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An Experiment in Film-Making: The Ocean of Human Existence

Last week, after months of procrastination, I finally tried my hand at film-making.

In this past year, I’ve watched quite a number of breath-taking documentaries and online courses, and I have been quite inspired to make my own videos.

Those who know me would know that I’ve been working on the production of online course videos for some time. However, I’ve not had much experience with narrating or speaking in front of a camera. But most important of all, I’ve not had the experience of writing a script, which I think, is so central to film-making.

I think it would be worthwhile to gain the experience.

I decided to start small, so as to learn from the mistakes and problems that arise along the way.

I must say that the experience of writing a script is very different from writing a blog article. It took me several days to ponder about how I should present the content. The biggest difference is having to imagine what sort of scenes would complement the words of the narrative.

It is challenging, but overall, the experience has been fun!

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If you’re curious about the equipment, I’m using the Sony HDR-MV1 as my primary video camera, and the Olympus Pen E-PL6 as my secondary camera.

I’ve named this short film, “The Ocean of Human Existence.”

This film is based on the advice I received from a senior of mine back in my undergraduate days. His advice is, by far, the most beautiful words of wisdom I’ve ever heard. Back then, I was at a low, overwhelmed and stressed out with many issues in life, but upon hearing his advice, I felt enlightened, liberated from all the cares and burdens of this world.

This has been my guiding principle ever since.

Of course, the first time you encounter such a message, it might sound rather depressing. But there is something truly liberating about it if spend time thinking about it.

This film is meant to be serious, yet peppered with a dash of light-hearted fun. A nihilistic attitude, you could say, which is quite fitting for the message.

Without further ado, I present you… My first film!

If you enjoyed this video, please thumbs-up this video on YouTube and share it with your friends!

 

Transcript

Is it true that everything we do matters in life?
Is it true that we have to get things right every step of the way?
That one wrong move or failure would totally wreck our lives plans?

Is it really true?

Perhaps we think too highly of ourselves.
Perhaps we give ourselves far too much credit for all the successes in life.
Perhaps we don’t really have the power to change the course of our lives.
Perhaps we don’t have the power to change the world.
Perhaps we don’t even have the power to make things right.

Perhaps.

Life is like pissing into the ocean of human existence.
Nothing we do matters.

No matter how much you pee into the ocean, the ocean will not turn yellow.
It is only when the world pees with you at the same time that the ocean turns yellow.
Our actions are successful only because favourable conditions are present.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb:
When you drink water, remember the source.
We are where we are today not because of our own efforts alone.

No.

We are who we are, and where we are today
because of the fortunate and unfortunate circumstances
that are beyond anyone’s control.

We are who we are, and where we are today
because of the people around us,
who shaped us, who helped us, who guided us, who taught us.

We are who we are, and where we are today
because we have been pissing into the ocean of human existence
both in good times and bad; with people we love and people we hate.

But, the ocean remains clear.
Nothing we do matters.

We continue to live.
And we continue to piss.

How to Make Your Own Swiss Army Inspired Key Holder

I’ve always hated the idea of keychains. They make noise when you run, it’s bulky, and worse of all, the keys scratch everything in my bag.

Then I learnt of a key holder that’s designed like a Swiss Army Knife. You can insert keys on both ends of the key holder and unfold each one out just as how you would unfold a blade from a Swiss Army knife.

It’s a pretty cool idea. The keys don’t scatter all over the place, and they certainly won’t scratch your things.

But there is one problem with this design. It looks too much like a Swiss Army knife!

You have no idea how nervous people get whenever I’m in the lift with them, taking out what looks like a swiss army knife from my bag and grasping it in my hand. For the next couple of seconds, the atmosphere gets really tense in the lift. People would just run out the moment the lift door opened, out of fear for their lives.

I since stopped carrying the KeySmart key holder to avoid any misunderstanding.

Since then, I set out to make my own. I loved how the keys were held tightly in place, and covered, so that it would scratch the items in my bag. But I needed one that didn’t look like a swiss army knife.

Here’s what I made in the end:

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This is the key holder that I made for myself.

Turns out, this is really easy to make.

Here’s what you need:

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1. A strip of leather, or any other lovely material that’s not flimsy. (You could always recycle a worn leather bag)

2. A screw rivet. The length of the rivet depends on how many keys you wish to insert. I got one that’s about 1cm long from ArtFriend.

3. Keys, they should all be flat at the head.

Assembly:

Step 1: Cut the leather strip to an appropriate size. I cut mine 16cm x 3cm.

