Go with a smile!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Death of the printed book.

It was bound to happen one day. There is news that Borders is filing for bankruptcy.

I grew up in a Singapore where a lot of good books were not available. I remember going for a talk, and the lecturer bemoaning the fact that Singaporeans never managed to get a lot of books from the stores. In those days, we had Times, we had MPH, and not much else.

And it’s strange to think that, for those years, since – this will surprise a lot of you – I wasn’t a bookworm in school, I got a lot of my knowledge from school books. Which means curriculum planning forms the basis of so much of my knowledge.

The arrival of Tower Records was a big thing in Singapore, even though, as we now know, Tower lasted only slightly more than 10 years. Those things were the big triumph of American capitalism. My teenage years of getting my ears opened to music took place in the last few years before the internet year 0. When I visited England in the early 1990s, I was amazed at all the used book stores in that place. There were an incredible range and variety of books on topics that I never ever knew existed. I went into Virgin megastore as a – so to speak – virgin. I left as a not so virgin.

Those were the days when there were a lot of books and records that I heard were very good, but were never available in the stores. Television’s “Marquee Moon”. Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”. Big Star’s “Third”. If and when you did find them, there was this amazement that that piece of treasure was in your hands, then you realised that it would cost you 1 week’s pocket money. Well I suppose you just had to save up.

I read an interview of LCD Soundsystem, where the guy said that he lived through this. (he’s 5-10 years older than me). I know about it. The legends that grow around certain records. The music would inevitably be good, but no matter how good, it would be a let down. In fact, while you were being deprived of it, you had to imagine what it sounded like. I can also trace my development as a composer to the fact that I sometimes had to wonder what the music sounded like, before I heard it.

In this way, I read about accounts of what Jimi Hendrix’s music was like before I heard it. The same was true for Captain Beefheart and Television.

In fact, in a way I feel sorry for the younger kids, who never had to deal with that type of deprivation. They never knew what it was like to go to a bookstore, read magazines about rock music, get seduced by all the lurid descriptions of how wonderful this or that music is like. It’s like from young, you only get to watch hardcore porn, and you don’t know what it’s like to have a fully clothed by nice looking girl slowly seduce you over a long period of time. They don’t get to go through the human mating ritual.

Like I said, Tower coming to Singapore was a big thing. Things changed in a big way. I never had to endure a lot of that deprivation anymore. MPH knew about Tower records, and they tried to steal a march. They refurbished the Stamford road building, and there was a “megastore” called Music Power House. I thought it was dumb that they wanted to rename Malaysian Publishing House as something else, until I realised that MPH was itself renamed from its original moniker of Methodist Publishing House.

The ethos of a megastore: there were a few factors. First, you needed to have a fancy and nice looking layout. Everything had to look more sexy than your drab Times the bookstore. You needed to have fantastic piles of books, and seduce people through sheer volume and variety. The message: you would never need to go anywhere else to shop for books. Second, you needed to produce a very homely environment, where people felt comfortable hanging out for hours at a go. Some people don’t mind drab warehouses with cobwebs everywhere. But others wanted the smell of expensive gourmet coffee in the air, nice sofas for you to rest.

Then, there was price. The megastores would be able to get new releases at lower prices than the other independent stores. I think a lot of other independent stores got killed as a result. And for most of the other books, they could price them higher because you are paying a premium for being able to walk into one store and get all the books that you want.

Then, there were the events. You would have book signings (not that common in Singapore, actually). You would have the book launches, of which Harry Potter were the most infamous. There was this time when I saw enough copies of “Order of the Golden Phoenix” to fill a 20 footer.

I wish I had taken pictures of megastores, I didn’t know that they were doomed. 2 years ago, I visited 2 megastores, in San Francisco and Denver. I didn’t know that this would be the last I would ever see of them. I should have taken pictures but I didn’t. Within 1 year, they were finished.

Ultimately, then, what is killing the megastores? I think the megastores are a very temporary and artificial environment. If you think about it, the thing that made them flourish is also the thing that kills them in the end. At first, there was no internet. They were superior because they and they alone had access to all the computer databases. They alone had access to all that knowledge about where all the good books were and where to find them.

In the second stage, everybody had the internet. Then it was even more a boon for them, because everybody had greater access to a wider range of books. Consumers being more well informed is on the whole a good thing because there is a lot of desire for books that didn’t really exist before. I think that the internet fuelled the rise of the megastores, because it released a whole load of pent-up demand for books that didn’t really exist previously.

