gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

News from Singapore: After slightly less than four years since the shock Government decision to enforce competition within the mainstream media, the industry has taken a major step backwards this week by announcing that Singapore Press Holdings' television arm will be handed over to Media Corporation of Singapore. For those who don't know, prior to 2001, MediaCorp was the monopoly holder in the Singapore television industry. As a parallel development, the country's two freesheet newspapers, Streats of SPH and MediaCorp's Today, will be merged and administered by a company primarily owned by MediaCorp. SPH will otherwise retain ownership of all the major newspapers (neither Streats nor Today fall into that category, I am told).

In a previous life as a veteran writer on socio-political developments, I had written an article discussing the media war in Singapore just when it had started. Even back then, I had warned about the possibility of a "return to monopoly" scenario arising shortly after the split occurred. This is exactly what I feared would happen, and it unnerves me to realize that the worst case scenario I had feared so much is going to end up happening.

I'm a little closer to the action in Singapore because I've been based there for quite some time. As such I've had the opportunity to watch terrestrial television there as well as put it under the microscope. One of the biggest things I fear about this latest exercise is that it is going to undo all the good work that has come out of the enforced competition in the last four years. That would have made everything such a waste.

Why am I tempted to say this? The channels run by MediaCorp and SPH currently run very similar programming grids. Take the Chinese channels for instance. News at 6.30pm and 10pm, one-hour dramas at 7pm and 9pm, prime-time local variety shows at 8pm, Taiwanese dramas in the late afternoon... The way they so closely mirror each other suggests, quite simply, that following the merger, the level of redundancy is going to be so high that it's not just Channel I (who have been running great losses) that is going to fold. It is entirely likely that Channel U may fold too. Which is just about as complete a "return to monopoly" scenario as we are going to get.

The way MediaCorp currently runs, there is plenty of cross-channel sharing. News feeds from Channel NewsAsia are pumped into the other channels as well as the mobile television network. In fact newscasters cross channels with fluid ease. That is supposed to change given that the new structure separates CNA from all the other channels in terms of management, but in practice I think that is never going to happen. On the other hand, SPH's current practice of having staff who can both write the news and read them on television will have to be cancelled. Such is the sad sibling rivalry that it is unrealistic to imagine any of them straddling across both sides following this merger.

I'm also worried about the possibility (and remember, you read it here first) that the merger is going to leave a sizeable number of former SPH artistes out cold, and the new talents unearthed by them are going to disappear into theatre (which remains largely unknown to the masses) or just quit the industry altogether. With MediaCorp having clearly dominant control (80% stakes in the new holding company) it's hard to imagine them giving much of a break to all the people who jumped to SPH when it started on the new television stations. It would be more in their nature to continue promoting their own stars and quietly freeze out all the people who showed "a lack of loyalty".

This is where the television industry in Singapore works differently from places like Taiwan. In Taiwan, most individual talents are not contractually bound to work for only one TV station. In an environment where there are three major terrestrial stations, plus a plethora of cable TV channels, artistes are able to work with different stations because they are signed on contract to shows, not stations. Thus, for instance, someone like superstar host Jacky Wu could be doing five different variety programmes at five different time slots in a single week, and all of them can appear on different channels. For that matter, two shows involving the same person could be in direct competition for prime-time ratings. In Singapore it does not work like that. Bit-part actors can operate on a freelance basis, but the major stars are signed on long-term contracts and would only appear on one television station (except in commercials where they are endorsing products).

The last four years have shown that the different stations have different talents good at different things. Channel U, for instance, is excelling in variety shows that involve outdoor filming and comparatively newer concepts. It is an innovation that is inspired by the conditions the channel finds itself in. In fact, the common complaint is that SPH doesn't have the resources to keep filming its own drama shows, so it either imports them from overseas or collaborates with foreign production teams. And the results haven't been that bad - we no longer have to subscribe to cable television to get some access to good drama shows from Hong Kong. The fear is that all these positive developments are going to get wiped out following the merger. Without some semblance of domestic competition, there just won't be any real motivation to innovate and break away from some of the rotten fare we keep getting stuffed with.

