Fixing whatsapp on iOS8 beta

The issue is already well documented, I’m pulling them together here and adding some ideas.

The cause is an error in handling Typographic Ligature (actually I don’t care, just in case you do)

The current behaviour is:

A. if you type a message with ff, fl or fi and hit Send, whatsapp crashes, you don’t see the message in your phone, but the message is actually sent.

B. if you receive a message with ff, fl or fi, whatsapp crashes when you open the message, but the message continues to reside in the database, and thus you will not be able to converse with this person / group until something is done.

For scenario A, there’s nothing you can do, but at least communication continues (you just don’t have a log of the message).

For scenario B, my solution of choice is based on this snippet on github


  1. Download and launch iExplorer
  2. Download and launch SQLiteBrowser
  3. In iExplorer, look for Apps, WhatsApp, and drag ChatStorage.sqlite to your desktop
  4. Drag that file again into SQLLiteBrowser (optional – create a duplicate for backup for safety)
  5. Click on Execute SQL, paste the following in and then click the Play button to execute the queries

    update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace( ZTEXT, 'ff', 'f_f') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%ff%';
    update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace( ZTEXT, 'ff', 'f_f') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%ff%';
    update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace( ZTEXT, 'fi', 'f_i') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%fi%';
    update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace( ZTEXT, 'fl', 'f_l') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%fl%';

    DROP TRIGGER ios8_fix;

    The 1st query (ff) needs to be executed twice because of words like wtffffff. The first time replacement will create wtf_ff_ff_f, and the second round wtf_f_f_f_f_f.

    I didn’t quite like the [f f] style coz I also type messages to others and it’s easier to type f_f and looks more normal to the receiving party. Feel free to change this (if you add something at the end you don’t need to repeat the query).

  6. Quit SQLiteBrowser and save the file.
  7. Drag the file back to where you got it from in iExplorer. Choose to Replace the file

The resulting behaviour might still result in a crash, but a second launch will be successful.

Thoughts welcomed.

Ok back to work on iOS8.

p/s At some point in the future when the problem is gone, I would do a final update

update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace(ZTEXT, 'f_f', 'ff') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%f_f%';
update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace(ZTEXT, 'f_f', 'ff') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%f_f%';
update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace(ZTEXT, 'f_i', 'fi') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%f_i%';
update ZWAMESSAGE set ZTEXT = replace(ZTEXT, 'f_l', 'fl') where ZWAMESSAGE.ZTEXT like '%f_l%';

DROP TRIGGER ios8_fix;

to revert my entire database to the original.

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Growth Spurts

We’re into the 3rd week now, not exactly full moon yet, but patterns has emerged, some old wives tale has been proven to work and we’ve been lectured throughly on Facebook.

Turns out the stress from parenting isn’t so much about the baby’s expectations. There are a limited number of things that can go wrong (and a very small probability it’s something else that requires the doctor) – milk, poop, gas, cradle. Other than these 4, we haven’t seen any other need. The cry is also consistent, starting from milk which can shake the house, down to cradle, which is a tearless cry.

The same couldn’t be said of the complex world that we live in, one that would take every opportunity to tell you you’re doing it wrong, and yet request for more baby photos to be made available. We’re hesitant now – if every photo of our parenting invites a barrage of lecture from our week meaning friends, is it better to save it for ourselves and only put the standard family portraits?

Never had my study of the social media phenomenon been so amplified. We created for ourselves a world that screams Gold 90 FM: Only the good stuff. Why? Why won’t it be? Just like in my previous work life I have been warn never to write bad things about my employer on this very blog you’re reading. That’s why it’s always good news, marketing news, etc. and I kept my job.

Now all that we hope is that our extended family and close friends get to follow us as we embark on a new journey to raise children, especially since we’re geographically separated. What we didn’t expect: contradicting lectures. Half the world says sleep with aircond, half the world say cannot. Half the world say a cat will kill the baby, half the world couldn’t care less. Don’t get me started on the advise that my wife got on breastfeeding.

Some of them are sensitive enough to private message, while some bother to repeat exactly what’s said by earlier commenters. I mean, seriously, how many times must you say cannot have direct sunlight in baby’s eyes in one single picture? How stupid can the parent be? Why didn’t you tell me about the wrong way I’m eating in my earlier posts? I can get carried away pretty easily here.

So I took it in stride, while continuing to experiment. Yenn is a super demanding baby like many other babies, and comes with her own idiosyncrasies. At 3 weeks old, she’s quite a character when it comes to choosing the source of food (oh that face that says “yuck” when she got her milk slightly warmer or colder than expected), and her drama tantrum when we’re changing her diapers (omgomgomg there’s one more speck there on my butt) but dramatically return to her cuteness once the new diaper is locked in.

And the best part is her learning to cry amply so that she can be carried and cradled around. Unfortunately for her she has a very smart daddy who could start reading her by the amount of tears that comes out of her eyes: the “fake cry” that her dad is so good at doing is already identified at such a young age.

But we still pamper her like any parent would, exhausting our repertoire of nursery rhymes and random nonsense that we can ramble to keep her entertained in our arms until she willingly falls asleep. Not because anyone on Facebook cares, but we feel like it.

And if you’re going to be someone who’s going to tell us that baby who are carried too much will be very demanding in the future, we will smile and nod in agreement.

Have a nice day.

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New parents

Yes they have warned us multiple times. Yes we took antenatal courses and had all the knowledge. Yes we had all the support anyone could wished for (perhaps sans the benefits for locals but that’s for another day) – mother in law for confinement, friends who give their time, resource and moral support.

But nothing could prepare a couple in the face of a crying baby. An OMG-the-sky-is-falling-down crying baby.