Step 2: Punch two holes on each end of the leather strip. I punched the holes about 1.5cm away from each end.

For symmetry, you should fold the strip into half and mark out the position of the two holes, to ensure that the strip is aligned later.

Step 3: Insert one end of the screw rivet into the first hole, and insert the keys.

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Step 3 would look like this.

Step 4: Fold the leather strip over, insert the other side of the screw rivet, and screw the two ends of the rivet together tightly.

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Voila! You’re done!

You now have an elegant leather, Swiss Army-inspired key holder!

I’ve been using this for almost a year, and it has been great.

If you have a lot of material on hand, feel free to explore other designs.

If you have very sturdy materials, you may consider making a double-sided key holder as well.

Have fun!

A Worrying Trend Arising Among Religions in Singapore

Allow me to share something that has been bothering me for some time now.

If you’ve been visiting Christian or Buddhist bookshops here in Singapore, and if you’ve been paying attention, you’d notice that over the past few years, there’s been a drop in the selection of intellectual books and a sharp rise in devotional materials.

Here are two examples:

Novena Church (currently closed for renovation) has a bookshop, which for many years, used to sell a wide variety of books. Years ago, they used to have a good mix. You could find intellectual books dealing with the doctrines of the faith or ethical issues. And that was balanced with a variety of devotional books and devotional items (statues, prayer beads, etc.).

However, as the years went by, the selection of intellectual books dwindled until there was not a single book on doctrine or ethics at all. In the two years before the Church closed for renovation, the bookshop sold nothing but devotional materials.

This trend is present in many other Christian bookshops.

But this trend isn’t just confined to Christianity. Buddhism seems to have the same problem too.

Years ago, there used to be a huge Buddhist bookshop housed in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown. It was so huge that it occupied an entire floor. I loved to visit that bookshop because of the incredible selection of Buddhist philosophical books. They had a wide variety – and a good balance – of intellectual and devotional materials.

That bookshop, however, closed down, and a small souvenir shop was opened at a corner of the temple selling nothing but devotional books and items (prayer beads, etc.).

I asked a very intellectual Buddhist friend if he noticed a similar pattern in other Buddhist bookshops. He agreed and commented that many Buddhist circles were intensifying their devotional practices, paying little or no attention to the intellectual aspects.

This too is the trend in many Christian circles too.

The demise of intellectual books in religious bookshops has been a worrying indicator for me. The demand for intellectual reading material has dried up, while the appetite for devotional materials has increased sharply in recent years.

And this is a problem not confined to a single religion.

Let me state this to be clear: I am not against devotional practices.

Devotional practices are important in the context of religion. I believe that there must be a healthy balance of both the devotional and the intellectual aspects of religion. Devotional practices help to cultivate the heart, just as how the intellectual aspects help to cultivate the mind.

What bothers me is the sharp drop of religious intellectualism here in Singapore while religious devotion is increasing at a rapid rate.

Of course, I know some atheists and secular humanists might be laughing. Religious intellectualism sounds like a paradox. How can you be intellectual if you are religious?

To some degree, one can be intellectual and religious. At least to be able to justify, with reason, certain tenets of one’s religious beliefs, or of one’s ethical principles.

The slow death of intellectualism, which I’m seeing in Buddhism and Christianity here in Singapore is a worrying trend. Buddhism and Christianity are two of the biggest religions here in Singapore. That this is a trend affecting at least two big religions is disturbing for it points to greater problems slowly simmering in society.

Karl Marx wrote that religion is an “opiate of the masses,” in the sense that people flock to it seeking relief because they are in great pain. The spike in devotion and piety is a symptom of societal stresses. People are alienated from themselves and their work. One of the many outlets from the misery of such a fast-paced, high-stress society and the existential agonies is religious devotion, where they find spiritual and emotional relief. An oasis of calm and peace in a world of madness.

Marx isn’t saying that religious devotion is bad. Religious devotion brings relief from a life of constant pain and agony. That more and more people are flocking to it is a sign that the stresses of modern life is taking a huge toll on people, more than what they are able to bear.

Will we soon be reaching a critical point of high stress in our society that Singapore society breaks down?

That is one of my worries.

To reiterate my point: devotion is useful in cultivating a good heart. What bothers me is the death of intellectualism the rise of devotionalism, and its consequences on society.

Many do not have a good understanding of their own religious beliefs, teachings, or ethical positions. For example, there are many out there who are so fired up about their relationship with God, or with their rituals, but they know nothing about their religion’s teachings or scriptures.

