Thursday, October 8, 2009

DK Travel Books and Penguin Books Warehouse Sale

My favourite series of travel books are those published by DK, you know, those with plenty of pictures and not too many words. They are just perfect for lazy readers like me and officially they are called DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. They come in three main flavours - the usually thick version by country, the thinner version by city or region and the handy Top 10 pocket guide by city. My collection of these DK travel guides is growing over the years and what better time to add to my collection than by visiting the Penguin Book Warehouse sale that is currently ongoing.

I am sure any serious book lovers must have already visited the Penguin Book Warehouse sale in PJ since they started on last Friday and will end this Sunday. Those of you who have not visited the sale, you still have a few more days to do so but you would have missed out most of the better buys. I was there on Saturday and went again yesterday but I found the selection was much reduced and I am glad that I bought many DK travel titles on Saturday itself since there are not many left yesterday. Among all the Book Warehouse sales that I have visited, I find the Penguin sale to be the best in terms of value and selection that suit my taste.

It does not seem very long ago that I visited the last Penguin sale but when I checked, the previous one was actually held almost two years ago in November 2007. How time flies!
Typical prices - most Penguin paperbacks are going for RM15 (up from RM12 the last time), the DK Travel guides at RM34 (against RM24 previously), DK Top 10 series at RM14 (previously RM10). There are also plenty of Rough Travel guides for RM20'ish but they seems to be less popular than the DK guides since I suppose most people are lazy to read and find looking at photos an easier task.

Many of the books on sale are not that old, some are just last year's edition and you may come across a gem every now and then. Here are some of my prized purchases this time around, you can read their reviews in Amazon.

The Rough Guide to Film (RM28)

This gives a comprehensive A-Z listing of directors with short reviews of their famous films.

The Rough Guide to Film Noir (RM15)

This concentrate on film noir giving the origin, the history, the 50 essential film noir, the profiles of key directors, peformers, cinematograhers, etc associated with film noir and more. The same series cover other genres like gangster, comedy, sci-fi and horror.

1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (RM15)

This complements the "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" and list the recordings by artists in all genre of music from classical to pop.

DK Universe (RM60)

This is the full size version and there are many copies still available and makes very fascinating reading and viewing of the universe.

I was actually deciding between buying this title or the more down to earth DK James Bond Encyclopedia at RM50 but choose the Universe because it is more timeless. The James Bond stops at the movie Casino Royale with Daniel Craig and is thus slightly outdated but it is still a very good buy for James Bond fans unless you want the latest edition which will come out later this year.

Below are a sample each of the DK Travel guide and the Top 10 series that I bought in case you need to check out the series on Amazon.

DK Travel Brazil (RM34)

I grabbed this because Rio has just won the rights to host the 2012 Olympic Games and I never had any South American DK guide. Other titles I bought are China (RM38), South Africa (RM34), Canada (RM32), Morocco (RM32) and Holland (RM34)

DK Top 10 Berlin

Berlin is the only major European city that I have not visited so I hope to go there next year. Other titles I bought are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Venice, Sydney, Amsterdam, Brussels and Beijing all at RM14 each.

During the last Penguin sale, there were plenty of Penguin Classics but this time there were just a few titles scattered here and there. But I managed to get this one since it met my criteria for buying Penguin Classics - nice print and plenty of notes at the back.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (RM15)

My copy is just the normal, standard black Penguin Classics edition but the contents are exactly the same as the above deluxe edition.

Though many titles are gone by now but there are still plenty of novels and also Ladybird books at only RM2 each so you may still find something you like. Just a hint, there are boxes under some of the tables where you may find a hidden gem but stay away from them if you are allergic to dust. Happy book hunting.

Ronald Kwok

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day - a gift from the heart

Hi, I'm back from my Turkey trip for two weeks now and it's Father's Day again tomorrow. This morning my daughters called me to their room and gave me a wonderful surprise which is an advanced Father's Day gift, a new Nokia handphone. Very thoughtful of them since they knew that I am having some problems with my existing Motorola handphone, itself a birthday gift from my wife three years ago. The Nokia is a combined gift from all my children.

Here's a shot showing both the new and the old phone. It is not the top of the range Nokia but it is one of the latest and that will do for me since I always prefer a Nokia to a Motorola because of the more user friendly menu. Note the worn out Motorola.

