January 2008

A New Widget Builder That’s Easy To Use.

The widget below was created in record quick time. It allows you to check out the ten latest headlines from 3 of the news aggregators for Singapore – Tomorrow.sg, Singapore Daily and Ping.sg.


Created using SproutBuilder which has been reviewed by ReadWriteWeb and Techcrunch.

For all its ease of use though, it cannot compensate for a poor sense of design.

Tangled Web We Weave

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MRT Pub Crawl 2008

A friend shared on Facebook about this event which is pretty interesting.  Note, you would have to log into Facebook to get the event page.

A description of the event:

Well…it’s very simple! We just wear a really loud bright colored t-shirt and board on the MRT (Singapore train service)! Starting off at Boonlay station, we stop and get off at every MRT station to buy cheap drinks. Be it a pub, coffeeshop, supermarket, or even a 7-11, we grab whatever we can and down as many drinks as possible. Why pay for expensive drinks at clubs when we can get them at cost price outside? The last stop will be at city hall in which we’ll go to a club of choice. Having built up a party momentum, we’ll party the night off with a blast! Its something like a drinking marathon + a tour around Singapore + pre party drinking + Valentine’s day celebration all combined into one!

The event reminds me of events that have been organized by lori kufner and kevin bracken of Newmindspace in Toronto and New York.

What does Newmindspace do?

Newmindspace is interactive public art, creative cultural interventions and urban bliss dissemination based in New York and Toronto.

One of our goals at Newmindspace is to make these unique happenings in public space become a significant part of popular culture, partially replacing passive, non-social, branded consumption experiences like watching television.

Newmindspace is committed to reclaiming public space, inventing new ways of having fun, and creating community.

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Barack Obama’s Head Speech Writer Is Only 26 Years Old

New York Times has article on Barack Obama’s 26 year old head speech writer.

I like how he got noticed for the job:

Mr. Obama was rehearsing his 2004 convention speech backstage, when Mr. Favreau, then a member of John Kerry’s staff, interrupted him: the senator needed to rewrite a line from his speech to avoid an overlap.

“He kind of looked at me, kind of confused — like, ‘Who is this kid?’ ” Mr. Favreau recalled.

The article also describes an incident which show Barack Obama’s humor:

When Mr. Obama’s White Sox swept Mr. Favreau’s beloved Red Sox three games to none in their American League 2005 division series, the senator walked over to his speechwriter’s desk with a little broom and started sweeping it off.

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Slotting Blog Posts Into Categories

I’m beginning to see the beauty of tagging as I find it harder to organize the blog posts into categories with any consistency.

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How To Find Love

Valentine’s day is less than a month away and some singles might be anticipating the loneliness and ‘loserness’ that society pressures us to feel. So how do you find love?

New York Times has an article about match making agencies using algorithms to help decide the best partners.

People aren’t so good at picking their own mates online.

“They think they know what they want,” Dr. Finkel said. “But meeting somebody who possesses the characteristics they claim are so important is much less inspiring than they would have predicted.”

The new matchmakers may or may not have the right formula. But their computers at least know better than to give you what you want.

Which reminds of a quote by Oscar Wilde.

When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.

Maybe my Indian colleagues are onto something with their arranged marriages.

Anyway, if you insist on looking for love, check out this site – Hitchoo.

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Why You Cannot Hang A Lego Person

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from: Truck Bearing Kibble

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Office Life Can Kill You If Not Drain Your Soul

Saw the video below. Funny yet sad.

The video above reminded me of this movie which is coming up soon – He Was A Quiet Man:

Movies
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Whispering from the Cubicle

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Why You Should Not Smoke When You Play The Nintendo DS

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Gaming
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Going To Start Twittering After M1 Customer Service Came Through For Me

I just managed to get TwitterBerry working on my BlackBerry.  It seems that I needed M1 to push Service Books to me so that the external applications I installed onto the BlackBerry would start working.  I’ve been trying to get the external applications to work for some time to no avail.  Today, I decided to call M1 customer service for the second time to check for me and the lady who was helping me realized what was wrong and pushed the needed Service Books.

Here is the thing.  It was my second time calling.  The first time was a few months ago and I got this guy who was supposed to help me but all he did was insist that things should be working.  I told him my problem.  I think I even asked about Service Books.  He said something along these lines, ‘Should work what, I mean, I tried before and it works, so it should work on your BlackBerry.  You just try k, should work.’  Thanks a lot Sherlock.