Yenn is so sweet, until she cries. In that respect she’s no different from all the babies we see around. 6 days of training and we are now settled into the evergreen checklist of diaper, burp, milk.

Except we still need to remember to bring around _enough_ diapers, burp the right way, and feed, uh, wait there’s not enough milk being produced… Even though every nurse says it’s ok and gave ever so slightly varied tips from the massage to the pump, we were still too nervous to lactate up to medical quantity.

I wouldn’t say it’s an indescribable feeling, it’s just, you’re so tired from this 3 hourly routine you don’t want to describe it. But that’s not what well meaning family members from all corners of earth understand in that very same Whatsapp-group refuge you used to build up confidence of being a parent.

These last two days changed the way we view the sun. The sun, that red hot boiling star is needed as your temporary liver and if you don’t get enough of it you pay a S$1,000 penalty for having your baby do phototherapy in a machine from Uranus for 48 hours. And she’s only been out for three days!

The book says 50% but the Neo Natal Jaundice ward’s nurse said 90%. And she used the word “locals” – so you mean LKY credited Aircond as the greatest invention wrongly? It should have been Medela’s Bilibed – the UV light than gives life to the island state?

Whichever percentage it is, evolution certainly wanted us dead. But we thrived. There’s a kind of morbid yet survival instinct point of view that I noticed between YC and me: we kind of like to just go with the professional advise – keep the child in the hospital, give enough milk, enough light. Because that gives that ever so small a break, a few hours between 10pm and 8am.

But on the other hand, there’s an overwhelming sense of love and responsibility that rejects this from the outset. Spartans take their child to the army at age 7 and you’re taking it from me at day 6!? We shuttled in and out of the hospital 3 times today, and will probably do 4 tomorrow and 2 the day after before we can redeem our precious.

And now at home, it’s already very eery that there’s no crying sound. The sense of emptiness is rather.. indescribable.

Suddenly the lyrics of a piece that I just finished arranging came to mind. In 江惠’s 家后:

阮的一生献乎恁兜, 才知幸福是吵吵闹闹

The journey continues.

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My first born, Kai Yenn, was born 23 May 2014 6:39pm at Mt Alvernia Hospital, Singapore.

Daddy and Yenn

She weigh 3.55kg at birth. Mummy was doing well, reasonably refreshed right after delivery too. Yay mummy!

Mummy and Yenn

She is feeding and sleeping well after a first day of learning to latch on, and when she smiles, she’s cute dao…

Angel Yenn

Stereotypes starts immediately at birth (female gemini horse 八字) but at least we believe in choosing a good name for her.

is a word we stumbled upon when finding alternatives to 凯. It has a mountain and a self on the right, almost like tracking your way up the hills, something dad likes to bring mum to do, to seek peace and tranquility. With the heart on the left, it means happiness, harmonious, and merry. 恺,乐也。——《说文》。按,豈,愷实同一字。

on the other hand follows mum’s dedication to animals. We wanted to call her Yenn, but many other similar sounding words like 彦 didn’t work out or were too boyish, and we already have an aunt using 燕. It is basically this migratory swan.




Perhaps she might bring us around the world on her wings?

Happy Birthday Baby Girl :)

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99 days of solitude, attitude, and fortitude

I originally wanted to commemorate the first 100 days of true freedom on Monday, but seeing that my wallet is empty and it’s still not ATM day, thus facing the prospect of having nothing to eat (or having my wife buy me lunch..) I changed my mind.

I’m going to commemorate, or more accurately raise my own alarm bell, on the 99th day. Previously I thought self-employment means no savings, but now the prospect of a real cash-flow crunch is actually possible, seeing that I’ve had a great decline in income that has been tapering slowly from previous deeds, and new sources are not yet flowing in quick enough.

New things takes time, music needs to be written, software needs to be built, customers needs to be courted, eyeballs need to be sustained. With all my focus on delivering music on time, other items, unwittingly, suffer. It’s not that things are not done, but they are not done at the fervour and speed of a startup.

And that has to change in the next 99 or 100 days, or I’ll be too deep into the jungle and would have spent more than half the year not scaling up as planned, but only running around like a chicken who lost its head.

100 days

I recalled an old article saying something like don’t multitask if you’re trying to focus on delivering creative work. Now I see this hurts. Normally I perform very well in a salaried job, typically being an administrator, because the job is primarily routing messages and keeping dozens of threads running in parallel, making other people do the creation. However, when I do creation, the world vanishes and I exist only for the music.

Another way probably is to tag team with someone who’s willing to do the rest of the work, but at my current scale that doesn’t really work yet. It might also be another excuse to delay following up critical matters.

Nevertheless, 99 days is a milestone for solitude, attitude, and fortitude. Celebrating it must mean looking forward to the next 100 days at a much higher level.

To a more productive and focused tomorrow. Cheers.

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Banana Boat Song

Time flies. The first weeks were slow and I can watch the passing hours. The second, still slow. Now, it’s just a week shy of the end of April, that would be my first unemployed “quarter”, and time is now moving very quickly (maybe coz I’m having too much fun, maybe I’m actually way too busy, maybe both).

After putting down the phone rejecting yet another head hunter, I looked at my calendar (which is now more like my diary than this blog) and asked: was I really fair to myself? Did I do what I set out to do and did I let people down? Certain projects were completed, others started, new contacts were built, and most importantly for me, music is written, even though it’s slowing down tremendously due to the large overhead of running a business.

So even as my output slows, I actually feel the strain on my mental capacity – already I don’t spend much time trying to get new melodies, but the engineering work of constructing usable and meaningful scores can actually take more effort that just cooking up something completely new.

