30 November 2006

Am I with anterograde amnesia?

I think I may have problems with short term memory – anterograde amnesia, a form of memory loss, an inability to recall events which occurred only moments earlier (If by any chance you have watched the film Memento, you should understand what I am talking about). I don't know why I can recollect the style and colour of the clothes a friend wore on a particular occasion donkey's years ago, but just can't remember what happened to me or what I planned to do last night, or even 10 minutes ago.

I think I've got a sniff of trouble.

For example, I always forget to take my mug with me when I decide to go to the kitchen and top up some more hot water. What is even worse is that sometimes I leave behind the mug in the kitchen after filling it up with hot water.

I always tell people the same story over and over again, particularly the infamous Broccoli Quadrilogy, even though they have been told thousands of times and can recite the whole story verbatim.

Here comes another example which I blush to mention: I always plan to bring a jar of my home-made blackberry jam to Maggie, a colleague in the Stirling Media Research Institute but never remember to put it into my bag before I go to the university.

According to researches, loss of short-term memory can be
  1. the result of damage to the hippocampus, fornix or mammillary bodies (all of these are certain parts in the brain);
  2. the consequence of a sudden trauma or a seizure;
  3. induced by medications of hypnotic drugs prescribed for insomnia and other sleep disorders, such as temazepam, lorazepam, zolpidem and alpidem;
  4. caused by large intake of alcohol.
I don't think I had any head injury, nor did I recently suffered any deeply distressing experience, nor did I take or abuse any soporifics or tranquilisers. However, I do slug lots of cider after a typical long, unproductive day. Well, as we don't have cider in Taiwan, or perhaps it's so unfashionable that I've never given it two hoots, I shall drink less when I go back this coming Sunday.

Let me keep my fingers crossed: I'll remember my mug, stop telling people the bloody broccoli story, bring the jam to Maggie, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

28 November 2006

Go digital!

Ferguson FDT500Thanks to Hong-Lin, a reader in the School of Law, I've got a Ferguson FDT500, a set top box with which I can watch digital terrestrial television through the Freeview service.

I wonder if everything was connected properly when she made her telly go digital, as although she said the box, original given by her brother-in-law, might have ceased to function, it is now working in good order in my room. There was no hassle when I set up the system: I am living within the Freeview coverage area, my landlady's rooftop aerial works perfectly, and, above all, the digital box has a harmonious relationship with the 20-inch analogue TV Pedro gave me this February when he went back to Portugal.

I came to know about digital TV two years ago when I did seminar teaching on the undergraduate course 'Media Impacts and Influences' in my department. The digital technology allows more TV channels and different interactive and information services to be transmitted in the same amount of space as that used by analogue transmissions. Consequently, switching to digital broadcasting system frees up airwaves for other uses such as mobile TV or high definition TV, and certainly brings more commercial oppotunities.

The UK government have set up a timetable for Digital Switchover, the switch-off of all analogue terrestrial TV broadcasts, and announced that TV services in the UK will go completely digital by 2013.

I don't care about how many channels I receive at the moment as I don't have much time to appreciate all the programmes, but I simply can't ignore the almost ninefold boost in the number of channels after installing the set top box – from only 5 to 44 TV channels, plus 24 radio channels. It reminds me of the days when I was in Taiwan, where about 85% of households subscribe to cable TV service, which usually provides about 100 channels on a fixed fee basis. Most of the time, unless when really into a specific programme, people would first flick through all the channels forward and backward, and then start channel-hopping.

As I'll be back in Taiwan for five weeks and thus be able to practise hopping over different channels with a remote control, I'll be ready to have a good hop after I return to Scotland with Hong-Lin's digital box and Pedro's analogue TV, although there are only 44 channels from Freeview, far less than the number in Taiwan.

24 November 2006

The Broons and Oor Wullie

Broons and Wullie
This afternoon I went to WHSmith to get a copy of The Scots Magazine, a must-read monthly for me to learn more about the land and the people, but ended up paying for a copy of The Broons and Oor Wullie, a collection of Scottish comic strips. Then I went for a pint of Best in Port Customs Bar, my favourite pub in Stirling where barmen or barmaids always remember my name and a pint is ready for me before I actually order.

