March 2008

The Greatest Fear

Sister shared about this song “Cats In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head and said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

Musing about Life

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Are Singaporeans Really Paying For Foreign Scholars In Singapore

I was having lunch with a friend today when the topic of foreign students in Singapore came up. I have the privilege of working with some of the chaps which have riled certain segments of the population. One of the complains Singaporeans have against such students is that a significant number of them are here on scholarship where their fees are fully paid for by the government of Singapore without a bond. The disgruntled feel that the government should be spending that amount of money on Singaporean students instead.

Two of the reasons for the negative sentiments about this form of government expenditure that I can think of are:

1. The Singaporean government should take care of Singaporeans first.
2. The money that the Singaporean government spends have come from Singaporeans.

For reason one, I have always believed that by getting more foreigners into Singapore, the government is increasing both the labour and talent pool, which will lead to more (and better) companies being setup in Singapore which lead to more (and better paying) jobs for Singaporeans. The argument for how foreign students will eventually help the Singapore government take care of Singaporeans first is more nuanced than what I have written above. This post isn’t about reason one, so I’ll leave it for now.

It is reason two that this post has been written.

One of the arguments I have heard about why the Singaporean government should not spend on foreign students is that the money belongs to Singaporeans. Why does the money that the Singaporean government use for the students belong to Singaporeans? Is it because we pay income tax? However there are other forms of taxation. Two of them is GST and corporate tax.

The students that eventually work in Singapore will be paying GST every time they consume a product or service in Singapore. The companies they work for will pay corporate tax. If these students help increase the amount of GST and corporate tax in Singapore by an amount greater than their school fees and other expenses spent on them, can it be said that the investment on them was worth it?

More importantly, won’t the students eventually pay for their own education?

On Singapore

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An Idea And Non-Idea For The Youth Olympic Games

First, the non-idea. Let’s not build the whole infrastructure from scratch just to implement whatever ideas we do have for taking the Youth Olympic Games online.

Example of an Idea: Hey, you know what, let’s allow people to share their homemade videos of the YOG.

Example of what we should not do: Build our own backend to store the videos.

Example of what we could do: Host the videos on YouTube. Create a website that allows people to upload their videos of the YOG. Use the new YouTube API to save the videos on YouTube servers. The YOG website just aggregates videos stored on YouTube.

Why: Save Money. Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants. Don’t Do Something From Scratch Just For The Sake Of Doing It.

Now, for my idea.

We setup Flickr-booths around the island with iconic buildings and scenery as the background. People take photos at the booths and the pictures are instantly uploaded to Flickr tagged appropriately. A YOG site aggregates these photos.

How to do this. Simple actually. Get Apple to sponsor tons of their iMacs. Protect their computers with a telephonebooth-like shelter. Use their PhotoBooth software as well as plugins like FlickrBooth to take the photos and immediately upload it to Flickr.

Do a similar thing for videos. Again, get Apple to sponsor tons of iMacs and put them at spots around the sportsmen/sportswomen village. Use the iSight camera to create videos which are immediately uploaded to YouTube. I’m sure a simple plugin can be written for this if it has not already been done so. A YOG site aggregates these videos.

Let’s look at the cost here. Hmmm… There are the computers and the booths and the website to aggregate links to the videos and photos. I think cost of computers and booths can be covered by sponsorship and official partners.

Last part of the idea which might be the one with significant costs – all participants of the YOG are issued some EZLink-like card which contains all the important details about them. When they take a photo or make a video, they tap the card against some device attached to the computer which then appends all these details as tags for the video or photo. Even better, use RFID so no tapping is needed.

The metadata is needed so that the YOG website can better aggregate the videos and photos.

This is my idea. What do you guys think about it?

ideas
On Singapore
Tangled Web We Weave

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4 Things About The Co-Spaces Event

1. There really isn’t a need to twist and mangle words and phrases to use the word ‘co-spaces’ or some variation of it to make it seem like your company or product or service is relevant to the vision of Michael Yap and MDA. ‘Co-Spaces’ is about an idea – not word play.

2. This is SingHealth’s vision statement:

To be a renowned organisation at the leading edge of Medicine, providing quality healthcare to meet our nation’s aspirations.

Notice there is no mention about affordable prices. The speaker was smug. Maybe because he realize he can offer health-care and the most of us can’t.

