causes him to continue toasting his You Char Kway over a small charcoal fire even though there is a queue an hour long waiting to eat his fare. It causes him to continue to treat each plate of Rojak as if it were his last. Oh yes, I love passion people.

Now people with passion can sometimes be perceived to be eccentric. The difference between someone who is eccentric and someone who is a downright obnoxious fusspot is that we admire what the eccentric one does. So when this stallowner insists on opening his stall from 4.38pm to 1.38am, we forgive him because he is a genius. It takes a real “Hou Lian Teochew Ah Hia” (Proud Teochew Man – and I mean it in a good sense) to be able to pull off a stunt like this and still have people calling up an hour ahead to place their orders.


“Its better to burn out, than to fade away”

Just said this over at this post, regarding aging and death:

We are all getting there, TS, one way or another, sooner or later…

But some old geezers seem to hang on interminably; admirable in itself, but can be hellish with their crusty grating character which rather than mellow with age, instead seems to have sharpened in their dotage…

I dunno whether its true what they say about ‘no country for old men’, but as for myself, definitely NO walking sticks for me.

I still think:
“Its better to burn out, than to fade away”

And more than ever, am determined to “go down in a blaze of glory.”

Something which I am acutely feeling right now.
Video of the famous ‘Holy Ground’ scene between Connor MacLeod and Kurgan from Highlander.

Heh, yes…my life is simply a series of 电影桥段 tacky movie scenes, dialogues and song lyrics.
And yes, I am feeling rather bad-ass and dark right now…

Robert Frost: Iota Subscript, perfect pairs, and LaTeX

I said this elsewhere a long time ago, if I remember correctly, on a post regarding love poetry verse-making and which started with a funny mathematical love poem, and the ‘mutual edification of perfect pairs’:

Another metaphoric take on the ‘mutual edification’ of perfect pairs, but from a subscripted vowelized view is:

“Seek not in me the big I capital,
Not yet the little dotted in me seek.
If I have in me any I at all,
‘Tis the iota subscript of the Greek.

So small am I as an attention beggar.
The letter you will find me subscript to
Is neither alpha, eta, nor omega,
But upsilon which is the Greek for you.”

-Robert Frost, “Iota Subscript”

Methinks the wonderful world of chemistry, with its talk of bonding, attraction, resonances, fleeting transient states, chivalrous chirality and phase transitions that seemingly wax and wane with lunar cyclicity, may also offer fertile ground for eros verse-making…


One of Robert Frost’s little irreverent poems which amused me to no end when I was little.

But later when I was struggling with LaTeX when typing and formatting all my technical academic documents with lines and lines of mathematical notation and formulas, I cursed and swore most unloving-like at all those foxy iota subscripts and alphas etas omegas and bloody upsilons which simply did not return my tender love and refused to fall in line neatly.

So much for alpha and omega and ‘eros verse-making’…

For all the alpha in me, there exists only the omega for you
∀α∈Α, ∃ω:Ω(ω)


Simon T. and my old teacher, Ms N

Reading this post, I am reminded once again, of a local champion for our own civil society, who was my school-time role model I once thought to emulate – Simon T.
And invariably, my thoughts return also to my former teacher, who undoubtedly influenced and infected me with her liberalism and defiance, and forever imprinted in my mind the phrase:
“There are only two kinds of people in the world. Queue-followers, who line up docilely in long endless waiting lines outside the Temples of Establishment. Or queue-jumpers, who would be throwing Molotov cocktails at the temples of Establishment.”

I know of Simon T. from my General Paper tutor Ms N, who was acquainted with him back then. Ms N, who was somewhat of an anti-establishment rebel who also happens to be a president’s scholar (and who turned down an elite Admin Svc position in ISD, to serve out her 8-yr bond as a teacher, just because its the right thing to do), used to speak highly of Simon T; saying how as a student, he avoided taking up any government scholarships because he knew he wouldn’t be able to bend his principles and himself to serve the civil service during the bond period.

[And later everyone could also see how he demurred from joining politics on the government slate despite repeated invitations to pap ‘tea sessions’. It was obvious the powers-to-be feared losing him over to the opposition. To his credit, he stayed true to his goals of building up our local dismal civil society by remaining as non-partisan as he possibly could, and led the efforts of the research think-tank SIIA towards this end. But as to how really successful he was in this regard, I reserve my doubts…

I was delighted with Ms N’s verve and defiance then, and she was by far my favourite teacher. On her account, I read Simon T’s first book of short stories and poems and my teenage self was particularly moved by one story of the clash and pressures between the traditions and expectations from Family and the individual Self.

