The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: interesting

Anyhow Noodles

“What are you making?” you asked, as you walked into the kitchen. “Ugh, you’re using that giant ass wok. It’s such a hassle to wash,” you said.

“Hey, this wok is feeding your ass so don’t complain,” I replied.

“So what are you making? It looks like you’re just randomly throwing things into the wok and frying shit up.”

“That’s right, I’m making ‘Anyhow Noodles.'”

“Anyhow Noodles? What the heck is that?”

“It’s where you randomly throw things into the wok and fry shit up. When you understand cooking enough at my level, you can throw anything into a wok and it’ll turn out fine.”

“So what goes into Anyhow Noodles?”

“You have to have noodles, that’s why it’s ‘Anyhow Noodles’ and not ‘Anyhow Rice,’ right?”

“I can see that…”

“And then, you add in vegetables, meat, brown sauce and you’re done!”

“Wait hold on. Brown sauce?”

“Yes. Brown sauce. It’s sauce that’s brown.”

“And what goes in brown sauce?”

“Brown flavour.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“It does back home. Everyone knows what ‘brown sauce’ is. It’s an established flavour.”

“You’re making shit up. You’re fucking with me.”

“If you don’t believe me, go ask your friend Cassie. She’ll know what ‘brown flavour’ is. All Asians know it.”

……

“Ok I don’t believe it. She told me ‘brown’ is totally a flavour. Her mum makes food with it too, what the fuck. That’s so weird.”

“Well I’m sorry the food you’re eating is weird.”

“Ok then what’s the meat that goes into Anyhow Noodles? ‘Has-legs’? ‘Living-creature?’ ‘Matter???'”

“Don’t be silly. It’s just beef.”

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Wontonception

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Everyone knows what goes into a bowl of wonton mee (云吞面). You typically have egg noodles, baby yu choy or equivalent greens, char siew (roast pork) and wontons, of course.  It’s a fairly simple dish with no frills. However, what if you wanted to frill it up and make it unnecessarily complicated for a potluck party in which you would fish for compliments?

Then you flip the script and create mee wonton.

You see, I go to this potluck party fairly often where people have come to expect that I bring something interesting each time (I brought kueh pie tee previously). But I can’t keep bringing new dishes all the time! Even new animals and drugs are discovered at a faster pace than new dishes are invented. I wracked my head for concepts and deconstructed a dish I practically ate all the time as a kid.

The concept I had in my head was: take the mee, take the vegetables, take the char siew and put them all into the wonton. If you had a wonton stuffed with wonton mee ingredients and put the wontons in a bowl of wonton mee, you can achieve wontonception! I had no idea how to achieve that since I wouldn’t consider myself an expert wonton maker. However, I was determined and set out to try.

My first attempt involved brushing two egg wonton wrappers with oil and putting it into a muffin tin, putting the ingredients in and baking it. It didn’t work. It resulted in a thin-crackling skin that was not very palatable. You see, I was trying to avoid deep frying anything, since deep frying always resulted in grease lingering the air for days. My kitchen did not have a vent and I had to manually vent anything out of the window with a box fan.

Plus, using two wrappers on top of each other wasn’t enough to contain enough ingredients to make for a satisfying bite. I had to figure out a way to expand the working surface area of the wonton, and came up with the idea of overlaying wonton wrappers and then gently rolling them to compress them into one oversized wrapper.

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On it, I had mee pok noodles, baby yu choy, char siew I made from scratch and fried shallots. I used mee pok (flat egg noodles) rather than mee kia (thin egg noodles) because mee pok is the superior noodle and gives a more substantial bite than mee kia anyway. I tossed the noodles with fish sauce, a little soy sauce, and some of the char siew sauce I used to make my char siew. I stirred some sesame oil into the vegetables. The oversized wrapper has roughly six points, like an odd hexagon, and I folded it top-down, lower left and right corners, and then the upper left and right corners before sealing it with some water.

I tried baking the wonton again in a muffin tin. I was really trying to avoid deep frying anything. When the wonton came back out with a disappointing skin, I was like, “Ok fine. I will deep fry you bastards.” And so I did. The smell of grease permeated the air and mocked my failure at avoiding deep frying. But the wontons came out fine. Deep frying solves everything.

I cut into a deep-fried wonton and the contents tumbled out, a mess of char siew, vegetables and mee pok. My job was done. I had created a chimera that I will parade around the dinner party and bards will sing praises of my endeavours. I brought along some sambal belacan chilli I had made to go along with the wontons.