To be fair, a sub-point under the ‘Mission’ header talks about cost-effective healthcare although cost-effective is different from affordable.

3. There seems to be a lot (too much?) focus on representing the physical (is it really real?) world 3 dimensionally online. Is that the only or best way to represent the physical world online? I think there are many ways to visualize data and 3d is only one of them.

I understand why it may seem attractive to represent the world 3 dimensionally online but with software like Microsoft’s Photosynth, I wonder if such efforts will eventually be a waste of time, money and resources.

However, it does seem from research done that avatars do affect how online interaction occurs so maybe trying to work on 3d representations of the world might have its uses although none of it was mentioned beyond the ‘hey-look-its-the-same-as-the-real-world-and-have-i-said-it’s-interactive’ fawnings. Read more about such research over at The Daedalus Project.

Most of the presentations from companies didn’t seem to touch on one of the core ideas (at least as I understand it) about Co-Spaces. No mention of how to pull data in from the physical world and represent it in a way that helps us aggregate, interpret, analyze and contextualize data with online tools. Little mention of how we can pull data from the virtual and make it accessible in the physical world.

I’m trying to leave room that there might have been more companies or demand drivers that talked about the two ideas mentioned above because I could have missed something but I can’t seem to recall any speaker actually saying anything relevant to those two ideas besides the one from DSTA.

4. I’m not sure if I’m getting what the speaker said correctly but here goes.

DSTA’s speaker talked about soldiers on the ground feeding back data to some commander which will aid the commander making decisions that can be relayed back to the users. Yup. I think that works – leave an officer in a comfortable room AWAY from the battlefield and I’m pretty sure he will make the right tactical decisions when his own life isn’t on the line.

The speaker also talked about how the soldier can be outfitted with devices that relay information about the environment and other data. Yup. Carrying more weight and devices will definitely help the soldier’s mobility and on-the-ground situational awareness.

Actually, I’m not sure if he is talking about all these ideas to be used in an actual war or just for training and evaluation purposes.

I think if it is for a war, it will be a big mistake. Imagine if our enemy gains access to the data being relayed back. Now, they know everything about us and we know nothing about them. Good Game guys. We’ll all be so screwed, and not in a good way.

Now, some people will say we will prevent that data compromise from happening. Yup. The same way we will prevent detainees from escaping. Not pointing fingers. I’m just saying.

Side note: You know what we really need for National Service. Every NS man to be stabbed or shot once in a non-critical area which will not lead to permanent physical damage. It is a bit extreme, but I guarantee none of us will ever forget the 3 second rule if we go through that experience nor will we NOT take our unarmed combat seriously.

The thing is, technology could help make us a better army only if the training stops being pussified. You are already taking 2 years of my life, might as well make it worth it.

On Singapore
Tangled Web We Weave

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Singapore Twitterers – Let’s Fight In Color Wars 2008 – PIA CHUI!!!

Learned about the Great Internet Color Wars of 2008 from Jane McGonigal.

When the dust settles and the historians spin their tales, which team will emerge victorious to gather the spoils of the war. Will posterity vindicate the winners? Will time be kind to the losers? What tales of valor will be told to later generations? What whisperings of deceit and cunning will spread across the land?

Who knows…

[Image unavailable]

All Singaporean Twitterers, this is an open mobilization exercise. Follow the littleRedteam over at Twitter. Stand up and give the best you can!

Hoot!

Anyway, I really like this idea. Reminds me of those time at sports meets and inter-house games where people just start going – “Buckley bomb, Buckley bomb, Buckley bomb to Bayley bomb!”

Good times.

On Singapore
Tangled Web We Weave

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The Way To A Computer Engineer’s Time And Brainpower Is The Stomach

Google’s first chef shares about his contribution to Google’s success.

my job was to create this ambience, to build this captivated audience where people wanted to come in super-early and stay super-late.

Links Watch
Whispering from the Cubicle

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How To Write Better Software

Reg Braithwaite asks the question whether software could be a list of business mistakes?

The problem is realizing that if the software to automate a business process is complicated and contradictory and hard to use, then the real cause is a business process that is complicated and contradictory and probably not serving the company well.

Links Watch
Tangled Web We Weave

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We Are Not Friends

We aren’t friends but each other’s emergency hotline.

Ignore This

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A Post About Double Standards

David Weinberger writes a post defending the ‘double standards’ displayed by those who have been won over by Senator Barack Obama’s speech ‘A More Perfect Union‘.