Together with it was a Father's Day card hand-made personally by my second daughter. It is worth much more than any commercial card in the market since it is made with care and love. It may not have cost much in raw material but the thought itself is priceless. Thank you to all of you, I really appreciate it.

I do not know why but I seem to appreciate the gifts from my children more and more as the years go by, maybe this is a sign of getting old. And a sign of love from the children. Isn't this what all fathers need though they may not say so? So to all you children out there, show someone that you care and give something to your father and it need not be something expensive as long as it is from the heart. Even if it is just a hug.
And when he is still around.

Happy Father's Day!

Ronald Kwok

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Holiday break in Turkey

I will be away for two weeks in Turkey so there will be no new posts and I will not be able to respond to comments until I am back. Cheers.

Ronald Kwok

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New home for Sharp LCD TV

Hi folks, the Sharp LCD TV LC-19A35M has found a new home! No, I've not sold it on e-bay but I've moved it over to a new Blog, Sights and Sounds. Those interested to follow up can do so in the new Blog. Cheers.

Ronald Kwok

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sharp Aquos LCD TV

I took the plunge last weekend and bought myself my first LCD TV. No, it is not one of those giant screen monster or even the usual entry level 32" LCD TV. It is just a modest 19" Sharp, LC-19A35M that suits my purpose perfectly. Nowadays LCD TV makers are pushing for bigger and bigger screen size just like digital camera are giving you more and more megapixels but do you really need all these extra inches and megapixels?

For some of us, the answer is no but how else can the manufacturer come out with new models every now and then to push up their sales and satisfy customers who wants bigger and more to be one up on their friends? Maybe with the current economic situation, customers are thinking twice. Anyway, you should only get what you really need and not pay for something that does not add to its value. (Of course having plenty of money helps but that's another story.)

OK, back to my new toy. Even since my wife bought me the Samsung micro HiFI MMDA25, I've been longing for a display unit so that I can play my large collection of DVD's. As I spent a lot of my time in my library (den to my wife), I just need something small to fit into the "hole" in my desktop. So I looked around the hypermarkets and even Pasar Road. There were many local brands in the small size segment in Pasar Road but for the major brands, they were mainly in the 32" and above category which is too big for me.

I almost bought a local 15" (Audio Phonar?) which was going for RM499, the cheapest LCD TV that I could find. There were brands like E-View (19" for RM650), Wina, and others with similar pricing. Then I saw an ad for a Sharp 19" going for RM799 at Desa Home Theatre and so I did some googling and found that this is the smallest screen in their Aquos range. Not that I do not trust those call-what-you-want local brands but looking at their prices, I feel that this must be a good buy. So I went down to Desa Home Theatre at Low Yat Plaza and took the plunge.

To cut the long story short (so that I can post this early for those PC Fair visitors), I was initially disappointed but later I was very happy with my purchase. It is a definitely a recommended value buy for those of you looking for this screen size and a reputable brand. I will give more details and a full review in my next post. Later I saw the same model going for RM999 at Harvey Norman and a 19" Pensonic also going for RM999 as well so you can see why I say the Sharp is a good buy. (I mean, if you can have Rinko Kikuchi, why pick Amber Chia?) So for those of you going to the PC Fair this weekend, check out the prices of the LCD TV (not LCD monitor) on display there and use this price (RM799) as a baseline for your comparison before you make your purchase.

(The actual screen size of the Sharp LCD TV is 18.5" and the Desa Home Theatre HQ is in Kompleks Desa, Kepong while the branch is in Plaza Low Yat, in case you want this offer.)

Ronald Kwok

Friday, February 27, 2009

Crossword Dictionary

Before I touch on Crossword Dictionaries, I attach the link below to the (Chambers) Crossword Manual that is highlighted in the comments of my last post by "wxd_fiend". This is the updated version of the Chambers Crossword Guide that I mentioned in my previous post. This has 400 pages as against the 300 pages of the older version so I believe this would be a better buy if you are looking for a guide to solving cryptic crosswords.

The Crossword Manual

There are many aids to solving crosswords, one of which is the crossword dictionary and there are many in the market. The first one that I have is a 1967 edition of the Dell Crossword Dictionary by Kathleen Rafferty. Below is the latest edition (even then it is a 1995 edition).