This morning though, after someone begged for free scores, I had lunch with another band instructor who told me that he too, writes for the band he teaches, partly due to necessity, partly coz, it’s fun. That followed with some research on YouTube on some Hokkien song called Teh-O, where one click leads to another and I’m presented with the video that made my day.

This is the magic of the muppets – they took such a simple song, and made it so special, and created so much laughter. Yes the producer and the team probably worked under commission and under time pressure as well but look, the results is just hilarious.

At the end of the video, I suddenly realise, I haven’t written anything for fun since my last PhilBrass concert (where I have a group who will read anything I put in front of their face anyway). Maybe I actually forgot to “play” and “have fun” even in this line of work.

So there you go, thanks to the muppets (and sorry to those who are waiting for your orders), here’s a percussion ensemble version of Day-O that I challenge any school band to put up as a show, with a skit that can beat the muppets. You can tear the score apart for conversations, and sing using the score as accompaniment (just omit melodic lines if you’re singing).

Scores and mp3 here: (if this is broken in the future it means I took it down)

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Honeymoon Diaries #10 – Los Angeles

The inflight Wi-Fi in Alaskan Airlines that we took

May 13 (Monday)

Yuen-lin, with possibly the greatest hospitality of all hosts we had, left us the keys to the house as he immediately ventured north for a 11 day meditation retreat 2 hours north of the bay area after putting us home safely the night before. We woke up really early to diligently pack our belongings and found our way back to Berkeley downtown to catch a BART back to SFO, as we head towards our final detonation of the trip.

Honestly, Los Angeles wouldn’t have been part of the tour if it wasn’t for Disneyland. Plus, placing this destination last means our shopping has to be done here (to prevent paying extra for luggage for internal flights, now $50 a piece! crazy!) with a really high Californian sales tax of 7 to 9%. In hindsight, I’m happy we came anyways, even though my parents didn’t have very much good impression when they visited a decade back.

Upon reaching LAX via Virgin Air, with all its weird Pink Purple Magenta lighted interior, we caught up with Sy Bor in the airport itself (macam business man…) before renting a car for the 3rd time. This time it was much cheaper than the previous 2 times as we will be returning it to the same place. It was necessary for us to carry out all the difficult shopping manoeuvres, plus we didn’t have any contacts in town who could help.

Wanting to be close to LAX so that we can catch our final flight home, we made Culver City’s Super 8 motel our headquarters for the week. Motels are such an integral part of the American travel experience, and to my delight I found dear very satisfied by its simple and practical setup. After wandering around the neighbourhood and having some really nice Mexican grilled food for dinner, we
stayed in for the evening to plan for the least planned part of the journey. After finally confirming against an day trip to San Diego (to visit the Zoo), we bought tickets that night to Disneyland.

* * *

Super 8 Culver City

May 14 (Tuesday)

We started our LA sight-seeing day knowing that they might be some disappointment due to our last minute planning. The first stop we climbed the hill up to Griffith Observatory, and true to our prediction we forgot to check its opening hours and had to make do with the glorious view of LA.

We headed straight to Hollywood next. It was the finals of American idol so large part of the street was blocked, but we got our fair share of tourist-ish things done, from reading the stars mosaics to taking pictures with the Hollywood sign from Kodak theatre, while avoiding all the mascots prowling tourist for tips.

Originally just wanting to pass by, we got lost wandering around Beverly Hills amidst the huge rich people’s mansions. When we finally found our way out, we stopped by another Mexican corner shop for lunch and it tasted awesome probably from the hunger. We kept heading west until we reached Santa Monica, and grabbed our 2nd Jamba Juice before heading out to the beach.

Walking shoeless on the hot sand towards the beach, we wondered if there were nudity (neh, sorry to disappoint) but there certainly were lots of trash cans lined up along the beach, making its long and beautiful sandy beach a pleasant place to get scorched by the sun. It wasn’t long before we retreated from the cloudless sky back into downtown Santa Monica, surveying camping gear prices in REI trying to figure out how much Yuen-lin invested in his gears.

We met Jung Kian at Soowon Galbi Korean BBQ restaurant for dinner at his recommendation, and for the first time in our trip we scheduled a meal with someone we didn’t know before (ha!) Thanks to dear who’s totally accepting of her husband’s random hook up habits, even with young undergrads. It was refreshing and inspiring to hear current generation Malaysians rather going back to serve out their bond instead of taking advantage of the 1 year OPT (optional practical training) to work in the states – or perhaps Jung Kian is an outlier? We also caught up with Sze Min at Bourbon street cafe, but our conversation was unfortunately cut off prematurely when the shop closed fairly early.

We dropped Jung Kian back to USC, and kept thinking of tomorrow’s destination at Anaheim on our way back.

* * *


May 15 (Wednesday)

Visiting Disneyland was the other key promise to my wife for this trip (other than niagara falls). I guess it had been important enough for her to insist on it, but the nagging feeling has always been that one would like to bring children to come to Disneyland together! Alas, I gave in since I also went to Disneyland Florida when I was a freshman.

After a really long drive from Culver City to Anaheim, we parked in the Mickey themed car park and took a nice train-length road transport to the ticketing booth, where we realise we were following all the family people into the main park, while the youngsters seem to headed for the adventure park (to do both parks we would have to spend 2 days here).

Dear was excited by all the high energy rides, while I was singing kiddy tunes silly. As usual, one has to be on top of your game to be able to avoid queues and get to rides as fast as possible, but we did not figure out this FASTPASS thing until when the day was almost over. Thus half the time we were really just queueing, especially for the Space Mountain, where the queue was so so so long. Nevertheless, Space Mountain was totally worth it – we were seriously considering a 2nd ride in that pitch black monster.

