Lizards and Rubberbands

A friend of mine, Rachel (whose name has been changed to protect ME) told me an interesting theory that Lizards (of the Common House Gecko variety- Hemidactylus frenatus) are attracted to rubber bands.

According to a series of experiment that she has carried out, and purportedly repeated successfully by a Libyan scientific team, she has proven her theory. As I do not have any rubber bands (but plenty of geckos in my place), I hereby outline her steps so that others can try it at their homes:-

1. Place a rubber band near any corners or any other place in your house where Geckos hang out
2. Remember the location.
3. Take a photograph, if you have camera, to record this. Label it “Before”.
4. If you don’t have a camera, take a mental photograph (stare and blink real hard). Label it, in your head, “Before”.
5. Go about your everyday work for 12 hours or more
6. Return to the spot that you have placed the rubber band
7. Take a photograph, if you have camera, to record the location. Compare it to the photograph labeled “Before”.
8. If you don’t have a camera, take a mental photograph (stare and blink real hard). Compare it to the mental picture labeled “Before”.

If Rachel’s Theory holds true, the rubber band would have moved.

This is not the most weirdest observation. Rachel also claims that she has seen geckos using the rubber bands as hula hoops, skipping ropes and waist belts (this must have been a very fat gecko). She also told me how tired she was cleaning after the geckos after their wild nights with the rubber bands.

And yes, one more thing:- geckos have a fond attraction to Spirulina. So if your experiments do not return the desired results, rerun it with Spirulina as bait.

The Oscars 2004

Being an avid fan of movies, I found this year’s Academy Awards to be rather interesting.

This is the first time that a Fantasy movie like The Lord of The Rings- The Return of the King has broken the glass ceiling (from technical achievements like Sound Editing, Special Effects) to clinch not only the Best Director but also Best Movie. Kudos to the happy Hobbits, elegant Elves, dastardly-looking dwarfs, wonderful wizards and humble humans who live in New Zealand, I mean, Middle Earth. Huge credits go to Peter Jackson, a George Lucas-ian nobody then, who have spent a better part of a decade to bring the highly regarded (but stupendously boring) tome to life.

However, I am a little (just a little) bit disappointed that Bill Murray didn’t win for Best Actor considering that he is so good in Lost In Translation. But I guess that winning Best Screenplay is not too bad of an achievement for Sofia Coppola- whose aloofness on stage is either caused by a terminal case of bashfulness or she is still reeling from her horrible part in Godfather III.

Bush and Blair Backtracking But Insist That War Was Justified Nonetheless…

After months of chest thumping declaration that weapons will be found, the two giants finally admitted that faulty intelligence was to blame while still insisting that it is still a right thing to invade Iraq.

Body: The Iraq hunt for WMD turned up a smoking gun that has more smoke than gun. George Tenet in his address yesterday stated that the CIA has never stated Iraq was an “imminent threat”. And for those who agree with Bush’s and Blair’s hind-sighted justification for war even though no there were no WMDs in Iraq, I’ve heard justifications like:-

1. “We can’t really blame them. It was faulty intelligence” – Wrong! Hans Blix’s reports stated evidence to the contrary of what the intelligence community was saying. Knowing today that the CIA and MI6 did not have on the ground operatives, why weren’t Bix’s finding taken into consideration during the march to war?

2. “It’s okay because it is an international effort and the majority of the world agrees with the action”– Mr. Bush, kindly be aware that the whole world does not only mean countries in the Coalition of the Willing. Everytime Bush states something to this effect, bear in mind that the Coalition represents only 10% of the world population. Besides, even if the whole world did agree, isn’t the act of lynching somehow out of synch with modern civilization?

3. “Saddam has to go. He is evil and if we allow him to be in power, he’ll be another Hitler”– Don’t you think that the Europeans- who had suffered under Hitler during World War II- would have been more sensitive to the rise of any megalomaniac and evil dictator? Besides, Hitler has a massive army and an ideology that inflamed the population to commit atrocities. Saddam did not even have the means to defend himself and he is a has-been who has no ideology even among the Arab states and the Muslim world.

