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Beneath the Surface

I generally consider myself to be a financially responsible, frugal person. That is, I don’t set budgets or track my spending; rather I simply try my best to spend money wisely by taking advantage of discounts and special offers (OzBargain is my most visited website second probably only to Google or Facebook).

That is especially the case when I make a big-ticket purchase, such as a new gadget. But today, something happened that actually made me feel a little bit sick. Make no mistake, I made an epic purchase, but I’m left wondering whether I’ve made a Faustian deal in order to score my “bargain”.

There is no short version, just the long one…

Last week Sydney was hit by a freak storm, which caused chaos and devastation throughout the state. In an attempt to avoid having to battle the elements, I asked, and was granted, leave to work from home. In hindsight, this turned out to be a rather bad decision since a fallen tree took out the power lines and left us without electricity for 6 hours, and me completely unable to do any work. “I need a laptop,” I thought to myself.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

If only there were such a thing as a tablet that was also a laptop…

The following week, there was a post on OzBargain about a sale on Microsoft Surface tablets. I’d already been um-ing and ah-ing about whether to finally admit defeat and declare “pure iPad” a failed experiment. Then I read a leaked memo saying that Microsoft would be bumping up the prices of Surface by around 20% in response to the declining Australian Dollar. I was also lamenting having not salary sacrificed a laptop in the previous FBT year.

Anyway, each and every sentence in that last paragraph could have been a separate blog post. Suffice to say, I talked myself into getting one, but at that point “insane mode” kicked in – this is where I attempt to find every possible discount and benefit available.

Here is a brief summary of my process (excluding options that were considered but rejected):

  • Regular price: $1,549 (increasing to $1,849 on May 4th) – Surface Pro 3, i5/256
  • Accessories: $149 – type cover, $229 – dock
  • Bundle price from CompNow – $1,628
  • Price match at JB Hifi ($1,629.40 due to some technicality with their discounting system)
  • Paid using JB Hifi gift cards, purchased using discounted Wish gift cards from Entertainment Book
  • Salary sacrifice

In theory my out of pocket is around $750, minus whatever I can get selling the iPad. I should be jubilant, but then there was the collateral damage to consider:

Piles and piles of receipts and used gift card carriers

It’s even worse than it looks, ‘coz I haven’t spread them all out properly.

Big W and Woolies had run out of $100 denominations in JB Hifi gift cards, so I purchased thirty-one $50 gift cards. This is in spite of the 10-card transaction limit, and the fact that each card had to be activated online, so I was probably hogging a self-checkout terminal to myself for a good 10-15 minutes.

Then there’s the waste. Oh the waste. The small tree’s worth of receipts and carriers (the cardboard bit attached to each gift card) from my little endeavour was unfathomable. Having only just this morning read an article about this woman in New York who lives a zero-waste lifestyle, I saw the folly of my ways. I’ve done all sorts of things in the past to get discounts, but my mind boggled when confronted with solid physical evidence of these schemes.

Granted, this feeling will likely vanish the moment I unbox the device and marvel in its awesomeness, but for one brief enlightened moment, I knew the true cost of my thrifty ways and caught a glimpse into the dark heart of our capitalist system.

Ex-zzyss-tential crisis

Gees… I would never, ever have imagined when I came up with it back in the late 90’s that “zzyss” would be anything but entirely unique to me. For the record, it was the name of an evil wizard in an epic fantasy saga called “Quentin the Legend” that I never ended up writing, and isn’t supposed to be pronounceable (but if you insist, I’ve always said it in my head as sorta rhyming with “hiss” with a bit of an actual hiss to it). I was more interested in the palindromic shape formed by making the S’s into backwards Z’s – I even made a cool animated GIF for it – I probably even have a copy of it somewhere, but here’s a quick mockup of what it essentially looked like:

The letters of "zzyss" styled using geometrically arranged triangles

But it just goes to show how difficult it is to find something that is truly your own online now, because I’m starting to come across more and more competition for it. I never thought to acquire the domain name back in the day but I notice from the Wayback machine that has been occupied since at least 2001. I’ve seen a Spanish(?) shoe store (Zapatos y sandalias) and various Chinese websites where the letters are rough abbreviations of the pinyin (e.g. 中原书社/Zhōngyuán shūshè – “Central Bookstore” and 诸子喻山水/Zhū zǐ yù shānshuǐ – “Scholar Yu’s landscape”). I have no idea what other uses that simple five-letter combination has been called into service for but boy they’ve sure gotten around!

Anyway, that’s all. I’m only posting this ‘coz I was annoyed that some Chinese dude’s gone and reserved my name on Origin. But man, if I ever find out that anybody else is using “cyberseraphic”, there will be a reckoning. I’m very proud of that little neologism, which I created out of a great admiration for a Neal Stephenson book title, Cryptonomicon. More on that another day.

