Twitter Changing Font!

If you’re a Twitter user, you may have noticed a slight change on your Twitter (apparently more obvious on the web browser version), and that is the typography. The article I read screamed the headline, “Twitter abandons one of humanity’s most widely used fonts” which sounds a little dramatic for a change of design. The font has changed from Helvetica to Gotham. I’m not too sure what that means, but looking at it now, I don’t see any change. Maybe it hasn’t been laden out yet? Even if it has, I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell the difference.

But the talk of fonts brings me to something I may have mentioned before on this blog — and that is the mysterious nature of fonts. No ordinary human being can write perfectly like any font type, and yet we are able to recognise instantly what word is being reflected on the screen, even if the letters are sometimes so deviant from our own written way — think, for example, of the small letters “a” and “g”. We can distinguish so easily the words in hundreds of fonts out there, no matter how different they may be. This seems quite fantastic to me. It’s almost like being able to tell instantly what a person is saying despite his accent, which we can’t always do.

Of course, majority of the fonts out there have very subtle differences, and look rather plain and businesslike. As we grow older, we realise that these are the best fonts for looking professional yet chic, and we start to grow out of our Comic Sans MS. To the font experts out there, there are 2 main groups of fonts, “serif” and “sans serif”. Serif fonts are fonts that have a line attached to the end of each stroke in a letter. An example is Garamond, where you see every letter has these little strokes at their ends. The idea is that these strokes distinguish letters in a typeface and make them easier to read (though research shows this isn’t always true).

You will notice the font on this blog is also very vaguely serif. Typewriter fonts are of course also serif. Times New Roman is also serif, even though it’s considered a “transitional serif”, meaning it’s more modern and less pronounced than Garamond.

Some designers prefer sans serif, and indeed these are better to give off a casual, playful feel, and also go better with art. “Sans” means “without”, so sans serif fonts have no stroke at the ends of their letters. Sans serif fonts include Century Gothic and Arial. Just a note, in some olden terms, serif fonts are known as “Roman” and sans serif fonts known as “Gothic” or “Grotesque”, which explains the names of Times New Roman and Century Gothic. Sans serif fonts are typically used amidst serif writing to give emphasis on particular words because they are typically darker (which is why some people really like Arial).

I personally dislike Arial and much prefer serif fonts, which I think seem much more refined. What do you think?

Also, to refer back to the Twitter fonts to compare, here’s the link: http://www.engadget.com/2014/05/30/twitter-switches-from-helvetica-to-gotham/

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The Mystery of Aircrafts

Ever since the MH370 incident, I think people all over the world are starting to take note of the many things they do not know about aircraft. Today, as I wait at the airport for an aeroplane to arrive, I once again came across a mystery — why does the same airplane bear different airline numbers?

You may not notice it, but the same flight can have different numbers — Qantas QF81, then MU to represent China Eastern, and a variety of other numbers, but all on the same flight, with the same plane. I can only assume the flight number is not strictly the aeroplane’s numberplate, but is rather a sign that the airplane’s entire route started perhaps from China, which is why it was sanctioned by the Chinese airline, then flew to Australia, and landed in Singapore. None of the civilians, as far as I know, have ever derived a satisfactory answer to this.

A second question is, well, just what is behind flight delays? When a plane is delayed, is it literally circling the airport tower, looking for a chance to land? How do airplanes coordinate their landing so they do not bump into each other? These are perhaps more of questions of curiosity and technical details, which we cannot hope to understand anyway, but it would be interesting just how these signals are communicated around among the airport and the many planes.

After all, the MH370 incident has shed light on some strange practices, such as sending position signals that aren’t equivalent to actual position, for one. We certainly hope our pilots know what they’re doing, but it’s quite interesting that the realm of aeroplanes has so much of its own technical knowledge. How do planes handle turbulence and storms? How does cabin pressure drop? What happens when a plane is travelling over ocean and encounters problems? What happens if it’s over land? Why do we always see the wings when we look out our windows?