Those who do have some knowledge of these issues, however, do not really know the justifications or rationale behind them.

With good intentions, and with a zeal cultivated by devotion and piety, we are witnessing a decline of religion.

Religion has turned into a soccer match. People take sides depending on their own initial biases. Sometimes the fights occur within one’s own religion.

What I am seeing in real life and on social media are people parroting material they’ve read without really thinking whether what they say is true or problematic.

Worse still, in the name of defending one’s religion (or one’s position on a religious matter), people are parroting terribly irrational answers, the kind of answers that deride the opponent (“Oooo… BURN!”), stirring up their team mates to cheer for them, like a striker scoring a goal.

This can and does lead to extremism.

But I’m not just talking about religious extremism in the kind of fundamentalism of ideas (that happens too). Rather, I’m concerned about extremism involving devotional practices, and its consequences.

Fuelled by religious zeal, one can get too carried away with certain practices or ideas about practices, taking them to an extreme level with dire consequences on others.

Yes, sinners should atone, but to what extent? Of causing bodily harm to themselves? Should we begin forcing certain sinners to atone publicly in certain ways? Yes, modesty is important to the cultivation of virtue and holiness, but to what extent? Of covering up from head to toe? Of imposing the covering up onto everyone else?

The danger begins when people uncritically attach values or high lofty ideals onto specific actions or items, judging those who do not practice those actions or carry those items as having rejected those set of values.

The danger begins when people uncritically think that they have achieved the spiritual goal by doing a certain set of actions, or carrying certain items, thinking that they have no further need to cultivate themselves (they have attained the religious ideal, what more is there to do?), and thus behave in a self-righteous manner.

The danger begins when people in their good intentions and zeal begin to impose – quite uncritically – certain norms onto others (and their community) without realising the consequences of their actions.

The REAL danger is when no one is willing to listen to any opposing voices that find it necessary to examine and critique what’s being done in the midst of all that religious zeal.

The path of dialogue and communication closed, there will only be greater misunderstanding and lack of trust among different parties. Society will thus become increasingly polarised and fragmented.

With the slow death of intellectualism, comes a decline in critical voices and critical examination. Religious circles thus become echo chambers, breeding extremism fuelled only by religious zeal and good intentions.

As the famous saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

The Morning Ritual of Pen and Paper

Have you ever found yourself in the situation, where you start out your day with some thoughts about what you’re going to do, but the moment you switch on your computer, you suddenly find that you’ve forgotten what exactly you were supposed to do.

And so you sit there feeling rather lost and confused.

Do you get that? Does it happen a lot to you?

I get that a lot. It is as if my computer monitor emits amnesia rays that wipe out one’s short-term memory immediately upon exposure. And then I waste the next hour or so trying to reconstruct or remember everything that was on my mind, with a certain feeling of confusion and helplessness, like a lost child in a crowded marketplace.

It’s terribly frustrating.

Not too long ago, I read an article about developing a good habit of starting the day by transferring everything from one’s mind onto paper.

I think, this should be done before turning on one’s computer.

The author recommended spending at least 10-20 minutes, writing everything that comes to one’s mind, without worrying about organising or structuring the contents of one’s thoughts. It can be in the form of bullet points, mind maps or even prose.

What matters is that you are able to flush everything out of your head, onto paper.

I’ve been experimenting with this for some time now, and I must say that it really helps me out a lot!

As a morning routine and ritual, I now start the day, making myself a cup of coffee, and return to my desk with the computer still turned off. I’ll put my phone aside far away from me, take out my journal and begin writing away.

Nothing like a good pen and paper to make the writing process a lot more pleasurable.

At the end of this writing exercise, I’ll switch on my computer, and type out everything I wrote, categorising them as tasks to do for the day (or week), or as notes for future reference (and for ease of searching).

If I find myself feeling lost and confused due to the amnesia rays coming from my computer monitor (no, I don’t seriously think there’s amnesia rays coming out of my screen – I’m just joking), I can always refer to the notes I wrote in the morning, and in a matter of minutes, I’m back in action.

I’ve since extended my pen-and-paper only exercise from 20 minutes to an entire hour each day. It seems to me that I write and develop ideas better this way too.

My hour-long ritual of pen and paper now involves writing lengthy pages of ideas (and sometimes blog posts like this).

Yes, there are many distractions on the computer. But I think the presence of the backspace button really alters the way one thinks. The temptation to hit the backspace (or delete) button brings about constant and abrupt halts to one’s thoughts. Ideas don’t flow smoothly from one’s mind to the keyboard.