There were other things, such as computer aided publishing making books a whole lot more presentable. You just try reading some books that were published in the 80s, before LaTeX came along. You would have shoddy looking footnotes. Maybe not so great looking indices. I think that a lot of the books in the age of the word processor have 10-20% of their length taken up by footnotes. That is incredible – hints of material that wouldn’t make it onto the actual book itself is such a large percentage of the total.

The cover picture looks tacky unless a skilful graphic designer was involved. LaTeX was responsible more for textbook porn than anything else, and was probably responsible for some peoples’ decision to go get a PhD. Yes, all because they make mathematics equations look fantastic when printed out.

There were other things: after I had read a book, I would google the name of the book, and read what some other people said about the book. That book itself would not be the be all and end all of a certain form of knowledge. I would then understand if the book was biased in a certain way, or if the author had certain predispositions towards certain viewpoints. I would read all the countervailing arguments. It was like reading a second book on top of the first, and it was massively helpful for me.

The classic example of a book that didn’t come with all the internet commentaries attached, was of course the Bible. If people in those times got to read all the semi-edited version of the Bible, a lot of the reverence for that book as a supernatural thing would have been lost, you might wonder if Christianity would ever have gotten off the ground.

However the internet brought along with it a lot of threats. First, book reading as a hobby would be threatened by the great availability of stuff on the net. Second, you had competition from Amazon.com. Third, you had competition from ebay.

The first indicator I got that Borders was on the way out – something that I should have known but didn’t – is the MPH warehouse sale. You had a lot of books that you didn’t manage to sell. And many books – they have a shelf life. The pages get yellow. Those books about current affairs will all clearly be outdated within 2-3 years – barely enough time for people to read it. Even history books – people always prefer history books to be based on the “latest research” but I wonder if that really makes it better. Novels – I don’t know why people have so much reverence towards “classic” novels of the 19th century, and books that were written 10-20 years ago are all written off, even the more “literary” ones.

Whatever it is, for a physical book, it would be extremely difficult to plan inventory. There are university courses all about planning inventory. A lot of people use statistical functions to predict demand. That sounds extremely laughable! If a book is a blockbuster, versus if it were a bust – as though it’s like a normal distribution, what kind of weed were those professors smoking?

The second indicator was Borders itself. It used to be such a pristine place. In the first year, people would treat that place with reverence. America was the most powerful country in the world, and it was like getting invited to the American way of life. You never saw so many books in your life. You just felt that you would read and read forever. I certainly felt that way, but soon after I left for a place that was actually in America and had no Borders until I was almost to leave that place.

Towards the end, the arrangements of the books became more sloppy. All the good books are bought up, and what’s left are the embarrassing extravagances. The quality of the material on display always goes down. People will look at a lot of the books in the bargain bin and start to wonder, “who ever thought of publishing a book like this?” or “this is such an obscure niche”. As hard as it is to plan inventory for the big blockbusters, planning for inventory further down the long tail is even more, devilishly difficult.

The third indicator was my own bookshelf. People discovering Borders for the first time would normally just grab a lot of books. I didn’t. I grabbed a lot of books from the warehouse sale instead. And as time goes by, the books you have on your shelf are much less sexy than when you first bought them. I’m sure that a lot of married men feel the same way about their wives. I just have a whole shelf full of books, and I don’t really know what to do with them. Some of them are going to be expired.

That’s when it occurred to me that Borders is sitting on a time bomb. A lot of their customers are the naïve buyers. After a while their poor Singaporean rooms will be filled up and there will be no more buying of books. The great enduring mystery of Singapore is why is shopping is the national past time when Singaporean homes are too small to accommodate that much merchandise. Eating makes more sense because you know what happens to the food in the end. And say what you want about the casinos, at least they strip you without taking away your living space.

Borders is predicated on the premise that people would want to spend a small fortune on a nice book. To be sure, books are really nice things. Even with the advent of backlit plasma screens, ink on paper is still the best. Kindle might close the gap, but nobody knows. But when it comes to information, packaging something like that in something that looks like a brick is somewhat arbitrary. Information is not meant to be packaged. It is not meant to be stocked up. Maybe as an artwork, the novel makes more sense. As a non-fiction book, the periodical makes more sense. The textbook, which attempts to give you a broad survey of closely related intellectual material makes sense. A non-fiction book, which is somewhat like a novel?