Most people didn’t stop to listen to my big exposition before eating the wontons at the party.

You ain’t so good, Google Neural Net

Google recently launched an interactive web game to train its neural network to recognise objects. The game, Quick Draw, calls on human users to draw a prompted object within a short period of time and the machine tries to guess what it is based on what it has learned so far from all of the inputs of previous players. Quite ingenious, to crowdsource training a machine learning (ML) program since many people are always looking for an excuse not to do work.

I wanted to test its learning limits. I more or less had a sense of how previous inputs for the prompts would look like, since humans tend to draw objects similarly when under time pressure. I wondered if I drew all of the objects from a different perspective, would the program still recognise it as the object — a task which humans are very capable of?

The answer is: not really.

I experimented with drawing in a sequence that would not be obvious what the object is immediately, but the end product would be discernibly apparent. I experimented with odd and skewed perspectives. Google Neural Net failed most of the time.

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I think my mountains were really good! I started with a skewed line to not trigger immediate “mountain” responses from Neural Net and then quickly added half lines but by the time I was done, any human would have seen that these are really good mountains.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-3-30-52-pm

I thought it was cute that my mouth were interpreted as a bear, an owl and a smiley face. What?? I started with the top line forming the nose, lips, mouth, chin and neck, followed by the back of the head. I filled in details and drew an arrow pointing to the mouth. In Neural Net’s fairness, its creators probably never accounted for it to learn the concept of pointing — a task that I don’t think is too difficult given how far we’ve come along in ML. It seems Neural Net has really only been learning to identify objects by scanning them as a whole.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-5-23-15-pm

I drew a jagged tooth key, instead of a wedge-end key because I thought it’d be too obvious. By the time I finished the key, Neural Net still hadn’t recognized it. I had some time left and literally drew in the words “KEY” hoping it’d help Neural Net along but noooope. It thought it to be a crocodile. Cute croc though.

Looking at what examples Neural Net uses as its learned base to pass judgment, one sees that humans tend to draw things either profile or head-on, and hence how Neural Net learns to identify objects.

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Come on. My butterfly was clearly the best butterfly all of Neural Net’s learned examples.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-5-22-35-pm screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-5-22-45-pm

How are some of your examples even mushrooms!? They look more like penises! I declare my mushroom to be mushroomier than your learned examples!

Google Neural Net, it seems you have a long way to go.

 

Bonus pic from a friend:

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COME ON. In what universe are these trombones?? I’m starting to think people have never seen what a trombone looks like.

On copyrights and conlangs

One would imagine that if someone invented a language for use in a creative work, that someone could retain copyrights to the use of the language, would he or she not? According to U.S. case law, that might not be so, in the opinions of the Language Creation Society (LCS), a nonprofit organisation created for the promotion and discussion of constructed languages (conlangs). LCS submitted an amicus curiae — unsolicited advice to the courts for pending cases — to the Paramount v. Axanar case, where Paramount Pictures sued Axanar Productions for infringing various parts of its intellectual property over a fan-produced film Prelude to Axanar. These include: Vulcans, likeness of Vulcans, Romulans, uniforms with gold shirts, triangular medals, etc etc., and The Hollywood Reporter has more information on how Axanar is planning to respond to each claim.

What caught my interest was that Paramount laid claim to the Klingon language, which got me thinking: “Can conlangs created for the purpose of creative works be copyrighted?” Paramount has claimed the copyright to the Klingon language, its vocabulary and its graphemes but LCS believes that its claims will not hold in the court of law — indeed, anyone can claim copyright to anything but it is only when copyrights are challenged in courts that they are found to be valid or otherwise.

Citing an 1879 case Baker v. Selden, LCS said that while reproductions of creative works are protected by copyright laws, no laws exist to prevent individuals from using systems and creating their own derivative works with it. Baker v. Selden was a case where Selden created a system for bookkeeping and wrote books about it, hoping to sell the ideas to counties and the government. However, he was unsuccessful. Later on, Baker produced a book on bookkeeping that had systems very similar to Selden’s. Selden’s estate sued Baker, but the courts ruled that:

“[W]hilst no one has a right to print or publish his book, or any material part thereof, as a book intended to convey instruction in the art, any person may practice and use the art itself which he has described and illustrated therein… The copyright of a book on book-keeping cannot secure the exclusive right to make, sell, and use account books prepared upon the plan set forth in such a book.”