The Dell Crossword Dictionary

This is more useful for straight crossword but I like the word-finder section where you can find all the 3 or 4-letter words if you already know 2 of the alphabets such as XX__, _XX_, __XX or X__X. This is useful to complete the missing words but unfortunately this provides only up to 4-letter words.

Most of the crossword dictionaries by American publishers are mainly geared for the American market and so is good for straight crosswords but if you are looking for one for cryptic crosswords, you have to look for British publications. The best will be the Chambers Crossword Dictionary since it mentions possible cryptic clues in the listing.

The Chambers Dictionary

Other useful aids for crosswords would by a Thesaurus. And of course, you can always turn to the Net for online assistance. Good luck.

Ronald Kwok

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Crossword varieties

Apart from solving Sudoku, my other daily activity is solving crossword. There are basically two types of crossword, the American or straight crossword and the British or cryptic crossword. The one I do daily is the cryptic crossword since I find it more interesting with the play on the English language.

For those not familiar, the straight crossword is one where the clue will direct you to a straight forward answer while the cryptic clue will usually consist of a secret clue that employs wordplay as well as a straight clue. You thus have two clues to one answer which makes the answer doubly sure. Visually, the straight crossword is more closely linked and solving all the across clues will solve some of the down clues automatically and vice versa while the cryptic crossword is less closely link and has more blank squares.

Over the years I have collected a number of books on crosswords and I myself am surprised how many I have accumulated.

Crossword Puzzles for Dummies.

This gives an very interesting introduction to the world of crossword puzzles. The bulk of the book is on the American crossword but there is a chapter on cryptic crossword to whet your appetite. There are of course sample crossword puzzles scattered throughout the volume.

The oldest crossword puzzle book that I have is "The Strange World of the Crossword" by Roger Millington. This traces the history of the crossword puzzle and its progress. Along the way are interesting snippets of related information and other varieties of the word puzzles. This is out of print now.

A more recent book along the same line is "The Crossword Obsession" by Coral Amende.

It is more like a collection of thoughts and comments by constructors and editors of the crossword puzzles interspersed with the history and anecdotes of the crossword puzzles.

The latest book is "Wordplay"

a companion to the hit movie of the same name which is a documentary about crossword puzzles. If you enjoy doing crossword puzzles, you will enjoy the movie and this companion book. The book contains some famous and historical puzzles for your enjoyment.

If you are interested to learn more about cryptic crossword puzzles and how to solve them, there are quite a number of books in the market. I have two of them.

"How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords" by Kevin Skinner is a basic book to get you started. It has 26 crosswords with solutions explained.

"The Chamber's Crossword Guide" is more advanced and has 84

puzzles of various levels of difficulty and different designs.

There are many aids that you can use in solving crosswords such as general and specialised dictionary, atlas, thesaurus and other reference book, especially for the straight crosswords. In addition, there are those that are specifically for cryptic crosswords. I have one such dictionary and it is titled simply "Clue-finder", a dictionary of Crossword Clues.

Examples of entries are:

electricity bill = current account

second child = Abel

strong drink = stout

Finally, there is the "Bradford's Crossword Lists"

which consists of about 100,000 items sorted into over 500 lists in the order of word lengths. This is useful not only for cryptic crosswords but also the straight crosswords.

So grab a pencil and turn to your crossword page of your daily newspaper and sharpen your mind.

Ronald Kwok

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sudoku and Alzheimer's disease

To keep my mind alert, I do two things daily in the morning while having my breakfast. One is solving Sudoku. There's a saying A Sudoku a day keeps Alzheimer away and there are several reports that say that solving Sudoku regularly do exercises the mind and helps to fight Alzheimer's disease. The Sudoku that I do is from the Star newspaper which is syndicated from the Daily Telegraph, UK. Generally, it is not to difficult nor too easy and usually I manage to complete it within 15 minutes or so. Once in a while there will be one that I get stuck which I just gave up. There are also occasions that I fill in some wrong numbers due to carelessness and that's the end of that day's Sudoku. Sometimes you'll find that going back to a Sudoku that you have given up for a while, you'll be able to solve it; maybe because you'll be looking at it with a new mind, so to speak.