Okay that last question is a bit troll, but it is true that pretty much the entire aircraft is a “wing seat”. There’s never a position, I find, where you don’t find some part of the wing blocking your view.

And of course the mystery behind airplane food. They say our appetites drop when we’re at high altitudes. They also say airplane meals are specially prepared and designed. What were the considerations? Is it that the food really tastes bad or is it attributed to our decreased appetite? So many many questions.

We will find answers on the internet, of course, as it is for everything, but the documentaries I’ve seen tended to put airplane food in a positive light (for Singapore Airlines, at any rate) so I’m inclined to take it with a pinch of salt.

What other things have you always been wondering about planes?

Music Matters — Japan Night

It was last Thursday when I attended the Japan stage of Music Matters 2014, where the 3 bands: Cream, the Oral Cigarettes and Naoto Inti Raymi came to Singapore to perform for about 35 minutes each. You would have seen who these 3 performers are from a previous entry, so I’ll dive down to the live analysis.

Overall

Overall I would say this is a far cry from last year. It had Flumpool and SID, so there was obviously no comparison. The main difference, I think, is that the performers this year weren’t as focused on singing properly as they were on making us all excitable. There was a lot of cheering, shouting, asking us to sing along, until it struck me that they weren’t singing many of their better tunes. Maybe it’s also something to do with the discomforting heat that they chose the much easier songs to sing, but it basically felt more like watching a series of stage circus performances than actually listening to professional singers.

That said, both Cream and Naoto had a large crowd of fans who came to support. I guess this would be a memorable night for them, because I would think indie fans get even less of a chance than us mainstream fans to see their idols live on stage.

Cream

The woman in Cream, Minami, wore a gigantic bra and baggy exercise pants. I kid you not. It is a strategic gesture on her part, as the weather is simply unbearable, but it was still quite distracting to see her necklace over her cleavage and her bared stomach dripping with perspiration. And when she’s jumping up and down you swear those pants are going to come off. Oh, and she tied her hair into 2 buns on her head. 1 side of her hair is a lighter blonde while the other side is brown, so it’s rather artistic.

What’s going for her is that she speaks English really well, with an American accent to boot. And she’s quite friendly so the atmosphere was still nice. The rapper guy spoke less but he wore his trademark sunglasses and his rapping was of course pretty good. There was 1 dumb song where they kept going “sake and sushi, sake and sushi, sake and sushi” in English. So you can see what I mean by the kinds of low-quality songs you hear on stage.

However, 1 memorable song they sang, which was their last song, was Shooting Star. Minami belted out the “shooting star” part with great strength, but for some reason always needed to kneel on the ground when she did it. Like as if she can’t sing powerful parts while standing up.

The Oral Cigarettes

Well, I frankly didn’t expect much more from the Oral Cigarettes anyway. There was one time when they asked us to chime “maou … something… sanjou” which supposedly meant “the demon lord has arrived”, which was the first line of their next song or something. Which is quite dumb because I’m sure nobody really wants to mutter this line repeatedly. Sounds almost cultist. Then again, their band name isn’t particularly clean and pure anyway.

But yeah, this is absolutely a band that’s just starting out. They don’t have any spectacular songs yet. Oh, and the guitarist has the most stupid action. He likes to basically lift his leg in the air, put it down again, then lift it again. It makes him look like a dog about to pee! I’m sure that someday their managers will tell him to stop doing that.

Naoto Inti Raymi

First thing I noticed is that he must be hot under that cap, scarf and jacket. Unfortunately that is his style. He also brought along 4 men as backup dancers and did what looked like a bunch of comedic routines. You know in Japanese videos you sometimes have people behind doing absurd dances while you sing? That’s what those men did. I mean yeah they danced well, but you get the feeling the whole thing is not very funny. They are energetic though, which is good.