Thus Klingon as a language cannot be copyrighted, especially given its status where not only its creator Marc Okrand but also various scholars have contributed to the development and expansion of Klingon. Upon the establishment of linguistic rules of Klingon — syntax, phonology, morphology, etc — the language takes a life of its own and it would be unthinkable that a copyright holder could lay ownership to all and any subsequent derivative works from using that language. LCS cites the translated works of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Epic of Gilgamesh into Klingon, not to mention the technically somewhat-valid native speaker of Klingon, Alec d’Armond Speers, as proof that Klingon is a robust-enough language and trying to enforce copyrights to it would be unreasonable. It would be akin to enforcing a copyright on Esperanto today.

Moreover, the movie Prelude to Axanar isn’t ripping Klingon dialogue verbatim in their fan film, but devising dialogue based on using the Klingon language system. Indeed, besides Baker v. Selden, LCS is citing many other case laws to their effect that Klingon is a free language that cannot be copyrighted, and if anyone’s interested should check out the amicus brief (linked at the top of this post and also embedded below). The brief is also replete with lots of Klingon phrases written in Klingon script and accompanying footnotes, which I think is hilarious but probably not very amusing to the presiding judge.

So what does this mean? Feel free to write your fan-fiction in Quenya, Sindarin, Klingon, Na’vi or even that Atlantean language that Marc Okrand also created for the Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire. As long as one isn’t merely ripping off dialogue (reproduction) but can prove that the utilised language is a product of using the language systems to derive original work, copyrights to the language are unenforceable. Granted, this is merely my opinion, but other folks have voiced similar sentiments (I liked this and this from LCS member Sai), and they’re worth checking out if you’re interested in copyrights and conlangs. We’ll see May 9th how the courts rule, and hopefully it’ll be in the favour of language hobbyists and enthusiasts.

“That’s something we write for white people”

chowmein

I know, I am super late to the game. Everyone worth his or her salt and MSG has already written about Calvin Trillin’s piece about Chinese food “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” in the New Yorker.

I was quite nonplussed at his poem; it was a fairly tasteless poem, at best skirting around blandly with race while trying to give the impression that it was edgy and exciting. However, I was rather intrigued by the second stanza.

Now, as each brand-new province appears,
It brings tension, increasing our fears:
Could a place we extolled as a find
Be revealed as one province behind?
So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
Simple days of chow mein but no stress,
When we never were faced with the threat
Of more provinces we hadn’t met.
Is there one tucked away near Tibet?
Have they run out of provinces yet?

I’ll explain why that stanza piqued my interest after this fun story:

Near where I live, there’re a couple of Chinese takeout places. One claimed to be Hunan, but was probably about as Hunan as Trillin’s piece was insightful. Maybe the owners were indeed from Hunan, and that Hunan takeout restaurant merely meant “Hunan people making Chinese American food for people”. In fact, my neighbourhood being primarily Caribbean, Haitian and African American, their best seller, aside from General Tso Chicken Special, was actually fried chicken wings with french fries. Every time I go in there and wait for my order, most of the clientele would order “Fried Chicken Wing w FF”. I was probably the only one who bothers to look at the menu.

One night, after work, I was feeling kinda lazy and I just wanted Chinese takeout. As anyone in the U.S. knows, on Chinese takeout menus, under the noodles section there are usually “chow mein” dishes. I had no idea what chow mein was exactly, but since I speak Mandarin, I assumed it was simply fried noodles, because it sounds like “chao mian” (炒面). In my experience of ordering fried noodles, they’re usually fried wheat or egg noodles. So I went up to the acrylic-shielded counter and ordered in Mandarin, “I’ll have an order of barbecue pork fried noodles (叉烧炒面), number 18.”

She responded back in Mandarin, “Number 18? Oh you want fried rice vermicelli (炒米粉, chao mi fen)?”

I was confused. I asked, “Hang on, doesn’t number 18 say ‘chow mein’? That’s fried (wheat/egg) noodles, right?”

“Ohh. no,” she said. “That ‘chow mein’ is simply something we write for white people. While ‘chow mein’ does sound like fried noodles, it actually refers to rice vermicelli here. White people order ‘chow mein’ and get rice vermicelli and they don’t know the difference anyway.”

“Ah, I see. Uh, ok, so can I get the barbecue pork fried vermicelli then?”

“Sure thing.”

“So who orders the chow mein if most of the people here order fried chicken wings and french fries?”

