Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fantastic Contraption

Be warned. If you're not an engineer geek like me, this post will probably bore you. If you're into puzzles and like figuring our how to make things work, keep reading.

I've found a new website.

It is now my number one time waster. I have to force myself not to turn it on at work. If I do, I have to tear myself away after a few minutes. Otherwise, I'm hooked until I figure out that puzzle.

Here's the idea. There are 20 different puzzles. The first few are quite easy. A few seconds and you can figure it out. They then get progressively harder. I just finished puzzle #14. It took many, many different tries over about three days to complete.

You are given an infinite number of 5 different tools to build a device that will move an object, usually a ball or a block, into a goal. You have three different types of wheels, and two different types of rods. Pretty simple tools for a simple job. The puzzle you need to solve is the obstacles in the way. Sometimes there is a wall you need to knock over, others have hills to climb or gaps to cross. One even makes you build a machine that will climb stairs.

A nice thing about the site is that you can save your contraptions. After you complete a puzzle, you can then see the other contraptions that people have saved. It's amazing to see the other devices people have built. Even though you can't see other people's contraptions until you've finished your own, many people end up taking a similar approach. The most interesting thing with those is the small variations in the designs. Even more interesting are the solutions that are entirely unique. They don't need to be intricate (but trust me, some are very complex and detailed), just an entirely different approach to solving the same problem.

If you like the game, let me know in the comments and send me the links to some of your saved contraptions.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jurong Bird Park

We spent Sunday visiting the Jurong Bird Park.

It's kinda like a medium sized zoo, but only birds. Because of the part of the world it's in, it was full of tropical birds. Lots of bright colors and different shapes and sizes. Here's a few pictures from our day.

The flamingo pool is one of the first things you see when you enter.
Trust me, they look better than they smell.

Some of the parrots would talk.
This one said "hello" and made a noise like a truck reverse siren.

Someone is house hunting.

A great way to cool off for the kids.

Jack played with this cannon for 20 minutes.

She's got 'em eating out of her hand.

I've got 'em eating on my hand.

My pelican friend. (He smelled better than the flamingos.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's Here! It's Here!

Our sea freight container arrived on Monday morning. It was like Christmas and your birthday combined, but with no surprises. Well, that's not entirely true. There are surprises, but they're not the happy kind. After opening boxes for an entire day, the only surprise is trying to figure out which of your things never made it into the container.

You need to understand how insane packing is. You prepare for a long time, trying to decide what to bring with you and what to keep in storage. You sort things into different rooms in the house so that they don't get mixed up. (OK...your wife does all that while you live the bachelor life in Singapore.) Then 4 guys with boxes, paper and tape come and take over your house. They're working so fast, in so many different rooms, you just have to hope that things go into the right boxes and the boxes get sent to the right place.

The packers actually do a very good job. I have very few complaints about Crown Relocation. Friendly professionals who do their best to do a good job. You can't ask for much more.

So far, the list of items we haven't seen isn't too long. Jack's scooter and my kitchen knife block are probably the biggest items on the list. If I get out of this move with this being the worst problem I have to face (aside from the kidney stones) I'll be pretty damn pleased.

Right now the biggest problem we have with unpacking is trying to figure out where to put everything. I don't know how we decided to bring so many books. We need at least 2 more bookcases. I'll be visiting Ikea this week for sure.

Here's an idea of what we're dealing with. Once we get everything sorted out, I'll post some more pictures.




Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dehydration, the metric system, and 113 horrible strokes.

On Wednesday, I played my first round of golf in Singapore.

The Managers meeting for the Pacific division was held Monday thru Wednesday this week. To close things out, everyone got together for lunch, golf, and dinner. It was a good day. I got to meet a lot of people from offices in other countries that I've only met on the phone or by email.

As far as golf in Singapore goes, I have one basic observation. It's hot. Like, "Africa Hot" kind of hot. Factoring in the round of golf I played in Virginia on January 2nd a few years ago, I can now officially say that I've played golf in both 40 degF and 40 degC temperatures.

Hot is something I've been dealing with for a while in Texas. I've played in weather this hot before. The problem was the water. There was almost no water on the course for people to drink. In Texas, there's water at least every 4 holes. I had one bottle of water with me when we started. Aside from that, I only saw one water fountain on the 11th hole.