Otherwise, Ironman displays were great, bumper cars were my favourite. Burritos for lunch was delicious. Small world was a bit of a let down, but the final ride around the entire park on its feeder train soothed the soul somewhat. We managed to cover most of the park in the end, especially catching the most important Main Street Parade while holding our Astro burger in hand. Dear got her candy floss and souvenirs while I got a nice presentation on Lincoln before we surrender to the setting sun.

Totally exhausted, I thought the happiest place on the earth can really just be anywhere that can drain you completely in one day.

* * *

Guess which one we bought

May 16 (Thursday)

On our final full day in the North American continent, we started frantically acquiring all that could fit our luggages, and ticking off the huge shopping list by our friends and family. Medela breast pump, check. Kate Spade, check. And the list goes on. We started from the simple stores like Target, which dear found it super huge but I was like, well this is what the big boxes look like, and got Yunxin’s pump. Then at Nordstrom, we found a nice jogging T for Chern.

Next we headed out to long beach. Yes it was really far, but The Horn Guys are either there or way up north in La Crescenta, and they are the only larger brass shop that I knew after sufficient research. It was really dear who pushed me to go take a look, since I’ve half heartedly said that I wanted a new trombone, but did not find any earlier in Dilon and Chuck Levin.

The only thing in my mind during this honeymoon was her, so to now start thinking about something else completely different caught me completely off guard. Yes it has been in the plans to get a new trombone for years now but why now now? That feeling completely changed after this one nice B natural that rang everywhere in my body, and suddenly I was confronted with a bone that’s actually very similar to my current Bach 42B Stradivarius that I inherited from my teacher from just after high school till today.

I remembered having to tell the shop keeper that I’ll be back, walked out of the shop and sat in Jack in the Box for a whole hour reading reviews and comparisons while dear waited patiently for me, consistently reminding me that she hope that I can invest in one now. Not being a professional who works day in and day out as a trombonist put some brakes into this investment (it’s impossible to earn back that much money just from gigging), but then again, if i really can’t afford it later, I can still sell it as long as I can take good care of it. Maybe even at a profit if it’s aged properly?

Hoping to minimise buyer’s regret, I went back and spent more time with the instrument before having a conversation with the shop keeper. Then we found out how we could actually avoid a full 10% of taxes since I was going to use my Singapore credit card, as he could record this as an export and shipped to Singapore (without him paying for the shipping and with me only paying for the bank exchange rates). That, and a load of free oils and spray sweetened the deal and I relented :) The Getzen 4707DS is following me home, and it even comes in a fibreglass case that fits the airplane compartment.

Our last stop is to get dear’s sister her Kate Spade bag. We traveled a few cities before arriving at The Americana at Brand in Glendale, a place so new and polished it looks like a super tourist trap, but with no choice (as the other Kate Spades did not carry the item she was looking for), we shopped on. The large Apple store was welcoming but none of the items were of value, so we left. Barnes and Nobles provided the free Wi-Fi we needed to have real time conversation with my sister in-law as we only found the same bag not the same design. It was a happy ending.

After an order and a reorder of Alondra Hot Wings (didn’t know dear could eat so many wings!) in Alhambra, we crossed street to meet up with Sze Min again to continue our conversation, joined by another old friend Fang Ning who’s conducting her own community orchestra in LA. We chatted for a very long time, knowing that it would be the last conversation that we will have in US for a long time to come.

* * *

Sze Min & Fang Ning

May 17 (Friday)

Mechanically, we rose with all the task of the day laid before us. Breakfast, checkout, returned car, checkin, dropped luggage, checked and checked if our documents we right, and headed to the gate, where home calls.

I shed a tear, privately. I don’t know what it was for.

In my foursquare checkin, I said, “Bye and thanks for all the fish”. I don’t know what it meant, and don’t know what it means now. I wasn’t a hitchhiker lost in the universe – I wanted to go home.

* * *


May 18 (Saturday)

We gained a day when we came, we lose a day on the return trip.

Totoro said hi to us in Narita, and we waived back.

The 2nd leg of the light arrived at Changi airport on 5pm that day. Even though we weren’t sure if we’re back where we came from, we felt secure of the fact that we are now safe, from the turbulence on the way there, from losing our way on the roads so many times, from the adventure of our lifetime, so far.

And I realised, when we are together, we are home, always.

* * *

Pine Cones

End Notes

This diary was written as a present for my wife, and for our little to-be-borned daughter, who we conceived shortly after returning from the trip. Both of them gave me so much new purpose in life that I wouldn’t have even known how to ask for.

We hoped for a such an epic trip once again, perhaps to conquer the entire South American continent, as a family. Maybe it would take us 5, 10, or 20 years, perhaps it would never be, but it would be the hope and planning that will make this happen, just like that 42 days of holiday.

Public diaries are also my way of saying – look, you can also find your own story to tell, you just have to tell it to somebody and not yourself. The more you tell, the more you learn how to tell your story your way, and eventually find meaning in telling these stories.

I’ve found mine, which is why this blog had survived for more than a decade, and will likely continue as long as I can afford the domain and the hosting and my precious time to write.

I’ve learned that sharing one’s story, no matter how mundane you think it is, is more powerful than listening to all the stories in the world.

And in doing so, you will find who you love, what you love, how you love and, even if by just a faint scent, why you love.

Thank you for reading.

Lego in New York

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Honeymoon Diaries #9 – Bay Area

** Update – it has been exactly 1 year since I started writing these remaining parts of the diaries, memory might have fainted quite a fair bit **

Bike Cabin of Caltrain.