Whereas, with just a pen and paper, not only are the distractions minimised, but the very absence of the backspace button compels one to chew on an idea first before transferring it to paper.

And when the idea is properly developed, the idea flows from one’s mind onto paper as smoothly as the ink flows from my pen.

Sure, this sounds like I’m re-discovering the invention of fire. But for someone who’s been overly reliant on technology, and have placed great faith for years in the power of technology to do away with the traditional methods, it is truly amazing and bewildering to realise that till now, nothing quite beats the good ol’ pen and paper.

Isn’t it ironic that despite our great advances in technology, no technological solution out there functions quite as well as pen and paper?

How I Recently Upgraded My 5 Year Old Macbook Air To Last For The Next Couple Of Years

I’ll be furthering my studies in August this year. And though my trusty Macbook Air has been with me for about 5 years now, I don’t see a point in buying a brand new laptop.

Despite its old age, it still works performs very well. I can still edit videos and photos, write papers, and watch videos. I don’t really play games, so there’s really no need for me to get better hardware.

However, the life of a graduate student will be more active than that of one stuck in an office. This change of lifestyle will bring a fresh set of challenges which my old laptop may not be able to handle.

As it is, I’ve been struggling with 3 minor problems. But these three problems with be exacerbated when I’m on the move. And I do prefer to work on the go as I tend to think and work better in a library or cafe than when I’m at home.

 

Problem #1: The Lack of Disk Space

This has been a problem that I’ve been struggling with for some time. My Macbook Air has a miserable storage space of 128GB. For five years, I’ve been plagued with this problem. I’ve tried ways to work around it but with little success. For example, I’ve had a 1TB external hard disk plugged in whenever I have to work with huge files.

That works quite well when I’m in the office.

BUT, I tend to work on the go, i.e. on the bus or train (and sometimes on the bed). And the external hard disk tends to get disconnected, or drops onto the floor in the process.

Last month, I tried searching the Internet (once again) for a solution.

And as it turns out, the great thing about having an old laptop is that you can get upgradable parts for cheap. In the past, a 1TB SSD (solid state drive, i.e. a hard disk with no mechanical parts), would cost almost SGD$1k. But now it only costs SGD$600.

I figured, it makes a lot more sense to simply upgrade the storage than to buy a new laptop.

Without much hesitation, I placed an online order for the OWC 1TB SSD, and it arrived in 3 days.

Installation turned out to be a breeze. The website I ordered from had instructions on how to install it.

All I had to do was do unscrew the base, unplug the battery, replace the SSD board, reconnect the battery, and screw the base back. Voila! I was done in less than a minute!

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The new SSD is the blue colour board in the middle with the sticker. This photo isn’t mine. I got too excited installing the SSD that I forgot to take photos. Screen shot of video taken from http://eshop.macsales.com/item/Other%20World%20Computing/SSDA116K960/.

I reinstalled Mac OS X, and in less than an hour, my Macbook Air was as good as new.

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My Macbook Air now has 1TB of disk space!

Very nice…

So that’s Problem #1 solved.

But here’s the funny thing. The problem about fixing problems is that once you get started, you can’t just stop.

I felt a great need to find solutions to other problems.

There’s a certain sense of urgency now, as I’m in the final months of being employed on a full-time basis. At least I’ll have the money to make costly purchases to keep my laptop going strong and well for the next few years. I don’t think I’ll have that much financial flexibility when I switch to a full-time studies.

Problem #2: A Charger Cable That’s Going to Break

The next problem I needed to fix was the fact that the power cable on my Macbook’s Magsafe Charger was going to break. The cable is fraying very badly, and in time to come, it’ll just snap off.

Sure, the solution is simple: buy a replacement! The problem? The original Apple 45W Magsafe Power Charger costs SGD$100+!!! No way am I going to pay so much for a charger.

I did a simple search on the Internet and was very pleasantly surprised to find  third-party Macbook chargers selling for only SGD$28!

What a deal! I bought one to test.

Here’s the original and the third-party charger, side by side:

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Can you tell which is the original Apple Magsafe charger?

They look very similar.

Thankfully, the third-party one works pretty well. I’ve been using this for a few days now, and there’s no problems at all. It works as well as the original.

If anything, the third-party charger has a slight design modification to ensure the cable doesn’t fray and break as easily as the original Apple one. So, if you are looking for a charger replacement that will last longer than Apple’s, this might be worth getting.

I’m happy.

So, problem #2 solved!

 

Problem #3: Not Enough Power Sockets Outside

This is truly a first-world problem.

