Monthly Archives: February 2015

HabitRPG

HabitRPG is a mobile game app that allows you to track your habits and turn them into game actions that earn you gold and level up your character. Essentially, it turns your life into a role playing game where you play, well, yourself. It’s not new, it’s been around for at least a year. I downloaded it last year, but never started using it until recently. I’ve been using my physical notebook to keep track of things I needed to do, so I didn’t see the need to split or duplicate my tasks then.

I’m not sure why I actually started using it. Perhaps I was just bored. I still keep my notebook as a todo list, but I’ve started tracking my habits and using the HabitRPG Wiki to figure stuff out. If you’re a noob, like me, then you really should use the wiki, because there’s a lot of useful tips and tricks and also because I don’t feel it’s intuitive enough. For example, I didn’t know how to delete habits in the previous versions, which is why I didn’t start using it the moment I downloaded it.

The app came with a couple of stock habits (I can’t remember what) that I wanted to delete because I like starting with a clean slate. It was only in one of their updates did I find out you could swipe to bring up the delete option and I felt like a fool. But it seems I wasn’t the only one; the makers of HabitRPG added in a specific and more obvious button to delete habits because their users (i.e. me) weren’t finding the swipe feature.

I’ve played around with the app for slightly over a month now and I still don’t find it intuitive. It’s appealing as a habit tracker and time management tool, but I don’t really get the RPG feel of it. Sometimes, whenever you complete a habit, you can find things like food and potions. Sometimes you’ll get an egg, which can be hatched into a pet, which can then be fed with food until it grows into a mount. I don’t know if the pets/mounts serve any purpose other than for collecting and making your avatar look awesome. I did find out that you had to feed food that’s the same colour as your pet though. Well, you can feed your pet any edible thing you have, but if you feed it something that corresponds to it’s colour, it will grow faster.

The wiki also taught me how to use markup language to create titles to section off my habits, and this is what I’ve got so far.

01 Habits Part 1

02 Habits Part 2

Habits are directional, meaning they can be positive or negative. Being my OCD self, I arranged them in alphabetical order, starting with negative habits. Some habits are mono-directional (only good or only bad) or multi-directional (good if you do it, bad if you don’t).

Sometimes the dinner that is given to us by SAF while we’re on duty is either horrible or too little, so we have to order in. SAF says they spend about $5 per meal for us; I say give us the cash, we’ll order our own food. My usual order is exactly $5 anyway and it comes nice and hot. This habit is currently my only multi-directional habit for now. It’s good if I eat the SAF dinner because I save money, but bad if I don’t because it means I’ll order in and spend money. Having ice cream and milkshakes are self-explanatory, since they’re purely for enjoyment and resisting the urge to eat these treats don’t result in any immediate positive outcome.

The rest of my habits are mono-directional because there’s no direct flip side to not doing the habit.

I need to get back my pull-up strength again, so I’m doing my best to do 20 cumulative pull-ups a day. Well, cumulative in one session, not throughout the day; that would be lame. It’s a quick exercise I can do outside of camp as well, when I come back home from an outing or meal. I recently started doing the 7-minute workout as well (another app) and I quite like it. It’s high intensity interval training (HIIT) and after I did the first session, I actually felt a slight ache in my muscles over the next day, which was good. So far, I’m only doing one 7-minute block each session, but I’ll probably increase it as my fitness level goes up.

The good thing about the app is that it doesn’t lie to you, like some commanders in the SAF do. Ten seconds is really ten seconds in the app, not ten seconds per person. “One more set” is really just one more set, whether or not it’s up to the commander’s standards.

Okay, I’m venting. *breathe breathe*

Due to my asthma, I still can’t run for long periods of time. I can do short one to two km bursts, but that’s about it. I’ve also lost a lot of my stamina because of this. I don’t do parkour as often as I used to, but I’m still keeping up with my tricking, like kicks and handstands.

Since I started this blog, I’ve lost a lot of my fire. I still like writing, just not as much as I used to. Putting it down as a habit gives me a little more motivation to write, although the thought of missing a day is enough to keep me writing more for now (more on this next post). Also, +1 for me for finishing this post XD

The last habit I have is actually a learning session. I’m learning how to do iOS app programming, since my mentor Mr Sim passed me his old Macbook Air. They’re video chapters, and very step-by-step, which is what I need in order to learn. I like this way of learning; copying someone who knows what their doing before eventually understanding enough to make my own adjustments.

There are more functions to the app, but I don’t really understand a lot of it and I don’t plan to use many of those features either. I feel that the app is more tool than game, but maybe that’s a beginner’s bias. I’d like more game features, like actively fighting monsters, having mini games, or even moving around in a game world, but perhaps that might defeat the point of the app.

-Jace

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Milk & Honey – Artisan Yogurt and Dessert Bar

On Monday, my friend Lisa and I went to Milk & Honey at OneKM mall to have frozen yogurt, or froyo. She’d found a 1-for-1 Groupon deal last week and showed it to me. The parfaits looked really delicious, so we took advantage of the deal and decided to go for it together. For some reason, no one else we know seems to like froyo.

01 Groupon Deal

When we arrived, the place was empty, so we were served immediately and had our choice of seats. Hooray for picking a Monday to avoid the crowds XD The place was well lit and quite peaceful while it was empty, though that changed while we were about halfway through our froyos and more people started queuing up. Lisa and I sat inside Milk & Honey’s air-conditioned seats, but there were also shaded outdoor dining areas as well. In hindsight, we probably would have sat outside because the froyo was quite cold and we stayed long enough for Lisa to start shivering a little.

Anyway, I had the Coffee Addict and Lisa chose the Matcha.