The notion of a double standard assumes, in an odd way, a single standard. The criticism only makes sense within contexts uniform enough that our moral judgments should be the same.

Links Watch

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Having Breakfast With My Father (part 1)

About three weeks ago, I started work at a new company. Every morning, I would have breakfast with my father before going to work.

One of the images etched in my memory that I associate with a young couple in love who have just started their marriage and family life together is that of my mom and dad kissing at the door of my HDB flat before my dad leaves the home to fight the battles at work to provide for the family.

Screenshot From The Movie 300 - Come back with your shield or on it

Somehow, watching the scene in the movie 300 where Queen Gorgo tells Gerald Butler’s King Leonidas to ‘Come back with your shield or on it’ before he heads off to fight the Persians invoked that memory of my mom and dad at the door.

Each morning, when I am having breakfast, I will see young couples having breakfast together before heading to their respective offices. In the mundane activity of two people having a meal, I find something terribly romantic.

I am attracted to the image of two people working in harmony, like two dancers who have perfected their routine, to find seats and purchase their food; as they sit across each other nourishing their body, the space between their gazes filled with unspoken support and encouragement for what lies ahead; the joining of hands as they leave the table to work separately in their own jobs yet together towards a shared future filled with their hopes and dreams and the final, hesitant, almost regretful, unbonding of their fingers as they part at the junction.

In those moments when I look up from my cup of coffee and see such couples, my heart longs for the chance to create such memories of a young couple who have just started their marriage and family life together working towards a shared destiny.

Musing about Life

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Why Women Should Just Accept That Nice Guy Who Has Been Chasing Them…

Interesting article by Lori Gottlieb arguing the case for settling for Mr Good Enough. The interview with her is also filled with perspectives that I can relate to.

I think the trajectory of my romantic life took on a similar path – desire to find the one to accepting that there isn’t always THE ONE and realizing that the best one is different from the right one if she even exists.

An interesting discussion I had with my former boss at the Indian company concerned arranged marriages. He defended it saying that the notion of marrying for love was all nice and good but that it didn’t ensure a marriage would work or last. Of course, arranged marriages don’t necessarily guarantee a successful marriage but he argued that people entering an arranged marriage might have an advantage in finding long term happiness because they do it with a different mindset. I’m quoting Lori Gottlieb who touches on this issue:

I think the people who go in with these very high expectations about what kind of fulfillment they’re going to get from the marriage and the partner are kind of set up for disappointment.

They have vivid memories of a shared romantic history, and when that wanes or even disappears, there’s a certain amount of sadness or grief that can morph into outright resentment as the years go on. Because the we is redefined so drastically from the we they were before marriage and kids and mortgages and all that emotional water under the bridge.

Well, they don’t go into marriage with those grand romantic illusions. They go into it, I think, with much more realistic expectations. The starting point is “OK, this is your teammate or your partner. Go work out your differences,” as opposed to “This is the person who’s going to fulfill you on all of these very profound levels.”

I do not support arranged marriages – I feel people have a right to choose how they want to live their lives. The key thing to note is about entering a marriage, or for that matter any relationship, with realistic, albeit what might seem lower, expectations.

Passion does not always lead to happiness or fulfillment.

Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.

I guess, the question is then what one considers important? A passionate romantic relationship or a stable happy relationship. Both types of relationships aren’t mutually exclusive and blessed is the person who finds a relationship that is high on both counts. Every relationship probably has both elements in varying degrees, so back to the question, which one would you like to have more of?

My sentiments exactly:

What I long for in a marriage is that sense of having a partner in crime

Best description for our search for love:

It’s like musical chairs—when do you take a seat, any seat, just so you’re not left standing alone?

A classic Catch-22:

“If I’d settled at 39,” she said, “I always would have had the fantasy that something better exists out there. Now I know better. Either way, I was screwed.”

Even if you find THE ONE, if that person is so awesome, what makes you think that you are good enough for that person to desire you or accept you? The conceit we have is that we feel we deserve better.

Are you willing to risk what you have in order to hold out for what either may not exist or, equally important, may not be attainable to you, even if it did exist? It’s nice to have high ideals, but the reality is, you may not be attractive to what you consider the best.

