From:    Nordin Ibrahim
Date:    12 April 2010

My wife had a problem with Facebook.

After managing to locate several of her school friends from over 20 years ago, she posted in her Facebook a scanned picture of her school’s entire Form 1 class, comprising of over 150 pupils.

The scanned Form 1 class photo was big – 4,384 pixels wide, necessarily that big to allow one to identify one’s face on the crowded photo. But Facebook have a limit – any uploaded picture bigger than 604 pixels along the longest edge would be automatically scaled down and displayed as 604 pixels. Suddenly one would not be able to identify one’s face in the crowd..

To help her out, I created a directory with her name on my paid webserver, then uploaded the big photo into a sub-directory there and created a special HTML webpage for her.

But then I had a problem.

If her friends or anyone else were to type the sub-directory’s name, then the entire content would be listed on the browser. That was no good. My routine solution was to create a web page with some text message to tell the visitor to type a proper URL. That’s a polite way of saying “don’t snoop around here…” 🙂

While doing the page, I had a flash of an idea – why not write the message in all major languages of the world? After all, internet is universally accessible world-wide.

I completed the page in just a few minutes, but then it occurred to me that not all my target audience would be able to read the message in its entirety, because not all would have on their computers exotic non-Roman fonts such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Thai.

Then, AaHa

It dawned on me –

why not use a graphics format such as jpeg or gif,

which every web browser, on every computer in the world is equipped to read by default, thus making my message able to be displayed correctly, thus assuring that it would indeed reach my target audience as I had intended.

The solution looked like this ….

Nothing interesting here - in world languages

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Gukje Market, Busan

On the way to Gukje Market, Busan

Raj, Yati and Hasrul in the lanes of Gukje Market

Hasrul in one of the market's souvenir shops

A barbed wire said to be taken from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Busan on a plate

Sheila and friends from the Philippines and Raj

Brief respite at Gukje Market, after 8 days of non-stop meetings

Colorful bolster pillows (Malaysian-"bantal golek"), very nice but sadly too bulky for the flight home

A cute pair of hippos

Among colorful pillows and fluffy stuff

Yati and Marina, engrossed in girl talk 🙂

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Our aircraft, a Malaysia Airlines Airbus A330-300 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia

A sister aircraft, another Airbus A330-300. My seat was right on the left wing root of our plane

The aircraft during a scheduled midnight transit stop at Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. The cabin had just been cleaned, and transit co-passengers as well as new ones had not yet boarded the plane

Our aircraft on landing approach into Incheon International Airport, the main gateway to Korea. The local time was 6.36 am on Sunday 21st March 2010.

Just landed, and taxiing off the main runway towards the terminal

A beautiful Korean sunrise awaited us upon landing in Incheon

A cup of orange juice during the short 40 minute hop from Incheon to Busan

Inside view of our Korean Air Boeing 737-900 aircraft

Busan International Airport personnel unloading our luggage, in the 9.54 am freezing morning air

On the road from Busan Airport to Haeundae Beach, where our hotel was located

The Haeundae beach, from my room. The air was really cold.

Another view of the Haeundae beach, with my room's balcony chairs visible on the foreground

The Haeundae Market, Busan

A restaurant signboard in Haeundae Market

Live "haruan-like" fish

Live eels. We were there in time to see a lady shop owner skinned several of these


More strawberries

Closer view of the strawberries

These beauties were very sweet

Korean yellow melons


It was a cold day. This heater was in one of the shops, the heating element glowing red

A gateway into Haeundae Market

A pack of Korean persimmons I got from the market

A close-up of the fruit

The juicy and sweet persimmon, cut in two halves

My breakfast on the first day in Busan

Strawberries for breakfast

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It is 11.36 pm Korean time. In Malaysia it is 10.36 pm, which is 1 hour behind Korea/Japan time. Today is my 4th day here in Busan. From a tourist perspective, I suppose I have not seen anything of Korea yet. Maybe towards the end of my stay here I would have some spare time to see the place.

I arrived here mid-morning of Sunday 21st March, after a 12-hour total journey which took me from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu on Malaysia Airlines Airbus A330-300, then a 1-hour same-aircraft transit, then onwards to Incheon International Airport near Seoul, before boarding a Korean Air Boeing 737-900 for a domestic 40-minute hop to Busan.