“White people.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Simple days of chow mein but no stress,/When we never were faced with the threat/Of more provinces we hadn’t met.”? Trillin, I was pretty stressed out ordering that chow mein. I went into that Hunan takeout place expecting to go home with an order of fried egg noodles and left with an order of fried rice vermicelli instead. I’m not sure if universally in New York chow mein is always rice vermicelli, because some of my friends attest to them actually getting egg noodles, but they always order in English. In another Chinese eatery (cha chan teng) in Chinatown, I saw a sign for chow mein, but it was thankfully accompanied by the Chinese characters for rice vermicelli. I confidently ordered the chow mein this time expecting rice vermicelli.

It’s hard enough to be an expert on Chinese food, even as a Chinese person. But Trillin, when you claim that life might have been better in the simple chow mein days, I’m afraid you’ve simply been eating rice vermicelli all along, and it’s hard for me to take you seriously.

Notes on how to pronounce Malay words in ‘Semoga Bahagia’

Singaporean musical group The TENG Ensemble did a cover of one of my favourite childhood songs, “Semoga Bahagia,” which translates loosely from Malay into “wishing you happiness” or according to Wikipedia, “May you achieve happiness.” Their use of traditional Chinese instruments for the song makes for a wonderful arrangement, led by local indie singer Inch Chua, who sounds great.

However, and some have noticed and commented on the ensemble’s Facebook post about the video, Chua does not quite get the pronunciations of the words right. Chua’s pronunciation is a highly Anglicised/Americanised vowel/consonant map, informed by her Chinese background. If the TENG Ensemble ever wishes to redo their video — and I think they’ve indicated their interest in doing so — here’s my notes on how to get the Malay words right. An understanding of IPA transcription will help in understanding this post better but even if not, I’ll try to transcribe it in an easily understandable format.

Note 1: The Malay language uses flapped/tapped r’s (/r/), which is similar to the r’s in Spanish, Japanese, and many other languages in the world. It does not use the rhotic r (/ɹ/) English uses.

Note 2: Vowels in spoken Malay tend to be preserved in their lengths and rarely shortened unless spoken very fast. Therefore words like “jiwa” should sound like “jee-wah” (/dʒiwa/) rather than “juh-wah” (/dʒɪwa/). When singing, it’s especially important to preserve the vowels since they become very apparent when shortened.

Note 3: Malay does not usually do aspirated consonants. There is strong aspiration in Chua’s d’s in “pemudi-pemuda,” which is how we usually pronounce d’s in English. Thus the Malay “d” sounds different from the way one would pronounce “dog” in English, which has an audible breathy release in the initial consonant. (Contrast the d consonant in “dog” vs. “dandan 淡淡”)

Note 4: In Malay orthography, “ng” is the velar nasal (/ŋ/), even if it’s between two vowel. Thus “dengan” is “duh-ng-an” and not “deng-gan.” (/dəŋan/) Same with “c” it’s a postalveolar affricate (/tʃ/) as in “ch-urch” and never an “s” sound.

And now for the second-by-second analysis! My comments will be in the form of (observation); followed by suggestion if applicable.