02 Coffee Addict and Matcha

Lisa’s Matcha came with a biscuit stick covered in white chocolate. Since she didn’t like white chocolate, she gave it to me. She said that white chocolate is fake chocolate and I’m inclined to agree. I don’t hate white chocolate, but I don’t like it very much either. I prefer dark chocolate because it’s more “atas” (Singlish for “high class”). Lisa argued that milk chocolate can also be atas and just like that we had a running joke: everything was atas now. I was comparing these froyos to the ones I usually have at Yoguru and saying that these were more atas, to which Lisa pointed out that the price was also just as atas. *snigger*

My Coffee Addict was awesome. I started digging in with froyo and the coffee sauce, which actually complemented each other quite well. I’d expected a stronger coffee taste, but it was pleasantly mild. I could taste the froyo first, then the lingering coffee aftertaste. The dark chocolate triangles were nothing fancy, just straight up dark chocolate (yum!). The brownie bits also provided a nice chewiness to offset the froyo texture. I ate the bits without walnuts in them and gave the rest to Lisa, kind of like in trade for her white chocolate biscuit stick. The Coffee Parfait (apparently, “parfait” has multiple meanings) also quite nice, although I don’t think it flows with the froyo. Probably better as a breather between mouthfuls of yogurt. The coffee taste was also quite mild, and the texture was similar to that of a mousse.

…now I want a chocolate mousse.

Nomming mouthful after mouthful, I reached the next layer: coffee jello. I had no idea what to expect, so I just popped one jelly cube in my mouth and chewed. At first, I could barely taste the coffee, then the coffee bitterness hit me as I mushed the jello. The taste wasn’t exactly strong per se, just weird. I think it was put in as more of a texture thing, but I think the brownie bits do a better job. Finally, the last part was the coffee ganache, which was AMAZING! It’s kinda like the chocolate sauce on a Macdonald’s Sundae, but coffee flavoured. This ganache went extremely well with my partially liquid yogurt for a very, shall we say, tasteful finish. 😛

I had a bit of Lisa’s Matcha as well, but I didn’t really like it. Okay, the vanilla sauce gave the froyo a distinctly ice cream feel, which was nice, and the delightful little chocolate balls exploded with flavour in my mouth, but the green tea crumble wasn’t really my thing.

03 Milk & Honey Menu

These parfaits are Milk & Honey’s signature parfaits, which was what this Groupon deal was limited to, but you can actually customize your toppings, like any decent froyo shop.

04 Design Your Own Parfait

In summary, I feel that froyos at Milk & Honey are sit-and-enjoy desserts, whereas those from Yoguru are on-the-go treats.

-Jace

CC

THIS IS MY 200TH POST!!!

Hot damn, I’ve actually physically written 200 posts, including this one. So I probably should talk about what I’ve done since last year. Hmm…

Well, I’m quite happy that this blog is still very much alive and will continue to be, at least til I reach another major change in my life schedule. It’s still and will be filled with whatever I feel like writing. I think dropping down to three posts a week is a lot more manageable, although I have run out of buffer posts for lazy days XD At the point of writing this, it’s literally the last post I’ve written (am writing? will have written? I’m always confused about which tense to use :P), although I do have a lot more topics in draft mode.

I’ve found that personal recounts have been the easiest things to write. Like, duh, I’m just writing out what I did, with a few opinions sprinkled here and there. Posts I write that have a lot of emotion behind it (rage, sadness, etc) seem to be the next easiest. It always feels like the words just flow from my fingers. I don’t really have to think much about what I want to say, just how I want to say it. Of course, I always go back and make sure it’s as diplomatic as possible before I actually release it, unless I’m aiming to insult and injure.

Reviews were pretty tiring to do, because I found it difficult to balance how much should be summary of the context, how many spoilers I should reveal and how much of the post should be my actual opinions. Critiquing something, be it a book, or a movie, or even a person, is really not up my alley.

I’ve also discovered the joys (and pains) of writing fiction. Back when I was still doing a lot of R&D on love, dating and relationships, I created a series called Through His/Her Eyes (THE) which was supposed to be story pairs about how couples I knew in real life actually got together. Well, each story isn’t a hundred percent true; I make stuff up to fill in the gaps. The point was to write something around a kernel of truth. So far, I’ve written three story pairs, but I’ve lost interest in writing them.

I also started and shelved a trilogy I was writing – The Minders Trilogy. I thought I had a cool concept that interested me enough to build a story around: superhuman mental abilities. But I sorta scrapped it, partly because I was in NS Monday to Saturday and partly because I felt it was a bit too ambitious for me. I’ll return to it in future, perhaps rewrite the whole thing, but for now, no more chapters will be coming out anytime soon. If I’m honest, the lack of appreciation for the whole project was a factor as well. I mean, no one is missing my work. There’s no incentive for me to continue. I know I started writing it just because I wanted to, but I guess some support would have been nice.

The most recent fiction project I’ve started is Birthday Stories – short stories I write in dedication to my friends’ birthdays. So far, I’ve done two – True Blue and Slice of Life. My inspiration for this project was actually drawn from three blogs I follow. Not surprisingly, all three are authors in their own right.

K. Jered Mayer, who writes Word Whiskey, actually does write birthday notes. I always enjoy his flash fiction, although he hasn’t done one since December. He’s been busy writing an actual book, As the Earth Trembles, part three in The Convergence Trilogy. He shares a lot of life experiences which are very insightful for me. But no matter what he writes, I can always count on them being nice, long, entertaining reads.

Lynette Noni, Australian author of the newly released Arkarnae, shares a lot on her life and journey as an author, as well as writing tips. She’s really funny and knows how to use memes appropriately, which always gets a laugh from me. I think it was from her that I learnt how to create a mystery; a reader should be able to jump in the middle of a story and want to keep reading. I can’t remember exactly where I read this from, but I think it was her. The closest post I could find was this one. It’s probably not the exact quote, but my takeaway was huge. I suddenly understood why I shelved the Minders Trilogy: I’d spent too much time building and establishing the world. It stagnated and even I got bored of writing it.

