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Outside the Bubble

May 16, 2014

I have found YouTube increasingly boring.  Perhaps “boring” is not the word, too “familiar” is perhaps a better description.  Watch the YouTube video above and you might have an idea of what I mean.  You see, YouTube is kind of playing a game of candies and dragons with the videos and the viewers, every time a viewer is correctly paired with a video he/she wants to watch, YouTube gets a point.  However, the key for YouTube to score big points is COMBOS, YouTube wants the first correct match to lead to the next, then the next and so on.  The video above gives a brief explanation of how YouTube tries to create these combos.  The result, as we have all experienced them, are vortices of cat videos with no escape.

A similar mechanism is in place at the personalised YouTube homepage, where you are presented with a dinner menu based on what you’ve ordered before.  The question in video above that clearly made the interviewee a bit uncomfortable is the one about random element.  As the interviewee admitted – there is NO random element.  YouTube has found that presenting you with a video unrelated to the one you’ve just watched / watched before is only going to increase the chance of breaking the “combo”, so they are just not leaving anything to chance, literally.  Diversity is a fancy word, but it just doesn’t help YouTube score any points.  My YouTube homepage, as a result, looks like this:

20140516 YouTube Home

BBC is great; Tim Minchin is brilliant; Bohemian Rhapsody covered by The Muppets is a classic; I don’t remember that dood with an owl, but it looks coo (ah-ha-ah-ha-ah-haha); Yundi Li is great; Ah feel it in ma toez; Twilight parodies are why Twilight exists.  YouTube has correctly selected everything I like for me, but, to reuse that menu analogy, had my menu today been solely based on what I had eaten yesterday, everything on it would contain milk!  What’s worse is that I would be unaware that things without milk is edible.  This phenomenon is known as the filter bubble.

The best way to break out of the filter bubble, as suggested by HTY, is to actually go out and visit places.  For refreshingly unfamiliar, creative, inspiring and at times challenging videos, however, I recommend Vimeo Staff Picks.




20130925 7 things we didn’t know before this week’s gathering

September 26, 2013
  1. HTY can recite Catherine Tate’s "The Offensive Translator" sketch and do impressions of every language featured in the clip. His brother loves it.
  2. Vase’s mother wants a smartphone, but if she got one from Vase, Vase’s father will be jealous.
  3. miah’s parents refer to 張敬軒 as 傻延, due to their supposed resemblance.
  4. There is nothing to do in Guam, so much so that Soyin counted "going to the beach to play with sea cucumbers" as an exception.
  5. Once given a small dose of alcohol, Siuto will glow bright red like a tomato (that glows).
  6. Once given a small dose of alcohol, Lemon will reveal his unorthodox understanding of the human anatomy.
  7. Some dogs in Korea are called Mary.

