Multitasking; ie, using the phone while driving.

Filed in Current Affairs, General, Hong Kong

There's a good article over at CNET News.com about Attention Deficiency Trait (ADT). I've seen similar symptoms in my own life. For example, I tend to work on multiple tasks at home; including home repairs; at the same time, moving from one task to the next until they're all finished. I have a hard time completely finishing one task before beginning with the next.

People claim they can talk on the phone while driving. I don't see it. I have tried it, even with hands-free accessories, and for me personally, it is simply not possible to perform both tasks as the same time and be aware of working on each task at the same time. If I focus on what the voice coming out of the phone is saying, my driving goes into auto-pilot mode. If I place extra focus on my driving, for example while driving through a round-about, then I don't really hear (as opposed to 'listen') what the voice on the phone is saying.

As Doctor Edward Hallowell says in the interview; You're brain literally can't multitask. You can't pay attention to two things simultaneously. You're switching back and forth between the two. So you're paying less concerted attention to either one. I particularly like the word concerted.

The message? Don't use the phone while you drive, and use an answering service or a secretary when possible so that you can complete the task at hand without interruption.

No more blisters but…

Filed in GeneralTags:

I have been running pretty consistently now for almost four weeks. I'm running at least four times a week. The distance is not far. I've measured it in the car and my normal run is just under two miles. This is suitable for my purposes because I need to give my body time to adapt. It has been a long time since I last ran regularly and my muscles and ligaments will need time to develop again.

The blisters which my first run rewarded me with (four on my left foot and three on my right) stayed with me for almost two weeks. I had to puncture a couple of them because they would not flatten out on their own and even the simple act of wearing shoes would keep them alive. All of the blisters did eventually flatten and dry up. Even so, I left the skin there to dry and scrape off naturally during my daily runs. I conjectured that the dry skin might serve to protect the underlying new skin during my runs, and allow the new skin to develop appropriately before it was exposed to the harsh surfaces of the road and sidewalks.

It must have worked because I don't have any more blisters. Running is now very comfortable except for one thing. My calf muscles are still having problems adapting. Running barefoot is different to running with shoes. With shoes, people land heel first. Without shoes, you land with the ball of your foot. This means that the calf muscles and ankles become shock absorbers (as they were designed to be). My right calf muscle is especially troublesome but I think I might have a solution: stretching!

I've been lazy. Even though I'm running, I haven't been stretching enough before and after my runs. My calf muscles need a special stretching exercise, one which involves standing a couple of inches from a wall and flexing the knee while leaning forward until the knee touches the wall.

Better late than never. I've begun these stretching exercises and will be doing them at least twice a day until my calves feel better and I can run without pain.

Everything else seems to be fine. My heart is having no problems but I'm not pushing for speed yet anyway. Breathing is also easy except when I'm coming back up the slight inclines in the road. My legs and feet and great. So if I can overcome the difficulty with my calf muscles, I should be able to increase the length of my runs sometime within the next month.

I'm not sure where I'll be running though. Running up and down hills is not good for the body but there's almost no flat road around my home. That's something to think about.

The "you're not wearing shoes!" comments keep coming. People simply do not understand that my feet are actually more comfortable without shoes than with.

More next time.

Thy coffee runneth over

Filed in Food & Drink, General

While at the first reading for a new stage play I'm involved in (「香水」 "Perfume" by Springtime Productions to run from May 2 to 11, 2005), a funny incident happened.

I wanted a cup of coffee. While there was a drip coffee machine there, it was turned off and I don't like drip coffee anyway. I'd prefer either instant coffee or coffee made with cappuccino machines. There was a water dispenser but for really good coffee; even instant coffee; boiling water is the best way to go. So I filled a mug with hot water from the dispenser and then placed it in the microwave oven for just over a minute.

After taking the mug out of the microwave, the water was still boiling but not in a normal way. The bubbles were smaller and more vigorous. Without another thought, I dropped a teaspoonful of coffee into the cup.

The reaction was instant. The water and coffee immediately foamed up and overflowed the mug, running down the front of the cupboard. There was a familiar click to the right of me. It was the sound of a fuse going off but I couldn't see a fuse box nearby and I couldn't understand why my coffee overflow might concern a power fuse so I ignored it.

Within minutes though, one of the people in the office was asking why the photocopier had switched off and I realised that a fuse really had gone off. Then while cleaning up the coffee, I discovered why. The coffee had run down the front of the cupboard and poured into a power strip just inside the front door of the cupboard. Apart from the power strip, there were also a couple of network routers, a PABX box, three power adapters and some telephone wiring. Somehow, I don't think they should have placed electrical equipment inside the kitchen cupboard.