The journey from Kuala Lumpur to Incheon took the whole night. Exhausted due to lack of sleep, I only managed to go to Lotteria, a McD-equivalent outlet, for lunch and then to a nearby Haeundae district market for an initial look-and-see.

Lots of fresh fruits at the market, which is really a long pedestrian street with shops on both sides. Strawberries, apples, persimmons and yellow Korean melons abound. The strawberries were very sweet, and the price were very agreeable. I must return there and grab a box, or two, or more, whilst I’m still here.

There were also lots of seafood including several varieties of seaweed and fish. Many of the fish were …. alive and writhing, such as eels and a haruan-like species. At one shop the lady owner inadvertently gave us an intriguing demonstration of how to skin live eels. She casually pinned the head on the wooden board, passed the skinner knife the whole length of the eel, then in a fluid movement peeled off the skin, before chucking the still writhing meat into a bowl. One of my colleagues could not stand the sight and had to step back 🙂 Many of the shops also cook the seafood there and then for the customers. But I was not that adventurous yet.

Compared to Malaysia, the weather here is cold. I think that is not an overstatement, because my colleagues here from cooler climates such as Japan, China and Taiwan, were also feeling the cold – several of them wore sweaters and jackets in the meeting room. No sweaters for me were necessary yet even though I brought two pairs here for contingency. So far, a long-sleeved shirt with a cotton V-necked t-shirt underneath were sufficient. That, and many cups of hot coffee and cookies had enabled me to make it through the day. Tonight the temperature is dipping down to 0° Celsius.

Busan weather

The gymnasium. On Monday and Tuesday evenings I managed to log Life Fitness treadmill times of 47 minutes (557 kcal) and 50 minutes (603 kcal) respectively. Quite a good workout for me. However, today is an unexpectedly forced rest day – “In compliance with the government’s policy on energy conservation, the Hotel’s Health & Spa facilities (Sauna, Outdoor, Hot Spring, Spas, Outdoor Pool, Gym, Indoor Driving Range, Barbershop, Beauty Salon) will be closed this month 4th Wednesday (24th March 2010)”.

It’s now past midnight. Signing out. Tomorrow is another full day here on the sedate shores of Haeundae, Busan. And looking forward to resume time on Life Fitness at the hotel’s gym.

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The engine

My bike, in scattered pieces on the bike shop floor, one month after it quit on me.

But I am not about to quit on it. I have given a go ahead to Elsie, the shop’s owner, to proceed ordering the required replacement parts from Japan.

InsyaAllah (God willing) the workhorse would be back on the road better, stronger and  faster, by the time I completed my assignment in South Korea at the end of the month.

The strong cruiser looked very frail without its twin 535 cc V-engine and the curvy exhaust pipes

The cylinders and top parts of the engine

The engine body, minus its covers and cylinders, exposing the clutch, oil pump, pistons and timing chains

Top view of the engine body, with the drive shaft joint visible on the top left corner of this picture

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Adapting to change

It was today last month that my long-established daily routine came to a sudden halt.

I was riding the Virago from work. While sailing down the flyover at Subang Jaya’s SS15 neighborhood about 5 km from home, the bike’s engine went dead. Pressing the start button did not elicit any turning of the starter motor. Engaging the second gear and trying to momentum-start the engine also achieved nothing. The engine stayed silent.

I had to leave the bike on a grass verge at a nearby side road. After locking the back wheel with a heavy duty chain, I walked home. About half a kilometer later a taxi I flagged stopped by and that became my ride the rest of the way. I made it home just in time to do Maghrib prayer before its time ended.

That night I returned to the bike place with a friend. After tying the bike’s front forks with a car tow rope and tying the other end to the back of his Nissan 4WD, I rode the unpowered bike in the dark drizzly night for 20 harrowing minutes before arriving home.

The loss of use of the bike forced me to drive my MPV daily to work. I now had to leave home as early as 6.45 am to get ahead of the crazy traffic congestion. With the bike I had the luxury of leaving as late at 8.00 am and still got to office in time, 20 minutes later.

