25 January 2008

PCR song

(MV from Bio-Rad)

The PCR Song

There was a time when to amplify DNA,
You had to grow tons and tons of tiny cells.
Then along came a guy named Dr. Kary Mullis,
Said you can amplify in vitro just as well.

Just mix your template with a buffer and some primers,
Nucleotides and polymerases, too.
Denaturing, annealing, and extending.
Well it’s amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do.

PCR, when you need to detect mutations.
PCR, when you need to recombine.
PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is.
PCR, when you need to solve a crime.

From May, I came to know this interesting MV, a commercial mimicking the 1985 best-selling 'We are the world'. I then spent some time searching over the Internet for more information about the production and found it so entertaining that I couldn't help but embed it on my blog.

The MV was released by the Bio-Rad Corporation to promote their new PCR machine – 1000-series of thermal cyclers.

Just like May, I am also a deserter from the biology camp, with a degree in botany but now settling down in the field of music. PCR reminds me of the undergraduate days, particular the fourth year when I, together with my wife, then girlfriend, worked with DNAs in Prof San-San Tsay's microbiology lab.

According to a textbook I read when I was a 2nd-year botany undergrad, PCR, the acronym for polymerase chain reaction, is
a method for amplifying DNA in vitro, involving the use of oligonucleotide primers complementary to nucleotide sequences in a target gene and the copying of the target sequences by the action of DNA polymerase.
To be brief and simple (if you are not familiar with the biological dialect at all), PCR is a molecular biology technique invented by the Nobel laureate Dr. Kary Mullis, through which multiple copies of a specific DNA piece can be reproduced in high amounts.

Although now PCR seems alien to me, I'm so glad that what those scientist sing in the video is still intelligible to me.

18 January 2008

Facebook and masala bhangra

(Be patient; the streaming is a bit slow, or alternatively go straight to YouTube)

In this cyber age, a great number of people, if not all, rely so much on the Internet. It seems to be the end of the world to some of them when they cannot access their e-mails, on-line forums, instant messenger services or social networking websites to 'communicate' with others.

I read an article in the Guardian about the networking site, Facebook. The author, Tom Hodgkinson, argues that Facebook isolates people from the real society by trapping them in cyberspace with nonsensical virtual applications. By giving details of 'who is who' behind the scene, he believes that Facebook is actually an heavily funded American neo-conservative libertarian plot to convert its users' personal preferences and relationships with friends into commodites on sale to giant global brands.

As I'm not a Facebook addict and only connect myself to those whom I have already known but do not meet on a regular base due to geographical limitation, I am not concerned with the author's contention. However, I do learn a lot from the Internet, mostly from news sites, on-line magazines and web content in all sorts of format forwarded by friends. Seldom worrying about being gullible or manipulated, I am oftentimes enraptured by news articles or feature reports which cast new ideas into the cell where my mind dwell.

Yesterday Eric forwarded passed one me the link to a special report in Forbes on the 20 trends which are sweeping the globe, drawing particular attention to K-Pop among those 20 items.

I read K-Pop carefully, but was soon caught by Naachercise when browsing through the rest. Naachercise, also known as Bollywood aerobics or masala bhangra, is a mix of Indian folk moves and Western booty-shaking, created by Sarina Jain. I've never been into dance (As I'm super slim and not short, I suppose I look like a spider when dancing), but this is so attractive that I rose from the stool and started shaking my stiff torso and limbs with the video clip.

Perhaps because I've recently given a lecturer on Indian classical and film music in a World Music course, I'm really fascinated by those shakes and steps of masala bhangra. It's really fun and I don't care whether I'm bewitched or misled or something in cyperspace on this occasion.

13 January 2008

Green or blue?

(image from mozilla0211)

Last year, on an ordinary day, with a firm belief, as induced by the announcement on Blogger, that the original settings could be saved and all the changes reversed if desired, I followed the instructions on the 'manage your blogs' page to try out the new fancy customisable template for this weblog. However, I discovered in the end that there was no return.

I changed the background and most page elements of my weblog from grey or something I couldn't remember to 'green', which, originating from the colours of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), represents the political camp that favours Taiwan independence over Chinese reunification. Perhaps because of my own political view or just due to the colour's most common associations with nature, growth or hope, I chose green unconsciously.

While a change of colouring on a personal blog doesn't mean anything to others, a shift of the majority colour in the parliament is definitely significant to the people.

The results of the parliamentary polls in Taiwan yesterday proves that the legislature is going to be 'blue', which, derived from the party colour of Kuomintang (KMT), stands for the camp that leans towards a Chinese nationalist identity and advocates greater economic linkage with the People's Republic of China.

Taiwan's opposition nationalist KMT has won a landslide victory, securing 81 seats in the 113-seat chamber. Trounced by KMT, DPP gained only 27 and suffered the worst setback since its founding in 1986. Some people believe that there will be a bandwagon effect where KMT will continue to win the presidency in March, whereas others predict a pendulum effect where the 'green' camp will galvanise greater support and catapult their candidate to victory.

Will we see a pendulum or a bandwagon? Whichever the case may be, the colouring of Principal Wei's Weblog stays green.