A while back, during Chinese New Year, I had an interesting discussion with a friend about finding THE ONE. My friend argued that God wouldn’t have setup a system where there was one perfect partner for each of us because such a system couldn’t possible end up in a state of equilibrium where everyone had the ideal partner because all it took was one person to make the wrong choice and there will be a cascade leading to everyone being attached to the wrong guy or girl.

Musing about Life

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Why Online Piracy Of Books Is A Good Thing

Arthur C. Clarke has passed away.

While searching online for short stories by him, I stumbled across the Baen Free Library.

The introduction to the library contains insightful thoughts on the state of online piracy of books and why authors shouldn’t worry about it. While the introduction was written in the context of books, I think it is still relevant for other types of content that have been digitized. I’m surprised that this was written in 2000 and how after 8 years, the worry still exists and the embracing of free online is only beginning.

I have reproduced the introduction below.

Baen Books is now making available — for free — a number of its titles in electronic format. We’re calling it the Baen Free Library. Anyone who wishes can read these titles online — no conditions, no strings attached. (Later we may ask for an extremely simple, name & email only, registration. ) Or, if you prefer, you can download the books in one of several formats. Again, with no conditions or strings attached. (URLs to sites which offer the readers for these format are also listed. )

Why are we doing this? Well, for two reasons.

The first is what you might call a “matter of principle.” This all started as a byproduct of an online “virtual brawl” I got into with a number of people, some of them professional SF authors, over the issue of online piracy of copyrighted works and what to do about it.

There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences!

Alles in ordnung!

I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:

1. Online piracy — while it is definitely illegal and immoral — is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We’re talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.

2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market — especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people — is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The “regulation-enforcement-more regulation” strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.

In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors — how about you, Eric? — were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.

The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a “loss leader” for Baen’s for-pay experiment “Webscriptions” for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it’s become Baen’s most popular backlist title in paper!

And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.

Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode and checking out Mother of Demons, they either had or intended to buy the book. In one or two cases, this was a “gesture of solidarity. “But in most instances, it was because people preferred to read something they liked in a print version and weren’t worried about the small cost — once they saw, through sampling it online, that it was a novel they enjoyed. (Mother of Demons is a $5.99 paperback, available in most bookstores. Yes, that a plug. )

Then, after thinking the whole issue through a bit more, I realized that by posting Mother of Demons I was just making a gesture. Gestures are fine, but policies are better.

So, the next day, I discussed the matter with Jim again and it turned out he felt exactly the same way. So I proposed turning the Mother of Demons tour-de-force into an ongoing project. Immediately, David Drake was brought into the discussion and the three of us refined the idea and modified it here and there. And then Dave Weber heard about it, and Dave Freer, and. . . voila.

The Baen Free Library was born.

This will be a place where any author can, at their own personal discretion, put up online for free any book published by Baen that they so desire. There is absolutely no “pressure” involved. The choice is entirely up to the authors, and that is true on all levels:

— participate, or not, as they choose;

— put up whatever book they choose;

— for as long as they choose.

The only “restrictions” we’ll be placing is simply that we will encourage authors to put up the first novel or novels in an ongoing popular series, where possible. And we will ask authors who are interested not to volunteer more than, at most, five or six novels or collections at any one time.

The reason for the first provision is obvious — to generate more public interest in an ongoing series. I’ll have more to say about that in a moment. The reason for the second provision is that one of the things we hope the Baen Free Library will do is make it easier for a broader audience to become familiar with less well known authors. Burying the one or two novels which a new or midlist author might have under a mountain of Big Name backlist titles would work against that. And there’s no reason to do so, anyway, because anyone can get a pretty good idea of whether they like a given author after reading a few of his or her books.

Jim has asked me to co-ordinate the project and I have agreed. After a humorous exchange on my appropriate title — I tried to hold out for. . . never mind — we settled on “Eric Flint, First Librarian. “That will allow me to give the periodic “newsletter and remarks” which I will toss into the hopper the splendid title of “Prime Palaver,” a pun which is just too good to pass up. (I’d apologize to the ghost of Isaac Asimov, except I think he’d get a chuckle out of it. )

Earlier, I mentioned “two reasons” we were doing this, and stated that the first was what you might call a demonstration of principle. What’s the second?

Common sense, applied to the practical reality of commercial publishing. Or, if you prefer, the care and feeding of authors and publishers. Or, if you insist on a single word, profit.