Naoto himself is pretty okay I think. He doesn’t have very many fast songs, so he’s got to sing some slower ones. He did a Japanese rendition of that Coca Cola World Peace song. I forgot its name but you should look it up. So yeah, it wasn’t altogether bad, but his songs are a little bit too country for me.

The Juveniles

Before Japan Night began there was a band doing an opening act, called the Juveniles. The Juveniles sound perfectly English, so it’s hard to believe they’re French. However, they do look distinctly French. The vocalist has a nice boyish look, and he looks cute rummaging his curly hair often. However, there came a time when he started doing it a bit too often, and I started wondering if it was on purpose. There was also a black, I believe, who did something nifty with these electronic plates that make noises when you tap them.

Come to think of it, the entire band is made up of some strange instruments. There are those plates, and there was a keyboard, and there was a weird radio transistor-looking thing that the vocalist would fiddle with and make the sound higher or lower. There was once he made it so high and loud that everyone just covered their ears. So, yeah, not entirely a comfortable experience.

At the end of the performances the bands would say that they wanted to come back again. We would of course politely cheer, but I would think to myself, “please come back only if SID isn’t intending to come back; I wouldn’t want you to take their place”. Or Flumpool or Weaver, really.

But still, this is a good chance to get exposed to Japanese up-and-coming performers. I do look forward to seeing who would be coming the next time.

Animated Suspense

There’re certain genres in anime that I feel will work better in live action, and also certain live action shows that are more effective in anime. For instance, magic, epic battles and anything exaggerated should in my opinion stick to animation. There is simply no way a live adaptation of Dragonball or Avatar: The Legend of Aang is going to beat the animated version, or even come close. However, there are 2 genres that I believe would work much better in live action, and they are: mystery and horror.

I’ve been watching Kindaichi Returns recently. It’s pretty okay, nothing spectacular yet, but I often feel a sense of emptiness watching the anime. I suppose it is pretty close to horror, because I remember when I watched murder mysteries (including Trick) I would feel a chill in my spine, wondering what was going on, and how the characters would ever get out of it! In anime, the sense of fear is somehow lost. When watching anime, I fail to get into the reality of the situation. After all, this whole thing is animated. The characters aren’t real. The animator can just draw something out to save everybody.

Another more important point is that in anime, you have a sense of doubt, that everything works because the artists can simply draw it that way. For instance, many murder mysteries like to use science to explain solutions. For instance, an episode of Detective Galileo showed how liquids react and change colour, and it was convincing because it was live action. Whereas if you see it in anime, you might think, “ah, the artists can re-colour it anyway they wish, since it’s all phony”. The miracles of nature fail to be convincing.

Same goes with horror too. I don’t feel that I identify with the characters because the situation seems very made up. This also includes romance. The true feeling of real flesh-and-blood characters isn’t there, so I don’t identify with them. The characters are too perfect, too well-drawn, everything is too ideal, that realism is gone. This is why fantasy works particularly well in anime, though, because every single artistic detail can be pinned down perfectly, and complexity and intricacy show off the artists’ expertise.

It’s not that all realistic stories fall flat in anime though. After all, Kotoha no Niwa, a Shinkai Makoto film, worked because the natural surroundings were drawn with such lifelike detail, the music stirred the emotions so much, that everything felt natural and real. Characters were drawn realistically and painstakingly, without the exaggerated anime eyes or breasts. If the storytelling had been a bit better, the movie would have been perfect. As it stands, the film isn’t particularly good because the plot was executed poorly, not because of the animation.

Of course, we also tend to cast a critical eye on live action adaptations of anime. No real-life person can ever look like their anime counterpart (though Koike Teppei does look like a perfect anime character). We will always feel dissonant when we see, say, a live action version of Sailor Moon, because it’s obvious they’re wearing wigs, and their complexions simply aren’t the same. It probably works the other way around too. I watched Kindaichi as a live action TV drama first, which is quite different from the anime version, and so I felt a bit out of touch with the character too. That said, I still think that live action and anime afford different viewing experiences, and really, some shows still work better in 1 than in another.

