Telling Lies by Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman’s Telling Lies is a serious, important work in the field of psychology. It’s readable by a lay audience, but it’s not hawking ‘ten simple FBI tricks that anyone can use to detect lies at home and at work’. In fact, the answer Ekman gives as to whether a certain behavior is a clue to lying is always: it depends. There are as many ways to lie as there are people, and as many ways to tell the truth. Furthermore, as you may have guessed from watching spies outwit them in movies, even polygraphs are not reliable lie detectors. Turns out—surprise!—people are complicated.

Continue reading to find out more about Ekman’s approach and findings, what I thought of the book, what I learned about lying, and what else I’ve read on the subject.

Continue reading Telling Lies by Paul Ekman

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

Do not be turned off by the hard-sell marketing that surrounds every one of Edward de Bono’s books. Just because he over-touts his own work doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

It may even be that he only repeats variations on the same ideas in all his other books (which he periodically refers to). Having read only one of the many, I can say that there is at least one set of good ideas.

I’d seen the books for sale here and there and read a bit about them online, so I was really looking forward to reading about the thinking hats. I was not disappointed. It’s worth reading the entire short book rather than relying on information about the hats that’s available online.

To find out more about the hat system and why it’s cool, continue reading.

Continue reading Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This work of speculative fiction tells the story of an alternative present-day reality or near future in which the US government has been supplanted by an oppressive religious regime. Fertility rates are down. In the new Republic of Gilead, women have lost their independence. Some are assigned to deserving soldiers as wives, domestic servants or econo-wives while others are forced into prostitution or are made into handmaids—women who will symbolically bear children on behalf of the wives.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a controversial work. It is studied in American high schools, but some parents feel that its sexual scenes are inappropriate for teenagers. Others complain about the negative depiction of Christianity. I would say that it’s a book that, like many others, will not be fully understood by teenagers but is nevertheless well worth reading and pondering.

For more on the plot and themes, continue reading.

Continue reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Praisehaven Salvation Army store has interesting books.

I was intending to try to buy a bench, display shelves and maybe some jeans. Instead I wound up buying 17 books.

I accidentally bought two copies of The Craft of Research. I think I would have noticed if I hadn’t been rushed out of the store at closing time. I think I spent two hours looking at books, and still only had time to look at maybe 75% of what they had.

I was doing so well chewing through the cheap books I bought the last time I got ambushed by a sale. Now I’ve got a whole new batch. Half of them are reference books, but it’s still hundreds of pages added to the stack. An endless stack of which I expect never to see the bottom… I still have but have never read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Arthur story, The Mists of Avalon, which was given to me as a birthday present when I turned 16.

I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to than used books.

Brilliant by Jane Brox

The topic is interesting, but the book itself is junky. Oops.

Brilliant is not as brilliant as it wants me to think it is. Probably it’s really hard to write a book on such a huge topic, but then isn’t it the author’s and the publisher’s responsibility to focus and communicate the topic appropriately, to create and then meet readers’ expectations?

If you want to know specifically why I didn’t like the book, or what I still managed to learn from it, keep reading.

Continue reading Brilliant by Jane Brox

Mind your steps!

Broken idiom alert. This sign at the National Skin Centre pharmacy says:

Tripping Hazard.
Mind Your Steps!

I think in the US we’d be more likely to say “watch your step” rather than “mind your step”, but pluralizing ‘step’ would be wrong in either case.

Sure, it’s logical that you’d want to be careful over the course of many steps, but conventionally, that’s not what we say.

I think we use the singular noun because this ‘step’ really means ‘manner of walking’. Here are some examples that showcase this singular sense of ‘step’.

The job promotion put a spring in his step.

The dancer has a graceful and lovely step.

The thief listened for the confident step of the policeman.

There is room for confusion because ‘step’ more often means ‘footstep’, and footsteps are often potentially plural, even when they are not syntactically plural.

The craftsman hoped his son would follow in his (foot)steps.

The sound of (foot)steps faded away down the hall.

Every (foot)step brought her closer to her goal.

Now that I think about it, the noun ‘stride’ has a similar duality: the singular noun means a manner of walking and the plural noun is used to refer to a series of individual movements.

I think there’s also pressure to pluralize ‘step’ coming from the common use of ‘steps’ to mean ‘stairs’.

The spilled water cascaded down the steps.

Anyway, the upshot is that the warning to “watch your step” or “mind your step” means “pay attention to your manner of walking”, not “pay attention to each of your footsteps”.


When I spotted this Korean drink called baekseju (百歲酒) on the menu at the very excellent and formerly close to my house Jang Won Korean Restaurant, I thought it might be a version of the famous Chinese alcohol called báijiǔ (白酒), which is sometimes called ‘white wine’—though not by anybody who’s ever had any.

Nope. The Chinese word bái (白) is ‘white’ and the Chinese word bǎi () is ‘hundred’.

Silly ang moh, those are obviously two totally different words.



Wait, hang on, that text on the Korean menu looks, um, rather similar to what’s currently on Wikipedia…

I didn’t photograph the whole menu page, though, so it’s not clear whether those prices are subjected to service charge and tax.

Happy Year of the Monkey!

That’s New Bridge Road at Cross Street, the focal point of Singapore’s annual Chinese New Year celebration.

This is South Bridge Road at Cross Street. We used to live less than a block from here, on Mosque Street. You can just see a bit of the green entrance to the Mosque on the right.


Note the new tower going up in the background in Tanjong Pagar. That red circle tower (the PS 100 Green Tower) and the dark one next to it (Carlton City Hotel) weren’t there in 2011. In fact, I used to walk straight through the empty lot that is now the PS 100 to get to work.

It’s not for nothing that people joke about Singapore’s national bird being the construction crane.