I will make no bones about it (and Jim, were he writing this, would be gleefully sucking out the marrow). We expect this Baen Free Library to make us money by selling books.

How? As I said above, for the same reason that any kind of book distribution which provides free copies to people has always, throughout the history of publishing, eventually rebounded to the benefit of the author.

Take, for instance, the phenomenon of people lending books to their friends — a phenomenon which absolutely dwarfs, by several orders of magnitude, online piracy of copyrighted books.

What’s happened here? Has the author “lost a sale?”

Well. . . yeah, in the short run — assuming, of course, that said person would have bought the book if he couldn’t borrow it. Sure. Instead of buying a copy of the author’s book, the Wretched Scoundrel Borrower (with the Lender as his Accomplice) has “cheated” the author. Read his work for free! Without paying for it!

The same thing happens when someone checks a book out of a public library — a “transaction” which, again, dwarfs by several orders of magnitude all forms of online piracy. The author only collects royalties once, when the library purchases a copy. Thereafter. . .

Robbed again! And again, and again!

Yet. . . yet. . .

I don’t know any author, other than a few who are — to speak bluntly — cretins, who hears about people lending his or her books to their friends, or checking them out of a library, with anything other than pleasure. Because they understand full well that, in the long run, what maintains and (especially) expands a writer’s audience base is that mysterious magic we call: word of mouth.

Word of mouth, unlike paid advertising, comes free to the author — and it’s ten times more effective than any kind of paid advertising, because it’s the one form of promotion which people usually trust.

That being so, an author can hardly complain — since the author paid nothing for it either. And it is that word of mouth, percolating through the reading public down a million little channels, which is what really puts the food on an author’s table. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Think about it. How many people lend a book to a friend with the words: “You ought a read this! It’s really terrible!”

How many people who read a book they like which they obtained from a public library never mention it to anyone? As a rule, in my experience, people who frequently borrow books from libraries are bibliophiles. And bibliophiles, in my experience, usually can’t refrain from talking about books they like.

And, just as important — perhaps most important of all — free books are the way an audience is built in the first place. How many people who are low on cash and for that reason depend on libraries or personal loans later rise on the economic ladder and then buy books by the very authors they came to love when they were borrowing books?

Practically every reader, that’s who. Most readers of science fiction and fantasy develop that interest as teenagers, mainly from libraries. That was certainly true of me. As a teenager, I couldn’t afford to buy the dozen or so Robert Heinlein novels I read in libraries. Nor could I afford the six-volume Lensmen series by “Doc” Smith. Nor could I afford any of the authors I became familiar with in those days: Arthur Clarke, James H. Schmitz, you name it.

Did they “lose sales?” In the long run, not hardly. Because in the decades which followed, I bought all of their books — and usually, in fact, bought them over and over again to replace old copies which had gotten too worn and frayed. I just bought another copy of Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, in fact, because the one I had was getting too long in the tooth. I think that’s the third copy of that novel I’ve purchased, over the course of my life. I’m not sure. Might be the fourth. I first read that book when I was fourteen years old — forty years ago, now — checked out from my high school library.

In short, rather than worrying about online piracy — much less tying ourselves and society into knots trying to shackle everything — it just makes more sense, from a commercial as well as principled point of view — to “steal from the stealers. ”

Don’t bother robbing me, twit. I will cheerfully put up the stuff for free myself. Because I am quite confident that any “losses” I sustain will be more than made up for by the expansion in the size of my audience.

For me to worry about piracy would be like a singer in a piano bar worrying that someone might be taping the performance in order to produce a pirate recording. Just like they did to Maria Callas!

Sheesh. Best thing that could happen to me. . .

That assumes, of course, that the writer in question is producing good books. “Good,” at least, in the opinion of enough readers. That is not always true, of course. But, frankly, a mediocre writer really doesn’t have to worry about piracy anyway.

What about the future? people ask. Even if reading off a screen is not today as competitive as reading paper, what about the future when it will be? By which time advances in technology might make piracy so easy and ubiquitous that the income of authors really gets jeopardized?

My answer is:

Who knows?

I’m not worried about it, however, basically for two reasons.

The first is a simple truth which Jim Baen is fond of pointing out: most people would rather be honest than dishonest.

He’s absolutely right about that. One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences.

Oh, hogwash.

Sure, sure — if presented with a real “Devil’s bargain,” most people will at least be tempted. Eternal life. . . a million dollars found lying in the woods. . .