SPH's Channel U just concluded last week a contest to search for new talents to enter the local entertainment industry. The Next Big Thing, I think it's called. Sure, it's nothing quite like MediaCorp's own talent scouting contest - I think it's called Star Search - but this was meant to start these people on a career in showbiz. I don't know what could possibly be going through their minds when they were participating in that contest, but they can't really be smiling now. All their dreams are going to get wiped out following this merger, because a channel that was willing to try something different and do its own experiments is going to be gobbled up by a television station that's very good at getting nearly everything wrong.

Singapore needs improvements in showbiz so that it matures beyond an idol haven with pathetic production and management policies. It needs real character actors and proper storylines that are at least artistically challenging or socially powerful. It needs better variety television programming that stops subscribing to the belief that slapstick and lameness wins ratings. It needs to believe that social commentary shows have every right to fight for a slot in the prime time belt (Taiwan has a public call-in live talkshow that sticks right into the 9pm slot - and it's popular!). And it needs to stop shafting talents and mismanaging them to the point that only a few people can be relied upon.

That is, if Singapore cares about this kind of thing at all.

gambitch [ 5:08 PM]

Friday, September 17, 2004

A second post, to break things up a bit. (Unfortunately Blogger's system is such that the first post comes later down the page, so it does feel odd sometimes. Then again I'm tapping it, so I don't really care.)

Announcement to those concerned - you know who you are, and I know at least some of you stop by here - regarding "the experiment":

Area of interest: The Middle East. Exact wording will be made known on the day.
Teams: Predetermined as agreed; plan your own backup in case the untoward happens.
Rules: 3-on-3, seven and four. We start at four sharp. The side going first gets 30. Otherwise full standard rules apply, with floor closed.

Those concerned who see and understand this, please propagate to the other lads involved.

Those who don't get any of this, relax. It probably doesn't concern you.

If the gaffer has other plans that clash with this, explain and apologize on my behalf for being rash. If the gaffer has other plans that don't clash with this, fit them. Whether to explain is up to you. (That's what happens when I forget to ask for the gaffer's number.)

Queries, if any, by e-mail. If you don't know my address, use the comments box to ask for it.

gambitch [ 3:48 AM]

Nowadays fatigue drives me to sleep early and wake up even earlier. With such short initial sleeping hours I then have to do all sorts of catching up. I don't necessarily like it, but then I can make myself make the other adjustments. Given the way my body works, and it's a very cranky body I have (like owner, like owned), I guess it just means I have to make all sorts of adjustments in life, and live in a way that is unorthodox, if not particularly controversial. I don't have a problem with that - the unorthodox doesn't have to be controversial, just uncommon. And I've the resourcefulness as well as the willingness to accept these things. For some other people it just never crosses their minds in the first place, but that's them and it's not an issue.

I'm holding my thoughts regarding the latest leg of The Amazing Race. I'm still recovering from the very interesting shocker I got in this episode (and no, it's not Colin and Christie getting Yielded). Anyway my review of that episode should be out over the weekend, so fans can relax.

On another note, the search engines are at it again. I haven't been online for a couple of days, and today I took a look at the list of people who have been on my blog. Obviously I didn't get any names - that is not how site counters work anyway - but I certainly got a few search engines with phrases like "Stefanie Sun" and "Dear Boys" (the comic, I presume?). Is this supposed to be a sign of me spreading my wings into lots of different areas, or what?

Some rather strange developments have happened this week. Because someone else was a little busier than usual, I ended up becoming some sort of stand-in gaffer with a bunch of schoolboys. It wasn't planned, and to prove it I can say that I didn't even know what was going to happen until it did. I can't quite say I did a good job for the week. I don't think it's a matter of me botching it and doing a bad job - I just didn't think of it as doing a job at all. At the end of it all I know my place; I'm just a convenient stand-in, and that could have ended up not happening at all if I wasn't where I was physically. Plus the lack of formal recognition simply means I don't have the same kind of authority. I'm fine with that, by the way, because this isn't my job. I'm just stating that my lack of formal authority prevents me from doing some things that I would have otherwise done if I actually had that authority. I'm not courting it, though. Plus, none of it is being taken to heart.