I feel the collective pride of all mandom talking a hit here.  I mean, a lady provided better technical support than a guy.  I know it’s a sexist thing to say, but if there was one thing, just one thing left in this world where a guy could be better at something, I had hope it would be knowing more about tech stuff.

Sigh.  Now even that has been taken away from us.

What is there left for us to cling on to for some flimsy vestige of superiority?

Anyway, now that I have TwitterBerry, I’m going to start twittering more especially when I’m commuting.  Got to make sure the unlimited data plan does not go to waste.  Hopefully, there will be tweets by twistedian worth reading.

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Is There A God?

Is there a God and if there is, what sort of person is he (or she)? Non-fiction writers have written countless stories to reflect and comment on such questions.

Even popular or escape fiction may have a thematic basis; it may make a comment about some aspect of the human condition. Although escapist literature (like the following science fiction story) is written primarily for entertainment, it can also broaden our own awareness of ourselves and our lives. The best stories achieve a balance between enlightenment and entertainment, skillfully blending the theme and the elements.

Here are three such short stories:

The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke.

Answer” by Fredric Brown.

The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov

I find it funny how at the end of the day, it seems we end up ‘creating’ God. With religion, we ‘create’ a god to explain the universe – its nature, its existence, its happenings and its patterns. Science is used as a tool to refute the existence and need of a god. Then in these short stories, science is used to create a god.

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Musing about Life

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Memento Mori: Remember That You Are Mortal

I played this game and nearly cried.  As kottke advised, play it first then read the creator’s statement.

via: www.kottke.org

My thoughts (please read it only after playing the game): Continue Reading »

Gaming
Musing about Life

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The Long Tail

I first encountered the concept of ‘The Long Tail’ in a Wired article by Chris Anderson, the author of the book ‘The Long Tail’. I finally managed to finish the book which expands on what was covered in the essay. Some quick notes:

Long Tail Economics is possible because of:

1. The democratization of production – more tools available at a cost where more people can create.

2. The democratization of distribution – more channels available to people to showcase and sell their products, services and content.

3. The availability and improvement of filters which connect supply and demand.

To be a Long Tail aggregator:

1. More inventory way in … or way out.

2. Let customers do the work.

3. One distribution method doesn’t fit all.

4. One product doesn’t fit all.

5. One price doesn’t fit all.

6. Share information.

7. Think “and” not “or”.

8. Trust the market to do your job – don’t predict, measure and respond.

9. Understand the power of free.

Tangled Web We Weave

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Losing Friends That Are Important

I stumbled onto this post which was just beautiful. After reading it, I couldn’t help but think about my own childhood and teenage-hood and the friends which were part of those periods of my life. I’ve long lost contact with my childhood friends – those rascals-in-crime who I played ‘Crocodile’ with on the table-tennis table, catching at the playground, ‘Pepsi Cola 123′ at the lift landing, ‘Hantam-Bola’ at the void deck, ‘Police-and-thief’ using the whole HDB as the area, sliding down the hill in our estate with cardboard boxes and the female neighbors who convinced us guys to destroy our groins by playing ‘Zero-Point’.

I’ll especially never forget the friends who got caught together with me playing soccer at the void deck just before the PSLE and got caned together with me by the Principle.

Good times.

We never did manage to really keep in touch after my family moved when I entered Secondary School. Most of us didn’t have our own phones in the room and it wasn’t part of our culture to call and talk with each other. Actually, it never occurred to me until I was in upper secondary school that the phone could be used by people other than the parents. We were the sort of friends who went to school together, played soccer and ‘One-Leg’ together during recess and hung out a bit after school. Our gathering point was the playgrounds scattered across the estate.

Although we lived close together, it was never in our habit to regularly visit each other’s homes (hmmm, though I did visit some of them out of the blue). Our parents talked whenever they met at the playground or in the market, but I don’t remember my parents ever inviting any of my friends’ parents over. The only people who did ever come to our house were family, my parents’ friends or the neighbors on our floor and one floor down.

When I moved away, keeping in touch was over. We only managed to meet when we went back to the primary school for Teacher’s day. I can remember only one other time we met and that was before O-Levels.  I envy the kids now – they have handphones, icq, email, msn and so many other ways to keep in touch. We had none of those things then and being in a different part of Singapore as opposed to the same estate didn’t help matters.

