Close encounters of the ‘contractor’ kind….

I’m breathing a sigh of relief right now…… some minor renovation works that are being done in the house are nearing completion & YAY …. no untoward incidence of the contractor running out in the middle of the job ….. no ‘collateral damage’ to existing furniture and fittings in the house … & am just so grateful that it’s a pretty good job done ….

Well, just to share a amusing ‘facts’  experience has taught when encountering contractors ….

1. “I do everything”. Famous quote by contractors who claim they can do everything from wetworks to kitchen cabinets …  Well, technically, it means they know how to outsource everything … So truly, if you want something nice done, you might want to source some services on your own, especially if it involves fittings like your wardrobe or even the kitchen cabinets. If not, always insist on material samples or pictures of works done, to make sure you get what you want.

2. “We don’t use Indon workers“.  Don’t be tricked into thinking you’re getting Chinese sifu’s instead  …  they actually utilise Bangladeshi labourers. Cheaper and more ‘obedient’, so they claim….. (I personally prefer them to Indons too, Bangladeshi’s are very polite and mild mannered) … Whatever it is, for the final touches, make sure that the works are fine tuned by the Chinese sifu’s especially when walls need to be plastered or window frames need to be done….. If not, you might have to live with a crooked wall or a crooked window frame…. seriously.    

3. Don’t choose the guy with lowest quote. The quality of materials given might be compromised. Even the cement used has different grades. Don’t be surprised if they use cheap mortar & your tiles come loose in a year or so ….. 

4. Beware of fly by night contractors without a proper registered company. These guys are just out to make a quick buck, cashing in on the band wagon. They promise the sky, they are quick to ‘demand’ for a ‘deposit’  but slow to pay their outsourced labour. At the end of the day, you will end up paying the price as there could be a huge delay on works to be done …… and worse still, if these guys run out on the job half way through.

 5. Digressing a little here, don’t trust colour charts issued by the paint manufacturers. There are so many variables that will affect the colour …. sunlight, yellow light, white light etc etc. A case in point is the ‘fog grey’ weather shield which we chose for our balcony floor. It looked dark in the chart but ended up so light when painted. It turns out it that area is under the direct glare of the sunlight hence the lighter shade ….  Tip: If you’re painting & you’re not too sure of the colour, buy a small tin of it just to make sure you like the colour.

6. Never take your contractor’s word for it.  Do your own research.  Most of the times they will tell you ‘this’ cannot be done, ‘that’ cannot be done just because it’s too much hassle. Know your rights. Insist. If they know you won’t back down, they will try to do things your way. 

7. Expect delays. …. I think it’s safe to extend the time frame set by the contractor for works done by another 20 to 30% (if you’re lucky) … Trust me there will be delays here and there … The reason being… we cannot predict the weather, we cannot predict whether suppliers of certain fittings etc will come on time, we also cannot predict the additional works that need to be done if ‘collateral damage’ happens i.e. pipes drilled into accidentally, damage to floors etc, etc.  In addition to that, the contractor might also be juggling two or three jobs. Let me share a story with you how long the delay can be …. A friend bought an old double storey house in Taman Tun. When he started renovations, the neighbour’s wife had just given birth. By the time the renovations were done, the baby had already started walking. Imagine that!  

Well…that’s just a few things that come to mind….. & oh yeah…. you wouldn’t believe the wonders a can of COKE does for you …. always keep some handy to offer to workers who come to your house. They really appreciate it & instead of slacking off… they even point out mistakes made by others to you so that you can get it rectified …. Speaking from experience…..

Happy Renovating all!

So, what’s all the hype about Paranormal Activity?


Have you seen the movie Paranormal Activity? … It only made it to the M’sian cinema circuit,  starting Jan 7, 2010 … talk about late….. :(

Well, it’s a horror movie. My favorite kind. The story centres around a young couple who has just moved in together  to a new home in San Diego. Given certain ‘activities’, of the paranormal kind, happening in the house, they believe that it is being haunted by a ‘demon’ that was apparently following Katie, the girl, when she was 8 years old. Micah, the boyfriend is determined on documenting the phenomena, hence the appearance of a handheld camera which records a series of events which leads up to the ‘surprise’ ending.

Amazing how a movie featuring just …  1 house (which incidentally is the director’s own house ~ Oren Peli), 1 handheld camera, 1 demon… (not ghost) and  4 actors (2 guys & 2 girls) …. could be such a blockbuster success! The production budget of the movie …… only USD11,000. The film grossed an impressive USD36.9m in its first month of showing in the US, & we haven’t even taken into account the box office earnings internationally … Not too shabby I say.