We reached SFO in one piece but stumbled to find our way through the maze of BART stops and Caltrain stops that we had to take to each California Avenue, where our host Yu-shan and Xinyi planned to pick us up. I was unfamiliar with Caltrain especially, since I had the luxury of my trusty Honda when I went to school, and ended up hanging around the bike cabin of Caltrain without a seat. At least we learned a lot about the system where people tag their bikes and try to put all the bikes alighting at the same station together.

After a short rest at California Ave Starbucks, Yu-shan came to pick us back to his humble place in Los Altos, right along El Camino Real, while Xinyi joined us later as we dined in one of Bay Area’s latest organic food place LYFE Kitchen. Lots of pampering and catching up that night since we all met in Ang Mo Kio S11 just months back. Dear was particularly attracted by a pair of huge pine cones that Xinyi displayed in a glass box in the living room.

* * *

Picture source: wikipedia

May 7 (Tuesday)

Unlike Seattle, SF has always felt like a tourist trap than a place to work or study. The fact that during my years of absence, more mobile startups have moved from where the “old money” (i.e. Bay Area, around Stanford, Sand Hill road) resides up to San Francisco is still a mystery, but Market Street is indeed bustling with startup activity.

And that’s how we got our free ride by Yu-shan there in the morning as he was going to work anyways. Enduring this commute could be frustrating as some have already settled down in the Bay when jobs went northward.

When we got off Market Street, we started to wander instinctively towards coffee. After some deliberation, I introduced dear to Peet’s Coffee. It was a good choice. The hustle and bustle of the city did not affect our optimism as we had one very clear goal for the day: Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The prospect of biking over the bridge soon became quite clear – it was not an easy feat, even for an experienced biker as me. The weather was still cold despite being late spring, while the SF fog lingered and lifted rarely. Still hoping for the best, we rented our bikes and set off on the simpler part of the journey as instructed by the bike rental company, where we crossed many flat and scenic roads between Fisherman’s Wharf and the foot of the bridge.

After being treated with great SF pastel-coloured houses, some nice architectures, and a number of pet walkers (1 person to 10 dogs!) we reached our first milestone at Torpedo wharf where one can finally see the challenge at hand. First, a steep elevation that most bikers simply gave up and pushed their bike up the slope, which we conquered tirelessly.

Next, we faced the daunting task of crossing the bridge with lots of pedestrian traffic, each lost in their own world of photo taking and admiring the beauty of the San Francisco bay. Determined not to stop, we pedalled up and down the arc of the bridge in one breath, taking in the wind chill as the fog brushed through our dry and cracking face, stopping only around the 2 major beams to navigate the tight turning.

When we finally reached the other end, it was a glorious moment as the fog lifted slightly, presenting the city and the bridge to us. I believe we took more than 3 hours for the entire journey to get to our destination, but it was worth it, more so than my last trip that I simply drove up the little mountain at the north end of the bridge.

Deciding against Sausalito and the return ferry trip, we rode back the same way we came, except a detour got us into the middle of many official looking buildings along Lincoln boulevard. It took us some time to find our way back to the Palace of Fine Arts, said hi to the beautiful goose, and then back to the piers.

Exhausted and starving at 3pm in the afternoon, we wolfed down our In-and-Out burger like it was the best burger in the world. I was worried about dear because it was a pretty intense day in terms of exercise, fortunately she was happy and insisted we continue our visit to Lombard street – again a wrong timing thing as most of the flowers weren’t blooming yet – before returning our bike to the rental company. The steep climb with the bike to Lombard further tired us out and by the time we hoped on the F train, we could barely lift our legs.

We met Sophyan at his Expedia office before we went walking around SF, waiting for his wife Joohee to get off work to have dinner together. To our surprise Ken also showed up, solving our transport back to Los Altos, and made the night more enjoyable with his ever positive spirit.

Unfortunately, that night, I hit the lowest point of the trip.

* * *


May 8 (Wednesday)

When we finally reached Yu-shan’s place, my stomach started growling and reacting. Even though I went to sleep as soon as I could, it became so bad at night I kept waking up and stayed in the toilet. The diarrhoea was extremely acute – even when there’s nothing left in the tummy, it kept torturing me.

When morning came, the pain did not subside. I had to cancel my trip to Redwood City to meet up with Adeline, but my perfectionist traits pushed me to continue with the all so packed and well thought out plan, that I still went ahead to get Yu-shan to drop us at Stanford, just to make sure dear gets to visit both my alma mater.

But then, it was quite hard for dear to enjoy – we were on a honeymoon and when one didn’t seem to be taking in the moment, the other just kinda followed. I felt fortunate still being able to give her a good sense of campus life that’s happening obliviously around us, unfortunately half way through I started to again hunt for an outlet for my agony. Cringing alone in FloMo (Florence Moore Hall) toilet, I prayed for Clarence to arrive early to accompany dear – so fortunately he did just that!

Campus life hasn’t changed much on the surface since my time 10 years ago. The food truck is gone, some new buildings here and there, but by and large the school had left the core intact, in contrast with CMU who had seen more expansion. Unfortunately the trip did not provide for a longer stay here to, say, watch a concert at the new Bing auditorium.

We took Clarence’s trusty car to Googleplex – I recall dear rode with a bit of trepidation, and Chio was apologetic about it, but I liked it all the more – this was student car! Definitely no worse than Yuen-lin’s 1983 Volkswagon rabbit he bought for $300 and managed to drive it to Pittsburgh and back to CMU.

We met Carolyn at Google, who bought us lunch again (shhh) as I saw dear marvelling at the facilities and food that the company served. Even though I wasn’t particularly interested in the nitty gritty of Google life, Clarence and dear was both intrigued and I guess Carol also felt obliged to walk us through some of the main displays and to bring us to the shop.