20130129 DHAPS Gathering Minutes

February 11, 2013


29th January, 2013


08:30 – 22:30


Shanghai Garden Restaurant, Hutchison House, Admiralty


  • T. Lau
  • Cha
  • HTY
  • miah [minutes-taker]
  • Siuto
  • Vase


  • Lemon
  • Soyin
  1. miah and siuto arrived first; HTY called and miah went outside to find him; Cha arrived before the two returned; Vase arrived shortly after the food was ordered.
  2. miah recalled the taxi journey with HTY and Cha returning from Soyin’s wedding banquet the other night. The taxi driver nearly missed Cha’s home because she did not call stop early enough. The taxi driver told Cha that she ought to let him know well in advance before she wanted him to stop, Cha’s response was “下次啦!”
  3. Cha said that her grandma mentioned again after the wedding that “(婚禮)個男仔好老實” – implying that, in her (Cha’s grandma’s, not Cha’s, hopefully) opinion, he is not very well-spoken.
  4. Cha gave Vase and miah their mail-ordered goods.
  5. Cha could not eat anything brown because she just had her teeth whitened. The rest asked why. Cha explained that the dentist said that her tooth will be unstable for a day. (Someone misheard “a year”.) The rest asked why just brown. HTY suggested that if Cha ate something orange, she would also get orange teeth. miah said that if Cha ate something blue, she would get blue tooth.
  6. miah asked Cha what prompted her to whiten her teeth. Apparently Cha’s father suggested it, he does it, too. The whitened teeth stays white for about 2-3 years.
  7. Cha pointed out that a part her lower lip was “sun-burnt” by the light during the whitening and was left slightly swollen. The rest were relieved as the lump was rather noticeable, but were too polite to ask. (miah thought Cha might have got punched in the face.) HTY said he thought the whitenists would have thought of putting sun-block on her lips. Cha said they did, but obviously missed out one patch of the skin. HTY suggested that maybe drinking some Aloe Vera juice will ease the swell, Vase pointed out that it would make her teeth green and suggested kissing the juice instead.
  8. HTY and Cha went into a debate on whether the lips are prone to sun-burnt because they lack / have very little / have a lot of melanin / melanoma. The debate got slightly heated because Cha is a doctor and HTY “都有讀 Bio 架!” The rest are utterly confused.
  9. Cha was wearing make-up. HTY asked why she needed to wear make-up to the tooth-whitening session. Cha explained that it was a complementary make-up that came free after she bought some pens a cosmetics shop. miah did not hear the last part of the sentence and asked what sort of pen it was.
  10. miah mentioned that Siuto’s cousin described him as “笑點低”, i.e., he laughs at things at a low lever of humour. Vase said that people have described her as something similar, too, but often it is just that they don’t get the joke.
  11. HTY was about to put some tofu into Vase’s bowl when she reminded him that she doesn’t eat tofu. There was a brief explanation of what Vase eats and what she doesn’t: mainly it is 豆製品 that she doesn’t eat because she doesn’t like the taste of beans – but she does eat beans themselves (e.g. edamame). miah asked if someone made tofu from red bean, whether she would eat them. HTY and miah suddenly realised that red bean tofu seemed like a brilliant idea.
  12. There was an early debate between HTY and miah on whether Cillian Murphy (Irish actor) is 靚仔. miah thinks he is while HTY thinks he is outright creepy (“like a nerdy serial-killer who lives in a dark room with photos of his targets stuck on a wall”). miah said that he could be handsome in a nerdy-serial-killer kind of way. They searched for some photos of the man and showed Vase, Cha and Siuto. Vase and Cha agreed with HTY, Siuto did not think he was “her type of” handsome, but thought that he could be a model for some expensive suits. HTY disagreed. miah admitted that maybe he is “靚仔點低”. [running gag] Vase said that in this case, miah should be described as “靚仔點遠“, because, for example, if the quality of 靚仔 can be described as a vector in the x-direction, Cillian Murphy would be a point on the y-axis.