09 January 2008

In Fountain I met KKBox

(Cover photo: A-mei, the first and only Taiwanese singer so far to grace the cover of Newsweek, 8 Jan 2001 issue)

In June 2006 the National Cultural Association launched Fountain, a biannual culture magazine about culture, art and lifestyle in Taiwan targeting English readers, not to be confused with the American religious Fountain.

Perhaps because I was working too desperately on my doctoral thesis when the organisation announced the release of the first issue in 2006, not until yesterday did I realise the existence of such an interesting made-in-Taiwan English periodical.

I came across the fourth issue (Dec 2007) on the theme of Taiwanese popular music in Eslite yesterday and then learnt from the official website of Fountain that three issues on Taiwanese cinema, design and cuisine respectively have been published from mid-2006 onwards.

As a scholar of popular music studies and an individual who has a penchant for integrating homeland affairs into international discussions, I bought the latest issue on Taiwanese pop without hesitation. Skimming through the magazine on my way back home, my eyes were caught by a short item – KKBox, an online music solution.

KKBox is a subscription site offering legal, unlimited music downloads for a monthly fee of 149 NTD (roughly 4.50 USD), which has captured a membership of 300,000 and a roster of 140 contracted record companies, including the four majors, Universal, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner. According to its chief operating officer Chris Lin (Lin Guanqun 林冠群), KKBox would turn a profit in 2007 although it planned to pay those participating record companies licensing fees of between 4 and 5 million USD in total.

When fewer and fewer people would pay for physical CDs ('It sounds cool; can you send me the mp3?' I bet this kind of request is not unfamiliar), some artists move on to an old track, switching back to the vinyl. I suppose vinyl records remind or good old days and mean more value to some musicians and fans. However, in order to serve the mass market, they offer digital downloads as well.

For example, Zoey Van Goey, a Glasgow-based trio made up of my doctoral colleague Matt Brennan and the other two members, Michael John McCarthy and Kim Moore, released their debut single Foxtrot Vandals on 7" vinyl and digital download in October 2007.

In an era when physical CD sales continue to dive and retailers diversify into DVDs, video games or other audio-vidual software, online music sales, together with mobile ringtones or other digital spinoff merchandising, will sooner or later become a major source of revenue. Legal online music stores such as eMusic and iTune Store will for sure serve as an important distribution channel for record companies.

Unfortunately, KKBox does not support Mac users. I can neither preview nor purchase anything from its site. Although I'm with iTune Store, it does not offer Mandarin pop, and therefore, well, I'm still on the illegal side when it comes to domestic music industry.

07 January 2008

Between Japanese nymphs and Western stunners

(AKB48's sinlge Yûhi Wo Miteiruka?)

Before squeezing ourselves on to the densely thronged pavement two blocks away from Taipei 101, we watched the annual year-end Red & White Song Battle (kôhaku uta gassen 紅白歌合戦).

Although having long known that I have unusual, or perhaps peculiar, taste for women, my wife Fanne still grumbled with a frown of befuddlement and shook her head back and forth like a perpetual motion device when seeing me dazzled by those Japanese female idol groups such as Morning Musume (môningu musum モーニング娘) and AKB48 performing at the song battle.

She can't figure out why I would adore, at the one extreme, Japanese nymphs, as well as a young Taiwanese singer and actress Rainie Yang (Yang Chenglin 楊丞琳), and at the other, Western stunners – Ingrid Bergman, Nicole Kidman and Uma Thurman (What a coincidence, all of them have a 'man'!).

Nevertheless, this is Wei. I don't see anything strange in having a crush both on Nicole and on Rainie, just as I don't think there is any incompatibility between reading Jane Austin's works and watching Asian idol dramas.

03 January 2008

Another fireworks display

(Any changes between a married PhD and an unmarried student?)

Standing two blocks away from Taipei 101, I saw 2007 become the past when the fireworks display ushered in 2008 with a bang atop the world's tallest building. Again I shared this moment with the same woman as last year.

SONY won two consecutive bids for the sponsorship of the 2006 and the 2007 fireworks countdown and therefore had 2006 BRAVIA by Sony and 2007 SONY BRAVIA displayed at the tower in respective events. This year the governmental Tourism Bureau is the sponsor so the tag line is 2008 ♥ TAIWAN, showing no commercial brand name.

Rumour has it that this would become the last annual pyrotechnic show at Taipei 101 because the building is expected to reach full occupancy by the end of 2008 and thus space for holding fireworks displays will no longer be available. In addition, the occupiers may not grant permission to instal the sponsor's illuminations on the exterior of their offices. Hence, my first new year's countdown with fireworks at Taipei 101 after I tied the knot may become the last.

Whether the fireworks takes place again next year, this year's show could prove to be the last time Taipei 101 brings in the new year as the tallest building in the world, because this building will lose the title to another skyscraper, the Dubai Tower, in late 2008 (I thought it was Shanghai World Financial Centre that would supersede Taipei 101, but according to CTBUH, it wouldn't).

I hope wherever I am at year end, I'll still be able to count down to 2009 with my wife, even though we have to count one more day in February 2008.

Watch the video clip and see if the spectacular display of 12,000 rounds of fireworks at a cost of 646,000 USD has outshone last year's show.