4. “I don’t like Saddam’s face and no matter what, I’m glad he’s gone even though our reasons of going to war was false and unjustifable”– Then, my friend, there is no way to convince you of the magnitude of their wrong doing. One day will come when Bush and Blair use the same pretext to invade another country of their choice. Pray very hard then that it is not our country.

No Weapons Found In Iraq

Colin Powell has conceded to reporters flying with him that there may not have been weapons of mass destruction after all in Iraq before the US invasion.

Body: With that, Powell’s impressive pre-war Security Council presentation that contained “proof” and “irrefutable evidence” has come crashing down. The hours spent in the preparation of the Powerpoint (not to mention the tireless efforts of the “creative” team to draw connections between Iraq, WMD and Al Qaeda) amounted to a presentation fit for Hollywood in their stereotypical Imminent-Threat-Coming-So-Hero-Briefs-The-Council-But-Council-Won’t-Listen scene

But the world remembers those chilling moments when Powell masterfully presented “intercepted” Iraqi radio transmissions between faceless evil Eye-Rack-EE commanders and their soldiers to hide weapons before the arrival of UN inspectors. We were also shown grainy satellite pictures that had been augmented by analysts’ color-by-number outlines of missiles, factories and make-shift labs.

And now it turned out that all the evidence were lies, mistruths and misinformation.

In fact David Kay’s resignation from the Iraq Survey Group- the group that has been tasked by the US administration to find WMD in Iraq- has dealt another blow to the assertion that there are WMD in Iraq. Kay’s parting shot at the Bush administration can be felt in his recent statement that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq- amazingly given to the press a few days after Bush quoted his report and recontextualize parts of it to fit his claim that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction program activities” (don’t ask me what that means but it’s there in his State of the Union address).

Indeed the WMD “smoking gun” may prove to be as real as mirages in the Iraqi desert…

Mid-Priced Speakers

With a specific mission to upgrade my existing system, my buddies and I went on a quest to find the best speakers money (or more specifically, around RM 8,000) can buy.

Body: We tested a few speakers that day but there were really only 2 contenders (with another one worth mentioning but the KEF reference series was way, way, way beyond my paltry budget, about 4 times beyond):-

B&W Nautilus 805: First, a note about the B&W showroom in MidValley. This shop is ONE of the BEST, if not THE BEST hi-fi shop in terms of size, variety (if you’re looking for B&Ws and Arcams), interior decoration and, oh yes, tastefully furnished and sonically superb listening rooms. Now for the speaker:- the Nautilus 805 speaker is sweet! The test track that we played was one of those non-descript-generic-fusion tracks and the result was good with excellent highs and clear mid-range. As this is a bookshelf, the bass was little muted but the lows was deep enough for most purposes. It is a fast speaker with excellent transients. One small thing…it is a little too sweet for my taste as I found the sound to be overly bright. Normally, I can stand bright speakers but the Nautilus 805 lacks something…something that I couldn’t put a finger on until we tried the Harbeth…

Harbeth HL Compact 7ES-2: Ok, before I go on, a word about the hi-fi shop that carries Harbeth in KL, namely Tropical Audio. This small shop is hidden in between motorcycle repair shops in Setapak. Upon entering, I was shocked to see the listening “area”- which wasn’t a room. As one enters the shop, one sees a run down rattan sofa, very much like those that was in vogue during the early eighties, pushed all the way up against the left wall. On the right, was a line of speakers and in the middle of the line was a pair of old and dusty Quad CD Player and 606 amplifier. I also noticed a JBL subwoofer in the line up of speakers as I hesitantly took my seat in the old rattan sofa. Before me stood 3 pairs of the most ugliest speakers that I had ever seen. They are rectangle boxes. That’s the design! To make things worse, I nearly left when the lady of the shop inserted a Jacky Cheung CD into the CD player. Expecting the worst, I closed my eye and waited for the result…And the result was fantastic! The 7ES-2 sang with bass that was tight and surprisingly low (coming from a half floor stander- of course, this can only be concluded after we coaxed the lady to disable the JBL, which was giving an artificial rumble to the set up). The highs were clean. But what blew me was the stereo imaging, I could literally “see” Jacky in the middle of the room! Wanting more, the lady switched to Aaron Neville- which I protested and got a Telarc Happy Trails instead. Again, I felt the orchestra in the room. I could literally pinch the red haired oboist sitting to the right of me.