So what’s the hype all about?  Well to understand it, here are some interesting facts surrounding the movie…… 

1. If you were a fan of the Blair Witch Project (BWP), in 1999 … you would definitely want to watch Paranormal Activity (PA). They share the same low budget features …. with minimal scripting, minimal acting & employ the use of hand held cameras to simulate a ‘real’ incident… OK, maybe BWP wasn’t so low budget (USD60K) compared to PA (USD11K) but BWP made USD140m at the box office. PA is on its way to making as much.

The Blair Witch Project was hyped up to be a true story. The film was done in a documentary format. It had a lot of people fooled….. & more importantly, freaked!  PA too started out similarly by creating the illusion that it was a home video footage, edited for public viewing. ……. If you notice, the screen couple take on the  first names of the actor and actresses i.e. Micah (real name Micah Sloat) & Katie (Katie Featherston). There are also no credits rolling at the end of the movie, creating an illusion as if there was no directing, casting or even scripting involved.  In fact, when the movie first screened during film festivals ….. there was even a note thanking the families of the couple for allowing the video to be shown publicly.  The actor and actress, playing the screen couple, were visibly absent during the limited premiere of the movie. They were apparently spying on fans queuing up for the movie from across the street, hidden behind a tree ….. 

But there’s a difference …. Paramount does not pretend that this movie is anything other than fiction, unlike BWP which tried to carry the hype to the end. The people behind the marketing of PA knew better than to insult audience’s intelligence in this day  and age dominated by social media…..  

2. …. which brings us to fact no. 2…. Using social media as a marketing tool. It demonstrates the power of the ‘word of mouth’ through the WEB.  How was it done?   There was a two prong approach …..  It all started in Sept 2009. 

  • Part 1. ‘Piecemeal’ release. The film was not released nationwide as would happen conventionally, but instead, on a  ‘piecemeal’ basis. Paramount first released it in Sept to limited midnight showings, in just 13 college towns. The first ‘scary’ seeds were thus sown. From then on, the WEB did the rest of the work. The initial batch of audience who was scared into sleepless nights started spreading the word around ……. it was tweeted, facebooked & viewer comments flooded the movie’s website …. Perfect. Now to execute part 2 of the viral marketing plan. 
  • Part 2. Empowering the fans! Now, with all the hype created, the rest of the potential audience market wanted to watch it…. and they could ‘demand it’ at the official website of PA. They had to click on a yellow box at the top right corner of the page to ‘demand’ for the movie to be shown in their town … and the producers promised if they reached certain targeted numbers… it would go to the town that demanded for it. At the same time, there was another number counter which monitored the absolute total number of ‘demands’. If it were to reach 1 million, it would go nationwide. A case in point  ~  One of the viewers, a student, desperately wanted to catch the movie after hearing about it. ….He went to the website & clicked to ‘demand it’ to come to his town … everyday. At the same time he was spreading the word to his friends to do the same. Imagine this action repeated over and over again by countless fans & you have a winning formula. 

One month & a million demands later, PA not only opened in the towns which demanded for it, but also nationwide in the US. Talk about an ingenious way of marketing the movie. No expensive ads involved. No roadshows. No big Hollywood names. Just hype. …. and the power of the ‘word of mouth’.

3. The person responsible for the actual production of the film is Oren Peli, an unknown film director who is actually a video game designer from California.  PA was first shown at a film festival in 2007. Paramount bought the movie & only showed it in 2009. Why? Well maybe because Paramount wasn’t sure if the lack of glitz in the movie gave it the formula for success. There was talk that Paramount wanted to remake the movie & plump it up with big names … Thank God they left it alone. Goodness knows how much the budget would have been inflated by …. The original, non glitzed version by Oren was filmed for just USD11,000 and completed in 7 days. The screen couple were paid USD500 each for 7 days work, for God’s sake!  Now, tell me, if Paramount is able to top that, & still make  a similar rate of box office returns?! 

4. Did you know that there are THREE different endings to the film? The ending shown at film festivals was different from the Paramount version… Some say the original ending is more realistic, adding 10 more minutes to the film. So, in other words,  the current version has been edited with an ending that has more ‘commercial’ appeal. If you’re curious to find out what the other two endings are like, click here.  Note of warning: SPOILER present. Don’t click on the link if you haven’t watched the movie.  

It’d be interesting to see which ending plays out as the favorite amongst the audience. Wish we could view all & vote on it… (hmmm… viral marketing idea for a sequel? I.E. Audience participation required…Play a role in determing how the story for the sequel goes… ). The buzz word  is, once the Blu-Ray DVD of PA is released, it will feature all three endings.