  13. HTY thought of something and started laughing. Others asked him to share. He wrote it on the back of miah’s notes and showed miah only. Others complained that HTY is “分享點低“. [running gag] The note was then passed around, turned out that HTY wrote “dimension / 大 mansion” on it.
  14. HTY had told his mother that Soyin’s mother described Vase as “so pretty that she looked as if she has had cosmetic surgery done”, HTY’s mother’s response was that she had long thought Vase is very 清秀 (HTY misused the term “眉清目秀” first, before being corrected). Vase thanked her and added that “佢真係獨具慧眼啦”. HTY loved that phrase and promised that he would pass on the message.
  15. [Off the record] … After some initial guesses, they jokingly guessed maybe it is 曾志偉. “曾志偉都幾靚仔吖!” said miah. “呢個又係靚仔點遠喇,” said Vase. [running gag]
  16. HTY closed his eyes to give them a brief rest. miah said he is “瞓點低”. [running gag] HTY explained that he was suffering from a recent sleep deficit. Cha said HTY “日日都唔夠瞓架啦”. HTY did not think he is always deprived of sleep, but lately he had a lot of work to do on top of the preparation he had to do for the talk he gave at SPCC the day before. Cha explained that she meant everyday since he was back in Hong Kong.
  17. There was a short discussion on jet-lag. Cha usually sleeps through her flights. miah described a method he heard that requires one to fast through the flight. HTY thought it is garbage. HTY does not suffer from jet-lag much.
  18. HTY was asked about the talk he gave at SPCC. Given the sleep-deprived state he was in at the time, he thought that the talk went reasonably well aside from some minor hiccups such as his notes went flying everywhere and that due to the awkward arrangement of the stage, he didn’t quite know where to stand. He then attempted to described, in words, the unusual spatial relationship between the stage, the projection screen and the podium. It was very difficult to comprehend, HTY had to draw it out on the back of miah’s notes in the end.
  19. HTY described the light-hearted opening to his talk, which involved him asking his audience to raise their hands if they wanted to become either a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant or an engineer. miah thanked him for mentioning every profession there is in the DHAPS group. miah sidetracked and mentioned that engineers do not seem to be seen much as a profession by the general public in Hong Kong. Vase thought otherwise and explained that they formed part of the collective term “四師”. siuto’s and miah’s view was that civil engineers are seen as 地盤佬 in Hong Kong, unlike in India, where engineers seem to be rather highly regarded as a profession, at least accord to the film “The Three Idiots”. miah thought the film was a bit overrated; Cha has not seen the film; Vase only saw it on the web; while HTY loved the film and said that the film helped him recover from a career low point. HTY liked the film so much that he could name the main character (“Phunsuk Wangdu”).
  20. HTY continued to describe the opening of his talk, he asked his audience to keep their hands up if their parents wanted them to become either a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant or an engineer. After that, he asked his audience to keep their hands up if they thought they are really going to become either a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant or an engineer. Finally, he asked those with their hands still up to take their iPhones out and start playing Angry Birds as the talk had nothing to do with them.
  21. The gathering had to end as HTY had a long way to travel back to Fan Ling. miah said that HTY is “住點遠”. [running gag] All bid each other farewell after one of the DHAPS gatherings with the highest attendance rate.