Having said that, sometimes I do end up taking matters into my own hands. It's a consequence of being used to a position of some power and authority, but it's also because I know I don't have that much time left to do things my way. (Incidentally the kids will be stopping work and starting on their examinations two weeks from now. That was announced this week.) If things required somewhat extreme measures I wasn't going to hesitate about taking those measures. Yes, they're not "my boys", but I didn't have time to care about that. I could let them rot, of course, but if I missed this chance I would never get another one with this bunch, and I didn't think it was a good idea to leave a problem unattempted in an exam when you had the chance to attempt it.

At one of the most primary levels, "the profession" is about comprehension, analysis and strategy. One thing the kids lack is the ability to do all these things with single-minded discipline and focus. In short, you can't afford that. Those of you who have been there recently know what I'm talking about. If you keep getting rounds where either side (sometimes both!) loses the plot and the whole thing just veers off into the weirdest of galaxies, it's just not right. Plus those who were involved probably didn't find it all that thrilling either. I really don't understand what some of the things that have been said in recent rounds were meant to achieve. It's just stupid strategy-wise.

It's been a while since I last dealt with the older kids (I occasionally wonder how they're doing now, but it's not my place to ask about them anymore, plus I'm told some of them are sick of me). To my memory, sometimes the more amateurish ones among them do have similar problems. The sad thing was that I wasn't as obsessive about strategy then as I am now. If I could have gone back in time and done some things differently, this would have been one of them. But I suppose I needed that time away to gain my new insights.

It's like Toya Koyo quitting the professional Go game. Again I apologize to those who haven't read Hikaru no Go for making so many references to that comic series, but I'm seeing too many parallels between real life and fiction. The point is, the meijin seems to have advanced his game since retiring from the professional scene. Great as he was prior to quitting the pro game, he actually found that freeing himself from the professional game allowed him to bring himself closer to godlike perfection. As a pro he had to participate in title challenges all over Japan (and there are many, plus he held five titles at one point in the story). Quitting the Japanese pro scene allowed him to travel around Korea and China, and get new experiences playing in a different environment. He was no longer Toya Koyo, great professional player; he was now Toya Koyo, great player, period.

Anyway, I digress.

I'm getting frustrated by my realization that the kids keep giving themselves negative demonstrations, and that, by lack of intention rather than sheer design, they're allowing it to stay that way. I'm sure the regular gaffer realizes it, and he probably has his thoughts on this (without ever saying it all as openly as I do, but he's him and I'm me and we wouldn't have it any other way). But then this doesn't stop me from having my own thoughts and frustrations. The thing is, the situation cannot be allowed to continue. A lack of positive examples just cannot be acceptable because these kids would then have nothing concrete to aspire to.

I'm aware some of them have seen videos of great positive demonstrations, some of them by their own seniors. That's great, actually, and there's a place for these videos, but I don't think that is enough. Watching videos of Ryan Giggs day in and day out would not make you a wizard on the wings. My belief is that you'd actually have to try these things out for yourself. When you can come to the realization that these fantastic performances aren't that far away after all, and that you can do these things too, it gives you a tremendous lift. It's fundamentally different. Watching videos, one could say, "Oh, he's good, but I don't know if I can do these things." There are a few reasons, but one of them is because videos invariably star people who "have made it", and once people hit that status, there's a psychological gap. People think, "Oh, he's great, and I'm not." They don't append to that the thought, "Not now, but I can get there too if I try." And it doesn't help if they never see for themselves what they could achieve given the right setup. Consistently bad performances without the right guidance only allows them to slip further and further into that psychological entrenchment, that belief that the good folks they see on video are just on another talent planet that is out of their reach.