Anyway, I unplugged the power strips, turned the fuse back on and everything was fine again.

The way that coffee foamed over was pretty incredible though. I remember reading somewhere that the bubbling is caused by expansion of air within the small crevices and cracks in the surface of the mug. The temperature of these bubbles can get extremely high and lead to the kind of reactions that I saw last night.

So, if you need to heat up water for a cup of coffee, using a microwave is fine as long as you don't leave the water in there for too long.

Interview in today’s HMC

Filed in Entertainment Ind., Press

There's an interview with me in the April 2005 edition of HMC magazine (Chinese language, Hong Kong publisher). The interview and photographs were taken a couple of weeks ago. I'll be getting a copy myself today to see how it was written up.

Update: The interview was laid out on a four-page spread with one large photograph and several others. Much of the text was based on research that the reporter had done from other older interviews. Even though some of it was inaccurate, the interview overall was pretty good. I'm happy with it. I had hoped that the reporter would list the URL of this blog in the interview but that didn't happen. Maybe next time…

I’m an addict!

Filed in General, Technology

I've been an addict for quite some time, and not just to one thing either. I've been drinking coffee for several years and usually have to drink at least one cup every day, sometimes two or three cups every day. Off and on, I've also been a TV addict, and I'm probably a dog addict but that's still up for discussion. My biggest and worst addiction though has been my computer!

While others get addicted to surfing on the internet or playing online games or participating in online MUDs (are they still around?), I'm simply addicted to my computer whether I'm surfing, checking email, scanning photographs or watching videos. Every morning when I wake up, the first thought that comes into my head is whether there is any email for me even though I receive very few non-spam emails. All through the day, rather than consider useful things to do, it's much easier to sit down in front of the computer and find stuff to do. You can waste countless hours putting all of your computer files in order.

For years, I spent hours perfecting automation scripts on my computer to 'make life easier'. I became an excellent AppleScript scripter but that was the only benefit. While running a computer software distributorship here in Hong Kong, I spent more time perfecting my databases and forms systems than actually selling the products. Maybe it's a symptom of agoraphobia. While sitting in front of the computer, you don't have to face other people.

The reality of an addiction to computers though is very harsh. You wake up in the morning thinking about email. Once you've poured yourself a cup of coffee, you sit down to see what came in the mail. You then surf your regular web sites even though you surfed them just the evening before because something new may have been posted on the sites. When that's all finished, you think about scanning more of that film lying around and cataloging it for easy future reference. Or you watch a few tv series while surfing some more. After dinner, you're back on the computer surfing those sites again and watching more tv series. At around midnight, you feel the first pangs of being tired but you stay seated anyway and half an hour later, you're not tired anymore. Two hours later, the tired feeling comes back with a vengeance and you decide finally that it's time to go to bed. While you're having your shower, you're imagining all of the great productive things you're going to do tomorrow and then you go to bed. When you wake up in the morning; usually not so perky and sprite because of the very late night you had; you pour yourself a cup of coffee and check your email, and the circle continues.

After doing this for a very long time; think years; I decided that I really had to do something about it. (The irony here is that while fixing the problem, I'm here writing this blog on the very computer I'm trying to avoid.)

I'm using Apple's OS X which supports multiple users. I searched for a time-limiting application over at www.versiontracker.com and found one. After trying it for two weeks, I purchased it. It's called Watcher and I've set it up to limit my computer time to just two hours a day. After two hours, Watcher logs out of my account and I have to wait until the next day before I can begin using my account again.

Now I have admin rights and many people will think that installing the time-limiting application is going to be useless in the end because I can always use my admin rights to increase my time allocations. While that's true, I have found that the simple reminder that my time is up is almost always enough to let me walk away from the computer. In any case, I have already assigned admin rights to my wife and taken admin rights away from my own account. Once my wife changes her password, I will not be able to change the time allocation on my account without asking her for the password. That extra complication will almost guarantee that I'll walk away from the computer when my time's up each day.