Heh. Many fine stories have been written on the subject!But how many people, in the real world, are going to be tempted to steal a few bucks?

Some, yes — precious few of whom, I suspect, read much of anything. But the truth is that most people are no more tempted to steal a few dollars than they are to spend their lunch hour panhandling for money on the streets. Partly because they don’t need to, but mostly because it’s beneath their dignity and self-respect.

The only time that mass scale petty thievery becomes a problem is when the perception spreads, among broad layers of the population, that a given product is priced artificially high due to monopolistic practices and/or draconian legislation designed to protect those practices. But so long as the “gap” between the price of a legal product and a stolen one remains both small and, in the eyes of most people, a legitimate cost rather than gouging, 99% of them will prefer the legal product.

Jim Baen is quite confident that, as technology changes the way books are produced and sold, he can figure out ways to keep that “gap” reasonable — and thus make money for himself and his authors in the process, by using the new technology rather than screaming about it. Certainly Baen’s Webscriptions, where you can buy a month’s offerings “bundled” at a price per title of around two bucks has demonstrated his sincerity in this.

(But he’s just a publisher, of course, so what does he know?On the other hand. . . I’m generally inclined to have confidence in someone who is prepared to put his money where his mouth is. Instead of demanding that the taxpayers’ money be put into building more prisons. )

The reason I’m not worried about the future is because of another simple truth. One which is even simpler, in fact — and yet seems to get constantly overlooked in the ruckus over online piracy and what (if anything) to do about it. To wit:

Nobody has yet come up with any technology — nor is it on the horizon — which could possibly replace authors as the producers of fiction. Nor has anyone suggested that there is any likelihood of the market for that product drying up.

The only issue, therefore, is simply the means by which authors get paid for their work.

That’s a different kettle of fish entirely from a “threat” to the livelihood of authors. Some writers out there, imitating Chicken Little, seem to think they are on the verge of suffering the fate of buggy whip makers. But that analogy is ridiculous. Buggy whip makers went out of business because someone else invented something which eliminated the demand for buggy whips — not because Henry Ford figured out a way to steal the payroll of the buggy whip factory.

Is anyone eliminating the demand for fiction?Nope.

Has anyone invented a gadget which can write fiction?Nope.

All that is happening, as the technological conditions under which commercial fiction writing takes place continue to change, is that everyone is wrestling with the impact that might have on the way in which writers get paid. That’s it. So why all the panic? Especially, why the hysterical calls for draconian regulation of new technology — which, leaving aside the damage to society itself, is far more likely to hurt writers than to help them?

The future can’t be foretold. But, whatever happens, so long as writers are essential to the process of producing fiction — along with editors, publishers, proofreaders (if you think a computer can proofread, you’re nuts) and all the other people whose work is needed for it — they will get paid. Because they have, as a class if not as individuals, a monopoly on the product. Far easier to figure out new ways of generating income — as we hope to do with the Baen Free Library — than to tie ourselves and society as a whole into knots. Which are likely to be Gordian Knots, to boot.

Okay. I will climb down from the soapbox. Herewith, the Baen Free Library. Enjoy yourselves!

Eric Flint
First Librarian
October 11, 2000

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There Is Something Rotten In The Finance Industry

I’m not a banker, economist or in any profession directly related to the finance industry so I might not understand everything that is going on and my interpretation of events might be way off-base, but it would seem to me that something is really rotten in the finance industry.

Firstly, we know that people working in the finance industry earn a relatively, if not absurdly ridiculously, high compensation compared to professionals in other industries.

When a certain bank like Bear Stearns is doing badly, what happens? A government body steps in to bail it out. Now, I understand why they say they need to do it – to prevent the whole system from collapsing.

Bush Supports Fed’s Actions, but Critics Quickly Find Fault

Officials says that people involved with Bear Stearns didn’t get away easy – shareholder value was wiped out. Yet, that is a rather inaccurate picture – some people involved with Bear Stearns did get away with something in terms of salary and bonus compensation. These are the bankers. Unless they used their compensation to buy shares in the company, what they earned was pretty much safe when shareholder value got wiped out. Funny thing is, they get to keep their compensation for the work that got the bank in the position to experience a collapse.

Who bears the cost?

From: Rescue Puts Credibility of the Fed on the Line

And no one knows how much the Fed could lose if the borrowers fail to repay their loans or whether hundreds of billions of dollars will ultimately have to come from taxpayers to shield the nation’s financial system from ruin.