This lesson was very apparent when I read Angela Floratos’ snippets. She writes at My College Odyssey and this was her first snippet. I finally understood that I wasn’t supposed to spoon feed everything to my readers. If the reader just jumped into the story knowing neither head nor tail, like Angela’s snippets, then he/she is more likely to want to find out why. At least, I felt that way. This was how I needed to pique a reader’s curiosity.

During my sentry duties, I have a lot time to just sit there and think. Sometimes I get cool ideas that I can build around, like the sapphire that vibrates when a lie is told to it’s wearer, or the knife that heals your injuries if you cut yourself with it. These two things were the basis of the birthday shorts, and were my first attempts at creating mysteries and questions, leaving the rest up to the reader’s imagination.

It was in writing these stories that I discovered that writing in third person was a lot more comfortable for me than writing in first person. I tend to use the word “I” a lot, which I’m acutely aware of even in these personal blog posts and I’m doing my best to stop sounding so selfish. Also, there are more pronouns to use in third person.

Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, the title of this post is the number 200 in roman numerals.

-Jace

Messed-up Maxims

maxim
n. a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct.

Maxims, sayings, idioms all exist to do one thing: summarize a lesson in a single phrase, often metaphorically. It’s useful, I’ll admit, to be able to convey so much meaning in just one word or sentence by just referencing the relevant phrase. However, I really disagree and resent some of these maxims, because they don’t make sense or are just plain wrong. I’ll start with an simple one.

Don’t judge others
This isn’t really a maxim, just something that people often say. I don’t dislike this one; I just think that the thought process behind it is weird.

First of all, how can you not judge others? That’s why “First impressions count”. We have judges and juries for a reason: to judge people. Employers have interviews to judge potential employees. We humans automatically judge everyone we meet. It’s just a matter of tact to not hold it against them. I think we should be able to judge others freely, but reevaluate that judgement when new information about that person becomes known.

Blood is thicker than water
This is a statement that has biblical roots and is commonly used to mean that familial ties are stronger than mere friendships. That members of your family are closer or more important than the friends you keep.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against family ties and being filial. I just hate that the phrase is used incorrectly. The meaning is actually supposed to be the opposite of what it’s used for today. The original quote is “Blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb“. In the past, blood pacts, or covenants, were made to seal an allegiance or promise between people. The parties involved would cut their hands and let their blood mingle as a symbol of loyalty. “Water of the womb” is self explanatory, so the original saying meant that relationships that were formed by choice are stronger than the relationships that we had no say over.

One for all, all for one
The SAF is famous for this quote from The Three Musketeers. Sure, it’s a nice phrase to convey teamwork, that everyone is important and that we leave no man behind.

But I despise the use of it to justify punishments given to the whole platoon for the mistakes of a few. It’s supposed to be about suffering through hardship brought on by the environment together, not suffering through punishments. It doesn’t serve any productive purpose. It just makes everyone hate that one guy who got them into trouble, as well as the commander who punished them. If people work together after that, it’s only out of fear and desperation.

I do understand military discipline, but why can’t it be a modified form? Sure, punish the whole platoon to drill in the lesson, but punish the person in the wrong a little bit more to appease the rest. I would think that the other guys would be less likely to “take revenge” by way of say, blanket parties, because it doesn’t feel so much like an injustice. Yeah, we all got punished, but the guy was punished a little extra. I, for one, would be more willing to accept this punishment, regardless of whether I caused the platoon to be knocked down or I’m just one of the unlucky guys being punished for no reason.

Selfishness VS Greed
Another phrase I keep hearing in the army is “Don’t be selfish”. But why not? Being selfish only means you look out for yourself first. Why shouldn’t that be the case? I ought to be able to be selfish as long as I don’t hinder anyone else. Why should I offer to help someone if I can’t even help myself first?

Sometimes it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. If you don’t help, you’re labelled as selfish. If you do help someone, but in the process you become the problem or cause a different problem, then you’re “being extra”, slang for “being meddlesome”.

I think the right phrase should be “Don’t be greedy”. Being greedy means taking more than you need. Being selfish means taking enough for yourself first. Doesn’t matter what it is: food, drinks, time, benefits, credit. It’s all the same.

I guess it all boils down to teamwork. What is teamwork? A group of people working together to achieve something they probably couldn’t achieve individually. Synergy.

But what is it really? Is it a single task divided by the number of team members, each member doing the exact same job, somehow each one building up to the final objective? I think it’s not. I think it’s a task broken down into clear, distinct jobs that should be assigned to the people with the best skills. Nobody should be doing the same job.

Relating back to being selfish. Wouldn’t it be better to be selfish and finish your job first, then get out of everyone’s way? Of course, that’s often seen as slacking and the rest get upset when you don’t offer to help them. But why should you? In this case, since the each small task is assigned to the person or people with the right skills, helping may be “helping”, where you have good intentions but screw up the whole thing because you lack the know-how, or you don’t understand or realize the workflow of the original party doing the job.

Isn’t that being greedy then? Taking more than you need? Doing more than you need to?

Be selfish, not greedy.

-Jace

Slice of Life

This is another dedication, this time to my friend Zi Xuan for her birthday two weeks ago. Man, I really need to start on these things earlier.

Happy Birthday Xuan!

I watched him die, the knife hilt sticking out of his chest as it gradually drained the life out of him. His expression went from shock and pain to calm, perhaps even relief. He didn’t have to keep running anymore. I didn’t mean to kill him, just steal the knife, that’s all. But he woke up and attacked me. I had to defend myself and somehow during the scuffle, the knife ended up in buried in his chest.

I had won. The knife was truly mine now. As appalled as I was at killing someone, I couldn’t help be feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I yanked the dagger out of the dead man’s chest and admired it. There was not a single drop of blood on the white blade, which reflected the moonlight streaming in from the window, but the gem set in the hilt was blood red.