So what happens when you're forced; albeit gently; to leave your computer after just two hours of usage. Well the first thing that happens is that you suddenly begin thinking about what you're going to do on the computer before you log into your account, and you prioritise those tasks, something you never did before. It's a good thing. Right? But wait. It gets better. (sounds like one of those TV advertainment shows) Suddenly, you don't want to sit down all the time. You actually go out for runs and activities. You play and practise the piano more and you begin doing all of those things that you imagined at night while showering. You sleep earlier because you're not glued to the computer. You eat less because you're not fatigued and glued to the computer. You're healthier because you're sleeping more, eating less and exercising and your mind is clearer and begins to function the way it's supposed to. Overall, it's a great thing.

Are you addicted to your computer? For me, other than the daily routine that I mentioned above, there was another tell-tale sign. I was bored while surfing the net or watching the tv series. That's the kicker. If you're bored while on the computer but you continue to use the computer irrespective especially when there are plenty of other productive things that could or need to be done, then you're addicted and it's time to think about limiting your access to the computer.

My experiment with the Watcher application and time allocation has been a huge success so far.

There was one other thing I did. I created another account for myself. It doesn't have admin rights and doesn't have time limits but it only has access to specific applications. One of those is my backup application so that the computers in our house can get backed up any time of the day without restriction. Another one of the applications is Practica Musica. I figure if I'm addicted to the computer, I might as well use that addiction to improve myself. I need to continue improving my music abilities and Practica Musica can teach me a lot; in particular, ear training, perfect pitch and intervals. Another one of the 'approved' applications is Rosetta Stone's language application. I'm sure you get the idea.

So, I'm a computer addict but I'm doing something about it. Life's looking much better already and I'm actually living again. The future looks promising. What about you? Are you a computer addict?

Mrs Cheung, my friend and tutor

Filed in General, Memoirs

In 1987, I arrived in Hong Kong to stay, to become a pop singer if possible, without any clue as to how I was going to do that. By pure accident or perhaps fate, I discovered that teaching English was a good way to make money for foreigners staying in Hong Kong and I ended up with a teaching job at a commercial English school called 育城 which literally means "Education City". It was while I was working at this school that a coworker notified me of an opportunity to act for television and I became one of Hong Kong's few television foreign actors.

At the time, I had two jobs; my teaching job and the new acting job. Working for television was not a steady job. How many days you worked at television depended on how much your character involved, and you were never sure when you'd be asked to work until one or two days before the shoot. That remains true even today.

It was at this time that I met a new friend, a wonderful lady who we referred to as 張師母 or Mrs Cheung, the wife of Reverend Cheung. Mrs Cheung's husband was working for a bible college and they had rented class rooms from the school I was working for. It was therefore by chance that I met and became friends with her.

Mrs Cheung was my first tutor after arriving in Hong Kong. In fact, as far as Cantonese goes, she was my only tutor. While her husband was teaching in the class rooms, Mrs Cheung and I were outside in the reception/corridor area seated at a table reading over my television script. She would teach me the characters I didn't know, and also taught me a few of the basics of writing in Chinese. Eighteen years ago and I still remember it quite well.

That tutoring relationship didn't last long. Because television could not be scheduled and would often collide with my teaching work, I had to leave the school. That meant no more lessons with Mrs Cheung but I was already well on my way to learning the language, and we would be friends for life.

Over the years, my wife and I have met with Reverend Cheung, Mrs Cheung and family at least once a year. Mrs Cheung's daughter was born on exactly the same date as I, and we would often calculate the difference in hours taking into account that Queensland Australia is two hours ahead of Hong Kong. As a result, we would at the very least celebrate our birthdays together at lunch or dinner each year. It's curious but we are great friends even though we only see each other once or twice a year and don't really know much about what each other is doing.

Today, I phoned Mrs Cheung's daughter to see if our families could meet again for dinner sometime. It's been a long time since we've gathered together and I wanted to see them again. That was when I discovered that Mrs Cheung has passed away. She had been sick for a long time, probably with cancer, but kept it secret from everyone; even her own children. She never wanted anyone to worry. In fact, she passed away two days before the Chinese New Year and many of her friends were not notified because the family didn't want to affect the holidays for their friends. That's how considerate they are of other people.

Mrs Cheung was my tutor and my friend. I will miss her dearly.

Bare feet in Hong Kong

Filed in GeneralTags:

I grew up in the country, on the outskirts of a small town in Queensland Australia. It's only natural that I grew up running around the farm and countryside without shoes.

Skip forward 30 years and here I am in Hong Kong, still living in a 'country' area and still preferring to not wear shoes when possible; and getting lots of strange looks and questions when people notice. City people simply don't understand, and they usually have misconceptions about barefoot walking and running.