Narrative Focus

No matter how great or creative an author is, there is one trait about their writing styles that is very hard to shake off, and will determine the kinds of stories they write, and that is the things they deem important.

As an author, you’ve probably created a vast number of characters of all different sorts: male and female, strong and weak, but if you look back at your own characters and compare them with other people, you may find that it’s still easy to tell which characters were created by you and which were by others, because certain aspects of the characters are viewed as more important. For example, some person may emphasise a lot on appearance, and puts a lot of focus on defining his characters’ looks — aquiline nose, big eyes, and write a lot of detail into his clothing. Another person may believe that everyone in this world is always out to grab every opportunity that life throws at them, and therefore all his characters are successful in some way — they take charge of their lives, they seize opportunities that come their way.

A good author is supposed to be able to observe the people around him and use them as source material for his stories, but the fact remains that we see the world in our own eyes, with our own values and biases. Even as we observe a person’s actions, we justify them using our own reasoning, and dismiss the things we don’t understand. My stories touch very lightly, if at all, on technical details and logical processes, because I am bad at technical stuff and don’t know a lot of the terms. It’s not that I wish to leave that part out, but I just cannot think of how to do it convincingly.

Of course, this is what authors consider their “niche”. If you suck at writing about real life, stick to science fiction. That is all well and good, but you’ll find that even in your sci-fi stories your characters are different from other science fiction stories. Your characters may say snarkier things because that’s how you view the world, or they may not talk at all because you wouldn’t talk if you were in their situation. Our characters are a lot more like us than we think, and even if we try not to, we do sub-consciously make them act like how we would act. It is just a matter of us having incomplete understanding of the world.

And this is fascinating to me. It’s fascinating how far our empathy for other people can extend. Does the ability to make varied characters make us a more empathetic person, better able to step into the shoes of others? If we make a character that’s supposed to be just like ourselves, how similar will he be to what others perceive of others? In a way, stories are like us seeking an alternative life, and can tell a lot about the person himself, even if he tries not to make the character like him.

I’m Eyeing You All The Time

So the New York Times published an article some time back about eye contact. Eye contact seems to be very socially important, to the extent that brands make products with mascots that specifically look straight at you, and they’re effective in getting you to buy them. And we all know that everything psychologically important has been exploited by marketers at some point in time.

The article added that eye contact makes a person more likeable and trustworthy, which is little wonder that Mao has been so successful — I mean, his entire image centres around eye contact, to the extent that the rest of his face was intentionally downplayed to maximise attention on his eyes. That said, the article also acknowledges that Asians break eye contact more quickly than Westerners. My friend once said that she was uncomfortable that her Western professor was looking her in the eye so much and for so long. To us Asians, you don’t look into the eyes of somebody in authority — that seems almost defiant. However, to Westerners, it’s considered rude not to look into the eyes of a person with authority. That’s where conflict sometimes occurs.

I’ve read somewhere else, though, that the desirable kind of eye contact differs between gender. Women like men who look at them from the side, whereas men like women who look at them from the front. I believe that from the side, facial features become sharper. The nose and chin seem more prominent, and testosterone is mainly centred around making the face more well-defined, so women think men look better when turned to the side. On the other hand, women’s attractiveness depends on eyes and lips, which are both more prominent from the front, so women should be sure to turn fully towards a man when she looks at him, rather than casting a sidelong glance. Besides, with such long hair, women’s faces would likely be obscured at the side. I haven’t really ascertained if TV shows make use of this property, but do check out some romance dramas and see if I’m right! The camera would insist on capturing women at full frontal profile, but men would be shot from the side.