I have a few books on solving Sudoku in my collection, some I bought on my own and some presented to me. Here are short reviews of these books.

There are two Teach Yourself books and two by Carol Vorderman.

First, Teach Yourself Sudoku by James Pitt

This book has only 16 pages of instruction on how to solve Sudoku and covers only the basic technique. So this is only good for very basic beginners. The rest of the books are just Sudoku puzzles (156 of them to be exact) of various levels of difficulty. Personally, I do not like the print of the numbers in the puzzles, they are too small for the cell size. (Is it because of this that I found myself struggling in the very first puzzle in the beginner's section??) My verdict would be to give this a miss and if you like Teach Yourself series, go for the one below, it gives better value for money, in my opinion.

Next, Teach Yourself Advanced Sudoku and Kakuro by Nick Afka Thomas

In this book the instructions are more detailed and in depth and covers right up to the tough nuts in the first 118 pages. These are interspersed with puzzles that uses the technique described earlier. There are only 60 puzzles of the normal Sudoku but you can always get books or magazines with just Sudoku puzzles if you need more.

Next there are 36 pages on Kakuro, another popular Japanese number puzzle that ranks just behind Sudoku. And finally there are 28 pages on Killer Sudoku, which is a combination of Sudoku and Kakuro. This uses the Sudoku grid but has no numbers given in the cells but just some arithmetic clues as in Kakuro.

To me this is definitely a better buy than the earlier Teach Yourself Sudoku book since you get more detail solving instructions and also something more that you can move on to once you are getting a bit tired of the normal Sudoku and want something for a change.

The next two books are by Carol Vorderman.

First, the simpler of the two. The UK version with the title - How to Do Sudoku.

This is the US version with the title - Master Sudoku.

As the blurb on the cover says "Step by step, I will show you how to be a Sudoku master" so Carol covers all the techniques, step by step. She even shows the steps from start to finish on doing 4 levels of Sudoku, easy, medium, difficult and super-difficult. But whether you'll be a Sudoku master is debatable. This book is good for the general Sudoku solver from beginner upwards. There are also 200 Sudoku puzzles.

Next is a bit more advanced. The UK version is titled "How to do Extreme Sudoku"

The US version is simply titled "Extreme Sudoku"

This book is more for the advanced Sudoku addicts as it summaries the techniques covered in the first book within the first 50 pages. This is then followed by 175 Sudoku puzzles of the more difficult variety. Next comes the chapter on Squiffy Sudoku (odd shaped grid) with 25 puzzles included. This is followed by 25 puzzles of Sudoku 16, which is Sudoku using 16 numbers on a 16 x 16 grid instead of the usual 9 numbers.

The last quarter of the book is devoted to Killer Sudoku with 48 pages on "How To" followed by 16 pages of a start to finish example. Finally there are 75 puzzles of Killer Sudoku for you to practice what is taught.

If you just want to do the normal Sudoku, go for the first book but if you want to try something different or prefer tougher Sudoku puzzles, then go for the second one.

And how does the Teach Yourself Advanced Sudoku compared with this by Ms. Carol? If you judge a book by its cover, I would go for Ms. Carol anytime. Who wants to look at a bald-headed man scratching his head when you can watch a long hair brunette? (With due apologies to all bald-headed men out there!) Well, her book uses simple language, is less technical and thus less complete when compared to the Teach Yourself book where you'll learn jargon such as X-wing, Swordfish, Jellyfish and so forth. For a beginner and intermediate solver, I would recommend Ms. Carol but if you are a purist and want to learn and apply all the advanced Sudoku jargon, go for the one by Nick.

There is one more Sudoku solving book in my collection. And this is one to own if you want to impress your friends or insult your enemies and the title is Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku by Peter Gordon.

This has all the Sudoku jargon you want plus more including the exclusive Gordonian Logic; it's doesn't carry the Mensa name for nothing. It has 86 pages of solving techniques with 96 puzzles in between for practice. After these there are 704 (yes, 704) puzzles to keep you busy for some time. So if you are just after classic Sudoku, this is the book for you. You'll also get a reprint of the first Sudoku-type puzzles from Dell Puzzle Magazine called Number Place.