But strangely, many of my classmates didn’t take to Ms N or Simon T the way I did. While they would be attentive and participate fully in her class, privately they were disdainful of her views and especially of her behaviour and many idiosyncrasies, which they found unbecoming of a teacher (besides being our GP tutor, she was also our Civics tutor, or what is also known as Form Teacher or Homeroom teacher; but she hardly ever shows up for morning school assembly to take attendance, or even for our first-period civics class – which, the perennial latecomer and absentee that I was, absolutely loved!).

The girls in class, especially and overwhelmingly, disliked her. I discovered this during a class gathering we had some years after we had left JC/high school, when most of us had just started working or were finishing up post-grad school. I wanted to find out if anyone knew what Ms N had been doing since finishing her bond as a teacher. The lackadaisical and indifferent response surprised me, with most saying they don’t know and don’t really cared, and with some biting remarks about how she wasn’t fit to be a president’s scholar and especially not to be interviewing us for our applications to her Oxbridge alma mater.

But in front of Ms N, my classmates never showed their disdain. After all, she was a president’s scholar with a double First in PPE from Oxbridge, and the appointed resident recruiter and interviewer for Oxbridge in Singapore then: ALL A-level students in Singapore who wanted to apply to Oxbridge colleges for university studies had their application essays vetted by her and had to go through a first-round interview with her. Basically, the dean of admissions will only consider the applications from Sporean students who had first obtained a recommendation from Ms N.
[Yeah, we thought we had it good too…having access to the recruiter/interviewer teacher. But maybe because of our proximity, she was especially honest and harsh to those among us who wanted to apply to Oxbridge about their chances. My classmates thought she was cruel…

And for the majority of my classmates who were aiming for government scholarships and fast-tracked careers in the civil service, Ms N’s anti-establishment and anti-institutional exhortations probably did not go down too well (15 or 16 of the 20-odd students in my class took up government scholarships).
I eventually did find out that Ms N after leaving teaching, had true to form, took up volunteering work in the region, including teaching English in Vietnamese villages; before returning to Spore as a research fellow in a few local research institutes and think-tanks, including the SIIA and ISEAS.

It was really good to know…
A few times in the last few years I had really wanted to, but my unpredictable circumstances had prevented me from committing to, doing some more worthwhile work…

If things stay more or less as uneventful on the home-front as they have been recently, I am hoping that this time, I can really commit to a medium-term SIF stint in a regional S.E.A. country with real needs.


Gently Dirk-ed, a vogonic haiku, an Electric Monk and a bored Horse, and stuck sofas

I mentioned another Douglas Adams novel series and character some time back, in the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, during the congressional hearings at Capitol Hill and the beginning of the euro zone sovereign crises:
Grilled Squid and barbecued PIIGS

What I really wanted to share then though, was a haiku I had written in a comment I left on the Ultimi Barbarorum website, on a post musing on poetry, financial shenanigans in the markets and Goldman Sachs:

The above title should be quite clear, what with the roasting going on over at The Hill of the GS vampire squid, as well as the euro-fringe countries being dragged over the coals by the rating agencies.

Here is a frivolous haiku-ed comment made some time back about the GS squid, which came up elsewhere during some ‘ultimately barbarorous’ musings on markets, haikus and vogon poetry:

Salaxalan (G)Squid

Gently Dirk-ed, bleeds ancient

Cthulhu horrors

While I really enjoyed Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, I thought his second major book series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, was actually an even more ambitious undertaking with larger and more interesting themes.

And the standout character from this novel, the Electric Monk and his very bored horse in a desert:


High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse. From under its rough woven cowl the Monk gazed unblinkingly down into another valley, with which it was having a problem.

The day was hot, the sun stood in an empty hazy sky and beat down upon the gray rocks and the scrubby, parched grass. Nothing moved, not even the Monk. The horse’s tail moved a little, swishing slightly to try and move a little air, but that was all. Otherwise, nothing moved.

The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.


The problem with the valley was this. The Monk currently believed that the valley and everything in the valley and around it, including the Monk itself and the Monk’s horse, was a uniform shade of pale pink. This made for a certain difficulty in distinguishing any one thing from any other thing, and therefore made doing anything or going anywhere impossible, or at least difficult and dangerous. Hence the immobility of the Monk and the boredom of the horse, which had had to put up with a lot of silly things in its time but was secretly of the opinion that this was one of the silliest.


So what of this horse, then, that actually held opinions, and was sceptical about things? Unusual behaviour for a horse, wasn’t it? An unusual horse perhaps?

No. Although it was certainly a handsome and well-built example of its species, it was none the less a perfectly ordinary horse, such as convergent evolution has produced in many of the places that life is to be found. They have always understood a great deal more than they let on. It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them.

On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.

While Douglas Adams is no Umberto Eco with the latter’s gift for constructing and inserting semiotic and historiographic puzzles within his fictional writings, Adams still manages to present several interesting juxtapositions, clever structures and mathematical/geometric puzzles for the inquiring reader.