I’ve met many people who avoid eye contact when they talk, sometimes purposely so, even. It can be quite obvious, and deeply unsettling — you often wonder what precisely they’re looking at when they’re talking. These people also tend to keep a distance from you; they don’t want to get too close. I can see why people would call them distant, callous and unfriendly. After all, eyes are the best way to tell certain emotions in people, such as fear. This reminds me of a psychological disorder named the Urbach-Wiethe Disease, where sufferers do not feel or recognise fear. This woman with the disease, when asked to draw a person feeling fear, said she didn’t know what such people looked like. It turned out that it was because she doesn’t look at people’s eyes, but rather other features like their mouths, which tell little when a person is fearful!

Not only that, she was not afraid of danger. She touched venomous snakes with barely a thought, and laughed when inside a haunted house. It was very frightening.

Back to eye contact. Here’s the full article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/17/sunday-review/the-eyes-have-it.html?_r=0

MMOs: Looks vs Battles

It feels late, but I went on the Phantasy Star Online 2 website just now, and it looks pretty epic. What amused me was that the players were more concerned about splurging on costumes for their characters than what seemed to me to be the main point: fighting. Of course, fighting is still important, and PSO players still deliberated on the best class to get. From the website, I saw the 3 basic classes: Hunter (melee), Ranger (ranged) and Force (support/magic). There’re more to be unlocked later in the game, but they aren’t revealing them on the website! In addition, there’re 3 races to complement them: Human, Newman and Cast. I know what the burning question in your minds is: can I still make a moe woman if I choose Newman or Cast? The answer, luckily, is yes. Everyone can be moe if you want them to!

But my main point in this entry is not to talk about PSO2, but to talk about the increasing importance of looks in the game. My friend was fretting over which costume to purchase in Dragon Nest, because they all looked so cute. The growing trend (or has it been a trend all along?) is that players fight and grind (and by grinding I mean the excruciatingly boring act of fighting the same monster over and over again) to earn gold, and then use the gold to buy beautiful costumes. Sounds like a materialistic lifestyle in reality, but guess what, that’s the lifestyle of most women anyway. Work hard, earn money, buy nice things to wear.

So when they say games propagate a capitalist mindset, I think this is what they mean. In games, saving has no purpose. There’s no bank for you to earn interest. You only save up to buy that one expensive thing. There are no “emergencies” or rainy days. This mindset may permeate the youngsters of society to think that money is meant for spending. And spending on utterly superficial items, no less.

I have a strange feeling when it comes to men who spend too much money or time getting the perfect best costumes for their female characters. I am highly sensitive to gender power issues, and to me the idea of a man who is too preoccupied with how his woman looks cannot be a good thing. Imagine if you’re a woman, and your husband is continually telling you “wear this; it looks much better than whatever you’re wearing now. Don’t want? Come on, it’s not that costly, I’ll pay for it.” Many women may acquiesce, whether to keep their husband contented, or because the money does come to them quite freely, anyway. But I would feel like a doll, looking like how my husband wants me to look, and not having my own individuality.

Of course, I do think I am thinking too much. Whatever you do in games does not always translate into reality (in fact, the point of playing games is to do stuff you wouldn’t do in reality) but if you transpose this “appearance matters” mindset directly into reality, this is what you get. Does it seem pleasant to you? Just some food for thought.

Expat Living in Singapore

The Thursday column is primarily about other countries that I’m interested in, but it would be remiss to overlook Singapore, which is also a travel destination, and is particularly popular for expatriates to live in. After all, most of us speak English as our first language, which already places us higher than other parts of Asia. The only other Asian country I can think of with a good command of English is Hong Kong, but they belong to China now (so I really must stop calling them a country) and I expect Chinese regulations are still a lot more stringent than Singaporean ones when it comes to business. Maybe.

I believe I never really knew what foreigners think of the Singaporean accent. We poke fun at the Hong Konger accent very often (at least, Singaporeans do) but what do they think of us? Are we so boring that our accent isn’t even noteworthy? I haven’t encountered a situation where a foreigner didn’t understand our accent yet, so all should be well on that front.