I could of course have arranged to go out with them. But at that time, it never occurred to me that I could do that. Going out after school was never part of my life. Not that I never hung out with my secondary school friends. We did, but only at places near school and they were rarely arranged before hand. It was mostly a matter of school is over, there is some free time, shall we go bowl or watch a movie and rarely in Orchard. In fact, I can’t even remember going to Orchard to ‘hang out’ on a school day during my secondary school days except once in Sec three – it was my first date.

I only learned the concept of ‘hanging out’ in town when I hit JC. I mean, I only learned there were groups of people called ‘Far East Kids’ and ‘Centerpoint Kids’ after Cineleisure became the new IT place.

When I read the post, I started trying to find reasons why I lost most of my friends from those periods of my life which were really the best ones until about two years ago. There is probably a myriad of factors which all contributed to the lost.

But then I reminded myself not to dwell on what’s lost but what I have – my best friend. The funny thing is we never really talked to each other during the first year of upper secondary school. We were in the same class so we must have interacted but he was a real ninja until I got to know him as a friend rather then just a classmate.

He would come to class just before the bell rings, put his bag, go for assembly, attend lessons, go off for ECA once the bell rings. That’s it. Ninja.

I still remember the point when we became friends. It was after a bunch of speeches made by prefect wannabees when we were exiting the hall.

He turned to me and asked, ‘Who’s Wisely?’

A man with a cold sense of humor. A man after my own heart.

Like what marta wrote in her post, that was the moment that sticks. And life then was indeed simpler. We would spend time waiting for teachers to come into class discussing about everything. My friend was such an optimist that he was a perfect foil to my cynicism about the world.

And through everything that has happened in our lives, he has always been my lighthouse – the constant that always warns, guides and encourages.

Musing about Life

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Pagan Origins of Christianity

I came across material similar to those found on this site explaining the possible pagan origins of Christianity when I was in NS.  Let’s just say that my conversation with my then cell group leader was one mother-long conversation.

POCM answers these questions by looking at what ancient people wrote about ancient religion. What the ancient evidence will show you is that ancient western culture had conventional ideas about Gods and their powers and place in the universe. Christianity adopted those ideas.

Ancient Pagans believed in various levels of divinity, with miraculous powers, coming down and going up to its home in the sky. Divine beings cared about people, listened to and answered their prayers. Gave them the power to prophesy. Even gave them a better deal in the eternal life that comes after death.

Christianity is a product of it’s time and place. Christianity is an ancient Pagan religion.

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Is National Service Really Something That Puts Us Behind Foreign Talents?

Update (26/1): After some people shared in the comments about their experiences, I realized I sound so much like my father in this post. To him, an obstacle was never as important as our attitude towards the obstacle. In the post below, I approached the topic of National Service from that POV – that NS will always be needed, and if it’s going to be there, then it will be our attitude and how we deal with National Service ourselves that determine our success and minimizes its impact. To me, our destiny is in our own hands, and only our attitude affects how well we compete with the foreign talents. I still maintain that is the case. But based on the experiences shared, I have come to appreciate even more how NS handicaps us to compete, even with the right attitude. We really do need a way to ensure that the men who serve do not put a pause on their lives as the rest of the world zooms by. We may have the will to run harder and faster to catch up with the foreign talents and rest of the world, but sometimes it may be a bridge too far.

Thanks to dermapthera and signaller_private for sharing. 

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I wrote most of this during my reservist which was about a month ago. I have added some stuff which are in bold:

I am reminded that while we may not enjoy doing national service and would prefer to be spending our time elsewhere, not everyone who dislikes National Service and reservist does it based on the argument that NS disadvantages us against foreigners.

We view it as both an irritant that eats our personal time as well as a duty. Our feelings about it are mixed. But what I do see is people doing what they must and doing it with a kind of resolve that can only be described as professionalism.

It is arguable if the blogosphere generally makes National Service a scapegoat for problems pertaining to foreigners in Singapore when discussing competitiveness, privileges of citizenship and fairness but personally I think the blogosphere tends to have that slant.

The question then is should the general public be made aware of such arguments. Sometimes people need to be made aware of issues they should be unhappy about and the reasons why. Sometimes though, people can be made to be unhappy about issues based on flawed reasons when there is no cause to be so.