And one of my favourite puzzle and situation from the Dirk Gently book, the stuck-in-a-stairwell sofa problem:

He peered at Richard seriously. “Do you have a good sofa?” he enquired.
“Well, yes.” Richard laughed. He was cheered by the silliness of the question.
“Oh,” said Reg solemnly. “Well; I wish you’d tell me where you got it. I have endless trouble with them, quite endless. Never found a comfortable one in all my life. How do you find yours?” He encountered, with a slight air of surprise, a small silver tray he had left out with a decanter of port and three glasses.
“Well, it’s odd you should ask that,” said Richard. “I’ve never sat on it.”
“Very wise,” insisted Reg earnestly, “very, very wise.” He went through a palaver similar to his previous one with his coat and hat.
“Not that I wouldn’t like to,” said Richard. “It’s just that it’s stuck halfway up a long flight of stairs which leads up into my flat. As far as I can make it out, the delivery men got it part way up the stairs, got it stuck, turned it around any way they could, couldn’t get it any further, and then found, curiously enough, that they couldn’t get it back down again. Now, that should be impossible.”
“Odd,” agreed Reg. “I’ve certainly never come across any irreversible mathematics involving sofas. Could be a new field. Have you spoken to any spatial geometricians?”
“I did better than that. I called in a neighbour’s kid who used to be able to solve Rubik’s cube in seventeen seconds. He sat on a step and stared at it for over an hour before pronouncing it irrevocably stuck. Admittedly he’s a few years older now and has found out about girls, but it’s got me puzzled.”


“Please carry on, I shall still be able to hear you. Continue to tell me of your sofa, and do feel free in the meantime to sit on mine. Has it been stuck there for long?”
“Oh, only about three weeks,” said Richard, sitting down. “I could just saw it up and throw it away, but I can’t believe that there isn’t a logical answer. And it also made me think – it would be really useful to know before you buy a piece of furniture whether it’s actually going to ht up the stairs or around the corner. So I’ve modelled the problem in three dimensions on my computer – and so far it just says no way.”
“It says what?” called Reg, over the noise of filling the kettle.
“That it can’t be done. I told it to compute the moves necessary to get the sofa out, and it said there aren’t any. I said `What?’ and it said there aren’t any. I then asked it, and this is the really mysterious thing, to compute the moves necessary to get the sofa into its present position in the first place, and it said that it couldn’t have got there. Not without fundamental restructuring of the walls. So, either there’s something wrong with the fundamental structure of the matter in my walls or,” he added with a sigh, “there’s something wrong with the program. Which would you guess?”
“And are you married?” called Reg.
“What? Oh, I see what you mean. A sofa stuck on the stairs for a month. Well, no, not married as such, but yes, there is a specific girl that I’m not married to.”
“What’s she like? What does she do?”
“She’s a professional cellist. I have to admit that the sofa has been a bit of a talking point. In fact she’s moved back to her own flat until I get it sorted out. She, well… ”
He was suddenly sad, and he stood up and wandered around the room in a desultory sort of way and ended up in front of the dying fire. He gave it a bit of a poke and threw on a couple of extra logs to try and ward off the chill of the room.


And here is an example and one form of the stuck or moving sofa problem:

[Speaking of puzzles, I have so many word, mathematical, geometric, and logic puzzles in my drafts folder and personal journal, that I’m itching to post here… ]
But what is a good puzzle without some good music accompaniments. Sticking to the horse and sofa themes, we have…

徐佳莹 – 身骑白马 Xu Jia-ying – Astride a Pale Horse:

我身骑白马 走三关
我改换素衣 回中原
放下西凉 无人管
我一心只想 王宝钏

I am astride my pale horse, crossing the three passes
I change into my commoner’s clothing, returning to the Central Plains (China)
Laying down the wearies of the Western Regions, no one to relieve me of my duties
My heart yearning only for, Wang Bao-chuan

徐佳莹 Xu Jia-ying, one of the more talented, young Taiwanese singer and songwriter. The song 身骑白马/Astride a Pale Horse was written when she was still a nobody, but which became her breakout song and won her acclaim, when she performed it at a singing competition and blew the judges away with her very polished and yet restrained songwriting skill.

And the wistful refrain in the song, sung in the Minannese/Hokkien dialect, she adapted from a very popular old chinese folk opera act, based on the historical love story between the commoner 薛平贵/Xue Ping-gui and the daughter of a Tang dynasty aristocratic family 王宝钏/Wang Bao-chuan. 薛平贵/Xue Ping-gui was drafted into the army and sent to the north-western borders, where he spent 18 long and weary years fighting with the nomadic enemy. He eventually rose to high rank and prominence, and returned to his homeland riding astride his pale steed and by crossing the three famous mountain passes (which throughout Chinese history has been both a real physical barrier as well as symbolic boundary) separating the harsh desert Western Regions from the lush and green Central Plains of China, where the ailing 王宝钏/Wang Bao-chuan had been steadfastly waiting for him all that while.