Google was one of those other possibilities. Hiring globally, they had attempted to head hunt me a couple of times to their Sydney offices, but never back to US. I wandered around the public areas looking at the conference bikes that looked abandoned thinking whether I lost those opportunities or did life actually wanted me to go down this path anyways, like there’s someone actually steering the bike even though I was pedalling hard at an angle.

At the same time, one could easily identify with some of the grudges Carolyn mentioned about work, mortal-ising the company in some sense because that’s the same grudges one would get in many other companies. Finding a great team to work on a meaningful and challenging problem would be the holy grail of employment of our era across most developed countries.

After hugging some Android plush toys, we left Carol to get back to work as Clarence fetched us back to rest. I so desperately wanted to fix myself I did nothing for the afternoon as we had already packed in the morning for Yu-shan’s mother to take over the guest room.

By the time the drugs worn off, it was time to bid farewell to Yu-shan and Xinyi, as Yuen-lin picked us up with his completely silent Toyota Prius. Dear got into much laughter when she realised that both me and Yuen-lin used the same bag. I was more amused that he wore the same jacket since college that we bought together (mine was .. lost, for now). Immediately we knew we had much catching up to do, but like the car we zoomed quietly to Fremont for dinner before heading to Berkeley where Yuen-lin resided.

* * *

Pray for peace

May 9 (Thursday)

Yuen-lin stayed right across from Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, where he actively participates in their meditation sessions. But for us, staying at his place was just as much a meditation session as we can get already, as he continued the simple life style that we used to have in school. He was like a time capsule, still with his laptop snugging on the bed underneath the comforter coding, as if it was Resnik House in 2001.

Technically still “working from home”, dear and I wandered around Berkeley as I tried (probably in vain) to explain concepts of liberal activism here in the past. Eventually we found common ground in Trader’s Joe, as she soaked it in like she did in Whole Foods while we were at Penn. But the limelight was eventually stolen by some $1 gelato ice cream along the street.

Having been on mainly a fruit diet and fully rested in the past 2 days, we set off to pack for another unique part of our trip – that is to camp amongst the great Sequoias in Yosemite – and retired early.

* * *

Setting up the tent

May 10 (Friday)

A camping trip like this would have been so much more fun if there were more people, but we were fully aware that we were indeed intruding on people’s gainfully employed lives (and it’s not yet summer holidays yet). Instead, we counted our blessings being able to spend intimate time with an old friend who was to say the least inseparable during school days.

Before departing Berkeley, we did our final round of shopping at the Berkeley Bowl (similar to Trader’s Joe) and loaded up our tummy with Burritos, just in case we couldn’t make ourselves lunch or dinner in time. The drive to Yosemite was much longer than I remembered it to be, considering we managed to leave Stanford for Yosemite, hiked up and down Half Dome in the span of 14 hours, and returned to Stanford on the same day long ago in 2004.

Still, the drive there was quite epic. Especially the winding 120 road before Groveland, where we gained tremendous elevation and dizziness. The Californian plains also gave rise to huge wind farms, with hundreds and hundreds of turbines spinning in unison (for the data centres!), the long and windy California Aqueduct, an engineering marvel to bring huge amounts of water to the endless farms that feeds America.

We settled into our camp ground (D?) that’s just right of the entrance to the park. After setting up our 4-man tent, we still had enough time to walk around irrationally trying to find the bear that the ranger was just warning us about, before utilising Yuen-lin large repertoire of camping equipment for making dinner and fire.

My tummy ache attacked twice that night, and I had to be woken up by the excruciating pain, braved the sub zero temperatures in the forest to reach the common restrooms. It wasn’t the most pleasant of all experience, and I looked at the stars to pray in tears for health. Some of these experiences had had a lasting impact on my new priorities in life. I was also woken up and completely frozen by some animal scratching the tent from outside, perhaps finding food. Maybe the bear did show up after all?

* * *

No bear..

May 11 (Saturday)

Being the only full day at Yosemite, we had to do the day hike thing. After making breakfast, we locked up all our food in the metal cabin and headed out to take pictures of Bridalveil Falls first, then Horsetail falls with El Capitan, and finally struggled to find a parking spot to put our car as we hiked up Vernal Falls.

Yosemite was just _full_ of tourist, even though it was not even peak season yet. As the cables were down, Half Dome was out of the question, but even so, the entire place seemed crowded. According to the system we actually booked the final available camp site 3 months in advance. So it was a pleasant surprise when we found a quiet spot along the river where dear could step into the icy cold river and giggled herself at the cold, interacted with the only other family there, before we set off on our strenuous hike.

We aimed at Vernal Falls because I wanted to see if I could still reach and see that bald tree where I once took one of the most iconic profile picture of my entire university life in US circa 2000 to 2004. In that picture, I was at the fittest ever in my life, and was at the peak of the privilege given to me to afford me a prestigious education in 2 of the world’s best university and still have enough money left to travel to these sanctuaries.

10 years later, I think I nearly fell going up those steps, and needed my wife’s verbal encouragement to take the next step. I wouldn’t admit it, but deep in my heart I knew that my physical peak was over, and now it’s about maintaining the body so that it can still last a lifetime.

Didn’t expect reality to hit me so hard during a honeymoon!

Later in the day, we gathered enough leftover energy to hike down an old unpaved road to come face to face with a few sequoia trees. You know, every sequoia is a temple. The size and the stillness of such a majestic elder does the same thing to everyone: it keeps you quiet and makes you want to stay silent. It then tells a tale of its existence, with woodpeckers pecking on it and the rustling of its leaves, surviving for hundreds and some thousands of years in solitude.