Comparing both, I realized what the Nautilus 805 lacked are the superb stereo imaging, clarity and pure passion of the 7ES-2. After listening to the both, I had not choice but to abandon my personal favourite (though the B&W still looks absolutely sexy) and settle for a pair of boring looking, but sonically superior Harbeth.

In search of the perfect sound

Inspired by a visit to a friend’s place in Singapore where I tried out some vinyl on his hi-fi system, I decided to plunge right back into the world of perfect audio reproduction…

To be honest, I am a relapsed audiophile.

I tinkered with audio reproduction systems as a kid but never had any resources then to get anything really good to start with. My house initially had an 8-track system and later an unbranded all-in-one-cassette-tuner-amplifier unit and some home-made speakers. I grew up listening to the Beatles, ABBA, Bee Gees, Anne Murray, Art Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, Earth, Wind and Fire, Leo Sawyer, Boney M, Beethoven, Mozart and Simon Hui on that basic setup. From my musical “roots”, it’s no small wonder that I grew up emotionally balanced and normal (or am I?).

The audiophile bug bit me when I came across a very old Hi-Fi Annual by the now defunct Asia Magazine in one of the Berita Bookstore jumbo warehouse sale of yesteryears. The annual contained interesting articles about high fidelity as well as reviews of outstanding systems for that particular year. One of the article in the magazine claimed that every true audiophile’s dream is to have a system that can recreate, as true as possible, the sound of live music. Seeing that I had never heard a live musical event- save the kindergarten and school performances, which I think don’t really count- I took the opportunity to attend a live classical music performance by a traveling youth orchestra. And even in that sonically challenged environment that is the Dewan Tun Hussein Onn of the Putra World Trade Center, I was completely and utterly blown away by the sound. It was reminiscent of a scene in Amadeus where Salieri first heard Mozart performing his clarinet concerto. I was seduced by the live sound that had allowed the performed pieces to transcend beyond mere musical notes to become intangible ethers of absolute beauty, moving hearts and taming souls. At the same time, I was also envious that my system back home could not- no matter how hard I tinkered- sound like live strings and horns.

Without any financial means to upgrade my system, I survived on compact audio cassettes (though I would need to insert a toothpick on the pinch roller of the tape deck to slow it down because it tends to play faster than normal speed) and FM radio. Later, thanks to Bob- a friend and fellow audiophile- I added a mini-compo (that word still gives me shivers) that had a CD-player. The first CD that I ever owned was Enigma’s debut album. It was played over and over and over again just so I could hear how hiss free and clean the sound was. Adding a CD player to the basic home hifi system brought me one step- out of perhaps a thousand- closer to live music but it was a step that has brought about wonderful vistas in the journey to perfect sound reproduction.

But I digress- to cut a long story to be really short, after having a CD player, the passion became cyclical. At it’s high point I have a Marantz CDS5000 CD player, NAD C320 integrated amplifier and Tannoy Mercury MX1 speakers. At it’s low point, I thought that iPods sounded fantastically natural and I switched my Tannoy with my Audio Pro Focus SA-5 floor standing AV speakers because they have a low bass just like- dread of all dreads- an Ah Beng’s car.

Next: SACDs, DVD-Audios and finally, Vinyl.