If the rescue effort fails, taxpayers could indirectly wind up having to assume part of the cost. Tax revenue does not pay for the Federal Reserve’s operations, including the rescue effort, because the Fed earns income from its trading operations.

But the Fed does pay the Treasury a regular stream of money every year out of its trading profits, lowering the amount it needs to borrow from outsiders. If the new borrowers on Wall Street are unable to repay, and if the market value of the securities they pledge as collateral continues to drop, the losses will come out of the Fed’s payments to the Treasury.

Why is the Fed doing what it is doing?

From: Plunge Averted, Markets Look Ahead Uneasily

“They stand committed to protect the system,” said Richard S. Fuld Jr., the chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers

Which system is being protected? Is it the one where people can be reckless with other people’s money to earn high compensation for themselves without worrying about any consequences when things go south?

From: When a Safety Net Can Lead to Risky Behavior

It describes the possibility that people will take foolish risks when they believe that they will be protected from the consequences of their decisions. In this case, the critics are worried that investment firms will repeat their recent run of reckless investments, based on a belief that the government will bail them out again.

The classic examples of moral hazard involve insurance. When people can insure themselves against a bad event, like a car accident, they may become more willing to engage in dangerous behavior that could lead to that event.

Seems like it to me.

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People Who Complain About Others Playing The Game Are Losers

or so says thegreatsze.

In another humorous post that uncomfortably holds the mirror in front of us (which we probably do not notice because we are looking over it and beyond), thegreatsze has once again, in his words, helped us reach Nirvana, Enlightenment and John 3:16 all rolled into one.

Some might condemn this ostensibly reprehensible behaviour. “Is this what we have evolved to become?” they cry. “Socially maximizing robots with nary a thought for the socially awkward man?”

Well. This is hardly true sympathy. Quite simply, this is Loserspeak at its most unadulterated – your usual grasping brand of “If You Can’t Beat Them, Complain About Them”. If these whiners were just a whit better looking or talented, they’d be screwing your girlfriend behind your back in a heartbeat. But they aren’t, so they won’t, or rather can’t. So they complain.

Do not be fooled by them; or worse yet, succumb to joining them. Stick to your guns. Talk to the most important, most happening people at parties. The rest are wallpaper. Once in a while, however, take time out to talk to the weird ones that nobody ever talks to. People will think you have depth. But not for too long. People are shallow.

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A New Perspective On The TV Show ‘Will & Grace’

I’m going to watch episodes of ‘Will & Grace‘ again through the lens of this post by thegreatsze.

Will – determination, effort, perseverance. A blunt instrument.

Grace – style, effortlessness, ease. A pointed tool.

The former value is Hobbesian. With only Will, devoid of Grace, we are exposed for the maximizing animals that we really are. A graceless Mage (cloth-wearer, wands and staves only) loots on every drop, including plate, polearms and mail; a graceless clubber requests a full list of what his free drink coupon entitles him; a graceless diner leaves no tip and runs through a gamut of credit cards hoping for a discount; a graceless mother speaks of her SAP-school enrolled son with no hint of awareness.

Much of charisma, popularity and magnetism, then, come from the fountainhead of Grace. In the dog-eat-dog world of Will, nobody wants to win the approval of a fellow dog. No; if we are to worship, we must worship higher. The quality of Grace cleaves to our imaginations, our rose-tinted idealizations. We see it in LeBron and Federer on court, and Denny Crane in court; it seeps unconsciously into us through the behaviour of top-flight politicians, celebrities and business-class citizens.

We are the plodding, the grasping, the heathen, willing ourselves forward day after tiresome day; they are Gods on earth, gracing us with their presence.

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Bao Jia Wei Guo, Jing Zhong Bao Guo

I wrote another post for the blog ‘Male By Birth, Man By Choice’. It has to do with National Service and how it played a part in the creation of the blog.

Why is it that in National Service, the ones who ‘eat snake’ (a Singaporean phrase for slacking) seems to be the ones who strut around camp with the biggest balls but the ones who do their best are made to feel dirty by their peers? Why is it that generally people ‘admire’ those who can get away with stuff in National Service instead of aspiring to be like those ‘on’ guys? There must be something wrong with this situation.