Others would be here soon, so I couldn’t stay long. I needed to move, so I sheathed the dagger, hid it in my waistband and left the room. As I neared the building’s exit, I slowed and peeked out the door. There was nobody in sight. Excellent. I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head and carefully headed home.

* * * * * *

Only when I’d snapped the fourth lock into place did I heave a sigh of relief. I’d made it back to my apartment without incident and none of my security systems had been tripped. I was safe, for now at least. No matter what others might say, paranoia keeps me safe. Alone, yes, but safe.

Pulling out the dagger from my waistband, I sagged onto my armchair and examined it – properly, this time. Apart from the ruby set in the hilt, it looked quite ordinary. The sheath was a simple wooden holder, the hilt made of iron, nothing fancy. The blade itself was made out of some kind of ivory. Interesting. I retrieved my notebook, flipped to the next empty page and began to do a quick sketch with labels noting particular details. This would be useful when I get a replica made later. Which reminded me – time to test it in the safety of my sanctuary. It would be such a waste to have gone to all that trouble for a fake.

Okay, first experiment. I picked up the knife in my right hand and held it over my left arm. In my left hand was a stopwatch, my thumb on the button, ready to start timing. I hesitated; I’ve never been a big fan of pain, but then again, who has? Quickly, before I could think further, I slashed my left forearm and started the stopwatch. For a moment, I felt nothing, then the stinging pain hit me and I dropped the items from my hands.

I gasped and clenched my fist, the blood welling up from the cut as tears of pain pricked my eyes. Then, just as the pain reached a climax, I saw my wound start to close itself and felt the pain slowly diminish. I blinked away the tears and wiped away the blood on my arm, revealing a white scar with a pinkish tinge around it, but no wound. I flexed my arm, testing out my movement and felt no residual pain. The cut had completely healed and the scar was beginning to fade as well. I quickly picked up the stopwatch and stopped it. 13 seconds.

Impressive. I noted my findings and started constructing and executing more experiments. I found that the time it took to heal a cut varied with the size – the bigger the cut, the longer it took. Cuts made further away from my core took longer to heal as well. By the time I’d finished, I had cut myself more than fifty times, on various parts of my body and I was famished. All the cuts I’d made had completely healed and I felt no more pain once they did. As I munched on an apple, I noted that I felt very relaxed, probably due to the endorphins coursing through my system. Just as well, it was about time I got some rest.

I checked my security systems again, cleaned up the droplets of blood that had fallen on the floor during my experimentation and got ready to sleep. As I lay in my bed, I twirled the sheathed knife in my hands. My last thought before I fell asleep was that the ruby in the hilt seemed a little dimmer than before.

* * * * * *

I awoke with a start, my instincts taking over, every sense heightened and on alert for danger. I rolled of my bed and landed on a crouching position on the floor, automatically unsheathing the dagger I had fallen asleep with last night. I paused and listened, holding my breath. Something was off, but I wasn’t sure exactly what yet.

Seconds passed. My heartbeat slowed. Quietly, I got up and systematically checked my home defences. Nothing seemed amiss, except when I looked at my clock. That was weird. It showed 4AM, but daylight was streaming in. I stood there, confused and still a little sleep fogged until I realized it was showing 4PM, not AM – I’d slept all the way into the afternoon of the next day. I glared at the dagger in my hand, which seemed to stare innocently back at me.

I sighed and sheathed the blade. I should have anticipated the energy it took to repair the self inflicted cuts over and over again. The magic in the blade started the process, but it must have used my body’s energy reserves to finish each healing job. Come to think of it, I was hungry again.

In my exhaustion yesterday, I’d forgotten to put my mobile on the charger and the battery had run out, which was why the alarm hadn’t rung and nobody had called to see why I wasn’t at work today. Oops. I plugged it in and went to make myself something to eat.

After breakfast (or lunch, or tea. Whatever.), I made a call to my friend and closest ally I had right now: Grant. He was almost 70 years old and sort of an authority on ancient relics; weapons, in particular, and he’d helped me track down the knife.

“Hello?” Grant said as he picked up the phone.

“Grant, it’s Tom. Is it safe to talk now?” I asked cautiously. There was a pause.

“… It is now. What’s up, kid?”

“I’ve got the knife. Can I bring it over later tonight?”

“You’ve got it? Damn, who did you have to kill?”

“Later, Grant. I’ll come by around 8, okay? Dinner’s on me.”

“Okay, Tommy boy. See you tonight.” He hung up.

I had a few hours before our meeting, so I figured I might as well put the knife to good use. There was a reason I had killed for it, after all. I packed what I needed, then hid the knife carefully in my bag.

First stop, the hospital.

* * * * * *

“Mum,” I whispered. She didn’t respond, nor did I expect her to. Even after four months, her injuries she sustained from the crash that killed my father hadn’t fully healed.

I closed the door of my mother’s room and took out the knife. I sat down beside her bed and started unwrapping the bandages around her feet. I hesitated. Cutting myself was one thing, but slicing my mother up just seemed inhumane. Whoever made this knife had a seriously twisted mind.

Just to make sure she was still in a coma, I made a small nick on her foot, beside one of her scrapes. Mum didn’t react, which was good. I watched the cut I made quickly heal itself, but didn’t see any other noticeable changes. I made a shallow cut beside a large scar and waited. This time, as the cut healed, the scar shrank.

I continued making calculated incisions, working my way up her legs, healing all the cuts I could reach without taking off the cast around her leg. It was a good thing she was comatose; I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. Only when I’d finished healing all her scars did I realize I had no idea how to heal her broken leg. I guess it could wait – her life wasn’t in immediate danger – so I could as Grant what to do.

There was nothing more I could have done for my mother, so kissed her goodbye and left.

