Game like Ristorante Italia is what Ban would call an Agricola clone. Apparently, Agricola was the game that popularised strategy games that are heavy on resource management.

Pret-a-porter is yet another clone but more complicated. Basically, you play as a designer (company) with the ultimate aim of generating the most money (among all players) in a year. You do this chiefly through designing, producing and selling collection of clothes during fashion months at the end of each quarter. There are also other ways of earning money but that requires purchase of certain resource.

The resources that available for you are:

  • Credit from bank
  • Contracts
  • Buildings 
  • Employees
  • Clothes design
  • 3 different sources of materials
  • PR/Trend/Quality designation or some money
Credit from bank will incur interest each month until the fashion month where the borrowed amount will need to be paid back. If you are unable to pay maintenance cost of your resources (if applicable), you will be automatically forced to borrow from a private lender (aka loanshark haha) at higher interest rate.

Contracts are contracts with companies or individuals that provide benefits to you. They cost nothing to have but last until fashion month i.e. at most a quarter.

Buildings house companies or departments that provide similar benefits as contracts with companies. They have one time cost and recurring maintenance cost but are permanent.

Employees provide similar benefits as contracts with individuals but are constraint by the number of vacancies. Like buildings, they require a one time hiring payment, has recurring salary and are permanent.

The different sources of materials provide you different number of Quality designation tokens. One of them allows you to purchase one of every type of material whereas the other two allow you to purchase any number of material of only one type.

PR/Trend/Quality designation are used to enhance the chance of you winning the fashion shows.

Each fashion show will be judged on a set of features that are determined at the setup of the game. The set include 1 to 4 features from the following:

  • PR
  • Trend
  • Quality
  • Quantity
There are 4 main things that limit your ability to grab as much resource as possible:

  • Money (obviously)
  • Number of slots available for players to book resources (before getting them)
  • Place tokens (certain number per player and no way of increasing them) to book slots of resources
  • Number of players
This game is more complicated than Ristorante Italia and one major reason is the lack of intuitive pictorial descriptions on the cards representing Contracts, Buildings and Employees and hence lots of time was spent flipping through the manual to understand what each of these specific resource does. It is this reason that Ban refuses to play a second time. A pity, as our friend (it's his set) and I like it and I believe that it'll get easier with more sessions as we get more familiar with the cards.

More work

Turned out that I didn't need to worry about being rehired. The current project hasn't ended but the actuary had already asked me to help him in another project. Yay! That means my work has been good enough for him.

The next project is much bigger and in fact I have no experience in doing the stress-testing part (though I'm familiar with its concept and in theory what to do with it) but neither does the actuary hahaha. However, he has a few ideas and I'm sure he will or already has bounced some ideas with fellow actuaries. So he offered to guide me with clear instructions if I was willing to be on board. I told him that "clear" was a word not normally associated with actuaries :P

That project is expected to start soon. Yet, shortly later he approached me for another project! Again, it's a project that I have no experience in but also almost clueless in theory @_@ I decided to politely decline the invitation as I feel I'm already a little stretched.

Petrol cost Mar 13

It's been awhile since I last (and apparently first lol) touched on this. Since then, my car was sent to a workshop, near my home in Seremban, for servicing. Among other things, the mechanic fixed the oxygen sensor. It was blinking indiscriminately for quite sometime.

From what I understand about the oxygen sensor, essentially it supposed to help to optimise the ratio of petrol to oxygen and thus minimise wastage of petrol. I was curious to know whether this has been true in terms of petrol cost per km and thus I charted the cost separately after the repair.

(Well, that was one reason but admittedly an afterthought. What really happened was that I messed up my the amount of petrol pumped into my car just before the repair hahaha).

Petrol cost 22Mar13

Hmmm, ignoring the obvious outlier, it doesn't seem to make a difference, does it?

The average cost before and after the repair is RM14.5/km and RM15.5/km. I didn't measure the margin of error and thus can't comment on the significance of the difference.

Watercress soup

Watercress soup

I boiled watercress soup before in the past. After that, I gleaned some tips from my sisters about making the soup base. Basically, this time, while boiling the chicken (I used chicken breast but left the skin intact), I continually scooped up scum and oil from it so that it would be as palatable as possible for Ban. Ok, even I wouldn't like the scum and less oil is definitely better.