Short story: Irrevers-able

I discovered time travel back on the 29th of December, 2013. You might wonder at my using such an archaic date nomenclature if I had access to all of eternity, but the nature of the thing is not as you might think. I am not a traveller in time; I am a scientist, and I should not be using language so imprecisely. However, I do travel, and it is not going back in time to kill your grandfather and all that nonsense. This is impossible, and I can prove it. It is a very different kind of travel, for very different reasons.

What I discovered was a kind of particle. Not a particle of matter, but a particle of time. Billions upon billions of these particles surround us at any moment, swarming through us – not really affecting us, but at the same time changing us completely. We age because the particles lap at our bodily matter like waves on a rock. But the particles care not that they are propelling us all forward. They are simply fleeing from the singularity, and hence we have only ever known time as marching inexorably onward.

Going back in time is possible in as far as you can unwind all of history, playing 7 billion movies in reverse. You must calculate and undo each and every reaction between matter and these particles, in the correct order, for each and every quark on the planet (and possibly those beyond), in order to turn back the clock. Of course, it is far from necessary to perform this feat on such a grand scale; one might only have need of it on a smaller scale. It can be done, and I will achieve it.

The first part is easy: the reaction with the particles is reversible; one merely needs to direct them in the right way. The other part not so much: performing the calculations to achieve a complete and correct reversal requires an immense amount of computing power, which itself requires the energy of many suns. But this is no more than an inconvenience. I have a ship, and all I have done is set it on autopilot towards the nearest star, and locked myself inside a chamber that prevents the particles from decaying my body, effectively putting me into a complete stasis only to wake once I have achieved my destination, ready to feed.

I travel from star to star, devouring each one to progress my calculations one atom at a time. And the atoms number as many as the stars.

So I will destroy this universe.

Just to get you back.


I originally posted this on Quora, but it just disappeared into the great nebula of excellent creative writing already on the site.

Meet Elan Wong

Like father, like son - Elan and Caesar

Elan on the left, and an old Polaroid of me (Caesar) when I was a baby on the right.

Jenny and I are absolutely pleased as punch to announce that not only are we with child, we had the baby on Sunday morning, 29th December 2013. Sorry for keeping him a secret from you, internet; we’ve been disappointed in the past and so wanted to keep something so very precious to us private.

I’ve put together a brief FAQ for what I imagine are the most pressing questions right now:

What are the gory details?
Elan was born on the morning of 29th December 2013, weighing 3.86 kg (8.52 lbs). He’s a big baby – his head circumference was 37cm which supposedly puts him in the ~95th percentile. Winning!

How do you pronounce Elan?
EE-lun (IPA: /’i:.lən/) – essentially “Ian” but with an “L” shoved in, not the regular English word.

Where did you get the name from?
Elan, from Rich Burlew's webcomic 'The Order of the Stick'

You named your son after a stick figure?
Yep. It’s from a brilliant, if slightly nerdy, web comic. Check it out: No particular reason; I like it because it’s relatively unique without being too “out there”.

Does he have a Chinese name?
My parents have helped us to choose 黃栢延 – we haven’t settled on the romanisation yet, but it’ll probably be “Wong Pak Yin”. I’ll have to figure out what it is in Korean too… will update this post when I figure that out.

Magic words

Image of Andrew Huang from the Youtube video "Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing On Rainbows"

The hardest part about an ability is the using. Many of you guys say that I write well – maybe I really do, or maybe you’re just being charitable – and that I should write more and more often. Whatever your real intentions are, I do wish I could write more; I simply lack inspiration.

Some would say that we’re surrounded by inspiration – and indeed many artists can write a song, paint a picture, or pen a poem at the drop of a hat. I recently came across Andrew Huang on Youtube – this guy is a veritable master of sounds, making reasonably good songs out of seemingly any idea that pops into his head, such as sounds of water, turning Beethoven into Dubstep, his obvious love of rap and a whole lot more besides. Heck, he even wrote a whole song based on a single asinine comment about fuzzy unicorns posted to one of his videos!

That’s not to say I have a shortage of ideas. In fact, I have A Lot Of Ideas. Thinking back on my previous output though, it occurs to me that what I’m waiting for is almost always an interesting sounding word (e.g. macabre) or turn of phrase (“Meet Me In My Reverie“) that I can latch onto, around which I can craft something. To use a horrible cliché, it’s like a pearl forming around a grain of sand, or a raindrop around a speck of dust.

I also find that having limitations helps. When I wrote “Danse Macabre” I forced myself to write solely on pen and paper, without using the computer to look up words or rhymes (truth be told, despite what I previously wrote, the real reason why I started writing that way was to try and use up as many pens and as many sheets of paper as possible because I had so many lying around). My poetry is also mostly in rhyme because it gives me a way to constrain all the possibilities inherent in language – otherwise wrangling words would be like trying to herd cats.

Back to the point, I’m just a guy who strings words together. The more I read, the more I write. So if you want me to write more just give me more things to read, including things that you write such as your posts and comments on Facebook – just please no unicorns.

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