Friday, February 12, 2016

Journey to swimming

One of the most liberating things I have experienced in my life is swimming.

As a child, I was a non-swimmer. I remember going to beaches and staying away from the water because I was scared of how the sand would move under my feet and threatening to pull me to the sea.

Later, I would follow my friends to swimming pools but while they played at the deep end, I would be wading at the shallow end, too terrified to join them.

I never quite figured out how they were able to float in water.

Things were pretty much the same for the most part of my adult life. I remember watching Olympic swimming events on tv, thinking wow those guys sure are brave because they were able to swim the entire length of the pool.

I remember wishing I could be like them.

After my first divorce, I had a lot of time to be by myself and to reflect on what was it that I was going to do with my life.

One day, I wrote a list of the kind of person I would become in five years time, and one of the items on the list was I would be a damn good swimmer. Good enough to save people.

I didn't know yet at that time how I was going to achieve it. All I knew was I wanted to some day be able to swim. To be able to manipulate water. That water would no longer be something to be feared. That water would be friend.

I shared that list with a group of friends over email and soon forgot all about it.

Then one day, someone introduced me to scuba diving. Invited me to an island to try scuba. Till today, I don't know why I said yes to that invitation. I was afraid of deep water. I thought I would not make it back from that trip alive.

I went, and survived the experience and in fact developed a liking for it. A year later, I became a scuba diver. My scuba instructor insisted that I took proper lessons in swimming after my certification. I said yes, because I didn't want to be a diver who could not swim. It didn't sound right.

And thus began my first proper lesson in swimming.

I started going to to the pool every week. Braved the Federal Highway after-work traffic week in, week out, to get there. After a while, I realised I was the only one from that batch of new divers who kept coming to the pool.

My perseverance paid off. A few years later, I got good enough at swimming to be able to take up a lifesaving course and passed the exam.

So yes, I was finally a swimmer, and a good enough one to be able to save people. And yes, that was some five years after I wrote that list thing.

I guess the point of this story is to have the courage to admit to the world what it is that you want.

And after you have stated what you want, you make a decision. In my case, the decision was to get good at swimming.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

What is a sub-editor?

Most people are familiar with job titles like editor, writer and graphic designer, but there also exists a particular lesser known job title in media work: that of a sub-editor. 

What is a sub-editor? A sub-editor (or sub, in journalism parlance) is the person who goes over stories written by journalists line-by-line.

They check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors - dirty work which is not the responsibility of editors.

They trim the stories and fit them in pages of print publications.

When a writer contradicts himself in a story, they knock some sense in the writer's head.

Subs are also trained to write headlines, captions and puns. They know how to say a lot with few words.

But they have less authority than editors.

And on top of that, subs also do not get credit for their work. When an article becomes popular, it is the writer who usually gets all the credit.

But subs' contribution can be the deciding factor in whether articles get read or ignored. The reason why the articles you see in newspapers, magazines and websites are pleasant to read is because these articles have been subedited.

In many cases, subs are the last line of defence in publications. They protect writers from sounding unintelligible or looking like fools or from getting sued.

Subediting is not an easy job. Neither is it for everyone.

First of all, you obviously need to have a keen eye for mistakes.

You also need to be patient to spend long hours in front of the PC.

Subs also tend to be anal people. It is common for them to fight with writers over things like missing photos, missing captions and factual errors.

Subs hate last-minute alterations and will give you dirty looks if you try to do one.

After a while, subs tend to form a mental list of 'preferred' clients - fastidious writers in the team who send in fairly clean copies, thereby making their lives less miserable.

I once did subediting work for 4 months. I lost 4kg.

This new year, if you are looking for an effective weight loss programme, this could be it for you.

p.s: This post has been subbed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Clean Your Keyboard like a Champion

Most of the keyboard cleanup how-to's that I've seen online involve turning the keyboard upside down and tapping on it or using compressed air to blow in between the keys. Or using cotton swabs to clean in between the keys. That's lame. 

 What you want to do is industrial-strength cleaning. If you're like most computer users, chances are your keyboard has never had a cleanup ever, and has accumulated an untold amount of filth. 

 Which is why you need to clean your keyboard like a champion. 

 You need: 
1. A flathead screwdriver 
2. A vacuum cleaner 
3. A cleaning cloth 
4. Maybe an old toothbrush 
5. A pillow case 
6. A face mask is nice to have
7. Some kind of cleaning alcohol is nice to have


First of all, take a photo of your keyboard for later reference.

Use a flathead screwdriver to pop off all the key caps. A word of caution: do it gently. You do not want to break any of them. Do it like Charlize Theron cracking a safe in The Italian Job. 

This is what you will see once the key caps are off.

Is that a dead insect?

Anyway, this is not so bad. I've seen much worse while performing this procedure on my colleagues's PCs back when I was working in media. 

Btw, don't lose the key caps. Place them all in a pillow case. Tell you why later. 

Here now is the actual dirty work. Get a vacuum cleaner -- a real vacuum cleaner, not those lame USB ones. I would recommend an Electrolux Ergorapido handheld vacuum cleaner because you can hold it like this, like Norman Bates in Psycho (cue screeching violins background music). 

It's to provide an element of violence to this otherwise mundane task. 

Some keyboards may require using an old toothbrush to loosen dirt off them. 

Btw, you may want to put on a face mask throughout the cleaning process. 

Vacuum and wipe the keyboard until it's completely clean. 

You do not have to clean the key caps individually. That would be tedious. Instead, just put them all in a pillow case, tie the pillow case and throw it into a washing machine together with the rest of your dirty laundry. When they come out, you'll find that they have been magically thoroughly cleaned. 


Let the key caps dry and place them back onto their original places on their keyboard. 