The arguments I have seen against NS on the blogosphere seems to fall dangerously into the kind that would politicize what is a personal issue about the duty imposed on us as citizens to one that fuels nationalistic, racial and protectionistic sentiments.

I am not saying we should stop discussing the need, implementation and impact of National Service. What I am saying is National Service might not be as important to the discussion about foreigners taking out jobs as some of us might think.

While National Service might cause us to enter university at a later age, what happens during university is more a result of what we do in university than what preceded before it. It was what we did or did not do during that time that determined our grades and affected how we measured up to foreigners in the local universities and hence later in the job market.

Of course, some have pointed out that companies discriminate against Singaporean males while hiring because of reservist but that discrimination needs to be understood as the impact of National Service in influencing the market and not the result of time spent in National Service.

One of the questions then is how do we do National Service and use that two years to increase our value to the labour market. Are we working harder to maximize whatever other time we have before and after National Service to increase our own value. Yes, National Service has a cost. And it is a high one. Forgetting the argument if it is a necessary one for the moment, what are we doing to ensure we can pay it? Sure, we can wait for the government to give a handout (which they are in terms of taxes) but are we doing anything on our own to take charge of our own destiny?

I think people might actually waste more time doing leisurely activities like playing DOTA, clubbing, watching TV … Is leisure time a right for all of us? Sure, I think the option to have leisure time is a right. But we make the choices. If time is so precious based on the arguments that National Service waste our time, are those who make it being judicious with their time outside of it?

There is the argument made that the two years spent dulls the brain and breaks the education flow. I agree there might be some merit in this argument. But here is the thing – when I was waiting for my ORD so that I could go and study, I was like a boxer jumping about enthusiastically at the corner waiting for the bell to ring. However, once the bell was rung, and the fight I had impatiently been waiting for started, I realised I didn’t prepare myself for the fight.

Truthfully, the two years in National Service does have time in which we can prepare ourselves for the civilian life after ORD but how many of us have the wisdom not to squander it?

Musing about Life
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The Conceit Of Those Who Hate(or even merely Dislike) Minister Mentor And The PAP.

Via SingaporeDaily, I read a few posts about Minister Mentor. And I realize the conceit behind everyone who bashes Minister Mentor and the PAP – be it criticizing their policies or questioning their characters. I too have been guilty of that conceit.

Before I go further, let’s establish my position on a few things:

1. Has Singapore come a long way and accomplished many things since our independence?

Yes, it has.

2. Was there a good foundation to build upon when we became independent?

There arguably was a good foundation to build on.

3. Was it a tumultuous time for a young nation like Singapore with the conditions of the world and the region?

Yes, it was.

4. Was the survival much less the success of Singapore a given?

No, it wasn’t.

5. Were there different paths Singapore could have progressed down?

There probably was.

6. Did we take the best path?

None of us can ever tell for sure. Hindsight is 20/20 vision. If you can, please do not waste your talent and go be a fortune teller or win the lottery or something. Or if you’re really up to it, join the civil service, rise up in ranks and serve the nation.

7. Were Minister Mentor and the PAP responsible for choosing and shepherding us down a good path?

Yes, they have.

8. Now, is the future success of Singapore a given? When I talk about success, I’m not just talking about economic success but success that includes social, political, environmental issues.

No, it isn’t.

9. Does PAP and Minister Mentor have the monopoly on the solutions and ideas to steer Singapore in the best if not right direction?

Of course not.

10. Do they exhibit the tendency to think they know best?

Yes. But I think all leaders need to have some measure of stubborn confidence in their own abilities, ideas, thoughts and decisions.

Now, here is where I feel there is a certain sense of irony. While we criticize Minister Mentor and PAP for being elitist and arrogant and not listening to us, are we not being conceited with the assumption that our opinions have merit?

When we say that there is a better way to do something (even though we might not be clear how exactly) or that something is the wrong way to do something, isn’t that opinion based on some perspective of the world that we have.

Isn’t it conceit to think our perspective is more valid than that of Minister Mentor and the PAP?

And if we are so sure ours is the right one, then why don’t we do something about it. The common excuse is that the odds are stacked against us – that the government has done everything in its power to silence our voice and rendered us impotent.

But is that really the case?