* * * * * *

“Grant!” I greeted my old buddy as he opened the door. “I brought pizza!”

“Hey Tom,” Grant welcomed me into his house with a smile. He took the pizza box from me and took a deep breath with appreciation.

As we settled down to eat, I told him how I got the knife and my findings from experimenting with it. I showed him my notebook and the knife, which he took some time to admire.

“Hey, how do I use it to heal my mum’s leg?” I asked him.

“A broken bone? Hah, you won’t be able to do that right now, not with this level of energy left in the knife.”

“Energy?”

Grant looked at me in exasperation. “You don’t know how it works, do you?”

“Make cuts, they heal?” I shrugged. “Anyway, who cares how it works, as long as it works, right?”

“Tom,” Grant looked at me with a serious expression. “Making cuts is part of it. I’m sure you’ve found that the knife itself doesn’t completely heal a wound. It accelerates the body’s natural rate of recovery. See this ruby? It indicates the level of energy left in the knife. If it goes totally dull, it’s just a normal knife. The blade is, shall we say, vampiric. You have to kill someone and drain their life blood as energy for the knife to recharge.”

I stared at him.

“Can’t it be an animal?”

“No,” Grant replied. “And it can’t be someone who’s close to death either. The knife drains only as much life as the person has left. If you want to heal a broken bone, you first have to recharge the knife. Can you do that, Tom?” Grant nimbly twirled the knife and handed it to me hilt first.

“Can you kill someone?”

* * * * * *

Grant’s words haunted me as I trudged home. My ultimate goal was to bring my mother out of her coma, and if I can’t even fix her broken leg, what hope did I have? My father was already gone; I couldn’t lose Mum too. I would definitely kill someone to save my mother, that much I knew for sure. But I can’t kill an innocent person, or a child. No, those were out of the question. Killing the knife’s previous owner didn’t count – that was self-defense, an accident. But recharging the knife would mean I would have to actually commit premeditated murder.

My thoughts mulled about in my head and for once I wasn’t on full alert. Only instinct saved me as I threw myself out of the path of my attacker and I received a cut on my arm. That same cut would have sliced my throat if I hadn’t ducked away in time. I rolled and got up, the adrenaline already starting to course through my system and the pain of the cut faded to a dull throb. I had barely gotten to my feet when my attacker came at me again.

Man, this guy was fast. It was all I could do to parry his swing and stumble back, fighting to regain my footing. As I fought him, a small part of me recognized him as one of the other pursuers of the knife. How did he find out I was the one who had it? It’s ironic: not so long ago, I was one of them, searching for this legendary blade. We didn’t exactly work together, but as long as we didn’t step on each other’s toes, there was a feeling of friendly competition. Well, until one of us managed to obtain the blade, which made him the new target. Which made me the new target.

I mentally thanked my father for teaching me all my close combat training skills as I gradually gained the upper hand and pushed my advantage. Finally, I managed to get him in a headlock and applied pressure to his carotid artery. In a few seconds, he fainted. I held on a bit longer to make sure, then let go and he slumped to the floor.

I knew exactly what I needed to do. He would regain consciousness in a few minutes and would probably come after me again in the future. There was a chance he hadn’t told anyone else that I had the knife yet, but I couldn’t risk him doing just that. Besides, how could I pass up such an opportunity?

I pulled out the blade from my backpack, unsheathed it, and plunged it into my attacker’s chest.

* * * * * *

I stumbled back to Grant’s and told him my story.

“What I can’t figure out is,” I concluded. “How he found me so fast. I mean, no one else knew I was coming to you.”

“Don’t worry anymore,” Grant said as he patted me on the arm. “Now that the knife is fully charged, I can show you how to heal internal wounds. You know, legend says it can even reverse the aging process.”

“Really? I just want to wake Mum up,” I responded tiredly, passing him the knife.

“Yes, yes,” he said as he drew the knife out. “Here, watch carefully.” Grant removed his shirt and proceeded to make a series of cuts on the wrinkly skin of his chest. His movements were so fluid, as if guided by years of practice. He finished the cuts and they healed themselves. Then, before my eyes, his skin began to smooth over. His arms started to become muscular and his core began to fill out with flesh as well. In a few moments, he’d transformed from frail old man to a fit young man around my age.

I stared in shock and amazement.

Grant inhaled deeply and smiled. “Ah… it feels good to be young again,” he said brightly. “Did you know, this knife once belonged to Vlad the Third? They called him Vlad the Impaler for a reason.”

I shook my head mutely, only now starting to feel a little uneasy.

“I lost this once before,” Grant continued. “But now it’s back where it belongs – in my hands. Thank you, Tommy boy. But, oh dear, it seems I’ve used up all the energy in the knife again,” he said in disappointment.

He turned to face me with a hungry look in his eyes.

-Jace

Ingress – 18 Uniquely Singapore Mission Series

Last Friday night, a few Enlightened agents and I completed the 18 Uniquely Singapore missions in order. Each completed mission gives us a mission badge and, when all 18 are completed in order, the images of the badges align nicely to form a map of Singapore. This mission series was created by Enlightened player FortMax.

Here’s what it looks like, as well as all 18 locations.

01 Uniquely Singapore Mission Locations

I predict that the Ingress players who read this post will want the full instructions and tips, so I’m giving it up front first. The rest of the post will be a personal recount of our experience doing all 18 missions. Here’s what you need to know if you want to do the missions yourself:

This picture is all you need. Just download it into you mobile and go play.
All the missions are at the MRT stations. If the location is underground, you’ll have to go to the surface to get the signal, which means you’ll have to tap out of the station. I don’t think there are any missions that can be completed without tapping out of the station.
Each mission consists of hacking four nearby portals, so a very efficient player shouldn’t take more than five minutes to complete them. Unless you want to glyph hack, which I highly recommend, given the new Translator badge.
If you complete them all by MRT, you’ll take about a whole day, so start early, or do it over two days.
– If you go by car, you’ll travel about 140km and take about eight hours or so.
Make sure your device is fully charged and bring at least two portable chargers or spare batteries. I started with 73% and two fully charged portables (3000mAh and 10000mAh) and I still wound up with 7% on my mobile and two completely drained chargers when I got home.
Do prepare water. Lots of water. And perhaps snacks. If you’re going by train, it might be a good idea to pack sandwiches so that you can keep moving.