Which is why I'm taking some really extreme measures in the coming week. It's high time the better ones among these kids get some real pushing, and see for themselves how to play the game as it should be played. It's also high time to pass on some of the skills I have by putting them into action. Nothing beats learning by doing, at the end of it all. If the major experiment pulls off, it should give the kids a positive demonstration of a high order. (Background thought: I was really tempted to say "the highest order", because it is linguistically natural to build up all that typing to a grand climax. However, I have to be modest, given that I'm not some world champion, or for that matter some national champion. I'm not that good, and I've never pretended to be. To build it all up excessively would be tantamount to hollow boasting. So, sorry, I had to put the brakes on.)

If everything comes together properly, the kids should finally be able to see that getting things right isn't something that is so bloody hell difficult. Clocking a good round where everything falls into place isn't impossible. It can be done, and it's not that hard to do. All that's required are sharp ears to listen, a sharp mind to read into what's heard, a sharp eye to grasp the strategic implications as to what's demanded in response, and the focus and discipline to come up with a plan that does nothing else but attack the key zones head-on. Get all these things right in sequence, and these kids will be ready to fly.

gambitch [ 2:21 AM]

Monday, September 13, 2004

I'm not sure why my blog was turned up when someone searched for the words "sex blogs". The reason I know is that my site counter keeps track of various things, and one of these is how people got here. For those concerned about privacy issues, don't worry too much. For the most part I'm only doing cursory surveys about which websites people came from; most of the other information that this can gather is of no meaning to me.

Anyway, search engines are funny things. Searches based on various phrases related to The Amazing Race is one thing (I've not been asked to link up to any web-rings for TAR yet), but weird search phrases like "Gatsby metallic silver hair dye" and "sex blogs" are another matter. But I suppose people who check out my blog in hope of finding out more about haircare products and other such things are going to be deeply disappointed, plus they'll realize soon enough that this isn't the site for these things.

At the time of writing I had a little laugh at the latest Panasonic "Keep Life Cordless" commercial. You know, the one where some guy was listening to a radio in some quiet corner in India. That advertisement was good because it was funny, and that just makes people remember the product. There have been commercials that were funny but didn't make any sense, and whatever they were selling becomes forgotten. The fact that I can't remember any examples should prove the point. There have been greater ads, though, like the one where this monkey was lying down on the road and pretending to be dead or something. A driver stopped and came out of his car to see what was wrong, and suddenly the monkey sprang up and zipped into the car, locked the door, and drove off. Now that was good.

Speaking of advertisements, one of my favourites at the moment (for no particular reason) is the one for some Taiwan tourism campaign starring A*mei. Welcome to Taiwan! I haven't been there for a few years now, and I'd really like to take a look. Although I wouldn't have raised enough money for the trip in time to catch the latest Legislative Yuan election. I was there in time for that back in 1995, and I also caught the Golden Horse Awards there. Compared to what we see outside of Taiwan, we got much more backstage footage there.

I don't know whether I'm reaching a point where I'm getting too impatient with myself. My concern with the kids aren't about the ones who are just starting out and have plenty of time to learn the ropes of "the profession". It's with the ones who are reaching a critical juncture in their careers, the ones who have the difficult task of bearing the batons when the season starts in earnest - and that's pretty soon. They're the ones who are going out there and flying the flag. They're the ones who are doing battle very soon.

Thing is, why am I getting so worked up about wanting to see these kids excel? And why am I trying so hard to make them successful when, really, it's none of my business? I don't know, sometimes. Maybe it's because my own life in "the profession" has been a frustrating one. Maybe it's because I haven't really enjoyed that much success in my own time there. Yes, there have been a few achievements, but they're of the type that nobody remembers. It's like football - nobody remembers the glittering careers of referees, so even if you're Pierluigi Collina, you can be really brilliant and you still won't win medals.