OK, the book would be fine for me in this regard: somebody takes the time and effort to take a lot of information and refine it into something higher and more valuable. There is a lot of value in the process of putting things together. Issues are rendered on a deeper level and you can see the deeper underlying patterns, rather than if you were to just read a whole load of blog articles / magazine articles. The analysis is better. But what if it’s a book that I didn’t really want, or a book that I only intend to read a small part of?

Then what you have is a lot of books taking up a lot of space. The package that the book comes in lasts much longer than the validity of the information. Yes, it’s a good thing that we got to learn a lot about the Sumerians based on what they wrote on their clay bricks. But there are too many books in this world.

Non fiction books make more sense if they are packaged in bits instead of atoms. That way you would never have to decide what is the inventory level. You only have to decide how to price them. Information works better as a flow. You should have to stop selling the books when you run out of physical books. You should only stop selling them when the information they contain becomes invalid.

The other thing, paper books are not really searchable. They have tried to circumvent the problem using the index. If and when eBooks becomes the default medium, you shouldn’t even had an index, except maybe to indicate when a concept is the main part of a certain passage, or when it is only mentioned in passing.

Also for the consumer, eBooks is also useful: I don’t want to learn everything in a book. I just want to look it up. I may not want to read it, ever. I don’t want a clunky volume taking up space in my room if I don’t need it. I’m careful about what I buy but I still end up getting my house flooded in all that stuff.

Information also wants to be free. There’s so much to be learnt from the random blog post, the breaking news on the internet, the commentary, and talking to people. The information is demand driven, wrested out by the interested person. Rather than you just have to read this book chapter because that is what some author somewhere a few years ago presumed that you would read. And it might not be everything there is to know because so much has to be held back / censored / redacted in order to satisfy editorial / journalistic / censorship board standards. If a book is written for the general audience, it means that it was written for somebody other than you, and you would also have to share it.

And with the death of the printed book, I think also about a way of life. I used to spend hours hanging out at megastores, whether for CDs or for books. I realise that this is not something people a generation older or a generation younger would do. When I’m browsing a bookstore, I would serendipiditiously come across something else that I like. That’s what I looked forward to while browsing bookshops. That’s why I was such a committed bookworm for about 7 years – there was always something to discover. The entire sensory experience, people all walking around you, colourful covers, and when you shut them all out, the random engrossing book chapter. Also finding the random interesting book, was like bumping into an interesting stranger. When you’re surfing alone it’s a much lonelier experience.

Then the last thing was the serene and happy hours promised by the first flush of the internet. The dream was that you would just put your money in internet stocks, they would do all the work for you. And then you would spend the rest of your leisurely life sipping lattes, reading for leisure, maybe discovering good music, cinema, surfing for interesting stuff.

No, the internet has taken away a lot of our job security. Taken away a lot of certainties in life. It’s hard to be a rich man these days without working your socks off. Poor and rich alike have to slog away. Most people will create new and wonderful things that nobody will ever buy. That is the new economy, and it’s very sad.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Staying the course

OK, things are proceeding with rapid pace now. 2011 will be a very interesting year. In a way, 2009 and 2010 were about me preparing for 2011. Considering how nervous I was about getting into CS grad school it’s nice to know that I haven’t been rejected from any yet. I’m already in a local uni (acceptance rate 1 in 4). I’ve been accepted at the University of Mexico (1 in 10, actually maybe 7). Plus Mexico is not obscenely expensive.

When you hire a prostitute, there are prostitutes who a famous for being really good in bed, based on word of mouth reports. There are others who have nice legs, nice figures, but are basically virgins. I would categorise myself as a virgin.

I had hoped to get a 80% percentile on my subject test, but instead got a 70%. And I thought, oh no not even Mexico would want me now. (But at least that's not true.) And Mexico's not my safety school - there are no safety schools, because if you don't get into a school you really want you may not do the masters.

Somebody left my department and I’m the last person who knows how to pick up his slack. So I’m actually quite busy this year. I thought that I would be devoting more time towards charting out the new course in my life. I’m actually stuck with more work, and balancing it out with my part time course. This was not exactly what I had in mind, even though, the certainty that comes with it is welcome. Although it could distract from my pursuit of my dreams in the near future, it is a way for me to learn new skills.

My relatives are beginning to catch on that I’m thinking of a master’s overseas. I don’t know if they’ll try to dissuade me. I know they don’t like it. But what are you going to say to somebody who has just spent a few years doing something he’s not sure about, due to contractual obligations, and now has his own ideas about what he wants to do?