I have several other mission-specific tips as well, like problem portals, but you’ll have to read the rest of the post.

We started at 11pm on Friday, 30th January. Our team consisted of my dad (Crossbow88), Yi Hong (chikidi28), Nicole (draconitas) and me (JaceTan). My dad had planned it out and estimated we would need about five hours to finish and have a snack at 4am to celebrate. I thought we would finish the missions quickly and take less time, but it turns out we took just over eight and a half hours from leaving to returning home, including our snack break at about 4.30am.

My estimation sucked. 😦

Anyway, before the mission started, my dad and I decided to have a late dinner. My mobile was at 100% when we left to eat at about 8.30pm, but we did some fielding on our home ground, doing our best to use up our items and glyph hack. We both managed to get the Bronze Translator badge (200 points), but I utterly failed at using up my items. I ended up 1998 items in my inventory, even after recycling all the useless keys and weapons I had, and consuming cubes to recharge all the Enlightened portals I had keys for. As we headed to ECP to get to Raffles MRT (our first stop), I managed to glyph hack the last portal before we hit the highway, pushing me to 2008 items in my inventory.

Sigh.

We had quite a bit of fun chatting on the way there and as we neared Raffles, my dad asked us to guide him to Raffles MRT, so I looked at my Ingress map. At one traffic light, he asked if he should turn right or go straight. Our target was half right, so both ways were fine. So I said, “Both ways are fine, but turn right… there are more portals this way.” We all had a good laugh at that.

Raffles MRT area was full of Resistance portals, so I was busy releasing X6s and deploying Resonators and Mods to free up space in my inventory, which I kept refilling via glyph hacking. One of the portals was really difficult to reach because it was inside a building and our GPS kept getting messed up because of the tall buildings. We spent half an hour here walking back and forth before finally touching the last portal and finishing the mission. My dad wanted to take pictures as proof, so here’s a selfie I took at Raffles Place. I was quite reluctant to do so because I’m quite uncomfortable with selfies that I take alone.

02 Raffles Place MRT

The next stop was Dhoby Gaut MRT. We were surprised at the number of cars on the road, even thought it was past 12am. Anyway, we completed this mission relatively quickly, since dad found a public car park. We were able to spend a little more time linking and creating fields as well. I forgot to take a picture at the Dhoby Gaut MRT sign, but we were already halfway back to the car, so I took a picture with my dad at the Istana Festival Arch.

03 Dhoby Gaut Istana Festival Arch

After that, we headed off to Orchard MRT. Dad parked at the back and we went to do the mission. This one also had another annoying portal inside Ion Orchard which we could only reach by walking back and forth and catching it as our GPS corrected itself. This mission took another 30 mins. I was too annoyed to take a selfie, so I just took a picture of Ion Orchard.

04 Ion Orchard

Once we all finally managed to drift into the portal’s range, we headed off to Bishan MRT. This mission was quite simple, although one of the portals required walking all the way through Junction 8 to the bus interchange. The four portals form a very neat stack, so I recommend taking the time to hack and stack.

05 Bishan MRT

Next stop, Yishun MRT station. This mission required quite a bit of walking, but only slightly more than the Bishan mission.

06 Yishun MRT

After Yishun, I stopped taking photos because we wanted to do the missions quickly and move on, so I have no photos for Woodlands, Choa Chu Kang and Jurong East. CCK area was fun because all four portals were clustered together and all were accessible from the road. There were no cars, so dad stopped by the road side and we could all hack without getting out of the car. CCK was also completely under Resistance control, so we unleashed our weapons and consumed cubes to destroy as much as we could. It was quite satisfying to convert five portals and unload a lot of our items.

Clementi MRT was our next stop and our halfway mark. We decided to take a group photo here after we completed the mission since the lighting was relatively better than our previous stops.

07 Clementi MRT

It looks like we took a picture with the Toilet sign XD

At this point, it was a little past 4am and we were getting hungry, so we went for prata. These missions were taking twice as long as my dad had predicted; we were supposed to have ended by now, or at least nearing the end. I blame the missions in city area, where we had so much difficulty hacking the portals that were out of reach. I figured that once we started hitting the East side, we wouldn’t have much problems. I’d already done the Paya Lebar, Bedok, Tampines and Pasir Ris missions before, so I knew that they were all easily accessible. I still had to redo them in order to align them nicely.

Anyway, we soldiered on, the next stop being Tanjong Pagar. This was a quick one and we all finished quickly except dad, because we were able to hack the portals as he parked. Heh. Then we hit Bugis. I managed to snag the far portal while dad drove past, but the others didn’t so after we parked, they crossed the road to do the mission. I finished up on my side then hacked and converted seven other portals while waiting for them.

We quickly finished up the next four East missions, then headed up to the northeast area. We spent a bit of time at Sengkang too, because of another unreachable portal. I kept walking back and forth through the sheltered interchange, trying to “catch” the portal when I drifted into range. Took me four attempts before I got it. We decided to take another picture at Sengkang before we left.

08 Sengkang MRT

When we left Sengkang, the sky had just begun to brighten and Hougang was bustling with activity by the time we reached it. The Hougang mission was also quite a bit of a walk, so we spent a bit of time here. We took the opportunity for a toilet break as well. I think that was my first toilet break since we started the whole mission. I really sweated out most of the water I put into myself.