Halfway through the back nine, I was toast. I was starting to get a headache and barely cared about the game. I just wanted to be done.

Aside from the dehydration, I just didn't like the course design. It was really narrow and was very hilly with a lot of doglegs. I've never seen a course with so many blind shots. I'm sure that after you've played it (The Keppel Club) a few times, it gets easier as you get to know it. But the first time you play there, it just kills you. I must have landed in 4 different bunkers that I didn't know were there before I hit the ball.

And then there's the damn metric system. When you see the marker in the fairway that says it's 150 to the middle of the green, they're talking in meters. It's actually 165 yards away. I can't count how many times I grabbed the wrong club and came up 10 yards short of where I was aiming.

These factors, in conjunction with the fact that I hadn't swung a club since March, added up to the highest score I've gotten on a golf course in about 10 years. Based on my handicap, I should have shot a 95. I finished with 113. It's a good thing I was putting well, otherwise I may have broken 120.

The evening ended well though. The food was great and the people were too. It really is fun when we pull together all of the best people in the company to spend time with each other. It's a really great crowd of people who don't spend nearly enough time together because they're spread all over the world trying to hold this expanding company together.

All in all, a tough round of golf, but a learning experience. Next time, I'll be packing water like a camel.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mmm...Spicy fermented cabbage. My favorite!

I was so proud of Melissa and Jack on Sunday.

After our afternoon at the science center, we decided to get dinner before we caught the subway back home. We took a walk through the standard food court that is on almost every block in Singapore, but Melissa wasn't too interested in the offerings there. We then went down the escalator one floor where they had a few more places to eat. McDonald's, KFC, a Korean place, and a few others. Trying to avoid another meal of chicken nuggets, we decided to give the Korean joint a shot.

Please allow me to go on a little tangent here.

I've been to Korea many times for work. As a culture, the Korean people are a pain in the ass to deal with in business, but the most gracious hosts I've ever been honored to meet. As gracious hosts, they've offered me many of their favorite foods. Some, like Korean style barbecue (Kalbi), are delicious. Others, like the jellied thing I couldn't identify, are not quite as tasty.

The staple of every Korean meal is Kimchi. They eat it with every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, without fail. It's not Korea without Kimchi on the table. To make Kimchi, you chop up a vegetable, usually cabbage, and put it in a clay pot with chili sauce, garlic, salt and other spices. Then, you let it ferment (rot) for a while. Tasty.

The point I'm trying to make is that aside from a few select dishes, the Korean style of cooking would not have been my first choice for Melissa and Jack to introduce themselves to Asian cuisine.

The fact that Melissa looked at the menu outside the restaurant and said she'd try it really surprised me, but I didn't want to discourage this opportunity for them to try something new. We walked in to the the most orange place I've ever been and took a seat.

Melissa ordered the chicken hotplate, we got Jack a plain chicken cutlet with rice, and I had a traditional Bibimbap (bowl of rice with a bunch of meat an veggies).

While Melissa's meal was basically sauteed chicken and veggies, the seasonings were decidedly Korean. Way to spicy for her usual tastes. She really did try though. I was proud. She made a real effort to try something new.

Jack ate all of his chicken and half of Melissa's plain white rice.

As usual for me, I ate everything.

This weekend I'm going to bust my butt cooking anything Melissa wants for dinner.




Monday, July 14, 2008

Thank you Aunt Liza!

For Christmas, my brother Joe and his wife Liza (which means Liza) bought our family a 2 year membership to the Singapore Science Center. Jack and Melissa have now been three times and I took my first visit yesterday. The place is pretty cool. It's clearly geared toward kids, but it's huge. You can easily spend an entire day there. It's kind of like a cross between a science museum and a children's museum.

There's exhibits on everything from bacteria and the human body, biology and chemistry, to technology and the internet. For a 6 year old boy, it's a great place to explore.

Another great thing about it is that it's only a 10 minute walk from a subway station. Melissa and Jack can hop onto the train in our neighborhood and it's only about a 15 minute ride.