I've been taking my dogs for walks without wearing shoes for the last 4 years. Now that I think of it, my barefoot walking/running didn't really begin until my wife and I moved to this area of Hong Kong and began raising dogs 4 years ago. Rain or shine, I would always walk my dogs without wearing shoes, even at night while walking a track through a small bush area on the edge of our village. So you could say that I've been conditioning my feet for the last 4 years.

A couple of weeks ago, I went for my first run. I haven't run for several years so I'm basically beginning again from scratch. I chose a road near home which slopes down to a recreation area next to the ocean. I ran down and back again, taking it easy with the clear understanding that my feet weren't ready for a full-on run.

That night, I had four blisters on one foot and three on the other. Rather than puncture them, I let them be hoping that they'd go away on their own. Unfortunately, one of the blisters was just behind the first and second toes and it was irritated every time I wore my Birkenstock sandals (incredible shoes to wear, even for a barefooter). In the end, I had to puncture it with a needle and release as much fluid as possible.

A week later with the blisters still present but drier, I went for another run, this time a little shorter than the first run. Since most of the blisters were on my toes, I focussed on trying to keep my toes off the road while running. It seemed to work because at the end of the run, my feet were ok with very little damage. In fact, I suspect that the skin of the drying blisters helped to protect my feet. It's also one of the reasons that I decided to run before the blisters had completely healed. That night, I did have to release fluid from a couple of the blisters.

For the last three days, I've run every day. Running a short steady 20 minute run was a good decision. It's long enough to help condition my muscles, joints and feet but short enough to not cause damage or discourage me from running again. For years, I ran too hard and I always dreaded the next run a little because I knew it was going to be hard. Hopefully, that won't happen this time.

I plan to run this short run for the next three weeks and then extend it a little. With some persistence and patience, I'll be able to run longer distances comfortably and enjoyably before year end.

Today, the weather turned wet and cold again with a constant drizzle. The first few minutes of my run were very chilling but I warmed up and was fine for the rest of the run. My most recent runs have been very reminiscent of my life and runs in Katoomba, Blue Mountains (if that link doesn't work; Katoomba City Council). It's been fun.

I'm cynical by nature and one of the establishments I distrust are the sport shoe manufacturers. They've been selling us bad advice and shoes for a long time. Barefoot running is so much safer and better than running with shoes. Unfortunately, people without a barefoot childhood will find it extremely difficult to adjust to barefoot walking and running.

If you're interested in learning more about barefoot running, one of my favourite sites on the subject is Running Barefoot. From personal experience, I can testify that most if not all of the information about barefoot running on the site is true.

More next time including the advantages of walking and running barefoot.

Leo Koo, a ‘True Music’ experience

Filed in Entertainment Ind., Music

My wife and I went to Leo Koo's (古巨基) concert tonight at the Hong Kong Colosseum. We were given the tickets by a friend of mine, and were very surprised to find ourselves sitting in the second row. My wife commented that she probably wouldn't need to wear her glasses. That's how close we were.

Leo's a music man. He's loved singing for a long time, so much so that even after becoming quite successful as an actor for China-produced television serials, he chose to give up the television work and resume his singing. Tonight simply proved that he made the right choice.

The concert was great. Leo really knew how to make the music live. There's a difference between a singer who can keep key and a singer who knows how to make use of volume, emphasis and timing to bring a song alive, and Leo did everything right.

It became obvious that music itself was an important part of this concert. The arrangements and band were excellent and the volume wasn't too loud. There was even a whole segment where the backing singers came up on stage and sung alongside Leo. I've never seen this in Hong Kong and it was executed extremely well. The singers obviously had a lot of fun too.

The dancing was appropriate. The dancers employed for Hong Kong's concerts are always top notch but the arrangement can sometimes go overboard or become inappropriate for family viewing. That didn't happen tonight. All of the dances were related to Leo's own personality and nothing too spicy happened during the dances.

Leo's waited 11 years for this concert. He had the opportunity to open a concert eight years ago when one of his songs became a big hit here in Hong Kong. After considering the number of hit songs he had on hand and his experience, Leo passed up the invitation. In some ways, he regrets it because it took another 8 years before that opportunity re-introduced itself. I on the other hand think everything worked out well for him. He's more famous and popular now than he ever was, and he's a very strong singer and performer. With the bad economic times of 1997 and SARS behind us, his career can only soar from this point on.

He's going to be one of the greatest singers that Hong Kong has ever seen. Just wait and see.