Serangoon’s mission was at Nex mall and all the portals were accessible from the rooftop. Dad parked the multi-storey car park and we crossed the bridge to Nex. We kept ascending the rooftops until we found a space that allowed us to reach the last portal.

Finally! We had finished all 18 missions!!! And here’s proof:

09 18 Missions Complete

Thanks a lot, FortMax. Couldn’t have made it a nice circuit, so we wouldn’t have to drive 140km in such a weird way. -.-

I took a screenshot of my stats before and after we finished the missions, so here they are:

10 Status Before
Before

11 Status After
After

Almost 300,000 AP gained
201 Unique Hacks
11km walking distance
Deployed nearly 700 resonators
Created 69 links *snigger*
Closed 24 fields
Captured 60 portals, of which 51 were new to me
Destroyed almost 300 enemy resonators which neutralized 35 portals, taking down 71 links and 32 fields in the process
Of the 18 missions, 11 were new to me
Hacked over 330 times, netting almost 550 glyph points.

-Jace

True Blue

This is dedicated to my friend Jia Kiat for his birthday, which was like, two weeks ago but it’s only coming out now because I was lazy and I only just finished it. Sorry, bro.

Happy Birthday!

Sarah watched in the dresser mirror as her mother dressed her in a simple black dress with a dark blue ribbon around the middle. Today was Sarah’s fifth birthday, but it also marked the first year without her father. Like her, Sarah’s mother was also in a stylish black dress and, without the blue ribbon, Sarah would have looked exactly like a smaller version of her mum. Brigid finished tying the ribbon around her daughter and kissed the top of her head.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” Brigid whispered into Sarah’s hair.

“That tickles!” Sarah squealed and tried to squirm away, but Brigid wrapped her arms around Sarah and swung her off the floor.

As Sarah settled down in Brigid’s embrace, Brigid opened a drawer in the dresser and pulled out a little gift box with a blue ribbon that matched the one around Sarah’s waist.

“Here you go, sweetheart. It’s from your father,” Brigid said as she gave the box to her daughter. Sarah squealed again in delight and opened the box. Inside was a beautiful black strapped choker with a sapphire set in the middle of a silver holder. Engraved on the back of the pendant were the words “For my precious princess“.

“Wow! Thank you, mommy!” Sarah exclaimed delightedly and kissed her mother.

“Do you want to put it on now?” Brigid asked. Sarah nodded enthusiastically and Brigid put her down facing the mirror. She pulled the necklace out of it’s box and unclasped it. Kneeling behind her daughter, Brigid carefully put the choker around Sarah’s neck. It was too loose, even when Brigid fastened the last clasp together, so the sapphire pendant hung just below Sarah’s collarbone, over her dress. Sarah smiled and touched the sparkling blue stone.

“Is it magic?” Sarah asked her mother in wonder. “It looks magic.”

“Maybe,” Brigid answered with a smile of her own. Sarah’s eyes widened.

“What does it do?” Sarah asked curiously.

“You’ll find out when you’re older,” her mother replied and spun Sarah around to face her. “Now, let’s go out and have some cake okay?”

“Okay!” Sarah bubbled happily.

* * * * * *

Seven-year-old Sarah sat by Christmas tree, counting the presents with her name on it. The choker sat around her neck, the sapphire resting in the hollow of it.

“Five!” Sarah finished counting with excitement.

“And Santa will bring you another one tonight, if you go to bed now,” Brigid told Sarah with a smile.

The blue stone at Sarah’s neck vibrated ever so slightly.

Sarah looked up at her mother with a serious expression as she clutched her pendant.

“Santa doesn’t exist, mommy. I’m not a baby anymore,” she pouted. Brigid knelt and smiled gently at her daughter.

“You’re right, he doesn’t exist,” Brigid conceded. “But there will be an extra present waiting for you if you go to bed now,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye.

Sarah fingered her sapphire expectantly, but the stone remained still. After a beat, she brightened.

“Okay! Goodnight mommy,” Sarah kissed her mother on the cheek and raced off.

Brigid sighed as she watched her daughter get ready for bed.

* * * * * *

“Tell me the truth, Sarah,” Brigid commanded. “Did you or did you not cheat on this test?”

“No, I didn’t!” Twelve-year-old Sarah insisted, stamping her feet in frustation.

“Then why are your answers exactly the same as your classmate’s?”

“I don’t know!” Sarah cried. “He cheated from me!”

“Sarah…” Her mother sighed. Sarah screamed in impatience and ran to her room.

Neither of them noticed the two small cracks in the crystal when Sarah took it off at the end of the day.

* * * * * *

“I had fun tonight, thank you,” Sarah smiled at Tony. Tony held her hand and smiled back. They were sitting on the warm bonnet of Tony’s car, just after their first date.

“You know, you’re the first girl I’ve ever kissed,” Tony said. The sapphire buzzed.

“I told you not to lie to me, Tony. I can sense every single lie,” Sarah reminded him. Tony sighed.

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to say something romantic, you know? To make you feel good. It’s not cool to say something like, ‘you’re the third girl I’ve kissed’. It was just a small lie, no harm done,” Tony apologized.

Sarah smiled reluctantly. He was trying to be sweet, not intentionally lie to her.

“Well,” she said. “You could say something like, ‘You’re the most beautiful girl in the world’. Go on, say it!” She nudged him playfully.

“I think you’re the most beautiful girl in the world,” Tony said immediately. The blue stone vibrated. Sarah frowned and pulled away.

“That’s… not true,” Sarah realized.

“What? Yes it is!” Tony sputtered. The stone buzzed yet again. Sarah stood.

“You don’t really like me, do you? You just want to get into my pants!” Sarah accused.

“Oh, come on! I’m just trying to make you happy. Why are you picking on every minuscule lie I tell?”