With that my daily exercise routine was thrown haywire. I could no longer do my usual 50 minutes morning workout before going to office. I ran the risk of losing the momentum and the successes that I had been building up for the past 9 months. After work I had to battle the same crazy traffic, arriving home at 6.30 pm if I was lucky. And if there was no rain, I could then do my workouts.

It was not a pleasant and predictable situation. I needed to realign my schedule. Three days ago I found an agreeable solution.

My work clothes in bag, at office's shower room

I would leave home in my jogging attire at 6.45 am, arrive at the office at 7.30 am with ample free parking still available, and do my workouts at the office before my colleagues arrive. Yesterday and today I found that walking down the stairs from my office to the ground floor, 20 stories high, and walk up back again, would take 12 minutes and give me a very good cardiovascular and strength workout. Then a 5-lap walk around the office floor in between the desks topped up with some flexibility and stretching routines would give me a total workout of 30 minutes. Not bad for a makeshift workout program.

The L'Occitane shower gel, with hair cream in my custom travel pack

Then at 8.00 am or thereafter I would take my gym bag with my work clothes in it to the floor’s shower room, have a good refreshing wash with L’Occitane aromatherapy shower gel that I had discovered on Boracay Island, Philippines last January.

In the evening after battling the crazy traffic, I would then do my normal routine of 8-10 laps at the neighborhood playground. If it rains then I have a choice of jogging around my neighborhood later at around 10 pm, so that I could still maintain my 50-60 minutes evening workout quota.

I’m looking forward to the time that my bike is back on the road, maybe after the Korean trip at the end of the month. That notwithstanding, I now have more flexibility in getting my workout quota, and getting nearer to my fitness objective, come what may.

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Constant Change

It’s an ever changing world.

Change surrounds us. Regardless of how we handle it, change continues unabated. As with many other things in life, we can choose the way we face change. We can choose to accept it, and adjust our life to accommodate it. Or we can choose (sometimes stubbornly) to resist change or try to ignore it, but at the end change always win.

Because change is natural, it is best that we choose to accept it. Our feelings and emotions in facing change are natural, and part of the things that make us human. We feel sad and tearful to leave behind friends and people we know, when the time to leave comes. Let those sweet times be forever etched in our memory, and look forward to meet new friends, people and places.

Sometimes we hear people say that in this world the only constant is change.

That’s true. And also not true. Because as with change which surrounds us, we are also surrounded by constants, which are unchanged, albeit for their appointed time:

electron mass is 9.10938215 x 10^-31 kg
proton mass is 1.672621637 x 10^-27 kg
neutron mass is 1.674927211 x 10^-27 kg
pi is 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 .. .. .. .
speed of light in vacuum is 299,792.458 km/s

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Sailing softly through the sun

08.55 am Malaysia (+08.00).

I’m here in the Innova parked somewhere in Rawang town, 45km out of my USJ Subang Jaya home; typing this entry on a Dell Inspiron laptop powered by the MPV’s electrical system through a DC-AC inverter and connected to the world via a BlackBerry Bold tethered as a 3G/HSPA wireless modem.

After returning from a week of work in Singapore two days ago on Saturday 27th Feb, I’ve taken an off work today to attend to a personal matter here in Rawang. I’ve been trying to get a place at a school here for my daughter ‘Aishatul since last December 2009, but have not yet been successful. Time is running out. The longer the delay in getting the place, the more difficult it might be for her to adjust to the new school. Changes are always difficult for anyone. But while in Singapore, I received word that there might be an opening at the school. That’s the reason I’m here today now.

I left home at 7.30 am, and became quickly mired in the morning heavy traffic within USJ. At the bridge over Federal Highway exiting Subang Jaya township, I could see a non-moving river of vehicles on the highway below. Lucky me, I had two choices to go to the NKVE-PLUS highway towards Rawang – one was to join the mad crowd on the Federal Highway below, or second, to go straight on through an alternative route via Glenmarie. It was a no-brainer – I took the second choice.