The longer key caps have hinges so make sure you put them back on properly. 

Also, some keys come in pairs and they may not be necessarily the same length, like these Shift keys. If you place them wrongly, just say 'Shift happens' and remove them again. 


Almost there. 


The thoroughly cleaned keyboard. 

For more gross photos of unclean keyboards, check out this post of mine from 2007:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Calm before the storm

In Perhentian with my fellow DSA swim instructors today, I had my second big test in scuba diving. (The first was in July 2010 when I survived a panic attack inside a shipwreck.

 Today we did our last dive of the day at the Perhentian light house. We began our descend at around 5.30pm. 

 Towards the end of the dive, while underwater, we noticed that it was getting dark very quickly. We also saw a few light flashes. We thought some people were taking photos. 

 We did our 5 minutes safety stop, and as we were coming up, I looked up and saw lots of raindrops. I thought, uh-oh, this is not good! 

 True enough, it was raining heavily up there. No, it wasn't just rain, it was a full-fledged storm! The waves were 3-4m high! Those flashing lights we saw earlier were actually lightning bolts! 

 I felt like I was in a bad dream. It really looked like a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie. 

A single bolt of lightning even struck very close to one of my friends. We were caught in a storm at sea. 

Our boat was nowhere to be seen. 

We did not know where we were. We looked around and could see nothing but gigantic waves. 

We shouted for help but quickly realised how futile it was. 

 I tried taking off my mask once but the rain was so heavy, I had to put it back on again. 

 There were five of us. Three including me were swimming instructors. The other two were new divers. Both girls. They were quiet. One of them was so new, it was only her second leisure dive after becoming certified. 

 I was scared (too). I had a lot of confidence in my swimming ability but this was my first taste of what the forces of Nature could do to Man. We are no match. Really. 

 If this was how I was gonna go, I thought, at least I'd die doing something that I liked. 

 But we did two right things straight away. The first was to remain calm. 

The second was to huddle together for moral support and to maintain body heat. I learnt this during BOSET (basic offshore safety training for oil and gas workers) last year. 

 We learnt afterwards that this was a freak storm which nobody saw coming. The last time it happened in Perhentian was about 10 years ago. 

 Our dive master Jamie asked if anyone had a whistle. None of us did. 

 For a while there, we were not quite sure what to do. Our BC jackets were fully inflated and that allowed us to bob around in the rough sea without using much energy. 

 Then, our boat came back. It was a bit of relief, but not for long because we then realised the boat was of no help as it was rocking violently. It would've killed anyone trying to get onto it. 

 Jamie then saw some lights. 

"Listen everyone. We're going to swim back to the jetty!" he said. It was then that we realised we were some 300m away from shore, so there was hope. 

We stayed together and swam on our back, all the while conserving energy. 

We sang songs to keep our spirits up. 

At one point, I developed a cramp in my right leg but was able to resolve it quickly. 

 We finally reached the jetty after what must've been an hour swimming in the sea. 

The whole incident took some time to sink in. But now, every time Jamie, Chow Wei, Chow Kuan, Shanice and Geraldine see the Perhentian light house, we can smile and laugh about it. 

I call our group of survivors the Lighthouse Family.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

When All Is Said And Done

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Welcome to heli

There are so many things people do not know about how things work in the oil and gas industry.

For example, people think you can just board a chopper and fly to the oil platforms. No, it's not that simple. You need training before you can go to an oil platform.

This is because the platforms are a sensitive area. One wrong move and things can go *TEBA-BO!!!* -- or however you would spell the sound of explosions.

Also, being hundreds of kilometres away from shore, the sea may not be... well, let's just say the sea may not be the calm, pretty waters you get in Tioman or Perhentian. And in worst case scenarios, you need to know how to stay alive for days, even weeks, in the water before help arrives.

Which is why, oil companies have made it compulsory for everyone going to oil platforms for work or even a short visit to sit for a safety course.

Called BOSET, or Basic Offshore Safety and Emergency Training, the three-day course is designed to equip you with basic skills for handling emergencies.

I was privileged enough to be assigned by my company to attend BOSET in preparation for an offshore study visit.

I learnt useful BOSET skills like firefighting, CPR, sea survival and many more.

But really, the heart of BOSET is HUET, or Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. When people, especially first timers, talk about BOSET, this is what they fear the most.

HUET is supposed to simulate a helicopter crash landing at sea and going below. Once underwater, you're supposed to unbuckle yourself, pop open the window and swim to the surface.

But not before waiting for at least 10 seconds for the main rotor to stop turning, otherwise you risk getting decapitated.

Hence, welcome to heli.

We do not use real helis for the training, only a fibreglass shell with cockpit and windows made to look like a heli.

It's a straightforward affair: you get into the simulator, buckle up and wait for the instructors to submerge the heli. Then you escape.

You do not need to be a good swimmer to do this exercise, but you do need some measure of water confidence.

In the old days, trainees had to hold their breaths during HUET. Not anymore. In 2008, a thingamajig called Emergency Breathing System (EBS) was introduced. It's basically a rebreather integrated into your life jacket that allows you to breath underwater for a good one minute or so.

If you're already a scuba diver, this is kacang putih (piece of cake).

Each of us got to perform the HUET four times, two of which with the heli turned upside-down. It was fun.

Apart from HUET, we also learnt skills such as how to jump from height without having the lifejacket bashing your face and how to minimise heat loss from long hours in the water by using the HELP and Huddle positions.

I passed my BOSET without any problem.

I'm glad I went for BOSET. Apart from enjoying myself, there was a take-home message: that just because you're a diver or swimmer, doesn't mean you automatically know how to save yourself at sea. For your own survival, everyone should be open to learning.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dedicated to friends and instructors from DSA