I had enough ingredient to make two pots of soup and each pot can feed me for 2 dinner. So I split the ingredient into two and had the first pot to myself as Ban was away. I also added a few peppercorn. While making the soup base, I soaked the watercress in water as I understood it to be notoriously sandy.

After boiling the soup for just over an over and continually scooping up scum and oil, it tasted good enough to put in the watercress (after washing it thoroughly). I know that I probably should have boiled longer (I heard people normally boil for hours @_@) but I did want some taste left in the meat as it was meant for my dinner too. Moreover, the soup base already tasted good for me.

After boiling the watercress for, say, half an hour, it was ready. Tasted great to me.

The second batch of ingredient was cooked on the day Ban returned home. Again, I had it for dinner and kept some for his supper. Verdict from Ban? "It's ok!" Gah lol. "Will you have it again?" "Ah, yes?" Hahaha. Ok, I take it as a sign of approval :)

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

Beasts of Burden

Ban's brother bought this book recently and, for reasons unbeknownst to me, he brought it over to Ban's place and recommended it to Ban. Mind you, Ban's brother has many books of which some I'm sure he hasn't taken the trouble to do that too.

One of Ban's initial comments was that it was quite suitable for children...until he read more of it hehehe. It has a little bit of gore and partial nudity but the latter kept to a minimum. As for the former, that's littered all over the book. Yup, rites, remember? Hehe.

I like the idea of the main characters being dogs (and one single cat). I like the first story the best because it fits my idea of what dogs may know, by stretching my imagination a little. However, when magic comes into play, that's when I go like, "Huh? It's like they're humans in the form of dogs". Think of it like the Charmed sisters battling evil here and there, with an underlying major villain behind these minions, except that they're dogs here...and a cat.

Still, I will recommend this graphic novel to anyone. It's easy to read and entertaining (before I knew it, I finished reading it at one go @_@) and has enough depth to keep a critical mind at work. After all, it's recommended by Ban's brother, who is a well known critic of stories (especially when poking holes!).

Smart or insidious?

When I mooted the idea of being a freelance actuarial consultant few years back, one of the first few questions posed by my ex-boss and his colleague was what sort of company I would establish.

Frankly, at that time, I didn't think that far. I thought I could help a few projects here and there to get additional income. I was like, "Huh? Need to set up company? That serious?". However, they knew what they were talking about especially since one of them did set up a small company. In addition, last year, the same question was asked by an actuary in KL when he asked me whether I was interested in helping him with some projects should the need arise.

With the current project from Singapore undergone and hopefully finishing soon, I thought I should register my 'business' as a sole proprietorship. This will likely make life easier for payment to be made to me later. I had researched this for the past couple of years and from there I started the process.

I knew one straightforward way was to go any office of Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM). The process, as I later discovered, was supposed to be quick i.e. under an hour. The nearest office to me, at the moment, should be at KL Sentral @_@

At the start, I had already set my mind on doing this online ever since I discovered that it could be done via SSM's E-Lodgement Services. It cost an extra RM5 compared to going to the office. Totally worth it compared to driving to the office etc, or so I thought then.

My first problem was doing the first step: registering as a user of 'myPortal' on Malaysia government's official portal.  Here's a picture of its online form:

Malaysia myPortal

After I filled it up with the required information and checked the box at the bottom left (confirming my understanding of the terms and conditions etc), I clicked on the "Next" button on the bottom right. Nothing happened.

If all had gone well, I was supposed to receive an e-mail telling me I had registered and asking me to click a link to confirm registration. From this and the "Next" button, I surmised that there had to be at least one more page after the above page to fill in where they would ask for my e-mail address. As shown above, this was not asked for in the first page.

I tried using 3 different browsers and two different laptops. Again, nothing happened. Just when I thought I had to make the trip to an SSM office, I gave my feedback to myGovernment about the broken online registration form. Among information required in the feedback form was my e-mail address.

I decided to try the registration on more time but this time, it told me that the IC no. had already been used. Whaaaattt? I checked my e-mail. Still no confirmation e-mail. On a hunch, I went to the log-in page of myPortal and clicked "Reset" to reset password. Lo behold I received an e-mail!

How did they get my e-mail without me providing it in the registration form? Did they somehow get it from the feedback form by matching my name? Are they that smart...or they had my e-mail all along in the government database???