One of them told me, “I don’t think you should be teaching the next generation”. I replied “you probably think I should stay far away from babies and not have children ever.” He must have realised that he just said something really offensive because he turned the discussion into something really incoherent after that.

The idealist in me would have loved for me to do stuff like pure maths and philosophy. Now, I'm glad I didn't go all the way down this path, because it would have meant a dead end road. I'm also glad because I realised that the real world where real people live in is very much more interesting than the world of pure maths and philosophy.

Again, the idealist in me wants to do research and solve the problem of artificial intelligence. The pragmatist in me would just want to find a way to leave his job. But if his job is already pseudo research, it needs to be that much better for me to leave. Otherwise this is a monk-like existence, with the "leave me the fuck alone and let me do research" not an unhappy state of being. I thought that I would leave my job but now that looks more and more tenuous.

Anyway, I've yet to hear from Bottom of the Hill uni and Palm Tree uni. There's also Uni of Big City which I haven't applied for (the deadline is really late) which I'm not sure about because it's really expensive, compared to Mexico. Ironically, if I get into both Bottom of the Hill and Palm Tree, I will be wondering why on earth I didn't straightaway apply for a PhD in the first place.

I've thought about exploring more options. Maybe I should have done more of it last year. Maybe I should have sniffed around and looked at the industry. Because, I've come to realise, once I start school overseas, and once I start paying more than $2K a semester (which is the going rate for a part time master's in a local uni) the clock starts ticking. And sometimes I wonder why I went to Snowy Hill uni when just about 90% of the stuff I learnt, I learnt through reading textbooks. It's not to say it wasn't a great experience but not as great as it could have been.

Looks like I still got a lot of thinking to do.

What I’ve learnt about PhDs.
1. It’s fairly amusing to be reading all the forums about graduate education. Edulix, Urch, Gradcafe. It’s very informative about how to prepare for graduate school.
2. I’ve believed that I have some of the qualities for graduate school. And I’ve tried to incorporate that in my admission essay. Intellectual depth and breadth. Tenacity. Curiosity. Creativity.
3. I chose my 3 letter writers as such: one would testify that I could study, another that I could teach, and a third, that I could work.
4. So many people think about PhDs as a waste of time that it’s scary. And people have accused the authorities of giving the misleading impression that a PhD is a much better prospect than it is. And even then, it’s ridiculously hard to get into a PhD program, especially in computer science.
5. When you are deciding whether or not to go into research, it’s not about enjoying the rewards of research, ie the sense of achievement that goes into writing an important paper or making an important discovery. What really matters is that you must like the day to day work itself: the long hours, the reading of endless papers, the grinding out results, the programming.

Well I thought – I formulated what I want to do – I want to be an inventor. Which is a broader category than a researcher.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A history in physical activity

I was having a run at McRitchie the other day, and it occurred to me that I had started the long and slow physical decline that would continue for the rest of my life. It’s hardly edifying to know that everything’s downhill from now on. So I thought I’d think back to all the times when I pushed my body to physical exertions.

There was very little of it before I was 12. I knew that my father jogged a few times every week, and I used to marvel at him for doing so. But keeping fit was something that was quite foreign to me, and I thought that it involved a strength of will that I didn’t have.

There was this one incident, though, I was 8 and occasionally, we went to East Coast Park to cycle. During those days, it was a nice place, and the largest park in Singapore. (This was before it got over-commercialised, and before it got taken over by the homeless.) We were all curious about the milestones, so one day I rode the bicycle all the way to 0, which was probably around Tanjong Rhu. I could see the city skyline from there. (minus OUB centre, minus UOB centre, and a lot of other buildings that weren’t yet built). At that time, I didn’t know that Tanjong Rhu was going to feature again in this tale.

I wasn’t ever a sportsman. I was, and still am, physically clumsy. My sister was better at sports. She played softball for her primary school, and was a frenemy of a certain person called JK who will appear in this story again. When she was 12, she actually embarked on a school tour to Malaysia. It was something more adventurous than anything that I had experienced up to that point. My father was a farmer in his teens, and in adulthood he still had a pretty impressive set of biceps. In contrast, for myself, up till I was 12, my physical activity was limited to police and thieves during recess.

OK, there was swimming. I was a fast swimmer when I was 8, and I won a few medals at the local club. But that was as far as it went. I think I didn’t continue to become competitive, although it was always a form of exercise.