In any case, while I’m on the subject of Singapore and Hong Kong, I found a useful and beautiful website to guide expats on living in these 2 countries. Expat Living Singapore has articles on a variety of aspects of Singapore, organised into categories like “Kids”, “Homes”, “Wine & Dine” etcetera. In each category there are also sub-categories. Under Kids, there are things like “Mums & Babies”, “Tweens & Teens” etcetera. It’s quite comprehensive and useful to know. It lists the top infectious diseases to watch out for in Singapore, showcases the homes of some expats, and of course recipes for cooking with Singaporean ingredients. I envy expats reading this thing! I bet there’re loads of things in there that I don’t know myself.

The website is just http://www.expatliving.sg.

I think, though, that 1 big thing to note when in Singapore (which I’m unsure if the website really covers) is that it’s almost always a waste of time asking locals for directions — especially the younger ones. Older people are alright, but a youngster will just look back at you with glazed eyes even when your destination is right in front of him. Singaporeans just rely too much on Google Maps to bother remembering where anything is in the vicinity, and are pretty much also a bunch of not-alert and not-curious people. So if you want to go anywhere, always consult a map or Google Maps before asking people. Unless you want to ask them to help you check Google Maps, which they will gladly do.

Sometimes reading these articles reminds me of things I take for granted too. The medical article, for instance, says Singapore is packed and therefore colds and flus spread easily, and also that Singapore being a warm and humid country ensures viruses stay active and infectious for longer than colder climates. And I start wondering whether Singaporeans do fall sick more often than people in temperate climates in that case. I’ve heard many people mention such, that viruses survive better in our happy sunny climate (really, everything thrives in this kind of climate, even fruits) and indeed, there’re many diseases that occur only in tropical countries. However, there’re many Singaporeans who have never fallen ill for most of their lives, so maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds?

Either way, be sure to take care of your health when you’re coming to Singapore, and consider spending a year or 2 here. We’ve commonly been named one of the best countries to live in anyway, and especially so in Asia!

Singing Gestures

My friend recently showed me a stage performance of his favourite Japanese duo, Chage & Aska. They seem to be an oldish duo who sing rather oldish songs, but what struck me the most was the humourous repetitive gesture of 1 of them (Aska, I believe). As he was singing, he kept holding out a finger, moving it upwards, then putting his finger behind him, before holding it out again, rinse and repeat. It’s a pretty funny gesture if you’ve spotted it, which brings to mind some other signature moves by other artistes on stage.

For instance, we all know LiSA’s signature body jerks on stage, much like how she does it in her music videos. FLOW has some signature moves as well, like holding their hands out. And of course, SID has probably carefully orchestrated their every move and rehearsed it many times over. Even so, Mao has some moves he always uses when performing, like holding up 2 fingers when singing “futari”. I’m sure fans of SID will know of many other moves that appear regularly.

Contrast that with Faye Wong, the Chinese singer who is famous for not knowing how to dance, at all. She always stands stoically straight as she sings, refusing to move her body more than she is comfortable with. Well she has always been known as being a bit of a diva, but her vocals are so great that her temperament is forgiven. In fact, some find her endearing, because she tells you what she thinks without sugar-coating her words. If she doesn’t want you to interview her, she’ll just tell you to your face, “no, I don’t want.”

And really, sometimes I pity rock or metal bands. Not only are their songs quite taxing to sing, the vocalists are also required to make exaggerated body movements, jumping, screaming at the audience, cheering. And yet they have to preserve their voices for singing 20 to 30 songs at 1 go. I can imagine that much of pre-concert preparation goes towards arranging the songs to be least demanding on the throat.

And how do you move when you sing? I know a friend who shakes his head whenever he sings in karaoke, so he’ll be singing and swaying the microphone and shaking his head. Most people will move their non-mic hand in some way, though usually in a repetitive motion that’s just as funny. You may want to take a look yourself at how you move when singing, especially when you’re not using a microphone. Do you stand still or sway, and are your hands tucked obstinately to the side?