Oor Wullie ('Our Willie' in the Scots language) and The Broons ('The Browns' in Scots) are both comic strips set in Scotland within The Sunday Post newspaper, which is published in Dundee by D C Thomson & Co Ltd and sets a model for written Scots and its spelling.

Although some linguists argue that Scots is an ancient dialect of English or the Anglic varieties spoken in parts of Scotland, Scottish people regard Scots as an autochthonous language (or in plain words, 'indigenous language') of Lowland Scotland, as opposed to Scottish Gaelic spoken by some in the Highlands and Islands.

In the pub, some regulars whom I am quite acquainted with came to me and asked if I understood what I was reading. Come on! I've been in Scotland for almost five years and spent some time learning the language of this country; of course I know some Scots. A lad picked up a line in the book:
Gran'maw's comin' tae stay wi' us, so ye must be a very guid laddie an' dae a'thing she tells ye!
Of course I ken ('know' in Scots)
Grandmother is coming to stay with us, so you must be a very good boy and do all the things she tells you!
Another old block still doubted if I really knew Scots and asked what it meant by
Whit a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht.

(Listen to my demonstration!)
Ha ha ha, I happen to know it. It means
What a beautiful bright moonlit night tonight.
I'm going back to Taiwan a week Sunday for a five-week break. I would like to bring some copies of The Broons and Oor Wullie as Christmas gifts for my friends; however, it really worries me if they would ever understand Scots.

22 November 2006

If only I were on Mars

Mars colony
As I am approaching the deadline for thesis submission, I just wish I was on Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun in our solar system, named after the Roman god of war.

The rotation period of Mars is about 24.62 hours, which means that I would have about 37 more minutes a day if I were on Mars; the orbital period is 686.96 days and thus I would have almost 322 more days a year if I were doing a PhD on Mars. Moreover, 37 minutes are enough for me to write something in my diary to fulfil my obsession (please refer to the previous blog entry). Because it's always a tough task to find time to maintain my hand-written diary everyday, having some extra time every day is absolutely great.

Of course, it's just a matter of 'I wish I could' and the only thing I can do at at the moment is merely finishing my thesis as soon as possible. However, I do have a question: What sort of calendar or system of time will we use should we immigrate to Mars in the future?

Shall we measure time based on the rotation of Earth on its axis with respect to the stars, or shall we just ignore our mother Earth but instead only take into consideration the physical or astronomical characteristics of Mars?

Well, it doesn't matter for the time being as I don't think I would be able to move to Mars within six weeks and claim more time for me to finish the thesis. I definitely have to submit by the end of 2006 on Earth, otherwise I fail. But I'll advise my daughter, if I have one in the future, to do her PhD on Mars so that she may have more time.

20 November 2006


ObsessionI truly believe that I am a sufferer of the so-called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD, or another jargon, anankastic personality disorder), which is a mental disorder characterised by a general psychological inflexibility, a chronic preoccupation with rules, procedures, perfectionism and excessive orderliness.

It is my philosophy that everything in my world has its place in a divinely designed order (of course my own order, nothing to do with divinity) which can never be questioned by others. I enjoy filing things away, put things in neat order, tidying up rooms, washing dishes and on and on, all of which, most importantly, have to be done by proper procedures. All of these are absolutely symptoms of OCPD, and therefore I have to accept that I am indeed an OCPD suffer.

I have consulted some psychology and mental health literature, together with web sites of related foundations such as OCD-UK and OCD Action, and found that fortunately OCPD is not as serious as obsessive compulsory disorder (OCD).

OCPD is usually confused with OCD. They are actually two distinct disorders, although there is only one more 'P' in the former.

According to OCD-UK,
[OCD] sufferers experience repetitive, intrusive and unwelcome thoughts, images, impulses and doubts which they find hard to ignore. These thoughts form the obsessional part of ‘Obsessive-Compulsive’ and they usually (but not always) cause the person to perform repetitive compulsions in a vain attempt to relieve themselves of the obsessions and neutralise the fear.
I don't think I have any concern about
contamination and germs, causing harm to oneself or to others, upsetting sexual, violent or blasphemous thoughts, the ordering or arrangement of objects, and worries about throwing things away.
As I do not feel any needed to perform ritualistic actions repeatedly, for example, washing my hand every three minutes, but rather just tend to stress perfectionism above all else and feel anxious when I think something is not in compliance with the divinely designed order, I'm definitely not an OCD sufferer

I have been keeping a diary for about 18 years, to the extent that I feel I must write something down every single day and it is an offence to leave one day blank in my diary. Even when I am so tired, unwell or when I forget because of too much intoxication to write anything, I will definitely do it the next day.