And even if it is, were things that easy for the PAP and Minister Mentor when they argued for independence from the British? Was it that easy for them when we were thrown out of Malaysia?

How can our government ever take us seriously if all we do is talk about how things can be better and how hard it is to be better instead of being people of action?

And how can our government ever take us seriously if we do not know how to win by playing by the rules of the day?

We can choose two things – wait for the day the rules change so that we can get into the game. Or we can play by the current rules and slowly be the ones to push for the rules to change.

So back to my original point. We are all conceited to think that our perspective of the world is valid be it more valid, less valid or equally valid.

But what have we done in our own small little world (let’s start there before talking about the nation or the world) that makes it a little better to back up the opinion that we should be people worth listening to?

On Singapore

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Reality Mining + i.Jam Co-Spaces + Data To Help Overhaul Our Transport System

The i.Jam co-spaces event was yesterday. I only arrived in time to hear the pitches from startups looking for funding so I can’t comment on what was said about the co-spaces initiative. I’ll just used what was put on SgEntrepreneurs:

As technology advances towards digitization, we see an increasing coexistence of physical places with dynamic virtual environments. IDM’s new initiative centers on Co-Spaces, the nexus of the physical and virtual worlds, where physical spaces are virtually enhanced with information, and virtual spaces which allow users to process and manipulate real-time, real-world information.

After hearing the last pitch titled ‘Mobile World’, based on what I could understand from it, I was wondering why anyone would want to replicate the real world in the virtual with 3D-technology and allow it to be accessible via a mobile phone. The idea reminded me of the type of websites that were built when the Internet first hit mainstream – people were trying to present the world online the same way they see it in the physical. Take for example a website about books – the website would use an image of a bookshelf with images of books stacked on it. As we became more familiar with the Internet, we learned how to describe a set of books with just the images of their covers and their titles arranged in a list – we didn’t need to use the bookshelf metaphor.

Trying to build a virtual world that looks like the real world and map it directly to physical locations sounds a lot like what happened in the beginning with the World Wide Web. If you are already physically at a location, I’m sure there are other ways to map and visualize data tied to the location.

“And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”
“Have you used it much?” I enquired.
“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well”

The quote above is from the site REAL TIME ROME and sort of explains why I question the idea behind ‘Mobile World’. The project REAL TIME ROME used data from cellphones and other sources to understand the urban dynamics of Rome in real time. On a side note, I think it would be beneficial to Singapore if we embarked on a similar project before we start the overhaul of our transport system.

The project was done by MIT’s SENSEable City lab. Similar to the projects that SENSEable City lab is doing is this project MIT Media Lab did where cellphone usage provided data to understand the complex interactions between individuals in social networks. Technology Review has an interview with Alex (Sandy) Pentland about the project.

The scary thing is the models created with the data from the cellphones could understand the social networks better than the individuals in them because the data provided was raw unfiltered information while individuals provided information that were susceptible to distortions.

The above labs are involved in projects in the field of ‘reality mining’.

It’s about making the “dumb” information-technology infrastructure know something about your social life. All this sort-of Web 2.0 stuff is nice, but you have to type stuff in. Things are never up to date, and unless you consciously know about something, you can’t put it in. Reality mining is all about paying attention to patterns in life and using that information to help you do things like set privacy policies, share things with people, notify people when you’re near them, and just to help you live your life.

The company IMMI working in this field has developed technology that can help measure outdoor ad effectiveness without the consumer needing to ‘type stuff in’.

The field of reality mining is made possible by the availability of improved sensors to collect data, improved ability to track physical objects and ubiquitous connectivity to the Internet. The social and commercial implications based on our understanding of data derived from reality mining is enormous.

An example of the social implication from the above mentioned interview with Professor Pentland:

With reality mining, you can actually see social integration, as it happens or doesn’t happen. Once everyone can see it, then you can start to have transparent political discussions.

I think if any of our startups from Singapore would like to move into this space as part of the co-spaces initiative, there are 3 areas they could work on:

1. Improving tools and processes for the collection and aggregation for certain sets of real world data.

2. Improving the tools to understand and visualize the data.

And the last one, which is the one that I’m most concerned with since reading ’1984′, implementing a technological and regulatory framework where the collection, aggregation and use of such data respects an individual’s privacy (which of course is arguably a myth in our current society).

Link: Nicholas Carr’s post on ‘Reality Mining’. He does a much better job at explaining stuff.