When I was 13, that was when my father decided to teach me how to do some long distance running. There were a few times when I didn’t manage to last the distance. I would start off fast, but there was no consideration about how long I could last. It took me a few times to get it right. And even though I did participate in the annual cross country runs with everybody else, it was probably not until I was 16 that I became comfortable with running on that McRitchie track.

What I do remember is the scout camps. When I was 14, I joined the scouts. It wasn’t my intention to join the scouts. But they made it a rule that everybody had to either join a sport or a uniformed group. In other words, something that is physically strenuous. Because my mother had been a girl guide, she thought that I should join scouts. The people who joined scouts were those who couldn't cut it in sports. You didn't join a sports ECA unless you had talent.

They told us that the scout camps were going to be tough. In fact they were a lot like military camps. And I didn’t really have the physical preparation for it. The first one took place in a school near Yio Chu Kang road. There were plenty of runs, plenty of push-ups. I don’t remember doing much scouting at all. And there was this run, I’ll never forget. We had to carry 5kg bags and run. I was dying. I remember having to cook our own meals using kerosene stoves, and making a complete hash of it. I remember that soft drinks were banned, so we just drank a lot of water. I found a bag of sugar, though, and I often stole spoonfuls from it. Disgusting, I know, but still…

I remembered, though, that this was around the time when my sister was having her back operation. She had scoliosis, and one of her shoulder blades jutted out like a camel. This may or may not have had something to do with how one of her legs was longer than the other. But that operation spelt the end of her being a sportsman. No more softball, no more squash, and no more running, except on dirt tracks (concrete’s too hard.) And she was lucky not to be in the 5% of cases in these operations where the people ended up as quadriplegics.

So as tough as that 3-4 day camp was for me, I thought about my sister who had it much harder. And I suppose the camp came to an end for me. I couldn’t get out soon enough.

Later that year, I went on an orienteering trip. We were supposed to run to 3 or 4 checkpoints, over a distance of around 10K. My legs gave out at the end, and I experienced such serious cramps for the first time: later on I was told that not only did I have to replenish myself with water, but also with salt. That was a good piece of knowledge to have.

There were other camps. There was a camp where we had to run all the way from the campfire of a sister school to East Coast Park, carrying 5 kg as well. We were dying as well. Just as well they let us off easy once we had gone to the beach. I remember running past the McDonald’s near the National stadium, thinking that it’s a nice place to hang out at night. I remember that I had just listened to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” for the first time a few weeks earlier, and I was playing it to myself as the sun rose (I have an inbuilt walkman).

I actually recall the scout camp at the end of that year the most vividly, but that was no longer an introduction to physical fatigue.

A large portion of what physical training was about was preparation for national service. So much than when national service was over, I was thinking, “well what was all that fuss about?”

In the build up to national service, the main thing was to concentrate on passing the fitness test, so that I would not have to go in 6 weeks early, and so that I would actually have a vacation in between my “A” levels and the national service. I don’t remember much, but the pull ups were a main thing. The other station was the sit and reach, and because I didn’t have the flexibility, I actually grew my fingernails by 1 cm to make the cut.

The details of my national service are remarkably hazy. I think, once I’m past the age of 25, I can no longer look back on any part of my life with reliable clarity. First was the punishing basic military training. It was not as punishing as what it was 10 years before I went in, but it’s nowhere as soft as it was 10 years after. It was a mid period of a gradual softening.

I will most probably remember the mental stress of adjusting to life with people from vastly different backgrounds from my own. But the physical bit was punishing too: getting up early in the morning, going to bed late at night. No napping. The weather was always hot. The physical training was always tough but what made it even tougher was that your muscles were all aching at the end of the day, and you would still have to strain them even further.

There were the big 3 things we had to complete in order to pass basic military training, over an above the military stuff: the rifle range, the physical training and the standard obstacle course. I had height, which was a great advantage for the standard obstacle course, but I don’t know why I was one of the fastest in my platoon, in spite of not being particularly strong or a particularly good runner. I suppose I was pretty handy with the monkey bars, or I knew how to pace myself, or I was just good at running with a standard battle order.

There was the 24 km route march. It wasn’t particularly tough, and very few people dropped out. I admired the Muslims who had to endure that through Ramadan, but as I was to find out later on, exerting yourself on an empty stomach isn’t particularly tough.

It’s true that I was physically exerted during my national service. But it was never like what it is during my first scout camp, where I was – let’s say – a virgin to physical punishment. It was just a load getting heavier and heavier, but it was not traumatic.