  • Pandai cari [0:35] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • pelajaran [0:39] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • jaga diri [0:46] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • kesihatan [0:49] — Chua said kAH-see-ha-tan; kuh-see-haa-tan, preserve e vowel, don’t aspirate t.
  • Serta sopan santun [0:53] — mispronounced, rolled r; SER-TA sopan santun.
  • dengan [0:58] — good job on de-NG-an!
  • bersih serta suci [1:23] — rolled r; do flapped r instead, preserve all r’s.
  • hormat dan berbudi [1:27] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • jaga tingkah [1:29] — k consonant dropped; preserve the k sound in tingkah, but lightly released.
  • Capailah [1:38] — diphtong aɪ changed to vowel a; don’t drop the i in ca-pAI-lah.
  • pemudi-pemuda [1:42] — aspirated d’s; don’t aspirate d, especially audible in pemuDA.
  • kita ada harga [1:48] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • di mata dunia [1:50] — good job on the d! This is the example of the unaspirated d.
  • kalau kita [2:10] — a vowel changed to e (/a/ to /ə/); preserve A vowel, kAH-lau instead of kUH-lau.
  • lengah [2:12] — added a g consonant; there is no g consonant, it’s pronounced le-ng-ah, not len-gah.
  • serta [2:13] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • hidup [2:15] — Chua said he-daap (/hidap/); it’s pronounced he-doop (/hidup/)
  • sia-sia [2:16] — Chua said saya-saya (/saɪya-saɪya/); it’s see-ah see-ah (/sia-sia/)
  • jiwa [2:19] — Chua said juh-wah (/jəwa/); preserve all vowels, it’s pronounced jee-wah
  • besar sihat serta segar [2:19] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • dengan (2:23) — good example of dengan.
  • perangai pemudi [2:28] — rolled r, aspirated d; do flapped r instead, don’t aspirate d.
  • cergas [2:31] – Chua said sergas, rolled r; it’s pronounced CHeRgas, ch consonant, do flapped r instead
  • suka rela [2:35] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • berbakti [2:37] — rolled r; do flapped r instead. This word is also an example of unreleased ‘k’
  • sikap yang pembela [2:38] — vowel was changed to p-uhm-bUH-la (/pəmbəla/); preserve vowel, it’s p-uhm-bAY-la (/pəmbela/).
  • berjasa [2:41] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • capailah [2:44] — see before
  • pemudi-pemuda [2:47] — see before
  • rajinlah supaya berjasa [2:52] — rolled r; do flapped r instead.
  • semoga bahagia [2:56] — bahagia was pronounced as bUH-ha-g-i-a (/bəhagia/); preserve the A vowel in “ba,” making it bAH-ha-gi-a (//bahagia/). It’s ok to break “gia” into “gi-a” for stylistic purposes but “ba” should remain “ba.” In Malay, “be” (/bə/) and “ba” (/ba/) are contrastive.

Hey, no one ever said Malay was easy, right?

Here’s an example of the song sung by a Malay person (I’m assuming) with all the right consonant sounds, although I think it’s interesting when he overdoes some of his r’s and turns it into a trill [0:33].

It’s a lovely touch that gives it a very folksy flavour, that I’ve heard sometimes older Malay Singaporeans do than younger ones. It’s not quite dissimilar in Japanese, where the flapped r can become a trilled r, called makijita (巻き舌 or rolled tongue), and it is sometimes associated with rural communities, and — interestingly — with the Yakuza and in war cries (“uorrrrrrryaa!”). Pay attention to how he pronounces his d’s, r’s, t’s, and k’s.

Hopefully this will help the TENG Ensemble and Inch Chua make a better second version of the song hitting all the right sounds of the wonderful Bahasa Melayu. After all, nobody wants to hear an ang-mor-cised version of our Chinese songs, do we?

 

(Woe…. da…. zheeeah.. gay woe! Eee shwaang zheeaan ding zhhh paaang….!!!)

Aftermath of a Singapore Election

The sun rose, as it always did, but one would not have noticed it. It hid behind a haze, some say the courtesy of Indonesia, but I know better. Hanging thick in the air was a calm that belied people’s true feelings from the frenzy of live tweets, climbing numbers, excitement and disappoint and clamour the night before.

An elderly Chinese man, pushing his bicycle along the foot of a HDB flat, walks up to an elderly Indian man. “Ehhh! PAP ar?” the Chinese man said, shaking the Indian man’s hand. “Ya,” replied the Indian man as they both shared a laughter, and then they parted ways.

The kopitiam was divided. Laughter and merriment rang from some tables, while nearby sullen tables glanced angry sidelong glares, with some shaking their heads.

Wa lau eh, why like that?” piped one.

Bo pian, what can we do?” said another, showing characteristic Singaporean spirit.

“Well, at least Lee Kuan Yew got what he wanted before the ghost gates closed. I guess his spirit can now return in peace.”

“Eh, I ask you ar, do you think his spirit went to heaven or to hell ah?”

Aiyoh, you think leh?”

“…aiyah my GRC no fight one lah! But then hor, I still voted opposition anyway just to show them what for!”

“I know it’s not going to make a difference, but I don’t want the PAP to become too complacent mah. They cannot keep on doing what they’re doing without answering to anyone right?”

“But even if you did that, got change anything meh?”

“So you stay up until how late last night?”

“I stay until 12 midnight, then I buay tahan liao. Anyway next day wake up see the results, see on the spot, also the same what.”

“So what you think? Who did you vote for?”

Aiyoh I tell you then still call elections for what?”

Nearby, an incense paper shop owner gave instructions on how to burn the offerings as the Hungry Ghost Festival drew to a close.

And Singapore lived through another General Elections.