* * *


May 12 (Sunday)

I was happy that in these 3 days dear found enough pine cones to bring back as souvenirs, some of which were substantially larger than what I thought it could be. I was also happy that I really really caught up with Yuen-lin, and got a good deal of sounding board advice about how to take steps towards life’s happiness. It’s as if a sage fetched us to the mountains, preached, and fetched us back – unbelievable.

To celebrate and fulfil our modern civilisation desires, we bought very sweet coffee and Jamba Juice along the way back. They go very well with the sweet victory of conquering the wild.

In the evening we also managed to catch up with Fani and David at a remote vegetarian restaurant in SF and traversing the about to be demolished Bay Bridge as the new earthquake proof one readies itself for use.

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Checking out the Bootstrap framework

After lots of research and recommendation, I’ve plunged in to start rebuilding all my circa 2002-2005 websites. It’s surprising how much inertia there is, especially since the tools landscape has shifted dramatically, requirements for mobile is now a must (i.e. must build responsive websites), making hand coded HTML pages no longer feasible.

This blog has benefitted from the consistent updates of WordPress. After being with WordPress for some 8 years now, I still highly recommend it as a basic CMS. Some of my next few adventures will be Woocommerce centric – stay tuned! (and sorry Shopify etc. I can’t afford you)

For simple bootstrapped websites however, I’ve been recommended Bootstrap:

Originally I thought it will be impossible to plough through the documentation, turns out that it’s easier to learn by playing with the samples than any documentation that can ever be written.

It took me 30 minutes to complete the revamp of my super outdated homepage (12 years old!):

That itself gave me enough confidence to line up 4 more websites to be updated. The real gain here is responsive – no one in their sane mind wants to hack out responsive websites ever again, and while the hegemony of a few key devices and form factors are in place, it’s the perfect time to bring all content up to date.

To me the biggest value is the mobile-first grid layout. I think that itself is going to be central to most of the web apps I’ll be building in the subsequent months. I like the default colours, the glyphicons (aside: seen Google’s plan to translate the web into emoticons?) which is so finger friendly, and I haven’t even brushed the surface of the javascript interfaces it has.

I will update again on all the sites I bootstrap-ed.

Now to deal with all the broken links *sniff*

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Orchestration notes for including Chinese Orchestra

Last week during Hwa Chong’s 95th Anniversary concert week, I received some questions about orchestration for Chinese Orchestra (CO) when combined with western instruments. I must first admit I’m not an expert, but I do need to take notes for my future self if such projects comes about again. The following is my experience based on triangulating my childhood experience, interactions with members of Dingyi (鼎艺), one of the leading CO ensembles in Singapore, and members of Hwa Chong’s JC and High school CO players, and assumes you know what is CO is already like today.


The layman stereotypical view of CO is that it is out of tune, and that is not very far from the truth. The problem is multifold.

First there are really difficult instruments to play well that dominates the sound scape – such as the Suona. The lack of intonation accuracy of the dominant sound provide a disincentive for the rest to stay in tune. Yangqin and the plucked strings (e.g. Pipa) tune individual strings before hand and ignores intonation thereafter (most are fretted). Instruments like the Sheng undergo week long tuning of pipe to pipe, requiring tremendous efforts.

That leaves the Dizi and the bowed strings (Erhu etc.) which can be tuned before and during performance. Most of which does not know where to start. If there’s one last bastion of pitch accuracy that would be the imported cello bass section that provides a reference.

Second is the introduction of the western concept of harmony into the mix. When we combine CO instruments into western strings, winds or brass, they finally got the luxury of pitch of reference, but also the challenge of complex harmony that can be performed correctly only when all pitches of the chord plays their part. I’m not talking about clusters here, just try a diminished 7th chord and compare it to a normal minor 7th chord. Tri-tones anyone?

In band, we teach methods like lowering the 3rd, 7th, raising 5th and so on to make instruments blend into the overtones of one another. This is hard tedious training that hardly any CO goes through. At the end, we did normal major and minor chords in a single key well, opportunities to present pentatonic scales were seized, but anything more sophisticated like bar to bar modulation was struggled through.

And finally, in the tradition of CO as well as many folk musical groups, melodic material takes precedence over harmonic material. CO player spend a lot more time learning the right technique to get their appoggiaturas and acciaccaturas to sound tasty and linger on every melodic phrase given, which brings me to the next point:


Most young players take to heart that when it’s their chance to shine, they will unlock their courage and hold the entire ensemble in ransom – Listen to My Great Melody. I’m not sure if the instructors will give way to them, but it is disruptive to the rest of the accompaniment.

We kept the percussion right in the middle despite the large orchestral setting to prevent this from happening, but there were parts of the music where no percussive rhythms were given and solos went on and took their own tempo. Culture, ego and even instrument design (some instruments cover the musician’s line of sight with conductor) contributed to the problem.

But that’s not all – there’s also a lack of concept of impulse, or a steady momentum. This is much harder concept to teach and many CO or band instructor alike resort to beating the conductor stand (till it breaks) or have a snare drum subdivide the tempo. Orchestral players would appreciate this issue, as many famous conductor don’t give the player tempo, relying on the ensemble’s own musicianship to reinforce one another. Borrowing a quote from Lim Yau, “when you borrow time to emphasise something, you must return it the next instance”, that’s doing a rubato line in tempo.

Timbre and Balance

Apart from challenges of the show being outdoors, there’s also a challenge of balance of individual section timbres. For example, Dizi and Flutes cannot play parallel harmonies (it won’t “ring”), 1 Suona is 3 times the volume of 1 Trumpet, vibrato on Violins and the Huqins produces different effects, even the attack and intensity of a Paigu is easily disturbed when matched with a western toms.