I suppose the reason why my thesis moves so slowly must has something to do with OCPD – every word, sentence, paragraph, section and chapter has to precise, no-nonsensical and impeccable.

The deadline of submission is the end of 2006. I may have to compromise perfection for the sake of getting the doctorate.

17 November 2006

Engaged as a treasurer of a church

Today The Church of the Holy Rude formally engages me as the treasurer. Although it is a non-stipend position, I regard it as a token of trust and in recognising me as a valued member of the congregation.

Actually I was quite surprised when the presbytery asked me to take on the responsibility, as I am just an international PhD student, frankly speaking, a foreigner, one of the others to this country. I suppose the presbytery understand that I have a degree of MBA with a speciality in accounting and was once employed by a charted accountancy firm, and thus my calibre for this position. Moreover, I believe that they regard me as a respectable member of the community.

It's always my belief to get myself involved in the local community in all aspects. Since I have chosen to go abroad for further study and paid an awful lot of tuition, I definitely should participate in as many as possible activities in this country, to learn more about the people, the culture and the land.

Whether I'll settle down for good in Britain, it'll be an unforgettable experience in my life to be a treasurer of a church in Scotland.

14 November 2006

Cider reminds me of Taiwanese 'apple sidra'


(Image from NACM)

Recently I found cider quite a good substitute for beer if a short break from bitterness of hops is what you desire. By cider, certainly I mean the alcoholic one.

If you consult a dictionary, you'll probably find that cider refers to either an unfermented beverage or an alcoholic drink made by crushing fruit, typically apples. That's true, as in the States the alcoholic one is known as hard cider while the fresh, minimally processed apple juice is called cider or apple cider. Nevertheless, people in Britain never get confused. Wherever you ask for cider, you never get apple juice. Cider is definitely an alcoholic drink here.

Cider is very popular in Britain, particularly in South West England. Although, together with perry, a similar drink made from fermented pear juice, it accounts for only 6.4% of UK alcohol consumption, far behind beer (44.3%) and wine (27.1%), the UK has the highest per capita consumption and the largest cider producing companies in the world, according to NACM (the National Association of Cider Makers).

Cider usually has a stronger alcoholic content than beer, most of the time over 5%, although its alcoholic strength does vary from 1.2% to just under 8.5%; however, because the British government tax cider at a lower rate, in the UK it's always cheaper than beer in terms of price per volume.

Cider is the oldest alcoholic drink produced in the Britain. People once believed that it was brought in after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, but it is now thought to have been introduced to the early Britons by some peoples who roamed over the areas in modern Spain and Northern France with their shekar, a Hebrew-origined word for an intoxicating liquor distilled from corn, honey or dates.

Apple SidraI have to admit that before I came to Britain, I had never tried the alcoholic cider. The only thing similar to it I knew was apple sidra, which has nothing to do with Gulf of Sidra, a broad inlet of the Mediterranean Sea on the coast of Libya, but is just a popular non-alcoholic fizzy beverage produced in Taiwan, probably something Westerners would call apple soda. The manufacturer chose the word sidra (indeed 'cider' in Spanish) for the product to suggest that although people would never get intoxicated when having apple sidra, they would still enjoy the sour-and-sweet tang of cider in it. (Image from this blog)

Although sometimes I take cider as an substitute for beer for economic reason, it does remind me of my motherland Taiwan, where I used to drink apple sidra as I've never get along with coke.

12 November 2006

Ucipital mapilary?

I heard something sounding like ucipital mapilary when I was watching on channel 5 this evening Dracula: Dead and Loving It, a horror spoof in which a clumsy, accident-prone incarnation of Bram Stoker's famous vampire count left Transylvania for London in pursuit of a young Englishwoman. Having not a clue about what the term really means, I did some research.

In the end I found out that ucipital mapilary is the suprasternal notch (or in Latin lacuna suprasternalis), the visible, little indentation between clavicles (collarbones, the pair of bones joining the breastbone to the shoulder blades), which is regarded as the mark of true beauty.