5. Steven Spielberg was said to have taken a DVD of the movie home to watch it again after seeing it at a film festival. Later that night, halfway through the movie, his bathroom door slammed shut for no reason & was locked from the inside (apparently a locksmith had to be called in the day after to get it open). He stopped the movie, took the DVD out & bundled it into a trash bag ….  He returned it the next day. True or False? I say, it was all part of the viral marketing strategy to create the scary hype further…… 

Well, one must admit, this is a true Hollywood success story. But let’s get down to the conclusion, PA ~ Hype or  over hyped … 

SCARY factor ~ OVERHYPED. It was hardly scary, only 3 out of 10 for me (1 being the least scary to 10 being the scariest). But, it was entertaining, nonetheless. Believable factor ~ Fair score of  7 out of 10, especially if you have gone to the link to read about the original (first version) ending to the story. 

MARKETING factor ~  Now that’s where the TRUE HYPE of the movie lies….. I give it a perfect score of 10. The strategy employed in promoting the movie is a work of genius. True to the spirit of the movie, it was cheap, creative but most importantly effective…. and relevant to the times, exploiting the social media tool to the max. Paramount spent USD1m on web marketing and has garnered an estimated USD29m in profits, to date. Audience participation in ‘demanding it’ was the greatest ‘blockbuster hit’ of a marketing strategy in itself.  And, credible. It made no false claims about the movie being real. Instead, it used real life fan comments to fuel the hype about how  scary the movie was & let the WEB and social media do the rest of the work.  And by ensuring a slow release of the film, it created a hunger and a  frenzy to ‘demand it’ be shown in their towns, nationwide.  The marketers empowered the audience, letting them feel as if they played a part in the movie distribution process.  I congratulate the film based on this. Too bad we, the international audience, did not have a chance to be apart of this experience. It would’ve been fun!

 

 

 

 


WOW…. Sixth Sense ROCKS!

Fancy being able to look cOoL like Tom Cruise in the sci-fi movie  Minority Report ? Fancy being able to calculate your bills by having a number pad projected onto your palms …. or picking up a book & having an Amazon book rating projected on the book cover ……

Sixth Sense , a wearable gestural interface, is the  device to look out for.

Researchers from the media lab in MIT say…… “The device can help a user to interact with the environment with natural gestures and there by perceiving the meta data about the subjects in real-time.”

 It comprises a camera, a battery operable projector, a mirror, tracker caps (all wearable around your neck) & they are all connected to your phone, which is for computation & communication purposes.

For example, if you want information about a certain product (i.e.  a book) that you’re buying, you just face the subject with the camera. By just using natural physical gestures (much like drawing with your fingers in the air), the camera picks up the commands & calls up the information (very much like Googling … sans the typing). The beauty is, this info that comes up can be projected on ANY surface, i.e. a book, a wall, even your hand. Fussfree I say.

This gadget is the brainchild of Pranav Mistry (pic), a Phd student in MIT & is being flooded with rave reviews … Although still a work in progress, imagine the potential… It not only opens up new avenues in the information age … it also provides a lot of potential for the physically challenged i.e. the deaf and the blind …. And …. at the cost of  only USD350 … so they say …

See it for yourself here in the video demo for this device …… it truly is fantastic & relevant to the times! Talk about thinking out of the box, Pranav Mistry is a GENIUS!

The definitive 2010 …

The New Year is round the corner….. Fat Dragon & I are still working off the excesses of last X’mas weekend ~ with food holding on to the lead role … OMG, the food ‘cast’ was endless, we had turkey, siew yok, 2 different pastas, roast chickens, assam fish, butter cakes, fish fillets stuffed with mushrooms, Bonafie pies, strawberry tarts, pigs in blankets, bruscettas  …….. washed down with some toddy (yes, fermented coconut juice), wines, coffees & teas. Needless to say they have all made handsome contributions to our waistlines. My sincerest thanks to organisers of this year’s lunch and dinner organisers for pampering us with yummy food & lavish gifts ….

Ironically whilst we were having a hullabaloo time … the 26th of Dec marked the 5th anniversary of the Tsunami …. Excess vs deprivation … Celebration vs. Mourning .. A sobering thought indeed.

…. and in the midst of this glorious food fiesta, YP came up brilliant suggestion!  She felt that on X’mas days some time in the future, we should actually go to  a home for the elderly or even an orphanage with gifts & goodies as a ‘pay it forward’ gesture. Why not?  Why don’t we share our excesses with the underprivileged. We could always wine and dine, after … in celebration. Not too much to ask really. 

Could 2010 be the start to a definitive new year, one filled with giving, instead of overindulging & stuffing ourselves? Hmmm… food for thought ~ pun intended.  