[Next gathering: 16th Feb, 2013 @ Soyin’s new home in Lam Tin]

So Long, and Thanks for Everything: my farewell email to the West Island Line project

December 3, 2012

Inline image 1

I am rotating to my design training next week.  Since most of you probably don’t even know who this Jeremiah person is, instead of boring you with a banal farewell email, I thought maybe I should share with you ten things I learnt in my 28 months of work with 704.  Some of you might find some of these mildly amusing, others interesting, just a few might even be useful.

  1. Curing compound is not the same as concrete retarder and shotcrete stabiliser is not the same as diesel.
  2. Your phone book is your best friend on site (along with your camera), there is hardly any problem that you can solve without making at least a call.  So feed your phone book well with the telephone numbers of subcontractors, suppliers, colleagues, site-workers, delivery drivers, security guards, etc.  For the smartphone owners here, the telephone list kindly kept up-to-date by Amy can actually be reformatted and imported into Gmail and then synced to your iPhone or Android phone very easily.
  3. 102x51x10 channel section (二四槽) is one of the most useful steel members at a construction site, so keep a minimum stock of them.  They can be fabricated into simple working platforms, frames for shelters, guard rails, reinforcement for lifting buckets or water tanks, rebar protectors, etc.  One of the reasons for its omnipresence is that they are of a manageable weight.  Therefore, one should try to consider them first when designing any light-weight temporary structure / equipment.
  1. You are much more likely to be stopped by the police and security guards in your scruffy site clothes.  I have had my HKID checked and bag searched by the police twice on the street and I have been stopped by security guard at my own apartment building at least four times when I was in my site clothes – this has never happened before.  And while we are giving fashion advice, UNIQLO sells some long-sleeved T-shirts in Autumn that is perfect for site work.  They are very thin and are made of 100% cotton, which keeps you cool yet offers your arms basic protection against the sun, the dusts and sharp edges of rock faces (rock faces only, because the ends of rebar are always covered at 704, right?).
  2. One of the most difficult thing to learn as a site engineer is judgement.  Not only in terms of safety, but it is certainly a big part of the challenge.  Safety is your first priority, but safety is relative, not absolute.  For every safety precaution you take, there is always a next step that will eliminate a bit more risk.  So when can you start working on your second priority?  It is very difficult to call and I am in no position to tell you, but I have two tips for myself that you might find useful: (a) think for your workers as you genuinely care about their well-being; (b) keep asking why you are not doing more until you can honestly convince yourself with your explanation.  Once a big safety boss told me that as a Gammon employee, I should instinctively do whatever I can to make the work place safer.  But most of the time, even carrying out the safety precaution poses a risk and sometimes this even outweighs the risk it eliminates.  In nerdy terms, safety is not a first-order problem.  “If you think, you are not Gammon,” he told me.  I cannot disagree more. 
  1. The humble concrete spacer is one of the most ingenious designs you can find on site.  Its elegance lies with its simplicity.  Despite being a solid concrete block with no movable parts, it can be used to maintain one of the four cover depths depending on its orientation.  Yet this feature is hardly ever properly utilised in practice, either because the intention behind the design failed to be passed onto the site level, or the design offers a level of detail that is impractical or not required on site, or that the site staff doesn’t care enough.  In many ways, I feel this represents many of the problems faced by the industry in miniature.
  2. Try to split your time between office and site.  Spend all of your time at the office and you will have no realistic idea of how the site works; spend all of your time on site and you will have little foresight of what lies ahead.  When you are at the office, try to sit in on every possible meeting.  You are also more likely to pick up a more varied range of tasks at the office.  I would never have gained my experience in working on the DNV Audit element interviews, the EOT claims or the procurement of the shaft access towers and ventilation fans if I had spent all my time on site.
  3. Respect is earned, not given, especially as a young site engineer.  This is related to the previous point.  When you are starting out as a site engineer, you will find that your seniors are able to tell people what to do in one sentence, while you’ve been trying to give the same instruction for the past 3 days.  But as you show your face more on site, your “site cred” and the weight your words carry will grow.  Spot mistakes and point them out (as nicely or as forcefully as you like to suit your style), as you do this more and more, people will start to appreciate your ability and you will start to earn their respect.
  1. Use a password-protected online storage provider as an easy way to access your non-confidential files between office and site where you don’t have access to the mighty company server.  Files such as blank forms, progress photos, product specifications, plant and lifting gear certificates often need to be readily accessible.  I also use it to send large files.  Because USB thumb drives get lost / soaked / damaged, email inboxes get filled and it might be useful to access the files on your mobile devices.  I use Microsoft’s Skydrive because it used to offer 25GB of free storage but it has sadly been reduced to 7GB now, other service-providers such as Dropbox and Google Drive are available.  Always set your files to “password-protected” or at least “unlisted”.
  2. It is possible to survive for two years as a site engineer without using any curse words, despite what everybody tells you.  I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it is possible.

Hopefully I will learn another ten things during my design training and share it with you soon.  Maybe in a year, I will tell you that 102x51x10 channels are rubbish because its asymmetric section makes it prone to lateral torsional buckling, or something entirely different!

So long, and thanks for everything!




When I am rich… Lift

July 11, 2012

When I am rich, I am going to have my own high-rise building.  Adjacent to the lift doors on each level, there will be a Harry-Potter-Floo-Network-esque fireplace.  Next to that will be a sign that reads,

“When there is a LIFT, do no use the FIRE.”

When I am rich… Dessert and wine bar

July 9, 2012

When I am rich, I am going to open a dessert+wine place at the top floor of the tallest building in Hong Kong.

And I shall call it 醉糕點.

When I am rich… Rail

July 6, 2012

When I am rich, I shall offer a service to true railway enthusiasts where after they die, their ash will be used as carbon for the steel rail tracks.  This way, they can proudly claim that “我哋生係火車嘅人,死係火車嘅軌”.