On the NKVE highway, northbound, the traffic was blissfully smooth flowing. But strangely the traffic southbound was really, really heavy. I did not know why. I saw no reason for the congestion when I entered the highway at Subang tollgate. Maybe it was the sheer volume of men and machines going somewhere south.

Anyway, 45 minutes later I am here. I have some time for myself before going to the school to meet the headmistress. I had not yet had breakfast. But that is normal.

Listening to Jean Michel Jarre’s hypnotic Magnetic Fields from the French composer’s Les Chants Magnétiques 1981 electronic synthesizer album, his third after Oxygène and Equinoxe; my mind sailed softly through the morning sun across the South China Sea to Boracay Island in the Philippines, then back south to Singapore, and then north home to USJ Subang Jaya, Malaysia.

My personal campaign to get back to a semblance of physical fitness I used to have, now in its 9th month, seems to be on track even though not quite achieving what I had initially projected.

In June 2009, I started with 81 kg (yes, 747 heavy). On 21st January 2010, after nearly 8 months of sweat and tears, and topped with 10 days’ worth of gym during a work retreat in the stunningly beautiful tropical Philippines island of Boracay, the figure went down 12 kg to 69 kg, a 15% reduction.

But that reading was on an analog scale. In Singapore on 27th February 2010, after daily morning and sometimes evening workouts at the hotel’s gym, the figure went down slightly still, to 68.4 kg. In spite of the ripple and yo-yo effect of the figures, I’m still very pleased. It has been several days now that I had been stable in the 69 kg figure and below.

I’m looking forward to continue my daily 8 circuits on the grass around the neighborhood playground for the next 3 weeks, before I leave home yet again, that time maybe to the distant shores of Busan, South Korea.

Ooops, time to go. Until next time.

* ELO’s Strange Magic

sailing softly through the sun
in a broken stone age dawn
You fly
so high
I get a
strange magic

(on YouTube type ELO Strange Magic, look out for Jeff Lynne and ELO performing the classic Strange Magic during the PBS concert in 2001 – 1,561,512 views)

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5 kg @ Gate C3

Monday 11th.

The taxi, a Proton Saga NGV, arrived in front of my house at 7.50 am, scarcely a few minutes after Siti, my other half, phoned for it.

The ride to KLIA, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, was smooth. Less than 40 minutes later I had completed the check-in. I made good time. The MH704 flight to Manila was at 10.15 am, more than 1.5 hours away.

The Muslim Prayer Room at KLIA departure hall

After buying some Philippines Pesos at the airport’s RHB Bank, I sauntered through a connecting corridor to a men’s room, then to the departure level’s surau, a small Muslim prayer room next to the airport’s post office, to renew my wudhu.

That done, I retraced my steps through the connecting corridor and at the far end turned left towards one of the departure gateways. The requisite presentation of boarding pass and I.D. done, I rode the escalator down towards the immigration hall.

KLIA's distinctive tent-style roof, seen from the floor of the immigration hall

I strode across the expansive floor to the rows of automated passport gates, chose one, placed my passport on the reader and pressed my thumb on the scanner. My picture and other information were displayed on the LCD screen, and several seconds later the barrier to the other side opened. I retrieved my passport and walked to the security area.

Halfway there I stopped to stow my watch, PDA, mobile phone, wallet, pen and luggage keys into my backpack pocket. Satisfied that everything on my person especially metallic objects had been safely stashed away, I put the backpack, laptop computer and DSLR camera on the X-ray scanner conveyor, and gingerly stepped through the metal detector gateway.

A KLIA Aerotrain passing us on our way towards the satellite terminal

The alarm sounded, and a pat down body inspection followed. It was my belt’s buckle. Released, I retrieved my hand luggage and made my way towards the airtrain which would take me across the airfield to the satellite terminal, where the MH704 aircraft was parked.

At gate C3 I found a long queue ahead of me. An airline frequent flyer card was of no value here. So I stood in line and waited for the queue to move ever so slowly forward. A woman in front me was talking animatedly into a handsfree kit connected to her BlackBerry phone. From the snippets of conversation that I could not help overhearing, I gathered that she was a finance person, maybe an accountant.

Just inside the door of gate C3 there was another X-ray scanner and metal detector gateway. I passed this second security check with no drama other than the expected frisking due to the belt buckle.