So this could partly be an exercise in giving these kids some of the skills I had, so that they can go out there and achieve the success I never had. It's a strange feeling, this, because I am a little bitter about the fact that I've never really reached the highest pinnacle. I'm not bitter with the system; I'm more bitter with myself because I didn't have the skills and the flair to go that far. Yet at the same time I'm developing this other set of skills that I see being ignored so often, and I'm getting really agitated about sharing those other skills because, if I didn't do it, I really don't know who would.

To me this makes me feel a little like Fujiwara no Sai. If you've read Hikaru no Go you'll know what I'm talking about. What does it feel like for Sai, being the Go exponent he is, being companion and instructor for both Shusaku (Torachiro as Sai calls him) and Hikaru? Of course, Sai is a bit luckier; Torachiro probably let him play a good few games, and Hikaru definitely gave him opportunities to shine, like in several matches against Akira, and most famously the online game between Sai and Toya Koyo. That was a very tense game - I wonder whether either Sai or Hikaru ever realized how many people were watching that match. The meijin himself probably knew, but it's never really mentioned, not much anyway. I'm not going to get that kind of luxury of "playing a few games", not against the best anyway. Then again, unlike Sai, I'm not the best, so I can't dream so much.

The point, though, is that just as Sai was an instructor to Torachiro and Hikaru and gave them the success and fame he never had, sometimes I think the things I'm trying to do are also about giving people the success and fame I never had. At least Sai had two years from the moment he first met Hikaru (or should that be the other way around?). I don't have two years, and these kids don't quite have two years. Maybe that's why I'm getting too impatient with myself.

I'm not sure if it's a sign, but here's what came out of my latest personality test:

Which Hikaru no Go character are you?

... I think it's a sign.

gambitch [ 11:47 PM]

Sunday, September 12, 2004

I had a sudden thought about learning the taijiquan, or the Tai-tzu changquan. Either would be fine, actually. The point of picking up these martial arts isn't to become a better fighter. I just think that learning either of these would really go a long way in cultivating a mellower personality. Plus it's actually good for health.

I am aware that lots of old people learn the taijiquan. Maybe in the impression of some people, taijiquan is something for the elder folk. Okay, so call me old. I've sort of accepted that anyway - I am old. I'm old and battered and all that, and I'm cynical and everything. In short, I don't have that youthful zest. I've never quite had that anyway; I have always half-jokingly said that I'm a victim of accelerated aging, and with that I've accepted that there are lots of things I would have to bypass in my younger years.

Ah, heck.

Rewriting a computer game script was trickier than I thought. Relatively independent scripts for the European Championships and Qualifiers aren't that bad - especially when I'm happy with the structure of the qualifiers. I haven't worked on the World Cup qualifiers and tournament scripts, partly because I realized the original scripts only covered qualification for the Europe and South American zones. Selection of teams for the other zones were substantially lazier, so structuring a tournament out of nothing may be trickier.

The worst part was basically the European club competitions - Champions League, UEFA Cup and InterToto Cup. The InterToto was easy enough. Expanding it to 48 teams and devising a randomized first-round draw was very manageable. The real problem was with the other two competitions - adding a couple of qualifying rounds, altering the list of entries, randomizing the group stage draws, things like that. The real world competitions have a very detailed set of rules regarding draws, such as teams from the same nation not being allowed to face each other. The draws can nonetheless proceed with a mental double-check of these rules. No such mechanisms were coded into the computer game.

The good news is that Total Club Manager 2005, together with its action twin FIFA Football 2005, would be coming out in a couple of months. If I have the money you can be pretty sure I'm laying my hands on both games and checking out the code. In particular, I'll be examining the scripts to see if they've have finally worked on a more realistic set of code for the draws. If they haven't, the modding community would have work to do right upon release of the game!

I've been working so hard on fixing Total Club Manager 2004, I haven't got around playing it all that much. Fact is, I can't bring myself to play a broken, non-working game when I haven't found out how to fix my own scripts. I do have a working script from someone else, but I'm not totally happy with that because of some, um, things that I want to change. Which is why I started from scratch on those other scripts in the first place. The same thing probably explains why I haven't worked on my blog template for a little while, but that's another matter.

gambitch [ 3:18 PM]


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