The responsibility here lies more with the composer than the performer (see below).

Notation, Form, Style, Dynamics, Articulation

The rest are less a CO issue and is more general care for young players. Jianpu is a complete notation system that can capture 99% of what’s going on a manuscript. All young players require training to bring out large dynamic range and correct articulation. The form and style is pretty much subject matter dependent and will require everyone to have an open mind when performing.


Orchestration Tips

So depending on your project, you might be asked to showcase some CO instruments accompanied by a western orchestra or symphonic band, as such:

Or combined the entire CO into the orchestra.

1. Layout: After experimenting with a few layouts, I found grouping by instrument sections (winds, brass, percussion, strings) as still the easiest for both the composer and the conductor. You can go by instrument range to order them, or type (e.g. reeds together). This will force you to think of the individual sections and not which group they came from, otherwise if you’re writing a separate movement CO only better to just take out the rest and keep it clean.

Here’s my sample (this combines western strings, symphonic band, CO, and a choir)

Woodwinds – by type/range
Flute 1
Flute 2
Gaoyin Suona
Zhongyin Suona
Gaoyin Sheng
Zhongyin Sheng
Diyin Sheng
Clarinet 1
Clarinet 2
Clarinet 3
Bass Clarinet
Alto Sax 1
Alto Sax 2
Tenor Sax
Baritone Sax

Brass – regular
Trumpet 1
Trumpet 2
Trumpet 3
Horn 1, 3
Horn 2, 4
Trombone 1
Trombone 2
Trombone 3

Percussion – as needed (all percussion 1 to 4 has a mixture of western / chinese instruments)
Drum Set
Percussion 1
Percussion 2
Percussion 3
Percussion 4

Plucked Strings – by range

Choir – regular

Bowed Strings – by range (sort of)
Violin 1
Violin 2

And you just write like you’re writing Beethoven Symphony #9. If there’s only band and CO, the layout still works but you must be careful that chinese strings will need a lot more harmonic support from the reeds.

If you’re writing for solo or a small ensemble that features them, keep them together (middle or top) so that the conductor doesn’t have to hunt for them.

2. Style

No matter what you’re trying to write, your music is going to sound more “chinese” when CO instruments are added. Thus, it’s best to capitalise on this asset.

However, when you feature these instruments, remember the challenges I listed above. Unless they are mic-ed, don’t put too much accompaniment. Unless you’re working with a well pitched instrument, don’t introduce running harmonies. Unless you really want an open rubato passage, always hint rhythm (e.g. basses or percussion) to keep everyone together.

Much like how one learn Jazz, you’ll ask find it instructive to listen to some of the masterworks in CO and lift passages into your work, and then massaging them into your material. One has to find that “lick” (sorry for the lack of a better word) for the instrument you’re trying to feature, whether is that wavy thrill on the Dizi, or that soulful portamento on the Erhu, and so on. It will not sound cliche if used properly.

When in doubt – go for unisons and simple rhythm to keep the spirit high. Don’t forget about the percussion which can add a huge palette of colour to your already European + Latin American (+ African) percussion instruments.

3. Sweat the details

Once you got started and have an idea (or even before), you need to ask questions like – how many players do you have? What kind of instrument do you have? How large a range can you master?

Theory books on these instruments can only get you started, but due to the shorter history of the CO (it was only formalised only in the 1950s and still changing) and the wide variety of instrument makers, and varying budget on part of the player or organisation, you milage will vary. Let me go through in detail:

Dizi: Advanced players will have multiple Dizis in a variety of keys), but please be kind on the keys. Most COs have not invested in the Xindi (the chromatic brother that doesn’t sound as authentic), and half hole notes are hard to get right. Many young players can’t go beyond 2 octaves.

Sheng: You almost need to see the exact model of Sheng the person is playing – the variety is endless (think like the 1700s when every church has a slightly different organ, here every player might have a different hand-held reed organ). Also, young players have not found the means to project the sound, rendering this section extremely soft when notated at the same dynamic). All said, this is a very important instrument to get right because it provides the necessary harmony to centre your music (i.e. you can’t really get Erhu to split into 3 groups to play chords). Nevertheless, in combined passages that’s ok as you can substitute with any western group.

Suona: Similarly, many COs have not move to chromatic suonas, and with the demands of a double reed, it’s very difficult to get their half hole notes in tune. There’s also an ensemble challenge here because Suona players can’t hear the rest of the orchestra very well when they play, coupled with their traditional role in the music (there’s no brass section, this is it) they tend to overpower any ensemble writing.

All the Huqin (Gaohu, Erhu, Zhonghu, etc.): Although they do best in lyrical passages, these instruments can be as versatile as a 1 string violin – so far the easiest way to put it. So if there’s a jump you won’t write for violin sul G, don’t do that to a Erhu; if there’s a pitch so high you won’t ask the violin to play sul G, don’t write that for Erhu.

Yangqin: some keys require great jumps across the table – watch for running passages. Otherwise, perhaps due to their placement in a orchestra so close to the conductor, they do serve as a good impulse provider for subdivision.

All the plucked strings (Liuqin, Pipa, Zhongruan, Daruan): Perhaps the hardest to write for because of their limited sound, a large section is required to project melodies. As with the rest, each instrument can have a lot of flare for solo passages, but as a group keeping in tempo is a great challenge. However, the tremolo harmonies worked really well in such combined groups for soft undulating passages.

Percussion: Probably the easiest to write for, check out special techniques, you might be surprised.

Ok thanks for reading.

Here’s 1/3 the orchestra and 1/2 the choir the work was originally scored for performing 4/5 of the 75 minute work .. still hoping for better recordings :/

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