So in summary, get the Mensa book if are interested only in classic Sudoku. If you prefer something more such as Killer Sudoku, then go for the Teach Yourself Advanced Sudoku. For lighter reading, get one by Carol depending on your level of interest. You can forget about James.

As in any trade, you cannot become an expert by just reading books. You need to practice, practice and practice. So you need to solve, solve and solve. But don't forget also to enjoy solving your Sudoku.

Ronald Kwok

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, to me!

I had my 58th birthday (so fast??) on Sunday and we had a small dinner celebration, just one table for my immediate family members at a local restaurant, courtesy of my son. This was my son's first treat since he started working (temporarily) so it tasted doubly good though the dishes were just simple affair and nothing exotic. There was also the usual birthday cake and so with a huff and a puff...........

...........I did it in one blow.

Earlier in the day, my elder daughter has already treated me to a buffet lunch at Shangri-la Hotel and it was difficult to put all the food down as there was so much variety. While we were there, I was moved when a company (most probably a factory) was also giving a treat to all their staff including all their foreign workers. For many of them, it would have been an eye opener and a chance of a lifetime as they would never have dined in a plush hotel on their own since it could have cost them maybe a week's wages. It was indeed heartening to know that there are still such thoughtful companies around in this trying times. I really hope that the buffet lunch is not deducted from their salary!

My younger daughter (jointly with my son-in-law) had also given me my birthday presents, 2 singlets and with a great sense of humour, a vibrating condom! What???? She probably think I'm getting a bit old and needed some shaking up at the right places!

I think I'd better put it down here or my wife will get a little upset (or maybe a lot) if I don't give her a mention; just in case she stumble upon this Blog. You know ladies are very particular about such things and we men must be sensitive to their sensitivity. Yes, I also received birthday gifts from her. She gave me a shirt and T-shirt (both reddish so they'll double up as Chinese New Year wares or wears since CNY is just round the corner) with her mandatory birthday card.

I suppose when you reach this stage of your life, these are the little pleasures that you would enjoy from time to time. (I don't mean that condom!) But the gift that touched me most of all is this birthday card from my grand children, written and drawn in their own hands (on a commercial card).

It's great to know that you are still remembered, when you are still alive. So live everyday that you wake up to to the fullest and be thankful that you can still wake up to another day. Enjoy life (within you means) while you still can. Even though you have longed the EURUSD and it is sliding down the charts and your other PIPS is drawing blanks. Life is much more than that. Cheers.

Ronald Kwok

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Times Warehouse sale

So the year end Christmas shopping spree is over, the new year is now not so new and the kids are all back in schools. Thus I don't understand why Times is having their warehouse sale at this time of the year. I used to visit the Times warehouse sales quite regularly before but after a while, I stopped going since it was like the same stuff all over again. But since today I was near the area of the sale (it is held at Hartamas Shopping Centre or HSC at Plaza Damas near Sri Hartamas) and I was getting hungry - for food, not for books though - I thought I'll just drop over to have a bite and have a look. The ad says up to 90% discount so why not?

I was pleasantly surprised. First I thought the sale was on because the Times bookshop at HSC is closing down but no, it was a full scale warehouse sale and the selection was pretty big and varied. Secondly, most of the titles do not have that familiar feeling about them so maybe skipping the few previous warehouse sales helped. Thirdly, the prices were good, at least for many of the items - new titles, 30%, older ones, up to 90% (but mostly 50%), some paperbacks, RM10 flat and some titles, 3 for RM10. There are also VCD's and DVD's on sale.

If you are a fan of Complete Idiot's Guide, there are quite a number of titles going for RM22, though many are 2003 editions and earlier. (Looks like the Dummies are hammering the Idiots out of existence, I don't mean at the sale here but just look at any bookshops and you'll know what I mean. That is if you admit you are an Idiot or a Dummy or both.)

As usual, the problem is that the books are not arranged in any order so be prepared to spend a couple of hours to look for what you want. It is definitely worth a visit if you have any liking for books. The sale will be on until 18 January so you still have time to rush over there.

BTW, the Times bookshop is still surviving at HSC and all "for Dummies" titles there are going with a 20% discount so now is a good time to be a Dummy. Happy reading.

Ronald Kwok