“Because if you can lie to me about small things like this, it won’t be long before you tell bigger lies,” Sarah rebuffed him firmly. “Goodbye, Tony. Don’t call me.” Sarah gathered up her things.

“You know, you’re really difficult to be around. No wonder you don’t have a boyfriend. You probably never will,” Tony told her. Sarah gave him one last disgusted look and stalked off.

As she trudged home, tears pricked her eyes.

* * * * * *

“He’s lying,” Sarah said. She was observing the interrogation from behind the one-way glass, reading the suspect’s facial expressions and body language. After years of lies, the surface of her sapphire was covered in tiny cracks. She had decided to learn other ways to detect deception and word her sentences carefully.

At 25, she was the youngest female member in the police department. She’d just graduated with a degree in Criminal Psychology and had breezed through the entrance tests. Now, she was a Profiler, but her strength was really in interrogating suspects.

“Very good. And…?” Dalton, her superior and mentor, commended her.

“…I don’t know, sir. I need to be in there questioning him. He might not be lying outright, but he’s definitely hiding something,” Sarah replied. Dalton nodded and knocked on the glass.

Detective Gabriel glanced at the glass, got up and left the room. A few moments later, he entered the room Sarah and Dalton were in.

“Okay kiddo, in you go,” Dalton said to Sarah. Gabriel gave Sarah the case file and took a spot facing the interrogation room as she exited.

“Hello, Christopher,” Sarah greeted him as she entered the room. Christopher lifted his head from his hands to look at her as she sat down.

“I’m Sarah.” She gave him a disarming smile.

“So,” Sarah began. “Why don’t you tell me why you think you’re here?”

“I don’t know,” Christopher replied miserably. Sarah’s sapphire buzzed gently.

“Oh, I think you do. We’re investigating the death of Patricia Oswald. You know something about it. And don’t bother lying to me, I can sniff out every single lie you tell.”

“Then you should know that Mrs Oswald was a nice lady. I loved her like she was my grandmother. I’m sorry she’s gone. But I don’t know how she died.” The stone was silent until he spoke the last sentence.

“Hmm…” Sarah said. “True, true, true, false. I told you I can sniff out every lie you tell. I’m thinking you didn’t have anything to do with her death, but you know someone who wanted to hurt her.” She watched Christopher closely.

He remained silent, but squirmed uncomfortably.

“Look,” Sarah said. “All we want to know is who you’re protecting and why you’re protecting him or her, when you truthfully said you loved Patricia Oswald like she was your grandmother.” She paused. “Okay, fine, you stay silent, I’ll just guess. A friend?”

Christopher said nothing.

“Family member?”

“No,” he denied. The stone quivered against her neck.

“Aha,” Sarah nodded. “You have no siblings, so… Mother?”

“She’s got nothing to do with it.” Christopher insisted adamantly. Sarah’s necklace remained still.

“Mmmhmm. True. It’s the father,” she told the one-way glass and got up from her seat.

“No, it’s not!” Christopher slammed his fist on the table as Sarah left, and the blue stone vibrated against her neck.

* * * * * *

Sarah sat beside her mother at the hospital, holding her hand.

“Mom, how are you feeling?”

“Fine, fine. I’ll be okay,” Brigid coughed out. Sarah’s pendant quivered silently at her neck, mirroring the waning confidence and ever-increasing worry she was feeling inside.

“Sarah?” The doctor called from the door. “May I have a word?”

Sarah nodded. She smiled lovingly at her mother, patted her hand and followed the doctor outside.

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do,” he said. “Your mother has only a few months left to live.”

Sarah’s sapphire stayed still.

* * * * * *

“No one can possibly stand to be around you when you nitpick at every single lie they tell, no matter how small, inconsequential or noble they may be! You can’t control everything, you know!” Gerald yelled at her.

He slammed the door and Sarah collapsed on the floor, struggling to breathe through her anguish. She unclasped the choker from around her neck and stared at her fractured sapphire, the flaws in the stone reflecting her own imperfections. It wasn’t the first time she’d considered throwing the gem away, but she couldn’t bear to dispose of the one precious thing she had of her father.

There was a timid knock on her front door. Sarah swallowed the lump in her throat and, in a warbled but hopeful voice, called out, “Gerald?”

“No, it’s Bryan,” her neighbour replied. “Are you alright? I heard someone shouting.” The door opened slightly and Bryan peeked in. He took one look at Sarah’s crumpled form and was at her side immediately, his arms wrapped protectively around her. The moment he hugged her, Sarah broke down.

“What’s wrong with me, Bryan?” she sobbed into his shoulder. Bryan said nothing, just gently rocked her in his embrace.

“That was the twenty-seventh guy I’ve driven away,” Sarah moaned.

“You kept count?” Bryan teased.

Sarah hiccuped, her reluctant laugh getting caught in her throat. She smacked Bryan’s arm, but her tears had stopped.

“You’re just too good at what you do. You’re too good for them,” Bryan told her.

“Then why is it I’m the one who suffers?” Sarah’s voice trembled, her eyes threatening tears again.

Bryan had no answer to that and they both sat in silence for a while.

Sarah pondered over all her failed relationships. Gerald was right: she had been pointing out every single lie she was told, even if it was something harmless. She couldn’t help it; she didn’t have the option of not knowing. Ignorance was not something she tolerated from herself, but no one would always tell her the truth.

“You’re right, Bryan,” she whispered in realization. “I am too good at spotting lies. I’ll always be able to do so. No one will ever be able to lie to me and no guy will ever be able to come to love me enough to always be truthful with me. Nobody will love me, which means I can’t be loved. And if I can’t be loved, I’m not worthy of being loved.”

The sapphire shattered and the shards fell through her fingers.

“Yes,” said Bryan gently, wiping the tears from her face. “Yes, you are.”

-Jace