If you are by any chance a medical student, doctor, anatomist or sort of forensic expert, don't tell me there is no such term in Gray's Anatomy, because it's actually a fictional term coined by the screenwriter Samson Raphaelson for the 1941 Hitchcock thriller Suspicion, in which an exchange between Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) and Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth (Joan Fontaine) went:
Johnnie: Don't do that.
Lina: Why not?
Johnnie: Because your ucipital mapilary is quite beautiful.
Remember what Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) said to Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The English Patient?


I claim this shoulder blade. No, wait. I want – turn over – I want this, this, this place. I love this place. What's it called? This is mine. I'm going to ask the King permission to call it the Almásy Bosporus.
'This place' is indeed ucipital mapilary.

10 November 2006

American presidential election

(Click the picture to watch the film)

One among latest international headlines this week is that Donald Rumsfeld resigned as U.S. Secretary of Defence after the Republican Party lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the United States midterm elections.

Personally, I am not all agog at US politics, an arena full of business tycoons, lobbyists, opportunists, speculators and feigned patriots; nevertheless, I was once forced to pay heed to it when I did seminar teaching on an undergraduate course 'Media Impacts and Influences' at the 2004 autumn term. To introduce to students and facilitate more discussion on how the media may play during an election period, I have to keep an close eye on 2004 US presidential election. I happened to find a sarcastic short online and then ripped it to my hard drive so that I could show my students how some people would despise the so-called democracy in the States.

The US midterm elections did remind me of this. Have a look and enjoy.

08 November 2006

Godiva cholocate and Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva

(Lady Godiva by John Collier, c1898)

Godiva is a well known Belgium chocolate manufacturer established by the master chocolatier Joseph Draps in Brussels in 1926. It is named in honor of the legend of Lady Godiva (or in old English Godgifu or Godgyfu, which means 'gift of God'), an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman and wife of Leofric (968–1057), Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry.

Godiva chocolate

A historical legend behind luxurious chocolate?

According to folklore, in 1057 Lady Godiva appealed to Earl of Mercia for reducing cruel taxation imposed on the people of Coventry. Time and time again her husband refused, and in the end only granted her request, provided that she rode naked throughout the streets of Coventry. She agreed. After announcing that all the people of the town should stay indoors or shut windows, clothed only in her long hair, she rode through the midst of the town. The citizens of Coventry graciously stayed inside to spare their benefactor any feelings of shame. Godiva's husband kept his word and thus the people of Coventry were finally relieved of the weighty tax burden. Today we can see a statue of Lady Godiva in Coventry city centre in memory of her deed.

There was an incident. A tailor named Tom defied Lady Godiva's order. As a voyeur probably first recorded in history, he made a hole in the shutters to look out while Lady Godiva passed by on her nude ride, and was reportedly struck blind by a divine light the moment he saw her. He became known as Peeping Tom, and Peeping Tom later became a term referring to one who derives pleasure, usually sexual, from secretly spying on others. True or not, this definitely reminds us of what Confucius says: 'See no evil' (Fei li wu shi, literally 'look not at what is contrary to propriety').

Next time when you recieve or give a pack of Godiva, don't forget to tell your friend the legend of Lady Godiva.

06 November 2006

Chanel N°5 on Channel 5

Last week when I was filing away some trade magazines into the shelves in the Stirling Media Research Institute, an odd job kindly offered by the department office, I spotted an complimentary book entitled The End of the Question Mark. It's just a wee pocket book containing some tough questions which I suppose are usually asked in quiz shows or pub quiz nights. I skimmed through the pages and was caught by a particular item: What was the first advert on channel 5?

Channel 5, or simply five as per its logo, is the British fifth and presumably final national terrestrial TV channel. The other four are BBC One, BBC Two, ITV and Channel 4. Therefore, in Britain, if you do not subscribe to Sky TV or any other kind of digital TV, you can watch only five analogue terrestrial channels. Interestingly, while the other four channels can be received in Ireland, Channel 5 is the only British terrestrial channel without any availability there.

Channel 5 was launched at 6 pm on Easter Sunday 30 March 1997 with the performance of a cover of Manfred Mann's 60s hit '5-4-3-2-1' by Spice Girl. Like ITV and Channel 4, Channel 5 is also a commercial channel and thus there are always adverts. According to The End of the Question Mark, the first advertisement on Channel 5 was for the iconic perfume Chanel N°5. Very smart, isn't it? Chanel N°5 on Channel 5.