A scale similar to this one awaited us at KLIA's Gate C3

But then after that a strange event unfolded. The passengers were separated into two rows – one went straight through to the departure lounge. The other row was asked by a stern-looking bespectacled lady, uncharacteristic of Malaysia Airlines ground staff, to each put our hand luggage items onto a decidedly classic analog weighing scale. This use of outdated analog scale at a world-class airport must really had been an ad hoc arrangement. Why, even the traders at Seri Kembangan Selangor Wholesale Markets, where I go every 2 weeks to stock up on wet provisions, use digital scales !

Anyway, I was not in a position to demand a digital scale ! First my backpack. She jotted down the weight. Then my laptop computer bag. She noted it again and then totaled the figures. Then she directed me to a nearby desk where there were a couple of girls in front of me. One of them was arguing with the airline staff manning the desk.

I was not aware of this 5-kg restriction

Apparently the airline was enforcing a 5-kg limit on carry-on luggage. The girl pointed out that she was not made aware of the restriction during the check-in, and that the check-in staff did not weigh her carry-on. If that had been done she would have removed certain items to comply. But her arguments were quietly deflected by the staff who showed her that a notice about the 5-kg restriction was printed on everyone’s boarding pass.

My turn came, the staff checked her computer terminal and told me that since my checked-in luggage did not quite reach the 20-kg limit, she could consider my excess carry-on as part of the check-in luggage. She advised me to put as much as possible into the check-in luggage in the future, so that I would not have to undergo a similar hassle.

Well, that new bit of information would be useful for my future trips. Taking things into perspective, it was not so bad after all, considering that my trips would be mainly around Asia and not beyond as they used to be in the past, I hope.

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At Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)

Difficulties we endured, for the country. The red shirt is Hasrul

It’s been 40 minutes since I first sat on this trolley with my back comfortably resting against my heavy luggage, here at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, while waiting for Malaysia Airlines flight MH705 to be called for check-in. With me are my two colleagues, Hasrul and Raj, who had flown and sailed to Boracay Island and back with me, also sitting on their trolleys.

We had resorted to sitting on the trolleys because there are no empty seats left. The departure area we are now camping in directly faces the airport’s Information Counter’s Number 1. The lady staff manning the counter every now and then throw us a smile. Maybe one of us has that certain charm that makes the lady take it easy on us, hehe. That seals it then – we are definitely not going to be asked to remove ourselves from the trolleys.

There is still 40 minutes to go. But no matter – as long as I have my computer connected to a wireless network and my Shure SE530 earphones snugly fitted in, time would pass by very, very quickly.

Tha analog display panel at Terminal 1, NAIA Manila

I switched on my Palm TX PDA, scanned the air for wireless networks and found several of them, including the airport’s free wifi. After confirming with the PDA that the free wifi really allows connections to the internet, I opened my Dell Inspiron notebook PC and connected myself to the world.

I’m just warming up. The battery indicator on my computer shows that I still have 3 hour and 50 minutes to go. But I was interrupted by Hasrul,  who says that the airport’s analog flight display counter had shown our flight had started the check-in.

To be continued…

9:40 pm

Special counter at Manila's NAIA for Malaysia Airlines frequent traveler card holders

I landed at KLIA, the acronym for Kuala Lumpur International Airport, slightly more than one hour ago. The flight from Manila was smooth. The check-in procedure earlier was also hassle-free for me. Having a Malaysia Airlines frequent traveler card helped a lot to speed up the check-in. There was a special counter for us 🙂

Queuing for taxi tickets at KLIA Arrival. Little did we know there was a very long queue for the taxis outside

The only problem is now. I’ve been standing in this taxi queue for the past 15 minutes. The queue is very, very, very long, meandering like a serpent. The only consolation is that my laptop’s battery is still half full. And I’m using the waiting time to continue writing what you are now reading, this interrupted blog….

OK.. I’m nearing the door where the taxis are. Got to sign out for now. I have taken over 3,500 pictures with my EOS DSLR over the past few days. Many good ones, and many need to be pruned. I’d be sharing with you several selected ones. Soon.

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