I salute YP for coming up with this suggestion. It’s a shame none of us thought about it earlier. Thanks YP …. !

p.s. Have a great 2010 everyone!

Acrophobia anyone?

Fat Dragon & I had the pleasure of participating in the Skytrex Adventure Extreme Challenge at the Taman Pertanian in Bukit Cerakah Seri Alam Park, in Shah Alam, Selangor recently. Tucked away in the jungle, lie 3 obstacle circuits ranging from 3metres (abt 9 ft) to 22 metres (abt 66 ft) high & it is built high amongst the canopy of the forest. Not for the faint hearted & certainly not those fear of heights. But then again, call it mid life crisis, whatever, these 2 Roaring Fortiers decided to give it a go ….. & straight into the deep end…or more appropriate, the high end ~  for The Extreme Challenge. Typical ~ sigh!  

The first challenge, a flying fox challenge stretched across a river about 1 km long. Should be peanuts ….. or so I thought…. 

The start point involves climbing a rope ladder to a wooden platform built round a tree trunk. I was probably about 50 feet up in the air upon reaching the platform….. yup, only about 50 feet … the figure seems so miniscule on paper. The climb up the rope ladder seemed endless …. Imagine, by the time I reached the target … my hands were shaking from the strain & …. that so called ‘kacang puteh’ 50 feet seemed so daunting.  Hmmm… why oh why, did the younger participants ahead of me make it look so easy????????

Before I knew it …. I stood frozen on the platform when confronted with the flying fox across the river. My feet stayed planted on the platform, refusing to move!

The park instructor below was gesturing HARD with his hands urging me to “LET GO! Start flying!” …… I looked down at him. Without shame I told him … “TAKUT!!!!” ….. He replied … “TAK TAKUTLAH!” …..

AAAARRRRrrrrrrrrGGGGGHhhhhhhhhhhh …. GULP! The next platform seems so far away ….. the person there looks like a matchstick ……. YES YES, I know our bodies are held by safety harnesses with 2 safety cables attached to the main line with carabiners but …… What if the carabiner unlocks itself????? …. What if the safety line breaks with my weight????…… What if I hold the contraption wrongly &  I spin mid air?????? ……….. OH OH OH … WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO!!!!!!! Worse still, the river below looks so far below …… Huh… when in fear,  that 50 feet feels magnified to a hundred feet up!!!!!! 

MORE gesturing by the instructor. Panic panic. I looked down at him & showed him (again) that I was really scared by patting my chest repeatedly …. His eyes must have rolled up at that moment, but I was too high to see …. but I did see him waving his hand frantically urging me to GO! He was probably thinking “MORON…! Stop wasting time …. Vacate the platform for the next person climbing up!”.  

Yikes … I have to let go soon …. yikes yikes yikes….. I reached up, dug both my thumbs into the carabiner & held hard … now if only I could just relax… swing my legs out & sit on the harness …….I CAN’T .. I CAN’T  …… Oh NO, climber approaching platform … Have to go…HAVE TO GO!  COME ON …. COME ON… LET gOoooooooOOOOooooo!!!!!! Next thing I know, I was flying through the air … arms ultra tense with the grip ….. ….Don’t look DOWN …. DON’T LOOK DOWN …*I look down of course* ~ law of opposites prevails …OMG, OMG, OMG ~ even my heart felt like it was flying out ….. I was flying through the air for only 15-20 seconds but it felt forever ……….

And that was the end of the first challenge. A rude awakening for me. Never knew I had a fear of heights. Seriously didn’t realize it.  Boy was I relieved when I landed on the next platform with a big THUMP…………. Phew, I survived….. but that was just the beginning …. Onward to another rope ladder climb towards the next platform & another 20 challenges to come, only to emerge from the jungle 2 1/2 hours later! 

p.s. 

Wikipedia defines acrophobia as “

Acrophobia (from the Greek: ἄκρον, ákron , meaning “peak, summit, edge” and φόβος, phóbos, “fear”) is an extreme or irrational fear of heights. It belongs to a category of specific phobias, called space and motion discomfort that share both similar etiology and options for treatment.

Acrophobia can be dangerous, as sufferers can experience a panic attack in a high place and become too agitated to get themselves down safely.”

Well, technically I guess I don’t suffer from acrophobia 100% but …. the moments of hesitation that I felt when flying & standing high up in the platform really surprised me. Never realized that I’d be feeling weak at the knees like that …..

Jacob’s all grown up ………….

Don’t worry, this is not a movie review about TWILIGHT SAGA : NEW MOON.  There’s a lot of love out there for the movie & the characters, but mind you… a lot of hate too. But none of that here, it’s all about li’l ol’ ME drooling ……….. over Jacob’s impressive six pack, of course.

YUP …. Jacob’s all grown up, he no longer looks like an innocent undernourished love sick teenager. In fact, he now sports an impressively toned body which is accompanied by a somewhat edgy matured look, …. WOW & DOUBLE WOW!!!!

Move over Edward!  My vote is for Jacob ~ He’s officially the HUNK in my books (pun intended) …  

The actor who plays the role of Jacob Black is none other than Taylor Lautner. Can you imagine … the producers actually contemplated replacing the actor for the role of Jacob Black, the alternative ‘love interest’ of Bella, in the sequel to Twilight ~ Twilight Saga : New Moon? Both movies were adapted from the book series by Stephanie Meyer.  He was apparently too small sized & boyish looking to repeat the Jacob role as the character is depicted to be approaching manhood & turning into a brawny werewolf  in the sequel.  But, that was a year ago. 

Fast forward to present time, 17 year old Taylor is sizzling the movie screens with his bulk. Determined to prove the directors wrong, Taylor started working out & eating his way up to this present body weight straight after the filming of Twilight ended in 2008. Weighing 30 lbs heavier  during the filming of New Moon … he BUFFED up as required by the directors of the movie ….

…but, most importantly, he looks HOT (108 degrees to be exact, in keeping with his werewolf temperature) & ‘BEAUTIFUL’ (in Bella’s words) ….. *Swoon*…..

How did he do it? He stuffed himself with beef patties, nuts & “ice cream every two hours” to get a minimum of 3,200 calories of body fuel a day.  Whoa, foodie heaven I guess …. or hell, whichever works for you. This was combined with 5 day workouts at the gym with a personal trainer. That is the way to do it, but apparently you can’t over work it at the gym, according to Taylor ~ if not you’ll lose the bulk. Bring on the pounds anytime Taylor … it looks good and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Taylor was voted one of People Magazines 100 most beautiful people in 2009.  

One of the most ‘memorable’ scenes featuring Jacob’s new bod was when Bella crashed her motorcycle & started bleeding from her head …… Jacob then proceeds to take his shirt off to wipe the blood from Bella’s forehead ~ When I was watching this at the cinema the other day, I honestly think, no one in the audience (I emphasize, no one)…. cared if Bella bled to death …….. coz all seemed mesmerised by the naked top half of the man-wolf’s anatomy!  An appreciative & synchronized  “WAHHHHHHH” reverberated through the room, an obvious show of approval for the abs & biceps bared for display!  

From then on I knew, the salvaging point for the movie had presented itself ….given that the first 20 minutes seemed to draggggggggggg on ….. Yawwwwnnnnn! 

….. JACOB SAVED THE DAY for me (where the movie is concerned… oh, sorry, I promised not to talk about the movie right?) …… so please excuse me … I’ll just concentrate on drooling…. ;)

Of feather pillows & gossip ……

feather

Well, I think it’s fair to say, gossip is a favorite pastime with a lot of people. Gossip, unfortunately, has always and will always be an integral part of the social structure. Needless to say, we have all been victims or worse still carriers of gossip at least once in our lives…. I don’t believe that anyone can say NO to this. If you do, then I guess you’re a SAINT!

So, back to the question, what does GOSSIP & A FEATHER PILLOW have in common?

Story time.

A parishioner went up to the priest to unload his guilt about the act of gossiping ~ so what harm was done exactly, he asks … So the priest asked the parishioner to go back home … take a feather pillow & a knife with him up onto the roof of a high building.. Give it a slash and see what happens…

So, the parishioner did as he was told … he took a pillow & a knife … went up onto the roof & slashed it with all his might… Lo & behold… there were feathers & more feathers flying all over …. The parishioner then returned to the priest to report the act done. The priest proceeded to ask the parishioner to go back up & the roof … to RETRIEVE each and every feather that escaped from the pillow …

Well, that sums it up beautifully doesn’t it… Each and every word, no matter how juicy (whether with malicious intent, or not) that escapes from our mouths … can never be retrieved fully …  So, the harm & the hurt is done. There no turning back. Food for thought.

Believe it or not, I got this story from the movie DOUBT featuring Meryl Streep & Philip Seymour Hoffman ….. Philip plays Father Brendan Flynn who is a victim of Meryl’s character Sister Aloysius Beauvier prejudice. She goes on a personal vendetta to flush out his so called sins..purely based on her suspicions and nothing else… In an act to voice out his displeasure, Father Brendan gave a sermon on GOSSIP by telling the above story …. Stellar movie…stellar performances. I loved it…