I have no idea nor can I locate which commercial film for Chanel N°5 was shown then on TV; however, I managed to find out a relatively new one featuring Nicole Kidman. Click here and have a look. No man could resist her charm.

She swung a $12m deal of filming a series of adverts for this best known fragrance in October 2003.

Brand names and their extended usages

It seems that when a product sells so well and becomes indispensable to most people, its brand name turns into a synonym for the product or the verb which describes the action of using it.

For example, hoover, originally the name of an American floor care manufacturer, the Hoover Company, which once dominated the electric vacuum cleaner industry, became a synonym both for the noun vacuum cleaner and for the verb vacuum probably in 1926-27 according to Oxford English Dictionary. Xerox may be another example, although it's less used nowadays as opposed to hoover.

More brand names of software and service have been used in this fashion since the Internet became an essential part of our life. I heard people saying google when referring to using an Internet search engine and using MSN and skype when speaking of chatting online through these two programmes.

I'm sure there are more brand names adopted in the English language and used as verbs or common nouns. Nevertheless, have you noticed any high-tech item which is a must for the modern world? Keep a record of some brand names and see if they will become verbs or common nouns in your lifetime.

03 November 2006

Pork stew, first dish after regaining appetite

Pork stew
Finally, I regained my desire for food this week. I purchased some decent streaky pork from the butcher and made a pot of pork stew for myself on Wednesday. As I couldn't really scarf down all of it nor would I leave it in the fridge for more than two days, yesterday Rebecca came to help me bring the stew to a good end.

It is no difficult task to do pork stew, but what make these pork chunks lip-smacking in my pot are the creative spice and sauce mixture and some other subordinate ingredients:

  • Carrots, tomatoes, Granny Smith apples and close cup mushrooms
  • Anise, freshly ground pepper, crushed sun-dried chilli, oregano, garlic and ginger
  • Soya sauce, honey, balsamic vinegar and salt
The whole cooking process took me almost two hours:
  1. Cut streaky pork into chunky cubes and marinate them in the spice and sauce mixture.
  2. While pork is in marinade, cut Carrots, tomatoes, apples and mushrooms into pieces of desired sizes.
  3. Quick stir-fry pork cubes, together with the marinade, in a wok on high heat, and then transfer them to a pan.
  4. Put carrots, tomatoes, apples and mushrooms in the pan and add enough boil water to cover all the ingredients.
  5. Bring to quick boil, turn heat down and simmer for one and a half hours.
The most important thing is to stir-fry the pork cubes properly to seal in the juices in the streaks of lean as well as squeeze out excessive grease in the streaks of fat. When stewing, the squeezed lard will be well mixed with the juices of other subordinate ingredients, and altogether they turn into good gravy.

For eating healthy and adding a contrast in mouthfeel, apart from carrots, tomatoes, apples and mushrooms already in the stew, one more blanched leafy vegie (I strongly recommend Chinese leaf cabbage) can be served at the same time. This dish is best served over rice.

Yummy beyond description was probably what Rebecca could say. It's a pity Hong-Lin didn't join us, although I was sure there wouldn't have been enough for three had she come.

01 November 2006

Austin Powers sound board

I found this interesting sound board on the Internet through a long string of redirection. Click the blue button below to start.

Austin Powers, hm, the chap who once made me abashed, not because of his explicit langauge or act, but of my own ignorance.

Yes, I am a PhD student finishing a thesis on popular music, and indeed have read popular culture and mass media. However, in my own ivory tower full of esoteric, over-specialised, and probably useless research, I can only understand things "once" popular donkey years ago, rather than something popular at the moment. My colleagues are usually flabbergasted when I ask, with a slightly bemused expression on my face, what this film is about, who that chap is, or when on earth that comedy was produced.

I still remember how Mark responded when I told him I hadn't heard of The Muppet Show all my earthly life. I also remember how I startled some colleagues by casting out a question about the identity of this movie character when Mark gave a paper on film music with Austin Powers as an example in our departmental research seminar about two years ago.

No, I swear I'd never seen the Muppets and Austin Powers, not even heard of them! Nevertheless before I came to Stirling. Nevertheless, It doesn't matter anymore. I know them now, although there are still a horde of popular figures awaiting me.