As stated in a previous post, I was hired ala freelance to assist an actuary in a project. So far, I had put in about 19 hours of time spread unevenly over 7 days, including 3hrs 25mins spent on reading and understanding the relevant regulations and the use of the actuary's templates. Time spent on a day ranged from 1hr 5mins to 5 hrs 40mins.

My aim from the start was to perform the task as carefully as I could and to provide any help along the way e.g. check for internal consistency, informing the actuary of mistakes in his templates and performing short analysis when highlighting issues so as to facilitate discussion. There as a mistake I made towards the end of the calculations but luckily the actuary spotted them. That flustered me a little bit and so I doubled my effort in checking before passing the spreadsheets back to him

Nevertheless, I believed (and hopefully it's true!) that I had done quite a good job so far. Hopefully it'll go smoothly until its completion. Next step will be a draft report.

Daughter of the Empire

Daughter of the Empire

I read the Riftwar saga by Raymond E. Feist last year. This year, William lent me three related books (oddly enough, there isn't a name for this trilogy), co-authored by Feist and Janny Wurts, that set out "an epic saga of the world on the other side of the Riftwar". The former was about the world of Midkemia while the latter was about the world of Kelewan.

So far, the only common character between Riftwar saga and the first book of the latter series, Daughter of the Empire, was Lord of Shinzawai's second son but he was mentioned briefly a few times in the passing in the latter and thus didn't have any impact on the story of the book. It sounded like he, or at least his House, may play a larger role in the latter two books.

I enjoyed reading this book. It was more about political intrigue than combats. Not complicated though. There were combats but few. However, what struck me as quite unbelievable was this:

The main character, Mara, had never been groomed to be the Ruling Lady of her house but was forced to be so at a tender age of 16 after the simultaneous death of her father and her brother. As expected, she made an error of judgement at the start of her rule by not listening to advisors who had served her father for many years.

However, after that one sole brief episode of weakness, suddenly she became an expert in the trappings of a ruler to the extent that once a while she even held back from discussing her plans with her advisors and she did it quite early during her rule (definitely within the first year after taking over the helm).

Either she was a natural genius at this or there is simply something wrong about this leap of improvement.

The only one

As I blogged previously, there were fewer flowers during summer than spring as observed during my recent trip to Australia. I took photo of this flower (below) because it looked distinctive and somewhat vibrant compared to everything else I saw.

Flower summer Jan13

I'm surprised how well it turned out given that I was using my gimpy 2MP camera phone and it was quite a close-up shot too. Hmmm maybe I can use it as wallpaper or something.

Suddenly busy

Sometime last week, I received an e-mail from an ex-colleague asking me whether I was interested in helping him with a actuarial project - a task that I could work from home. After discussing with my sisters and Ban, I accepted it. I'm nervous as I have not actively used my actuarial skills for more than 2 years but I am keen to use do so albeit at a much preferred slower pace (rather than handling 6 projects at the same time!).

On Thursday, I received information to get me familiarised with the templates. I did my best to read and learn to use the templates as much as possible and then responded accordingly before Ironclaw session that night.

I tutored a family friend's son in Math on Friday morning and did some work after lunch before heading out in the evening for dinner and boardgames with Ban and another friend.

Half of Saturday was occupied with work. At one point, I was getting a little frustrated with trying to figured out the templates (I'm used to Excel 2000 rather than Excel 2007) but luckily the ex-colleague was patient and understanding. By then, I also received data for the project @_@

Sunday was occupied with yoga class in the morning and my first session of Night's Black Agent pen&paper rpg, where players play as spies. It was a long tough session (4 hours!) and I was at times lost because details were asked of me as though I had been through the relevant courses to provide them @_@ Fortunately, my fellow team members were helpful in providing ideas and suggestions. Hopefully I can contribute more in future.

I tried to wind down after dinner by playing Wrong Chemistry with Ban and friend. After that, I made a small mistake of checking my e-mail hehe and so I did a little bit of work (10mins only lah) just so I could reply to a rather urgent e-mail asking me whether I can provide draft results this week @_@

Guess I'll be very busy this week. I hope I still have time for Ironclaw session this Thursday.

Birds of different feather

Usually when I go to Canberra, it's spring season and the flowers of varied sizes and colours motivates me to take photos of them.

It was, however, summer during my recent trip and there seem to be fewer variety of flowers still in bloom. Instead, there were plenty of birds.

Bird frame 1

Bird frame 2