As I mentioned earlier, I work better (and think better) when I’m outside, be it at the library, cafe, bus or train.

Having been a student before, I am well aware of the difficulty of find a power socket to charge my laptop.

Don’t get me wrong. My Macbook Air’s battery still works great despite its age (there’s no immediate need to replace the battery). I can work non-stop on it for 3 hours. 2 hours if I turn on Wifi. 1+ hour if I’m listening to music while I work.

The problem is that I tend to work longer than 3 hours. I can spend a whole day out, and that can be quite problematic when all the power sockets at the library or cafe are used (or unavailable).

I end up wasting time and mental energy frantically trying to find a power socket to keep my laptop going.

After searching for weeks, I finally found this solution:

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Behold the battery pack!

It’s the Romoss eUSB sofun 9 portable laptop external battery, capable of holding 23400 mAh worth of charge. That’s FIVE times the battery capacity of my Macbook Air!

I got this brand in particular because it is one of the few laptop battery packs that have a cable that’s compatible with the Macbook’s Magsafe connector. (I had to top-up a little bit more for this cable.)

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The special eUSB to Magsafe cable.

Wow… If it can hold five times more charge than my Macbook Air battery, then theoretically, with this, I could work for about 15 hours (no Wifi) non-stop, or 10 hours (with Wifi), or even 5 hours (with music playing as well).

In real world terms, this battery pack can really keep my Macbook going.

This is incredible! I’m no longer bound to a power socket anymore!

Problem #3 fixed!

And with that, I think my 5 year old laptop is now ready for the nomadic life of a graduate student, who wanders from place to place, from library to library, cafe to canteen, bus to train, to research and write.

I’ve more than enough disk space and power to keep me going.

I hope that with this, my Macbook will be capable of lasting for another 3-5 years.

Soap Making Workshop

A few weeks ago, I attended a soap-making activity with a few colleagues as part of our annual staff bonding.

Many of us were under the impression that we would learn how to make soap itself.

However, it turned out that it was a workshop on how to make your own custom-shaped soap bars. -_-”

It started out with everyone queuing for a cup full of melted soap base. You can purchase this melted soap base as a block or as a bag of flakes, which you melt using the double-boil method. I’m told you can’t just double-boil any random bar of soap. Commercial soaps cannot melt.

Anyway, after we received our cup full of melted soap, we proceeded to the next station. There, we were asked to add skin-safe colouring and some essential oils to give the soap a pleasant smell. There were lavender, lemon, and lemon grass oils.

Once we were done stirring, we were instructed to pour the liquid soap into any of the molds to get the desired shapes. These were ordinary chocolate and baking molds.

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Here’s the mold I used.
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My more artistically-inclined colleagues were able to get pretty colours from mixing.
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Molds of all shapes and sizes to get the shape you want.

That’s pretty much it!

Now, we had to wait for the soap to solidify.

Many of us went for a second round, this time experimenting with making soaps with different layers of colours. To do that, we had to wait for the first layer in the mold to harden a little bit before we could add the next layer of melted soap.

After a long wait, it was time to remove the soap bars from the mold.

Thus far, the activity had been rather boring. But that soon changed to a period of intense excitement.

Who knew that removing soap bars from the mold could be so exciting?

The excitement came from seeing just how pretty the final product looked. It looked absolutely nothing like what we’ve seen in the earlier stages. Even the mold didn’t look that interesting in the beginning.

But it’s not just the pretty shapes that we got. The colours played a huge role in making the soap bars very pretty.

Here’s mine:

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Behold my soap bar! It’s a pink Twitter bird!

 

Here’s what my colleagues made:

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Beautiful snow flake

 

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Sweet-looking dolphins

 

Here’s the result of experimenting with two layers of colour:

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Soap made with a green and orange layer.

 

They’re all so pretty!

Wow… Incredible. The unveiling part was really magical. Everyone’s just so amazed by the way the soap looked.

Here’s a look at the soaps we made:

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All the beautiful soaps!

 

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Top view of the soaps

 

We all agreed that these soaps would make great gifts for Christmas.

I was tempted to make some of these myself at home. But it turns out that the soap base isn’t cheap. As I mentioned earlier, you can’t just melt any random soap bar that you find from the supermarket. It has to be a certain type of soap base. To my horror, these soap base costs a bomb. I haven’t found a cheaper alternative yet.

Anyway, I went home to try it out. Turns out this organic soap was indeed very nice to use. It was very gentle on the skin and it was neither too drying nor too moisturising. Very nice.

It was fun.