We spent a few hours there on Sunday afternoon. Jack and Melissa led me through the maze of exhibits while I struggled to keep up. Jack was so excited to show me all of his favorite things, he was practically pulling me through some of the rooms.

By far, his favorite thing is "The Marbles." At least that's what he calls them. These marbles are more close to the size of bowling balls and baseballs. There's a few different levers or wheels that you can turn to lift the different balls, then you watch them roll down a number of different tracks.

The other thing he really enjoys it the outdoor water area. There's a bunch of water "exhibits" for kids to play with. After her first trip, Melissa learned to bring a bathing suit with her for Jack to change into.

Overall, a good place to spend a weekend afternoon. Especially when Aunt Liza is paying.

If you'd like to see some more pictures, I uploaded them to Snapfish.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Only in Asia

Yup. That is what it looks like.

A mashed potato machine.

For only S$1.20, you to can have a cup of mashed potatoes with gravy dispensed directly from a machine at 7-11.

We we're walking through the mall after visiting Ikea and Jack said he was thirsty. We all wanted a drink, so Jack and I waited outside while Melissa went in and got 2 waters and a pineapple slurpee.

I looked through the glass door to see where Melissa was in the line and saw this machine. I shouldn't have been, but I really was pretty impressed. Now I know that when I'm walking past 7-11 and I just happen to get a craving for mashed potatoes and gravy, I'm all set.

And if you're wondering if I tried any...I did not. I'd just eaten 4 slices of pizza and I was full. I'll go back another time and report on the quality of 7-11 mashed potatoes.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Lego Monster

Jack's favorite activity in the whole world is to play video games with me. My guess is that by the time he's 12 (playing on the Xbox 720), he'll be able to kick my butt in most games.

His absolute favorite game has always been Lego Star Wars. It's actually a very well built game. Trust me, I'd know. I play a lot of video games. I even listen to a gaming podcast. (I know, I'm still just as big of a geek as I was in high school.) The game is designed to be easy enough for a 6 year old to play through by himself (mostly), while having tons of extra achievements to keep someone older (i.e. Dad) paying attention and trying to figure out the little puzzles hidden in the game.

I can't stand it.

Don't get me wrong, I love playing the game with Jack. It's easily the best hour of my day. Even thought we can frustrate each other with our shoddy gameplay and short tempers at times, we both love having completed a level together as a team. I'm just so sick of playing the same game over and over again. We must have burned over 100 hours total on this thing finding every hidden achievement.

When I heard that "Travelers Tales," the company that makes the game, was coming out with an Indiana Jones version, I was damn excited. Instead of destroying little Lego Storm Troopers with my light saber, I'd be able to destroy little Lego Nazis with my whip.

Well...not exactly. Jack destroys little Lego Nazis with a whip. I get to be the sidekick. (Usually a girl or a fat Palestinian guy with a shovel.)

I'm most excited about the next release from Travelers Tales. It's reported to be Lego Batman. When I was Jack's age, Batman was my favorite superhero. I can't wait to kick the Joker's butt or throw my "batarang" at the Riddler.

I don't care what Jack says, I'm not playing as Robin.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Daddy, why does the grocery store smell like poop?

Jack has taken to holding his nose when he walks through the produce section of the grocery store.

The reason?


I know I've said this before, but it kinda stinks. Jack has taken to calling it "poop fruit."

As he and I were walking through a grocery store on Saturday, he asked in a frustrated voice, " come it always smells bad near the vegetables?"

"Come with me," I said.

We walked about 20 yards to our left where there was an entire stall in the store devoted to selling durian. It was flying off the table as fast as they could cut it. It's a reall pain in the ass to cut these things open. The husk is damn tough.

After opening, the meat inside will be placed in a Styrofoam container and covered in plastic wrap.

I picked Jack up so that he could see better.

"What is that Daddy?"

"It's called durian."

"What does it taste like?"

"Want to try some?", I asked.


"OK," I said.

"But what does it taste like?"

Here's where I made my mistake. "Kinda like poop, I think."


Yup. Gross.

This is the only time in Jack's life that I didn't give him a hard time about not wanting to even try a new food to see if he likes it. But judging by the way the locals here were buying the stuff at $25/kilo, I can only assume the flavor grows on you.

That is, if you actually keep putting it in your mouth.