The 3-4 weeks I had with an air defence unit were even tougher. It was a totally crappy system which was completely user- unfriendly. Deploying it involved moving a lot of heavy equipment around within 10 minutes. We did the drill over and over again, and there was a lot of sadistic punishment. Mercifully a horrendous but not quite horrendous injury ended my stay over there.

There was not much else that was really significant about my military training. Those 3-4 weeks were the worst of the lot. There was still some training in the school of infantry specialists to come, which I didn’t really enjoy. Especially one night where we were supposed to dig a trench in the middle of the night. But by that time it was mainly mental fatigue, it was about getting thoroughly sick and tired of the military life.

I also ended up back in air defence. Since there was so much emphasis on arm power, we did pull ups every morning. My maximum was 14 pull ups. Then after I left the army it quickly declined to 6. And now I’m fighting to make it stay at 4, or else I don’t pass my physical tests.

When I finished the 2 years and 4 months, it felt funny. Ever since I entered the scouts, there was this subtext – get yourself fit, otherwise you will suffer in national service. Almost everything had been geared up towards being able to manage national service. But all those years of preparation only really matters during your first 3 months of national service. After that, your body adapts, and you will cope, no matter what. (And if you don’t cope, you just get a long term injury and subsequently get rewarded with clerk work.)

After that was college. One of the things I wish I found out early in my college life, and not only halfway through the 3rd year, was that you just had to exercise 2-3 times a week. Otherwise, depression takes hold of you and housework doesn’t get done and homework doesn’t get done.

During the 2nd year, though, I fell in love. There was this week, I just wanted to go running every day. I did push ups at night. Maybe I just got that taste of endorphins and I just wanted more more more. But it didn’t amount to a steady regime yet. This “thou shalt exercise once or twice a week” was a commandment that I have stuck to for the last 10 years, although during the last year, it has faltered more than a few times.

For 5 years, a group of people in my office got together for basketball games. They didn't always start off as basketball games, there was a lot of soccer in the beginning. One of the players was my sister's old friend JK, who turned up as Sniper's friend's wife. I didn't have strength, and I didn't have skill. I was a fringe player at the best. But I knew how to read a game, and all those last minute blocks and crucial interventions did have their impact on a game. I figured that it was the last time I would ever have the opportunity to play ball. Basketball eventually won out over football when the numbers of that gang dwindled to the point that there were only 6 of us left.

For some reason I never bothered to play ball when I was in secondary school - probably couldn't get past my awkwardness. But it was good that I had the opportunity. Although that didn't stop me from deciding one day I had enough of Sniper sniping at me. I left that gang for good. I don't know how long they carried on after that. I thought that Sniper was too fussy about who was in that gang, otherwise there were a lot of people who were willing to join that bunch.

3 of the people in that gang were the Real Madrid of 3 on 3 basketball. They won every title in the club for 3 years in a row.

2-3 years ago, I made a go for the half marathon. There were a few people in my office who had done the marathon. Some did it 20 years ago, some did it recently, some did it many times, some did it only once. I didn't think the marathon was for me, so I did the half marathon. Later on, after succeeding, I began to seriously think about the full marathon, especially on the urging of my jogging partner. I promised myself that I would do it once: no more and no less.

The fact is, you can carry on running for an indefinitely long time as long as you don't get injured. After 30 km, your body runs out of fuel, but if you know how to properly replenish yourself, and if you can condition your body properly, you can keep on going after that. And you can keep on training for as long as you can so long as you don't get injured.

But in both the year of my half marathon, and my full marathon, I did get injured. 4 weeks before the half marathon, I got a very deep gash in my knee. And I missed 2 weeks of training. I still managed to go all the way. For the full marathon, I found out, to my horror, that I got injured quite often if I were to run for more than 20 km. I switched away from the McRitchie gravel track to the pavement of the streets, and that helped.

Anyway I've blogged all about this before, shortly after I finished that marathon. I suppose this would be the greatest and the last big bout of physical activity in my life. In a way it was full circle: my legs gave way around the 27-28km mark, at Tanjong Rhu where more than 20 years earlier, I had done my first long distance event by cycling 8km on a little boy's bike.

I think, after that, my physical fitness would go downhill. I think it already started going downhill while I was training for the marathon. I noticed that it was more tiring keeping late nights. There was a spring in my step that I ran the half marathon with, that was no longer there by the time I progressed to my full marathon.

I think back on talking to an old colleague of mine. He told me that he played a lot of football in his youth. I couldn't picture it. I suppose I have to always remind myself: all these physical feats you did as a young man will one day disappear.