Sigh…good song. Very good song.

[Okay, this post is getting abit too long now. Shall save my sofa song for another time…]

Marvin the Paranoid Android, counting electric sheep, and a bowl of resigned petunias

As usual, while TS makes a serious and well-intentioned sharing about iPads and new Artificial Intelligence engines, I go off on an irreverent off-tangent:
[Addendum: Here is the shared article from TS about iPads and the new A.I. engine:
Marvin is a New eBook Reader App with Artificial Intelligence

Marvin, the Paranoid Android and “maniacally depressed robot”, the epitome of A.I. and probably my favourite character from Douglas Adams:


Marvin, the Paranoid Android, is a fictional character in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. Marvin is the ship’s robot aboard the starship Heart of Gold. Originally built as a failed prototype of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s GPP (Genuine People Personalities) technology, Marvin is afflicted with severe depression and boredom, in part because he has a “brain the size of a planet” which he is seldom, if ever, given the chance to use. Indeed, the true horror of Marvin’s existence is that no task he could be given would occupy even the tiniest fraction of his vast intellect. Marvin claims he is 50,000 times more intelligent than a human, (or 30 billion times more intelligent than a live mattress) though this is, if anything, a vast underestimation.

A Marvin quote:

“Simple. I got very bored and depressed, so I went and plugged myself in to its external computer feed. I talked to the computer at great length and explained my view of the Universe to it,” said Marvin.
“And what happened?” pressed Ford.
“It committed suicide,” said Marvin and stalked off back to the Heart of Gold.

Marvin’s lullaby:


Now the world has gone to bed
Darkness won’t engulf my head
I can see by infra-red
How I hate the night
Now I lay me down to sleep
Try to count electric sheep
Sweet dream wishes you can keep
How I hate the night

But wait, Marvin can only be my second most favourite character from Douglas Adams; my favourite Adams character will have to be the one and only, Agrajag or more famously know as the “Oh no, not again” bowl of petunias:




Agrajag is a piteous creature that is continually reincarnated and subsequently killed, each time unknowingly, by Arthur Dent. Agrajag is first identified in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything, but it is revealed that several of Arthur’s encounters in the first and second novels (and in previous chapters of the third) were with previous incarnations of Agrajag. The first occurs in the novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when a bowl of petunias is suddenly yanked into existence miles above the planet Magrathea, and begins falling, having only time to think, “Oh no, not again,” before crashing to the ground. The reason behind the bowl’s lament is revealed in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything, when Agrajag identifies the bowl of petunias as one of his prior incarnations, and tells Arthur that he had seen his face in a spaceship window as he fell to his doom.

Very cute picture of a plush, stuffed and lovingly crocheted Agrajag/bowl of petunias with his equally pitiable companion, the flying sperm whale:



[crochet pic from http://www.flickriver.com/groups/do-not-panic/pool/interesting/]

“But where are we?” said Ford who was sitting on the spiral staircase, a nicely chilled Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in his hand.
“Exactly where we were, I think…” said Trillian, as all about them the mirrors showed them an image of the blighted landscape of Magrathea which still scooted along beneath them.
Zaphod leapt out of his seat.
“Then what’s happened to the missiles?” he said.
A new and astounding image appeared in the mirrors.
“They would appear,” said Ford doubtfully, “to have turned into a bowl of petunias and a very surprised looking whale…”

Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet.
And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale any more.
This is a complete record of its thoughts from the moment it began its life till the moment it ended it.
Ah!.. What’s happening? it thought. Er, excuse me, who am I? Hello? Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I?
Calm down, get a grip now…oh! this is an interesting sensation, what is it? It’s a sort of…yawning, tingling sensation in my…my…well I suppose I’d better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let’s call it my stomach.
Good. Ooooh, it’s getting quite strong. And hey, what’s about this whistling roaring sound going past what I’m suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that…wind! Is that a good name? It’ll do…perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I’ve found out what it’s for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What’s this thing? This…let’s call it a tail — yeah, tail. Hey! I can can really thrash it about pretty good can’t I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn’t seem to achieve very much but I’ll probably find out what it’s for later on. Now — have I built up any coherent picture of things yet?
Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out about, so much to look forward to, I’m quite dizzy with anticipation…
Or is it the wind?
There really is a lot of that now isn’t it?
And wow! Hey! What’s this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like…ow…ound…round…ground! That’s it! That’s a good name — ground!
I wonder if it will be friends with me?
And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.

Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.

Sperm Whale and Bowl of Petunias: