Thanksgiving for 2013

So today is the final day of 2013. It has been indeed a year of open doors and Daddy God has fulfilled all of my 3 wishes! The first half of the year spent in the states seems so distant and far away now, it seems like I’ve been in Singapore forever. I really miss the winter snow and the feeling of living in a foreign country though, and also my friends made there.

Thank you Jesus for…

  • A great last semester in Carnegie Mellon where I learnt the process of a 3D pipeline together with my team Stardust. Even though we had a tight timeline, we still managed to finish a 6-min 3D animated short for Give Kids The World. I learnt many things in those few months, from project scheduling, storytelling, compositing, rendering to 3D lighting. The best part was to travel to Florida and showcase the finished short to the kids. It was heartwarming.
  • Also, touring all the cool animation and entertainment companies during the West Coast Trip, experiencing South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX during Spring Break and learning the basics of  lighting for theatre
  • The privilege of experiencing the grace revolution on the ground in a small scale at Freedom Fellowship of Pittsburgh. It was an honour to be an ambassador, the physical hands and feet of my church and my pastor, someone all the way from Singapore to a small church in America that preaches the gospel of grace. I had a great time getting to know Pastor Debbie, as well as volunteering to lead worship there.
  • His safety and protection in the 3-day train ride from West Coast (SF) to Midwest America (Chicago), and also the 20-day graduation road trip from East (Pittsburgh) to West Coast (SF) of USA. They were both significant journeys, both physically and spiritually. It was a precious time in which I could just spend days by myself and Jesus, and seeing his Favour that surrounds me like a shield every step of the way, looking at the scenery go by, and even through a minor tire puncture and some mechanical work in the car, I survived 5700 miles / 9173 km. Run in such a way to win the prize!
  • Allowing me to be planted in serving in Zone Lighting and Spark Film the moment I came back to Singapore, opening doors for a greater quality of lights and LED board graphics design, Christmas Service, as well as testimony and short film editing.
  • Opening doors for not just a job, but a career position. It was a time of waiting, yet it was a time worth waiting. It allowed me to trust Him for His provision that he would provide me a career that I will find fulfilment and enjoyment in!
  • Opening doors to meet my life partner. God is cute in every way in letting us to know each other only at this time and not earlier or later!

The Truth about NUS-CMU ETC Concurrent Degree in Entertainment Technology

When Randy Pausch founded ETC, he envisioned it as a “dream fulfillment factory”. When I signed up for this programme 5 years ago when I was a freshman in NUS, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. So I am writing this for those who are considering to take a Bachelor of Computing (Communications and Media) degree in NUS and then a Masters in Entertainment Technology in CMU.
First about the NUS Computing degree. What it is NOT:
  • It is NOT a fine arts degree. I.e. it will not teach you drawing, 3D modelling and animation in the traditional sense. It will not teach you how to be a great Photoshop or Maya artist.
  • It is NOT a mass communication degree despite the word “communication” in the name. It is not a course about writing and filmmaking, although you can take some classes about those
What it is:
  • It is almost like a computer science degree. So expect lots of Math, programming, and coding algorithms. You cannot escape from Math.
  • Depending on what classes you take, it is a course which trains you how to program for interactive media. The keyword is programming: you will learn coding for video games, 3D, graphics processing, robotics, console controllers etc. Again, the keyword is programming. Occassionally you will have to design stuff like user interface and game mechanics, but the main focus is programming.
Therefore, it is a very right-brain oriented course. However you get to develop some of your left-brain skills in your electives as you can take those from the Faculty of Arts, Communications and New Media (CNM) department. The NM modules are good for visual aesthetics design, writing, PR, game design etc. Similarly, the arts faculty is not a fine arts department. So don’t expect too much.In summary, expect a research-based academic study environment. (After all, that’s what NUS is known for. Otherwise go to School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) in NTU if you want a fine arts based curriculum, something which I regretted I rejected but that’s another story.)
Now about ETC. Probably a lot has changed since Randy Pausch passed away and now Don has left as well. I didn’t know what was the course going to be. I signed up in faith. But here what it is NOT:
  • It is not a course which will teach you technical/artistic skills through a curriculum (although you can take some electives for them)
  • It is not a course for you to develop your other side of the brain, I.e. if you are an engineer and wish to be an artist, this course will not make you one, and vice versa
However it is:
  • It is a course which expects you to be already very talented in whatever field you are trained in and to use your skills further. E.g. if you are trained in computer science, you are expected to use your programming skills to create new things. If you are trained in fine arts, you are expected to use your graphics/design/etc. skills to create new stuff.
  • It is a course which will train you well with interpersonal, teamwork and communication skills as you will get to work in different project teams which you cannot choose
  • It is a course which will connect you to great people both in the course and in the industry, opening doors to many jobs, as many companies like Disney Imagineering hire many ETC graduates.
  • It is a project-based curriculum, so no research papers are needed to be written
And as for the type of projects in ETC, despite the broad definition of entertainment technology, probably 70% of the projects are video games related, while 20% are location-based entertainment/museum installations and the like, and 10% are film/animation related. Due to the nature of the “technology” in “entertainment technology” and the skepticism of the faculty, there are no pure film film projects.So is it a dream fulfillment factory? Yes, if you absolutely love video games. Yes, if you have some related project ideas that you wish to pitch. Yes, if you are already very talented at what you are currently doing.

The Quest Across The States

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For my grad trip, I travelled across 13 states from Pittsburgh, PA to Redwood City, CA, through 10 national parks, clocking 5700 miles (~9170 km) in 20 days, from 23 May to 11 June.

Day 1 (Thursday) – Pittsburgh to Chicago

The first day was spent driving from Pittsburgh to Chicago. What was meant to be a 7 hour drive became a 10 hour drive because I wanted to avoid the tolls on the turnpikes. It turned out that I ended up on a 60mph road in Indiana. And everyone says you can’t speed in Indiana because the fines are $1000. Driving west is pretty interesting though, because it seems that the sun has set but the more you drive, the more light it remains. It is also interesting to cross the time zone line while driving to Chicago. As with most big cities, the drivers are more aggressive as they drive 70mph on a 55mph freeway. That’s why they have 375 traffic deaths a year according to the info ticker.

I reached the Airbnb place which was hosted by a Chinese lady. Because I arrived late, I slept on the sofa instead. But the next day she transferred me to a private room in another house. The neighbourhood is mostly Chinese because it is near Chinatown.

Day 2 (Friday) – Chicago


I took the Chicago elevated ‘L’ subway to downtown for breakfast. The Chicago subway train is similar in design to the NYC ones but it has few carriages, usually about 4. I think that the loop design around downtown is very thoughtful and well-designed. It is also interesting to see rusty tracks through the skyscrapers, compared to the polished concrete of our MRT.

I ate red velvet pancakes at supposedly the best breakfast place in town. After that, I walked along the shores of Lake Eric and finally reached the famed Millenium Park, with the sci-fi looking Cloud Gate sculpture as the centerpiece. It is very cool and photogenic, and the reflections are distorted, making it seem like another world. After that I walked across the Chicago river. Every big city needs a river and a bay, doesn’t it? Then I walked along The Magnificent Mile, which is their Orchard Road. H&M never fails to tempt me haha.


I ate Chicago hotdogs for dinner before going to the top of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears) for sunset. The view is comparable to the Empire State building, just that I think NYC’s architecture is more interesting.

Day 3 (Saturday) – Chicago

I went to Chinatown for dim sum breakfast. Surprisingly the dim sum here is pretty good because they have Liu Sha Bao (Liquid Custard bun) and it is quite authentic. Too bad nobody to share more food with me. After that I went to downtown to watch a memorial day parade. They had soldiers, armored vehicles and high school kids in uniforms, their version of national cadet corps. And of course there’s some LGBT representations and also a random guy preaching the ministry of condemnation and judgement through a loud hailer. Wish he can preach more grace though.


I decided to buy something from Craigslist so I made a detour to meet someone. And then next attraction was the Navy Pier. It is their mini amusement park along the lake. Nothing much though. In the evening, I went to old town to watch Second City, an improv and sketch comedy show. They are pretty famous here and all their shows were sold out. Their sketches are actually pretty funny and the improv is comparable to the ones I saw at sxsw.

Day 4 (Sunday) – Chicago to St. Paul


On Sunday morning I woke up early to drive to the outskirts of Chicago to attend Willow Creek Community Church in South Barlington. It is one of the pioneers of the megachurch movement. As expected, they have a huge campus, albeit nondescript, with a 7000 seater auditorium, cafe and even a mini food court. And the joke is, they have a lake, not a creek haha.


The next stop was the Illinois Railway Museum, which has supposedly America’s largest collection of trains. They have a pretty impressive collection of locomotives and carriages in their barns, from steam engines to streetcars. They even have joy rides on some old trains. I took the Nebraska Zephyr, which has a cool observation car at the end.

At about 3pm, I left to begin the 6+ hour drive to St Paul, Minnesota through Wisconsin. Along the way I ate dinner at an uniquely Wisconsin fast food restaurant called Culver’s. They have Buttermilk burgers and milkshakes. Pretty cool.

Finally at about 10pm I arrived in Inner Grove Heights, a suburb south of the twin cities. The Airbnb host was a nice Indian couple and they had a big king bed for me. They offered me supper but I was too tired.

Day 5 (Monday) – Minneapolis to South Dakota

The next day before I left, the host’s husband offered to heat up the goat curry for my breakfast plus Indian coffee Over the meal, I told them about Singapore and why I like Indian Food. They were then inspired to visit Singapore in future. The couple then drove me to a park by the Mississippi river.


My first stop in St Paul, MN was to visit the Cathedral of St Paul, a gigantic Catholic church. I also walked around the city to see the state capitol. As with most American cities, it suffers from urban diaspora.


After that I drove to the other city, Minneapolis to visit the Stone Arch Bridge and St. Anthony Falls. There is a lock in the river, the first time I see one, and it is actually managed by the army engineers. The lock helps barges and boats to travel down the river bypassing the falls, pretty interesting. I also drove around downtown and that reminded me of what I studied in geography class: the sky bridges. They connect many buildings in downtown and allow the people to move around in climate controlled sky mall, escaping from rain and snow. Singapore should have some of these!


Next stop was the chain of lakes and then I decided to give my car an engine oil change at Jiffylube as there was some memorial day discount. They were pretty fast. Lastly I went to Mall of America, which I also studied in my class. The mall is so huge that it has a Nickelodeon amusement park inside. It is amazing.


Finally at about 7pm, I drove 5 hours to Mitchell, South Dakota, which is my rest stop at a motel 6. The cool thing is the speed limit on the interstate here is 75mph!

Day 6 (Tuesday) – South Dakota

I had breakfast at Perkins, biscuits and gravy hmhmm. After that it was another 3 hours drive to Badlands National Park. The cool thing was when I crossed from central time zone to mountain time zone, and there was a sign on the interstate that says so. But I am still in the same state!


Badlands reminds me a lot of death valley with the dry valleys and hills. I did a couple of hikes, the door and the notch, and also climbed up a rocky hill. However the weather threatened to rain, so I could not stay for sunset. In the end, it rained and I drove out to Wall, SD where there was a famous Wall Drug store which kept advertising along the freeway just now. They have 5 cents coffee which is really funny and cool. And everything is wild west themed. They even have a tiny chapel in the store.

For dinner, I drove to a mall to Rapid City, SD for a cheap fake greasy Chinese food fix at the food court. But better than nothing right. The Caucasian server asked me where I am from. Haha.

After that I drove around motels to see if I could use a discount coupon. But they were mostly full. Fortunately I found Foothills motel, which was not listed under Expedia but they have pretty good rooms at only $39. So I stayed there for the night.

Day 7 (Wednesday) – South Dakota to Wyoming


In the morning, I drove to Mount Rushmore. As usual, the movies make the rocks look much bigger than they actually are. The faces actually look pretty small in the distance. And there’s no way to hike to it, only slightly nearer from the bottom.

Along the way to lunch at Custer I saw a sign for Crazy Horse. It is apparently also a sculpture carved out of rock, but this time by Native American Indians of one of their heroes. It seems like a direct competition to Mount Rushmore, pretty interesting.


After lunch I drove to Jewel Cave National Park, another attraction in the black hills. I paid for a 1 hour plus tour of the cave with a ranger. We have to take an elevator twenty storeys down which is really cool. The cave is lighted up for the tourists, otherwise it will be pitch black. According to the ranger the caves are so long and huge that they only managed to explore less than 10% of it. It is amazing. And each exploration expedition lasts up to 4 days and they have to take out their own trash, and human waste…

At about 5pm, I drove 5 plus hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming which is at the border of Colorado. This was when I first noticed one of my tires had lower pressure than usual. On the way, I ate Taco John’s for the first time. Their grilled stuff tacos are pretty good. At night, I decided to save money and sleep in the car at the rest area at the border of Wyoming and Colorado, which was one of the newest and nicest rest areas I have been. There were a few RVs and trucks parked there overnight too. It is tough to sleep in the car as there is not enough space to stretch my legs.

Day 8 (Thursday) – Colorado

The next day I drove to Fort Collins, Colorado for a nice sumptuous breakfast in a small cafe. After that, at the visitors’ center, I asked for advice on visiting the Rockies. According to them, the roads might still be closed because of thick snow. Got me a bit worried. I-70 TO Utah goes through the Rockies at 11,000 feet through a tunnel and there was some congestion, and if there’s bad snow, chains are required.


I decided to drive up along highway 34 anyway and see what it is like. It was still pretty warm and nice at Estee Park, one of the entrances to the park. I decided to take a break from driving and took two shuttle buses to Bear Lake, one of the deeper parts of the park. Because of the higher elevation, it is actually starting to snow there. I was a little underdressed for the weather. But anyway I decided to hike around a bit to a small waterfall before taking the shuttle bus back.

At 4pm, I started the drive to Grand Junction, Co through a scenic byway to i-70. At the mountain pass, there was a tunnel through the continental divide, and then after that it was steep grades all the way down. Indeed, it was wet and snowing at the top, although pretty light and still drivable.

I had Thai food at a Chinese restaurant in the middle of nowhere at Silverthorne. It was some fake thai curry noodles. But at least they had bubble tea. I walked around into another drinks shop and talked with the cashier and he said he was from Cambodia. Wow. All the way from there.

Finally at 11pm or so, I reached Mesa Inn at Grand Junction.

Day 9 (Friday) – Colorado to Utah


In the morning, I ate the hotel breakfast, charged air into my tires, which seemed fine, before going to Black Canyon of the Gunnison about 90 minutes southeast of Grand Junction. It is also a canyon formed by a river, but the rocks are black. It is magnificent in its own way. Not Grand but Black.

After that, I drove through another scenic byway through the Grand Mesa National Forest. It was not worth the extra hour detour though. The forests are beautiful and has icy and snowy lakes due to the higher elevation. Other than that, nothing much.

I ate Golden corral for dinner, my first time in the buffet restaurant. Pretty cool, like college dining hall style.


After dinner I drove up the Colorado National Monument to think that I could watch sunset there. But alas, all the views are facing east. So the sun sets behind the ridge. In return, I had some nice golden-hour colors of the canyon and the city. Was not that bad. Wished I had more time to explore instead of just touching and go.

After that it became dark and I drove like 2 hours across the border to Utah. This was when I was considering between staying in a hotel or sleeping in my car again so that I could watch the sunrise. In the end, I chose the latter. I parked in an empty gravel lot in the middle of nowhere, next to a closed gas station. However. For some reason, I couldn’t sleep well and kept waking up. Finally at 4am, I decided to drive to Arches or Canyonlands for the sunrise.

Day 10 (Saturday) – Arches and Canyonlands


To my amazement, when I woke up, my rear left tire was bloated and visibly deflated, although not fully flat yet. I was very worried if it will last. I drove to the nearest gas station 5 miles away to pump some air. It looked better but I am sure it is still deflating. Based on the GPS data, there are some auto shops in Moab, Utah, which is the nearest town about 30 miles away. I decided to bring it to a shop in Moab after sunrise. Drove to Arches National Park instead of Canyonlands since it is nearer. I can hear the tire still hissing while watching the sunrise. I was too worried to enjoy the sunset fully, kept praying that the tire could last. Finally I drove down to have breakfast, just next to a tire repair shop. When it finally opened at 8am, I brought my car in. Miraculously, the mechanic simply removed the tire and patched it on the spot. Thank God. No replacement was needed. Thank God that it wasn’t an instant puncture, otherwise I will be stranded in the middle of nowhere!


After all my worries were eased, I drove back to Arches to do a 3-mile round trip hike to the famous Delicate Arch, the most photographed arch in the world. I also saw the Balanced Rock and the Double Arches.


In the afternoon, I drove to Canyonlands. At this time, the heat of the sun and the exhaustion was killing me. It was scotching. I got sunburnt just by driving the car! My left hand is more tanned than my right hand as it is nearer to the driver’s seat window. Took a short break at the visitor’s center before driving to the various overlooks on the Island in the Sky. I would say that Canyonlands is like miniature version of the Grand Canyon. Many small canyons formed by the same river Colorado, and the Green River. Not as impressive, but scenic in its own way.


I decided to leave early at 4pm as I was tired and it was still a 4+ hour drive to Salt Lake City. Along the way, I had dinner at Green River at the highest rated place on Yelp. I reached Salt Lake at about 8pm. Salt Lake is just like any other big American metropolis: big roads, many lanes, heavy traffic. Nothing special about it at first glance. Nothing “Mormonish” about it.

Finally I arrived at my Airbnb host at Cottonwood Heights at 10pm. It was a nice big house. She told me she is a Mormon and I asked her a few questions about her church and stuff.

Day 11 (Sunday) – Salt Lake City


On Sunday, I woke up early and the host cooked nice omelette and hash browns breakfast for me. It was delicious and it was very nice of her. I drove downtown to Temple Square to attend the Mormon Tabernacle Choir weekly broadcast at 9.30am in the Tabernacle. It is an interesting dome-shaped building with seats like pews, and a huge organ in the background, with the choir and the symphony orchestra in the foreground. It was a short 30-minute program, with the choir singing a few hymns and songs, and a short inspirational message, which was apparently pre-recorded. I would say it is not exactly a church service, since there was no Bible preaching whatsoever. However, there are many Mormons and visitors present, probably about 50-50. It is apparently the world’s oldest broadcast.


After the broadcast, there were tour guides standing outside speaking in various languages. They are known as “missionaries”, i.e. Mormons from all over the world who come here to Salt Lake City to volunteer for a period of time. During the tour, I actually spotted one or two ladies with the Singapore flag with their nametag, but I did not manage to chat with them. The tour brought us to the Assembly Hall, and to 2 visitors centers and also around the Temple. However, the temple is a sacred building and only Mormons above 18 years old with the “right standing” can enter it. The visitor centers display what is inside the temple, about the gospel, the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith. At the end of the tour, the missionaries tried to preach a little bit of the gospel and ask people to believe in Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon.


I spent quite a few hours in the visitor centers, as they are pretty big with quite a number of museum exhibits. I also watched a 70-minute film about Joseph Smith, and got to know about the history and how and why he founded the Mormon Church. Interestingly, they believe in baptism by proxy, probably because his elder brother died earlier, and a few other unorthodox beliefs. I also visited the other buildings, like the gigantic 21,000-seater Conference Center, which is supposedly the largest front-facing auditorium in the world. Very impressive indeed. Trumps any other megachurch easily. I also visited the Church History Museum across the street.

This was also when my friend Joel asked me if I wanted to go Yellowstone National Park. I took a long time to decide because I was a little tired, wanted to rest, and I am not sure if my car can make it to the end. I was feeling unrest about the car mostly.

At the end of the day, I went shopping at some nearby shopping center and then I drove 2 hours to Wendover, the border of Utah and Nevada, and spent my night in an Inn there. At night, we were still contemplating whether to go Yellowstone or not. We even considered renting a car. Initially, I said no, because I was tired and feel not at peace about it. After all, I always think that I should leave something unexplored so that I can return with my wife and kids in future. Haha. But finally, I decided that I would go fix the car’s wheel bearings, and my friend will fly to SLC the next day immediately.

Day 12 (Monday) – Salt Lake City

I spent the day at the mechanic who fixed my piston and wheel bearings. I felt vibration more than usual, hence I thought I need to fix it since it was known to be wearing out 6 months ago. I went to do my laundry in a laundromat nearby while waiting. Haha. The mechanic fixed my steering wheel wobbling problem, and but there is still vibration. In fact, it seemed worse. Well, I continued anyway. Waited for Joel at a shopping mall and then drove to the SLC airport to pick him up. I brought him to Temple Square for a short tour before driving an hour up north to our motel for the night.

Day 13 (Tuesday) – Grand Teton


We drove through Idaho, had some awesome potatoes of course for lunch, in a small town called McCammon. Then through Jackson, WY and finally reached Grand Teton National Park, en route to Yellowstone. The only thing was it was too cloudy and the sun was setting, hence the colors were not very vibrant in our pictures. We were debating whether to do a hike or not, but realized there is probably not enough time. We drove through the scenic route through the lakes, and up the Signal Hill for a nice panoramic view, and down to Jackson Lodge for dinner. The Lodge is a nice hotel apparently built by Rockefeller, and it has nice huge bay windows overlooking the mountain range.


After dinner, we drove to our lodge, Hatchet Resort. It was a nice long heated cabin, pretty comfortable, with everything you expect in a motel. Not too cheap though since it is 40 minutes from Yellowstone.

Day 14 (Wednesday) – Yellowstone

In the morning, we ate breakfast at a grill in our resort. After that, we drove to Yellowstone, finally! Our first destination was the West Thumb Geyser Basin, right in front of the huge Yellowstone Lake, the highest altitude lake in the world. It is our first exposure to the hundreds of geysers in the park. We saw some hot springs, mudpots and geysers. After that, we took a 2-mile hike up an overlook hill to have a nice view of the whole Yellowstone Lake.


Next destination was Old Faithful. The famous geyser is predictable and erupts every 90 minutes or so. Everyone sat there eagerly, waiting for the geyser to sprout. There were some false alarms, and then splash, it erupts into a 50-metre high fountain. Pretty amazing.


After that, we spent a few hours walking around the geysers in the area. There are so many! Some are unnamed. We saw a few erupting in the distance. We even walked past two bisons which were like 2 metres from the boardwalk! We walked towards Riverside, another famous geyser, which is also predictable. It is also the most picturesque one, because of the river and the forest in the background. We waited for like 20 minutes past the predicted time, and it finally erupted! The cool thing was because the sun was shining at the correct angle, we could see a small rainbow in the fountain depending on where you are standing. Very impressive. After that, we saw a few more hot springs before driving to another area.


The next area was the midway geyser, which has the largest hot spring in the world. It is actually more like a lake which is continuously vaporizing and smoking. We then drove to the next section, which is the fountain paint pots area. More geysers. After all there are about 500 geysers in Yellowstone, of about 900 in the world. At the end of the day, it got a little boring because the geysers all look the same after a while.


However, the huge vapour rising created a nice “natural haze” effect for sunlight and lighting. It is pretty in the golden hour to see the smoke rising with the orange sun. After the sunset, we drove out to our accommodation in West Yellowstone, Montana. On the way out, there was a congestion along the road. Then, the ranger told us there were bison. True enough, there was a herd of bison walking on the road and we had to drive carefully past them.

We settled in a nice Best Western Inn, and we decided that we should stay for one more night in the inn because Yellowstone has so much to see and cover!

Day 15 (Thursday) – Yellowstone


Best Western has the one of the nicer free breakfasts in motels because it has hot stuff like a small egg omelette and biscuits! We drove to the Canyon Village area for our first stop. I wanted to try to hike Mount Washburn, which is not an easy hike. We drove to the parking lot, and we walked about 1/4 of the way, and decided that there is too much snow on the trail to continue. It was not really that cold, but somehow a lot of the snow on the trail has not melted, and it is very hard to walk on the snow uphill without the right equipment. We gave up and turned back. Nevertheless, the views on the hill were quite impressive already. We could see abit of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the distance.


The next stop was to drive to the Grand Canyon’s north rim. The canyon is very beautiful, with yellow rocks on both sides. Maybe that is how Yellowstone got its name. We stopped at almost every lookout point, from the Upper Falls to the brim of the Lower Falls to the Inspiration Point. We also drove to the south rim and walked down this long flight of steps, almost 25 storeys down, called Uncle Tom’s Trail. It rewards you with a nice frontal view of the Lower Falls. We also went to the Artist’s Point, where I though I heard some Malaysian/Singaporean accent from a family. Haha.

After the canyon, we drove to Mud Volcano, which is another smaller area with a few mudpots and geysers. It is not as impressive, after a while they look the same, which probably explains why there are less people there.

Towards the end of the day, after having dinner at Canyon Village, we decided to drive a loop around through Tower Falls. Tower Falls is quite disappointing, just a small waterfall viewed from a distance, nothing much worth travelling all the way there for. We then drove towards Mammoth Falls, and we saw a small grizzly bear along the way! It was a bit dark though. At Mammoth Falls, we managed to see some elk, both male and female. It was not my first time seeing elk, since I saw some in Point Reyes before.

Day 16 (Friday) – Yellowstone


On retrospect, it was a good decision to extend a day in Yellowstone. After all, we have not covered everything in 2 days. The last day, we went to the Norris geyser basin area. There are always bison along the way. At Norris, more geyers and mudpots and hot springs. I was getting a little tired of walking around them already. After that, we drove north to Mammoth Hot Springs. It was a little more interesting, because the hot springs flow out of fountains and they look like those fengshui rock formations. They are also very colourful, with orange, blue and white rocks, like Igloo. Another dry spring, called Liberty Cap, looks like Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat.


After saying bye to the elks, we left the park, driving back through West Yellowstone, Montana and all the way south to Pocatello, ID, where we spend the night in a Rodeway Inn.

Day 17 (Saturday) – Idaho to Reno, NV 

This day was a long day of driving, about 9 hours in total. We drove two hours west to Twin Falls, ID for brunch. And then it was a long and grueling 7 hours through the Nevada Desert to Reno via Elko. It was hot, really hot, and doesn’t help that my car doesn’t have a/c. We found an interesting Taiwanese restaurant in Reno for dinner. It was surprising authentic and good! We actually walked around the Circus Circus casino which was just a block away, and we saw one of those free Circus shows. Pretty fun to walk around the casinos, makes me feel like I am in Vegas. We then drove a little south to stay in an Extended Stay inn.

Day 18 (Sunday) – Reno to Yosemite

In the morning, the hotel did not provide good breakfast. So we decided to drive back to the casinos to have…buffet brunch! We ate at Flavors in the Silver Legacy Casino, next to Circus Circus. It was pretty worth it, $12++ for brunch with all the breakfast stuff, some lunch, seafood, and desserts, and even champagne. The most awesome meals ever. I realised that only Singaporeans are crazy about buffets, because some Americans detest them.

After the meal, we watched another free Circus show before starting the drive down Highway 395 to Yosemite National Park. It took us longer than expected, the distance is not long, but the mountainous roads make the travelling time longer. We reached the Yosemite east entrance on Highway 120 at 5pm, but it took us another hour or so to reach the valley. It is pretty interesting to enter Yosemite from the high sierra side, since I have never been through there before. The elevation is higher and it is colder, and less touristy. There was a nice lookout point at where you could see the back side of Half Dome Rock.


Finally, when we reached the valley, I brought my friend to Bridalveil Falls. At this place, it was a little deja vu as I have been here before. Coincidentally, we met two Singaporeans, of which one is actually Joel’s friend. After photo taking, we went to Tunnel View, which my friend thought was not as impressive as he thought.


After Tunnel View, we went to the Lower Yosemite Falls. It has slightly less water now because it is in the middle of June. Nevertheless still pretty. We then drove to Curry Village where we had a tent for the night. During dinner at the pizza place, it seems like I spotted two other groups of Singaporeans from the way they dress and the Singlish coming out of their speech. Haha.

Day 19 (Monday) – Yosemite

We woke up early as we wanted to enquire if there are still tickets for the one-way tour up Glacier Point. We had a nice breakfast at the Curry Village dining hall, where I spotted one of the groups of Singaporeans. I spoke with them, and found out that they are from NTU and are on a grad trip. Haha.

We drove to Yosemite Lodge where we boarded the $25 tour. It was a nice guided bus ride up to Glacier Point and the driver-cum-guide explained to us a lot of things about the nature and animals of the park. Apparently you can play dead to the bears in Yellowstone but you cannot play dead to the bears in Yosemite because you’d be dead after that. Also, even though Yellowstone is the first national park, Yosemite was the first state park and then became the 3rd national park. They say Yellowstone stole the glory first.


At Glacier Point, it was an impressive view of the whole valley and Half Dome. I have never been here before. We were debating whether to take the longer 8-mile panorama trail or the shorter 4.5-mile trail to the valley. We decided to take the shorter one as we still need to hike in Mariposa Grove later. The trails offers sweeping views of the valley and the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls as we descent. There were some people trying to climb up too. Must be much much tougher. Took us about 2.5 hours to reach the bottom. Not too difficult, nice cool weather as it was cloudy.


After a lunch snack with our snack bars and tuna, we went to Mirror Lake, which I have been to before. However, it seems prettier this time. The photos I took on my phone turned out pretty good that my friend says looks like Eden. The weird thing about Mirror Lake is that the actual reflective part is at the far end, and many people at hanging out at the less-reflective part at the south end. Perhaps they have not seen the actual reflection and are deceived…

We walked around the loop through the Happy Isles, and then finally took the shuttle bus back to our car as our legs are aching already.


We drove down the mountain to Mariposa Grove, which I think is a must-see. There, there are Giant Sequoias (pronounced as Sir-choirs) trees, which I always think look like the giant trees in Lord of the Rings and Narnia. I still vividly remember the last time I came 3 years ago, it was not snowing, and then it snowed and I had some nice snow pictures.

This time, other than the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel, we hiked a little further to see the Faithful Couple and the Clothespin trees. And then, the sun set and we have go head back. But we clocked the most amount of walking today, 25,000 steps with almost 25 km of walking!

After a long day, we had dinner at some random Chinese restaurant in Oakhurst, CA, before driving to an inn in Merced, where we spent the night.

Day 20 (Tuesday) – Back to SF Bay Area

We had In-n-out (what else!) for brunch at Tracy, CA and then we went shopping at the premium outlets in Livermore, CA. Managed to get some Coach bags at 65% off. Amazing. After that, we met Victor for dinner at fb before parting ways. My friend flew back to Pittsburgh, while I finally settled in at my friend’s house in Redwood City.

After 20 days, I got a little bit tired of travelling and just want to go home…but…I’ve to sell my car first.

Spring: Easter, Freedom Church, Stardust

Finally Spring is here! Temperatures have been rising to 15-25 and the flowers are blooming!

I think God has really placed me at the right place at the right time. If I didn’t buy the car at Santa Rosa, I wouldn’t have received the title late, I wouldn’t have shipped the car to Pittsburgh, and I wouldn’t be able to drive to Freedom Fellowship church every Sunday here. Now that I am able to, I have been playing piano for their Sunday worship and it has been awesome. They are very blessed by my presence and every Sunday they kept praising me. I am teaching them some NCC songs as well. Definitely blessed to be a blessing!

So one of the couples from the church invited me to their house for Easter Sunday family dinner. I invited Joel along too. Seems like a tradition similar to Thanksgiving but smaller scale. The house is in a far away suburban area called Canonsburg and it is on a nice cul-de-sac. Their whole extended family was threw with 4 (!) generations of people, total about 20 people. It was a pleasant All-American feast, with ham, salads, mac-n-cheese, bunny-shaped bread, pineapple crust, and 3 different kinds of desserts. It was delicious. The family is pretty nice to talk to as well and they were great hosts. They have been so gracious to me that I decided to invite them for my graduation ceremony as well.

As for ETC, Project Stardust had a rocky start with the script being finalised only after quarters. Nevertheless we are advancing full steam ahead into softs and I wonder if we can render finish on time. One animator and one artist and one modeller and one compositor is definitely not enough! It is like only one person per role! But we hope to finish it so that we can go to Orlandoo…

Which reminds me of the Book of Mormon song. It is a pretty funny musical which is slightly vulgar and makes fun of the Mormon church. But I would say that the ending is slightly redemptive as the message is that as long as the religious teachings are put in proper context, they can achieve good.

As for other news it seems like every gadget I have is breaking apart. First, my laptop’s motherboard died last August and I have been surviving on my lousy tablet which touchscreen is horrendously weird. And the recently, because I dropped my camera too many times, one of the lens has some crack internally and it is faulty. Only my Samsung phone is surviving after 2 years and 4 months. Amazing.

I am still waiting for God to open doors this summer…


SXSW: South by Southwest Film / Music / Interactive Conference

Last week during Spring Break, I went to SxSW conference in Austin, TX with Ricardo and Albert.

Keep Austin Weird

Austin is a nice, clean and small but definitely bigger than Pittsburgh. The weather reminds me of California, just right. Food reminds me of California too, tex-mex rocks! It is certainly the live music capital of the world, especially along 6th street, where all the pubs and bars are. There’s also random people busking on the street and weird people walking around. Saw a LGBT parade on Congress one of the days. There are also many trishaws  and bicycle rickshaws, with the cyclists dressed up like superman, wonderwoman, scooby-doo and the like. There is no subway network, only a small tiny 2-carriage commuter train. The streets are surprisingly clean with many trashcans around. Congress Ave is also very picturesque with the Capitol building at the end of the road.

Interactive Documentary

I attended many film workshops regarding interactive documentary storytelling over the first few days. It seems like a new trend nowadays. They inspired me to create an interactive documentary of my own in the future, perhaps in a Singapore context. It seems like a good fit for me too, since I can combine both my web design and filmmaking skills together. One of the workshops also talk about the intersection of user experience design and filmmaking, which is pretty interesting. I also went to a workshop which talked about DSLR and tools for filmmaking.

There was a party hosted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and ETC was part of hosting it. So we were involved in a tiny booth helping to promote ETC. The music was really loud but we managed to showcase some ETC projects, including World of Goo as well as parts of our Project Xenon video. We managed to impress some people and also help to give out some swag.

We watched many films, such as

  • Evil Dead (remake): a gory, scary remake of Evil Dead (1981)
  • And Who Taught You To Drive?: a nice funny documentary about driving lessons in Japan, Germany and India
  • Hours: about Hurricane Katrina
  • Animated Shorts
  • Improv
  • Downloaded: about Napster
  • Cirque du Soleil #EVOKE13
  • Much Ado About Nothing: a remake of the Shakespeare classic
  • TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard
  • Documentary Shorts 1: After, Recollections, The Village
  • Reality Show: a movie about making reality shows, shot in a documentary style
  • V/H/S/2: a nice stitching of many horror/zombie-related shorts
  • We Cause Scenes: a documentary about ImprovEverywhere
Music and the Singapore connection
Over on the music side, I managed to catch LeCrae live in a collegemixshow. Everyone else is a non-Christian hardcore rap/hip-hop artist, except for LeCrae. He was really talking about God in between his rap songs. Pretty amazing. Managed to take a picture with him too. I also found out that there was a Singaporean band The Sam Willows performing, so I decided to pop by and check them out. Pretty cool and funky band with nice timbre-style music, and they’re all just slightly younger than me. Amazing people. Nice to see our local talent being exposed to the US market.
Over at the Trade Show, I realised that IDA has a booth and they brought some Singapore startups to showcase too. I managed to talk with one of the IDA persons and found out that they actually have an international office at Redwood Shores! So close to where I was last semester and I didn’t know! Pretty cool.
Twitter and Swag
Twitter is a wonderful thing in such conferences. I was searching “Singaporean SXSW” to see if anyone tweet about Singapore stuff, and managed to link up with someone from sge, an entrepreneurs group and invited him to the ETC party, and found out that he was working in Blk 71 as well. What a small world. Twitter is also a good thing to search for free stuff. There’s a channel called SouthByFreeNoms with all the free food and drinks posted. On the first day, we were talking with some random guy in the line, and he said we shouldn’t be spending any money or more than $20 on food a day. It is true. There’s always free breakfast, sandwich and drinks somewhere! And of course, free swag. There’s so many places giving out free t-shirts that you actually don’t have to bring shirts to the conference. And free pens, beer, tacos, beer, stickers, etc. Breakfast tacos are the best. One of the best swag was from the Oreo booth, after taking a photo and guessing where the photo behind you was taken, you get oreos, plus a small portable charger, plus a $25 voucher somewhere. I’ve got a voucher at a fruit juice place called Juiceland while my friend got his for Waterloo Records. Cool local places.

Everything is bigger in Texas

That’s what they say. The roads and freeways are definitely bigger in Texas. Bigger than the ones in California! It seems like a uniquely Texas thing to have a “frontage road” beside every freeway! And it is certainly a car country. In Houston, there 6 normal lanes plus 2 carpool lanes plus 3 lanes on the frontage road. Crazy! Speed limits are higher too, from 75mph on freeways (instead of 65) to 40mph on normal roads (instead of 35). And another strange thing is that the traffic lights here are mostly horizontal instead of vertical. Another interesting Texas phenomenon is the Texas U-turn.


I went to visit Austin Stone Community on Sunday evening. It was held in a high school gym. The Texas music genes is pretty strong, everyone looks like Crowder. Haha. On Wednesday, I decided to drive 3 hours to Houston, TX to attend Lakewood Church’s midweek service. I also managed to convince Albert to come along and we had a nice chat during the drive. We had Church’s Chicken for lunch (which is called Texas’ Chicken in Singapore), and it is more peppery than Popeye’s and KFC. We drove to Houston’s “Chinatown” and found a huge area of strip malls filled with all kinds of Chinese stuff. We had Malaysian food at Banana Leaf (which is not related to the one in Milpitas), and spotted some Singaporean goods at the Chinese supermarket like Yeo’s and Owl’s. After dinner, we drove to Lakewood Church. It is HUGE, after all, it was a basketball stadium. It was pretty empty since it was a midweek service. We managed to get good seats in the middle. Worship was good, no Israel Houghton though. Joel Osteen came for a while to say hi, and then his sister Lisa Osteen preached about writing down our visions. All in all, a pretty surreal experience, as usual.

On the way back, we drove around Houston downtown before driving back. Downtown is like many other downtowns I guess, quiet at night. Houston is a large city, 4th largest in the states, and sprawling, like many others. It seems to have many suburban cores too.

Getting Around

We took bus most of the time, even though our motel was on the freeway. Fortunately there’s a bus a short walk away to downtown. At night, we have to take the last bus or take the night owl bus and walk. But the music crowd was crazy. Once they came, it was like the geeks meet the hippies, and 6th St became super crowded with many people partying. On the last night, we almost couldn’t get back – all the taxis were full and the buses were full too. Zipcar saved the day! Managed to find one in Downtown to drive back and then we could drive it back downtown the next day.


It was a good week. Feel very inspired now. And I’d miss Austin’s weather. Back to cold Pittsburgh where spring does not exist.


This Thursday is Thanksgiving in America, which is a festival that traces back to the pligrims who first landed in America and gave thanks to God for “by the goodness of God, we are far from want”.

I would like to share a testimony of God’s right place right time and favour which I have not shared. Before I flew to California in August, I met Daffy after church at the suntec food court. It was just a coincidence, like what’s the probability of meeting someone in our church nowsdays with so many venues? Haha. But it became a God-incidence when I shared that I’m flying to California soon, with no plans for housing, and she mentioned she has an uncle, Les, there who can host me. So she said she would contact her uncle and ask.

A few days passed and there was this book launch event which I attended to support a friend. And again, by God’s Qarah timing, Daffy was there, also to support a friend, Cheryl (one of the other NUS CGLs). And I managed to ask her again about her uncle but her uncle Les hasn’t replied.

And then on the day that I flew, Daffy just sent me an email and she gave me her uncle’s address. However, I didn’t manage to contact uncle Les until I landed because when I was flying, the email was just being sent with his contact number! So I managed to take a train down from the airport and called uncle Les and he picked me from the train station.

The initial arrangement was I could stay over for a few days as I find a permanent room/house which is near my school. I was already prepared to go house searching by craigslist. However, the next day, Les was kind enough and said I could stay on till December when my semester here ends if I want. On top of that, he is not asking me to pay anything, no rent nor utilities! After some thought, I decided to stay at his house, on an air mattress in the living room, even though his house is far from my school (30-min drive).

That’s not the end of the story! I was speaking with Les’ wife, aunt Janet and she said God probably placed me in their household because her two daughters just moved into their hostels in university in September and she misses having kids around. She also has a son who’s also in university but he only comes home once a week. Her daughters won’t be home till the holidays so the house is emptier and quieter. So she said I’m her Godsend because she misses having kids around in the house and God knows and at least now there is one person (me) in the weekdays to talk to her at home, although I’m not related to them!

I really thank God for his provision and favour time and time again. Les and family have been really nice to me.

Although I’m still waiting for some other prayers to be answered, God is always able!

First Week in ETC-SV

It’s been one week since I arrived in the Silicon Valley for the second time. I was very blessed to be hosted by a friend’s uncle who lives in Los Altos. It was really right place right time as the uncle only replied our emails on the day I landed at SFO! (Prior to this, by God-incidence, I met the friend on two occasions separately, one after church and one at another event and that was how I knew about the uncle.) I was already planning to take the Caltrain to a nearby T-Mobile to get my sim card so that I could contact him. He offered to pick me up at the airport but I already took the train to mountain view. The family has been very nice to me, treating me as part of their family and allowing me to have meals with them. No need to “Keh ki”! They also have two dogs which seemed black and fierce but are actually quite playful. And the house is really beautiful with nice trees around.

Initially before this trip I felt too settled-in in Singapore and slightly reluctant to leave. But returning to California brings back good memories ans the weather is always sunny and awesome. Hiking to Mission Peak with the uncle’s children allowed me to experience the beautiful nature and God’s creation again. On Sunday, Penny brought us to Big Sir, and although it was cloudy, it is still beautiful and we managed to eat the awesome Old Grotto’s clam chowder at Monterey Bay’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Brings back memories of travelling with the UCSC friends.

First week of school has been slow but good. As we share offices in Electronic Arts, we are treated like an employee with store discounts, gym privilege price and the cafeterias. Too bad they don’t serve free food like Google. The campus is pretty awesome, there’s also a library, Starbucks and EA sports and maxis deco everywhere. There’s always people playing soccer on the field at lunchtime.

We had to set up our computers and shift furniture and stuff on our first day. Amazing that they ship my CPU by Fedex all the way from Pittsburgh. Haha. Also we spent some time brainstorming for a team name, from Envision to Reveal and finally Xenon. Our team is really talented with many people with multiple talents especially in filmmaking, and with a few from the UK campus last semester, and I am confident that we will be able to produce a great video. However 7 people is pretty large compared to 4 or 5 in BVW. But a bigger film crew on set is always better.

Commuting to school by bike is fun although a little tiring. I cycle 2 miles to the Caltrain, board the train with my bike, and then cycle 1 mile school from San Carlos station. Everywhere is very bike friendly, with bike lanes, or car lanes big enough for a bike and a car. Most drivers are friendly and they will even stop voluntarily to let me cross a junction. And the Caltrain has 2 bike carriages that can store many bikes each. Just have to label the destination on my bike so that I can tie them up with bikes going to the same destination. The only bad thing is the frequency for the Caltrain is pretty bad at non-peak hours (1 hour) and also peak hours (10-20 minutes?) and I think I may need a car soon.

Riding an Amtrak train now to Crater Lake, Oregan with Penny and the other Vsee people. Just ate breakfast at the dining car with some Canadian Indians, passing through valleys, mountains and tunnels. Certainly the most artistic way to travel.

Crater Lake is amazing, the deepest lake in the USA and one of the clearest bluest lakes in the world. It was.a pretty surreal sight. We drove around, did some hiking, watched sunset, moonrise (God surprised us with a full moon) and managed to get on the boat tour ride (there were no more tickets left after us). But camping overnight at freezing temperatures is no joke. Even two sleeping bags and 4 layers of clothing on me couldn’t keep me warm enough to sleep properly. Kept waking up cos my legs and hands are cold. There were two islands in the lake and they looked really small from above but are actually quite large up close. I managed to hike a small peak alone but didn’t manage to hike to highest peak there, Mount Scott. Leaving that for next time!

Time to get into project mood. Project Xenon.

Last few weeks in Pittsburgh

It was a long proess to try to get an internship in Singapore. I was rejected by Microsoft twice and finally found a place in Burpple and hence can return home. In the meantime, I was trying to explore every possible inch of Pittsburgh until there was no where else to go haha.

One of the more exotic places to go was Fallingwater, which is a famous house museum built by a famous architect over a a stream and waterfall. The architecture as interesting with many cantilever structures, but I think the one hour tour wasn’t worth the $20 admission fee. Compared to the other house museum The Frick which I visited earlier, the Frick was more interesting as the house is older (about 100 years) and has many Victorian era stuff, including a Orchestron, which is like a giant mini orchestra device consisting of organ, many brass pipes, a triangle, a few flute pipes and a few drum pieces. Feed it with a ticker tape like roll of scores, and it magically starts playing. It is amazing to watch the machine play, like an ancient live jukebox, better than your mp3 player lol.

After Fallingwater, we drove to Laurel Caverns, passing by Ohiopyle Falls (which is NOT in Ohio). Laurel Caverns is a place which I found on the Fallingwater website under nearby attractions. After visiting it, I think it is more interesting than Fallingwater! It was a one hour $11 tour through a system of natural caves inside a mountain. The tour guide is a funny little old guy who kept using the words “folks” and “gee” along the way. The caves are artificially lighted, and due to the rock features and the orange lighting, some parts of it look similar to grand canyon. We also saw some boy scouts hiking inside, and there were also rappelling and rock climbing opportunities in the cave. One of the more “ETC moments” was when they switched of all the lights and then the lights danced to the tune of “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah. It was pretty cool.

Over the past four days, I rented a zipcar to drive 1.5 hours to Youngstown, OH for a Miracles, Signs and Wonders conference with Jesus Culture and Georgian Banov, Patricia King and Lance Wallnau. The church was Victory Christian Center, which is an aog megachurch in the middle of nowhere. The highlight was of course Jesus Culture, it was my first time experiencing life worship with Kim Walker and Chris. They are very good at dragging a song into a very long spontaneous free worship, and will never get tired of singing the same refrain over and over again. That’s why most of their songs have simple choruses that just keep repeating. They sound longwinded on the CD, but better experienced live. Georgian is a funny guy who preaches the new covenant based on being co-cruxified, co-buried and co-risen with Christ. There was an amazing emotional moment when he asked people on stage to reenact the co-cruxification, with someone wrapping you in his arms. Patricia King preaches that we are the righteousness of God too, while Lance Wallnau is more of Christ in the marketplace preaching. I was alone most of the time, as Joel only joined me for one evening. I made friends with one or two ladies sitting beside me.

In between, I went for lunch in Youngstown which is a small university town. Yelp led me to a nice ribs place (Charlie Staples) and an awesome pasta place. (MVR), and the Chick-fil-a chain, which is the best chicken burger with their own honey mustard sauce. I also found a traditional Diary Queen in the middle of nowhere near the church, which is not labelled as DQ which is usually the case. Their blizzards (like McFlurry) is super awesome!

On the last evening with the car, I drove to McConnell Mills State Park because I wanted to hike and experience a bit of nature. It was a small river with a mill and a dam, and various trails around. I actually got a bit off-trail and was a bit lost, but managed to find my way back. I also helped a African American familly unto one of the trails as they didn’t know the rocks were part of the path, and to follow the blue markers painted on the trees.

On the second last day before I flew, we went to Kennywood Amusement Park, which is pretty old (since 1890). It is actually pretty good and impressive for something in Pittsburgh and it opens till 10pm at night. We took all 6 roller coasters they have, taking about one hour to queue for each one. There were like 3 traditional wooden based ones, 2 thrilling ones, one of which has like a 10-storey drop, and an indoor one. There was also rocking house called Noah’s Ark lol. On the way home, as the parking lot is up the hill, you can take a romantic ski lift ride up. Pretty cool.

And so now I’m finally flying home, typing this on board an A380 for the first time. It is pretty fat, and has like a stairs at the back to the upper deck. I wonder why the colour combination of the seats are brown and gold instead of the usual blue and purple for SQ.

What’s next?

CMU ETC First Semester Reflections, BVW Festival

And so finally the first semester of my experience in CMU ETC is finally over. Time flies and it seems like 5 years ago when the first round of Building Virtual Worlds (BVW) arrived. It’s probably the most tiring and most hours worked of any semester I have ever experience so far, and much more tough than any semester in NUS, and the most number of hours I have spent in school. Fortunately, I did not find the need to sleepover yet. After all, school’s only a 20 minute walk away so it’s nice to be able to walk home at 2am to a bed.

Last week, we had the BVW Spring Festival. It was THE ETC event of the semester, where there is an open house, and guests get to play the worlds that we built for Round 5 which lasted 4 weeks (pitch + interim + tech final + deco). It was the most amazing thing to be involved in because it involved both technical work in building a game, as well as art and craft work in terms of decoration. My team decided to re-pitch RaillyTricky, the game we created for the jamodrum during the lighting round, and recreated it with an additional portion of depot cargo loading. 2 players would load cargo unto the train using joysticks, and then the trains will spawn on the jamodrum world. I was thrilled as I love trains, and this was a recreation of the iOS-style train games (kind of) unto the jamodrum. We had many hurdles along the way in terms of brainstorming, track layout, gameplay mechanics, and we eventually figured it out. It is also amazing how the depot loading game got totally revamped in the last week from 2 players competing to 2 players collaborating. The jamodrum layout also became much more beautiful and polished as compared to the lighting round as the 3D Modeler and I did pump up the graphics to Appaloosa cartoon-themed.

In the last week, we stayed up to midnight/1am/2am almost every day to do the Wild West-themed deco and programming. Sam and Sakar was great in creating wooden stuff such as the Saloon door, Railroad crossing signs, railroad tracks, and 3 standing building facades. Steph helped to paint them, and Mara did awesome paper mache cacti, and I helped out with misc printing of stuff for the deco. It was somewhat like rag-and-flag, as each team spends a considerable amount of money to decorate the room just for one day, and then after that half the things are thrown away. What a pity, wished we can show the world to more people across more days.

On the day itself, we had many guests, of which the guest-of-honour was  Jason Vandenberghe from Ubisoft, a pretty cool guy. He went around and played all our games and gave us feedback. The thing that he said to us was that gamers’ comfort is very important – user feedback of what’s happening to the controls will cause either enjoyment or frustration to the game. Our game is probably the best use of the jamodrum, if only we can fix the user feedback when they turn the wheel and/or lock it. Because currently, the game is very frustrating as the trains keep crushing, even though you think you have control of the junction. It’s the HCI – human-computer interface gap user interface problem again.

On the whole, it was a success for all the groups as all the guests enjoyed the games (and the fudge!). Our world is probably the most tedious to decorate as compared to the others. It was sad as we tear down the stuff the next day (reminds me of rag again). I wish there was more chance to bond with the other groups and play their games.


Here’s a summary of some new things I have learnt this semester:

  • Teamwork and feedback. Making games is a head fake, as Randy would say. Teamwork is the real deal, after working with 7 different teams throughout the whole semester and receiving peer evaluation feedback at the end, I learnt a lot about myself, my own working styles, and how I interact with others. (Apparently, 3 people asked me to smile more, contrary to the fact that other people have said in the past before that I never stopped smiling. Perhaps I had more stress here which caused me to smile less.)
  • Interest Curves. A term which, oddly, isn’t on Wikipedia. Interest curve, or the climatic arch of a story plot, lies beneath any entertainment tech: stories, films, games, apps, museum installations etc. [How was the interest curve for Avengers? Peaking!]
  • Kill your babies. Usually the first few ideas of a brainstorming session ain’t the best ideas because they are the most common ones people thought of before. Also, don’t hold on to your own idea too tightly.
  • Surface Pleasures. (courtesy of Ralph). Things which add visual and graphical interest to a piece.
  • Naive users and playtesting. Naive users are people who don’t play games, who don’t use computers, who don’t know how to use a joystick. Test, test and test. After testing with at least 10 groups of people who played your game, using think aloud or otherwise, you will know what works and what doesn’t. Also, don’t assume that Naive users know the lingo you put into the language of the game.
  • Theatre in games: How is games similar to theatre? They let the player assume the role of an actor in the game, being able to immerse in a fantasy world and act out all the roles possible to the player. Now everyone can be an actor, not just in the theatre. Hence the poetics of Aristotle do apply in games too!
  • Improvising. Both in improvisational acting as well as in brainstorming.

Spring Break Road Trip to Florida

After much deliberation on whether we should fly to Florida, Mark, Meng and I embarked on our road trip from Pittsburgh to Miami, Florida and back. The price of renting a car is about the same as flying per person, and if you fly there, you still need a car to get around. Hence we decided to drive, although I’m the only one who loves driving. I like the freedom of being on wheels, and it’s 16 hours to Orlando which is quite a feat.

Day 1

So we drove our Volkswagen Beetle for about 8 hours to Gatlinburg, TN on the first day, to the foot of the Great Smokies, the most visited national park in the states. Driving through Pigeon Forge is like through a mini vegas-like strip, there are so many bogus brightly lit tourist-trap-like attractions along the way, including a Titantic, a Christ in the smokies, magic shows, etc. It’s hilarious. We stayed at a red carpet inn, which is cheap and decent enough.

Day 2: Great Smokies

The next morning, we were surprised by the crowds in the town. It’s certainly a touristy place. There were so many people queuing for the pancake pantry! We decided to drive out back to Pigeon Forge where it is less crowded. For some reason, it is pancakes land and everywhere else is selling pancakes. And so, we ate pancakes, and southern biscuits with gravy. It’s like the biscuits from Popeye’s, but they have this tasteless porridge-like gravy which I think is weird. But I still like the biscuit! After breakfast, we went to the Roving Motor trail, which is a one way driving trail through the forest. The map says there’s a trail to the forest, so we parked where everyone parked and hiked the trail to the Rainbow Falls. Little did we know that the trail is 5.6 miles back and forth, and it will take us at least 3-4 hours to finish it. But since 2 of us liked hiking, we decided to go for it anyway. The trail was uphill beside a few streams and there some nice bridges and trees. But we were not that equipped for hiking since we are like wearing jeans and normal shoes (although I had my timberland). But compared with Mount Kinabalu, this is nothing. Haha. After much perseverance and meeting many people along the way, we reached the falls. The interest curve for the hike wasn’t spectacular, but there’s a small section with a view. The falls is not that magnificent as expected, I wasn’t expecting a Yosemite. Nevertheless, it was a good exercise.

After that, we finally drove up the mountain route 441 to Newfound Gap, which is the mountain pass, peaking at about 3000 ft. At the summit, we were rewarded with a nice view of the Smokies mountain range, and we can see the mountains fading away into the horizon. Now, that’s what I call beautiful. After that, we began our 4-5 hour drive to Altanta, GA, our next stop point. We lost data signal with T-mobile after the mountains, and have to rely on instincts till we got signal for the navigation to work.

Arriving into the wide freeways of Atlanta reminded us of LA because of the carpool express lanes, the heavy fast traffic, and the sound of the round that keeps repeating. Downtown Atlanta looks boring and empty as usual, with some parts looking shady. Typical American urban diaspora. We checked in and drove around, walked around the Centennial Olympic park (Atlanta hosted Olympics in 1996), saw the Coke museum and Aquarium.

Day 3: Atlanta

The next morning, we ate Krispy Kreme donuts and I dropped my friends off at the coke museum, and I went to…passion city church! It is about 15 minutes drive from downtown, and I didn’t know they are megachurch size now. It was typical: huge parking lot with traffic ushers and a warehouse-like building. What was atypical was this huge 5-storey statue of a hand promoting their human slavery freedom movement. When I stepped into the building, I was filled with awe. The design was minimalist, with clean lines and colours. The auditorium was huge, probably sits 4-5k and they have 2 services. Someone else led worship along with Christy Nickels, and it was really good. We sang a couple of new songs, I’m Not Ashamed, Revive me, Your Love Never Fails. And just nice, they releasing their new album, White Flag, that weekend, and I could buy it for just $5! Louie Giglio preached about John 14, and that the plan of God is not to give you the plan of God, but to give you Jesus. It was really really bleased to be there. The lighting was cool too, they used many LED lights to create colour wash.

After church, I visited the coke store and bought some souvenirs. We then ate at Cracker Barrel, a diner recommended by Josh. The eggs Benedict was super awesome! Finally I have the chance to eat them here. Then, we began our 7 hour drive to Orlando, FL. The portion near the borders was pretty boring, the interstate is super straight, not scenic, no buildings, not much nature. Fortunately it has 3 lanes for easier overtaking. The Floridian part was pretty dead too as we were not driving near the coast. Finally we arrived in civilisation as we saw theme park, outlet malls, and houses. We are Orlando! The place we stayed in Kissimmeee has actually many gated communities. It is a rich neighborhood.

Day 4: Universal

The next day, we went to collect our tickets from Undercovertourist at the local UPS store, and we went to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. The parking lot queue was typical: long and expensive at $15. The citywalk area is quite familiar with shops and cinemas. The theme park was very crowded! It was a nice spring sunny day with temperatures at 20-25 degrees. I haven’t perspired in the sun for such a long time haha. The Islands of adventure isn’t as big as I expected. It’s probably just slightly larger than Singapore’s. In fact, it is designed the same manner, a loop with a lake in the middle and the different worlds around it. The only difference is that they have a separate park which is the production houses and hollywood-themed area.

The first world we visit is the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. It was pretty cool, it looks like the Hogsmeade neighbourhood in the movies and Hogwarts castle! It was super crowded with many people queuing for butterbeer, and so we did. It tastes like root beer with lotsa cream on top. Pretty good. We had to queue for more than an hour for the castle ride, even though we went by the single rider, but it was pretty good. It combines real moving props, with omni movie screens and a semi roller coaster ride which bumps up and down like a quidditch broom. The next ride we went was the dragon rollercoaster. There were fractions and we chose the Chinese fireball one. Actually the design of it is very similar to the battlestar galactica in Singapore, with two roller coasters side by side ascending together and passing one another. The ride was quite thrilling with a couple of loops and twists. Fun! After that we walked around the Dr. Seuss world, before watching the simbad live show. It is somewhat like the waterworld show in LA and Singapore. We walked to Jurassic Park but we didn’t take the ride as I already took it before and we didn’t want to get wet. We queued for the Spiderman 3D ride for like 2 hours?! We strategised and 2 of us went to take Dr. Doom’s drop tower first which had a shorter queue. I always loved the adrenaline rush and the screaming at a drop tower. It is a stress relieving machine. Still the Spiderman queue took like forever to get into the Daily Bugle themed building. Apparently, the new transformers ride in Singapore is based on this rose’s technology: semi roller coaster with giant 3D screens that brings you into the worlds and see Spiderman fight the victims in the “Scoop” vehicle. The interest curve was not bad, and I like the immersive experience. I must say the instructions cartoon is quite lame and funny. The last ride which we wanted to take was the Incredible Hulk roller coaster. We tried the single rider lane but it actually took longer. When it was almost our turn, the ride broke down! Talk about right place right time: if we had went by the regular queue, I could have been in the roller coaster that was stuck on the incline. We could see the workers escorting the riders down the stairs. It looked a little scary. We decided to not wait anymore for the ride. Sad. 4 rides and 2 shows in 8 hours.

I ate dinner at the foot court, and the next highlight was the blue man show! We managed to get college student discount at only $34 instead of the usual $90+. It is the best musical/concert/comedy/circus/performance I watched, well worth the price! They are very creative and there was lots of audience interaction. I love the invisible silent emcee at the start: the LED ticker tape. It’s amazing how scrolling words can interact with an audience. Within minutes, we were waving hi to some guests, wishing a birthday girl and clapping and cheering to…a ticker. It was hilarious. I also loved the LED screens used in the background of all the performance. They were very dynamic and cool. The blue men would walk to the audience and pick up random people to do tasks, such as acting with them on stage, body painting, etc. I also liked their satire and parody of the Gipad (iPad), the rock concert movements generalisation, etc. There was one part where there were bouncing balls and everyone was asked to stand up and shake our butts and dance. Haha. The lighting and video effects were pretty well done too, there were some parts which filmed the audience as we interacted, and there was one part with a camera pointing to someone’s mouth and it cuts to a video of the camera going deep into the stomach. Amusingly seemingly real. On the whole, the interest curve kept peaking. I think it’s more interesting than a Broadway play.

Day 5: Disney

Today is Disney. We ate at Perkin’s for breakfast, but it isn’t as nice as Cracker Barrel. It is slightly more expensive as well.We didn’t go to magic kingdom but we decided to try DisneyQuest in downtown Disneyworld. Disneyworld is HUGE! It is like a self-contained town with multiple theme parks, lakes, hotels, buses and even a monorail. One good thing about the downtown place is that parking is free. Haha. We shopped a little before going into the indoor amusement park. The highlight is the Pirates of the Carribean thing designed by Jesse Schell, an ETC faculty. It is a ship simulator with 180 panorama view with 3 projector screens. There was a steering wheel and throttle, just like my BVW naive user round! Haha. Next was a river rafting simulator, and HMD Aladdin carpet, which was quite dizzy and disorientating. The best thing I think is the cyber spacemountain, in which you can design your own roller coaster, and then ride it on the simulator. So if there’s any upside downs, it really goes upside down! My friend designed a 4 out of 5 thrillometer one which was pretty crazy. The only thing lacking is the free fall feeling.

We only spent 4 hours at Disneyquest, cos the rest of it was mostly arcade games. Next, we drove to the town of Celebration, which is a Disney-designed real living town (thanks to for the tip). The architecture is clean and theme-park-like, reminds you of the picture perfect streets in Desperate Housewives or Mayberry. The main street is pretty nice with some shops in front of the lake. It was a good hidden find as it wasn’t very crowded, and we ate at this pretty authentic Thai restaurant (which is quite out of place). I like this place.

When the sun set, we went to the Disney Boardwalk to take the free ferry to Epcot. We saw the fireworks at 9pm behind some very strategically placed trees. Haha. But it was still near enough and not too bad, although we couldn’t hear the music and sound effects. Next, we drove up to Contemporary Hotel to catch the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks. There were a bunch of people crowded around the 4th floor observation deck, as well as the stairwells above it. The good thing is that the music is piped to the speakers there. The bad thing is that the stupid monorail viaducts blocked some of the view, and the angle is slightly skewed so it is not directly behind the castle. Later we took the monorail to the Polynesian Resort where there is an artificial beach to view the fireworks as well. It is much further away from the castle as it is on the other side of the lake, but it is a clear unblocked view. I’m proud that I managed to find a back exit route out of Disneyworld to avoid the jams.

Day 6: Legoland

On our last day in Orlando, we went to Legoland! We ate BK breakfast, and they have sausage with biscuits too. Managed to save parking charges at Legoland by parking for free at the strip shopping mall across the road. I didn’t know Legoland was that kiddy until now. We were seriously overaged for it lol. Most of the people there were family with kids! Haha. And the rides are very kid-friendly as well, the most intense roller coaster was nothing compared to the Universal one: no upside downs and twists. The shows were also quite cheesy, the pirates one had some water skiing stunts with people dressed up as Lego figurines so it wasn’t that bad, but the city one have some lame firemen playing with water. We couldn’t sit any of the driving school rides as they were for kids. The Lego technic and coastersaurous roller coasters were not bad. The castle and Egyptian themed worlds were so-so. The main attraction was miniland, where they have mini replicas of landmarks around the states, all made with Lego! Pretty amazing to see very detailed models of New York city, San Francisco and other major cities. They even programed some cars and figurines to move in them. The 4D shows were also not bad, they had no dialogue conversations but they depicted the stories pretty well. The 3D effects were pretty well done.

At night, we tried to search for an A&W nearby but it no longer exists. Sad. So we found a Captain D, which is quite similar to Long John Silver’s but much greater selection and bigger portions. In fact, I think it is pretty decent good fast $8 seafood platter with fish, crab, shrimps, and “hush puppies” potatoes. After dinner, it was another long 4-hour boring drive to Miami. We had to drive a non-toll route as the Florida turnpike in Miami uses electronic devices like our ERPs. While driving inside greater Miami, there were so many police cars…I spotted at least 10!

Day 7: Miami Beach

In the morning, we drove to Miami Beach and parked at a garage which was strangely cheaper than the street parallel parking. Unfortunately, the clouds came and started to pour just after we were taking pictures at the beach. Walking along the touristy Lincoln mall with all the expensive shops was pretty boring. The rain came and left and came and left. Later we managed to walk along the beach again. It was quite quiet and peaceful, although not picturesque. After that, we drove to downtown to see the bayside marketplace. As expected, it was nothing much. We took the free metromover around, which is very similar to our LRT. Saw the arena which Hillsong United had their live recording. Other than that, nothing much. At night, we drove to little havannah to eat at an authentic Cuban restaurant called Versailles. It was huge and pretty awesome. I had grilled chicken which has very flavourful seasoning, and my friends had some imperial rice which is like fried rice. The food is slightly different from Mexican, slightly similar to Indian cos of the balsmanti rice. Now, this was the only worth-it thing in Miami! At night, we drove 3-4 hours northwards towards Titusville.

Day 8: Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy is Orlando’s “space coast”, where NASA headquarters is. (Thanks to penny for the tip.) The tour was very interesting, as the bus would bring you around the facilities and tell you where are the space shuttles launched from and how the launch pad works. Too bad the space shuttle program has ended. The coolest part was to visit the Apollo Saturn V facility, where the actual Saturn V rocket is on exhibit, the one which brought man to the moon. There were many video and multimedia presentations of how they launch the rockets, with some sadness about Apollo 1. We also watched an IMAX 3D movie of the Hubble space telescope. Looking at the stars makes you wonder about God’s creation as indescribable. Another cool thing was the space shuttle launch simulator, which is like a theme park ride thing. You sit in a capsule and it tilts upwards and rocks to simulate a shuttle rocket launch. They even have a FOD warning haha. Pretty awesome. The effects and lighting were well done, and the interest curve peaked well at the end. The space shop is quite cool, they have space foods and space blanket. We also visited the Hall of fame, which was more like a museum.

After NASA, we drove up to check out Daytona Beach. Wrong place wrong time again: it was bike week! There were hundreds of bikes everywhere and we couldn’t find a parking space. We had to park pretty far from the main pier, and we walked to the shore and take a look. The beach is definitely nicer with finer sad, and more happening than Miami. You can even drive on it. Later, we found the A&W nearby, which is strangely integrated with a Long John Silver’s. Sadly, there’s no curly fries. But root beer float and chilli cheese fries are good nevertheless. After dinner, we drove 3 hours north to Kingsland, GA where we stayed for the night.

Day 9: Savannah

We planned to see the St Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah which was 2 hours north. But it was super crowded and messy, all the parking garages were full, and the street parking were full too. I had a strange encounter with the policeman. He claimed that I almost knocked into him which I don’t think I did. He gave me a verbal warning, saying that if I don’t know how to drive, I shouldn’t. Thank God for favour in times of adversity. I was pretty nervous. In the end, we decided to get out of the place. Sad that we cannot see people in green doing crazy things.We drove to SC and had a brunch buffet at Shoney’s. It was a sumptuous one for only $7.99, with breakfast stuff like eggs, Bacon, biscuits, waffles, and lunch stuff like chicken, soups, salads and ice cream. The fried chicken was very juicy and tasty like KFC. Pretty worth it for lunch. We also saw a fireworks shop, which is an eye opener. In some states, you can set off your own fireworks! No need to wait for countdown on new year’s day. Hah. After that, we began our 11 hour chiong back to Pittsburgh and hence I have time to type this. The Virginian mountains were pretty scenic.

Another sad thing that happened was that the USB cigarette lighter charger broke down, and we couldn’t charge our phones for the GPS. Fortunately, we have 3 phones to take turns.

Pittsburgh is warming up for spring! It’s like 20 degrees now. Woohoo.