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On Singapore
Tangled Web We Weave

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To Ping.sg Community – This Project Might Interest You.

The Civil Society Project is a research project that seeks to understand the culture of online communities.

Being a member of a community provides individuals with tremendous benefits: compelling social interactions, transmission of information and ideas, a sense of belonging, a genuine sense of purpose, and feelings of satisfaction by giving time and resources to a “cause” in which one has a personal belief.

via: O’REILLY rader

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Heath Ledger Is Dead

New York Times article on Heath Ledger’s death.  It’s going to be weird seeing him in the Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight‘ where he plays the joker.  New York Magazine were pretty much ready to declare him “the greatest-ever Batman movie villain“.  Another New York Times article on his death with this quote about having a child:

 “You’re forced into, kind of, respecting yourself more,” he said. “You learn more about yourself through your child, I guess. I think you also look at death differently. It’s like a Catch-22: I feel good about dying now because I feel like I’m alive in her, you know, but at the same hand, you don’t want to die because you want to be around for the rest of her life.”

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The Benefits Of Being A Voyeur On Facebook

One wonderful thing about being on Facebook is that you can see what your friends are up to. More specifically, you can see the groups they join and from there discover lots of cool things online. Today, I discovered the site Culturepush. From their about page:

Culturepush sniffs out cool stuff in art, culture and design in Singapore and gets the inside look at the talent behind the ideas. We write based on the loose standard of what we like and never print what we don’t.

This site exudes coudalesqueness. It is probably going to be one of my favorite sites. Ci’en and Michele have done a wonderful job curating and showcasing what Singapore can offer.

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Comiqs Is On Web Creme

Guy Kawasaki mentioned them on Twitter.  Now, Web Creme has showcased their siteComiqs is going places.

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Graffiti @ Tampines MRT

I had to stay back late today and as I was going home, I saw a crowd outside Tampines MRT. Being curious at what was going on, I decided to stop to take a look instead of rushing for the train. The crowd was appreciating the art of Jordan, an artist who uses spray paint to create beautiful sci-fi like space scenery.

He allowed me to take photos of his work.

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The last piece was done in less than 2 minutes.

This really talented guy will be outside Tampines MRT this thursday around 6pm so if you’re around the area, do go down and check out his work.

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Cellphone Novels Versus Andrew Keen

Andrew Keen who is the author of ‘the cult of the amateur‘ will probably throw a fit after reading this New York Times article on cellphone novels in Japan.  Best quote by a popular cellphone novelist on her generation:

They don’t read works by professional writers because their sentences are too difficult to understand, their expressions are intentionally wordy, and the stories are not familiar to them…

Tried looking for some English cellphone novels but to no avail.  Instead I found this article at USA Today about a novel where the entire story is told in the format of mobile phone text messages.  Same difference?  Cellphone novels as a genre is presumably influenced by the tool (i.e. mobile phone) that is used to produce the stories.  The Finnish novel mentioned in the USA Today’s article is constrained by the use of a format of communication that is increasingly becoming commonplace to individuals living in developed and developing nations.   One is influenced by the tool.  One uses the output of the tool.

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How A*STAR’s Search Engine Is The Same As Google

There is already one similarity between the search engine which will win A*STAR’s competition to find a next-generation multimedia search engine. Their first funding will be of the same amount – USD$100,000.

From Google’s corporate information page:

Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, was used to taking the long view. One look at their demo and he knew Google had potential – a lot of potential. But though his interest had been piqued, he was pressed for time. As Sergey tells it, “We met him very early one morning on the porch of a Stanford faculty member’s home in Palo Alto. We gave him a quick demo. He had to run off somewhere, so he said, ‘Instead of us discussing all the details, why don’t I just write you a check?’ It was made out to Google Inc. and was for $100,000.”

I think this is where the similarities end.

I’m a strong believer that the nature of the beginning of any endeavor will have a strong influence on, if not determine, the outcome of that endeavor.

While Gandhi was probably not referring to the endeavors of science or business when he made this quote, I find it apt with regards to what A*STAR is trying to do. Gandhi’s quote:

The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.

I believe that starting a business and developing a technology are two different things and their beginnings thus should not be the same and their paths should not be combined as one.

When starting a business, there are some things you should or rather could do.  You identify a market.  You understand the current market and its limitations.  You spot a potential gap between demand and the supply to meet the demand.  You plan on how to fill the gap.  You start a business to address the gap.

This approach is an objective-oriented approach to starting a business – you decide on where you want to be and then work backwards planning on how to get there.

Reading A*STAR’s press release on the competition, this is what I understand.  The current search engines have limited capabilities in searching multimedia material online.  They rely on metadata associated with video and audio to provide relevant search results.  So, there is additional work that needs to be done in the supplying of metadata.  There is potential for disruption in this area of search if there is a search engine that can understand the multimedia material themselves.  This competition is to spur the development of such technology.

As usual, this is the objective-oriented approach that Singapore is famous for.

Then, there is the Google way.  Reading about their history on Wikipedia, we learn that Google began as a research project to explore the World Wide Web and understand its link structure as a huge graph.  Google didn’t begin as a company to create disruptive technology.  It started as a company to understand something already in existence.  From that research to understand came the theories which led to the disruptive technology in search that made Google the business it is.

I won’t be presumptuous to suggest that there is only one way that disruptive technology can come about.  What I would like to question is the effectiveness of making finding disruptive technology an objective.

Like someone once said, there is no happiness in forcing something to happen.

Two things before I go.  There is already a company that is involved in video search and making waves with their technology.  It is Blinkx and this is the New York Times coverage of that company.

The last thing is to highlight another disruptive technology called ‘tagging’ which basically changed the way we looked at how information can be organized online.   Technology Review (published by MIT) has an article on how Joshua Schachter founded del.icio.us – by starting with writing an application just to help himself manage his own bookmarked links.

I’ve also been thinking about how we as Singaporeans react to the news generated by our organizations such as A*STAR.  It is one thing to go ‘WTF were they thinking’ and laugh at them and then stop.  It’s another thing to go on and try to understand how things could be different and hopefully better.  And then it’s another thing to actually make it better.

On Singapore
Tangled Web We Weave

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Disconnected Over The Phone

My work requires me to talk to many people from different countries over the phone.  Some of them are users who need support and it can be extremely frustrating at times to communicate with these individuals because it is really tough to guide them if you cannot see what they are doing.  Yet I’m lucky – I don’t think my life is as bad as this guy who wrote a blog called ‘Call Center Purgatory‘.

Then there are those who are virtual teammates, people scattered across the Asia Pacific region, working together to get the job done.  The difficulty in communication with these individuals is that English is not their first language.  Actually, come to think of it, the problem isn’t that they aren’t good in English, the issue is the accent when they speak.  I’m sure my Singaporean accent with the sprinkling of Singlish can’t be much of a joy for them either.

There was one night when I had to stay back in the office till about 2am to get some issues resolved over at Korea.  There was this Korean lady who had just returned from her maternity leave working together with me to fix the stuff.  Because I can’t speak Korean, we had to communicate in English which was much easier on me than it was on her.  She wasn’t well that day and her cough was really bad (either that or she was hinting to our bosses that it was time to go home).  I could hear it over the phone but I couldn’t do anything about it.  There was a certain sense of helplessness that a colleague, albeit one that I haven’t met in person, was suffering.  I have stayed back to finish work when I was sick and I know that the feeling isn’t too awesome.

Anyway, that night a bunch of us was on a conference call so she had some of her Korean counterparts on the line too.  When she talked to them in Korean, even with the cough, you could sense the joy in her voice – it brought a smile to my face.  The minute she felt free to speak in her native tongue, there was no trace of stress or frustration in her voice.

Outsourcing of business operations isn’t anything new but it is something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit ever since I started working.  One of the things I wonder is that has anyone ever considered the effect of communicating with overseas colleagues on stress levels.  While costs for a company might have gone down because of outsourcing, has there been any consideration for the costs on individuals to work in such globally connected environments.  Some reading on my part is in order to understand this.

One of the other things I’ve been wondering about is the forming of emotional connections with these individuals you do not see.  I haven’t met this Korean lady but I have already started wondering how her kid is doing and whether she had enough rest before returning to work.  But such a connection is an illusion (not least because I think she isn’t a least bit concerned about my health) and I wonder how people cope with these sort of disconnected connectedness.  Actually, is it even something that needs to be coped with?

I wonder what sort of connections will be made between individuals if outsourcing of consumer services  takes off.

Whispering from the Cubicle

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