More importantly, there must be something wrong when guys do not have the courage to live by the principles and ideals they profess to value.

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I Need Help With A New Project I Am Doing

I just started a new blog ‘Male By Birth, Man By Choice’ over at http://mbbmbc.blogspot.com/. I have reproduced the introduction of the blog below.

The name of this blog comes from a longer phrase that I learned while I was serving my National Service – Male By Birth, Man By Choice. Until that time, I didn’t really make a distinction between being a male and a man but I have come to learn that being a male is an accidental matter of biology but being a man is a conscious choice to live life by certain principles.

As males, we are more than just what magazines like FHM, Maxim, GQ or Playboy would like us to believe – more than just the sum of our interests in women, nice threads, cars, games, sports and gadgets. We are more than sex-crazed animals interested in just getting more action which is what the magazines see us as when they publish those regular articles like ‘20 Steps To Land That Hot Babe’.There are many other things we are interested in and many more that we should be. We are not just males, but sons, husbands and fathers. We can do so much more when we move beyond the stereotypes culture has given us, move beyond the altars we have placed the idealized individualistic alpha male upon.

So, this blog was then started for me to talk about such stuff. But more than that, I hope for people to write in to share the stories about their life as a man with all the struggles, triumphs, joy, responsibilities and challenges it entails. It is my hope that through the sharing, we encourage each other, teach each other, are forced to reflect and learn more about ourselves.

Of course, to live life with what is probably an idealized core set of values isn’t easy. It isn’t always easy to accept and fulfill one’s responsibilities. That is why we aren’t just male, but we are man by choice. For if it was easy to be a man, what worth would it be?

The new blog isn’t supposed to be a place for me to write but a place for me to curate stories, opinions and thoughts shared by others. I do hope that males of all ages will share their stories and be part of the project. The reason why I started this project because there is a dearth of sites, content and blogs online which do not portray man as anything beyond sex-crazed and sex-starved beings. If everything online is a snapshot of our times, what does it say about us as males?

There is only one blog from Singapore that I know of which I enjoy reading that I know which focuses on family and a man’s love for his family – Mr Brown. He doesn’t talk about being a man – he shows how he lives his life like one.

By now, you might have a vague notion of what I mean when I say ‘man’. I can’t describe exactly what I mean when I say he is a ‘man’ versus ‘a male’ (and its arguably worse subset ‘the alpha male’) – it is something I’ll know when I see it and I hope to be about to share the experiences of more such man like Mr Brown, especially those who do not have their own blogs.

So, please do share by emailing share[.]manbychoice[@]gmail[.]com.

Oh, another blogger who shows what it is to be a man – kottke.org.

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Two People Fighting In An Office

There are many ways people can fight. There are many kinds of adversarial relationships. I discovered this new HBO series ‘In Treatment’ via YouTube. The battle between the two individuals in each episode, fought with words, gestures, expressions and the eyes, is more brutal than a lot of the fist fights I have seen online. It is amazing how with good writing, a story can be told just with the conversation between two people in one setting.

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Why Do Hot Ah Lians Go Out With Ugly and Stupid Ah Bengs?

Firstly, not all Ah Bengs are stupid and ugly. Ah Lians however, are by definition hot, sexy and everything nice. Now, back to my question. I don’t know the answer but it has been a reason for many nights with my friends Jack, Johnny, Jim and Stella.

via buzzfeed, I discovered this site that explores the depths of this perplexing phenomenon in an American context. The pictures on the site proves once again that God is unfair if he exists.

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Who Is Sarah Lacy? Hint – She Is Smoking Hot…

Top story on Techmeme now is about how the interviewer Sarah Lacy did such a terrible job with Mark Zuckerberg founder of Facebook. The most important thing about this breaking story – Who is Sarah Lacy? Actually, the most important thing is – Is She Hot?

Yes, she is.

Anyway, following the common trajectory of most online, and to a certain degree all Silicon Valley related stories, let the backlash against Sarah Lacy backlash begin.

Michael Arrington defends Sarah on Twitter here and here.

What Really Went Wrong with the Zuckerberg Keynote at SXSW — Hint: Sarah Lacy isn’t the Problem

And showing that she isn’t just hot but sassy – her twitter response.

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A New Site For Awesome Irreverent Short Stories.

Josef Lee, co-founder of StartDrawing.org (an amazing resource for Asian artists and their works) and creator of the innovative global collaborative work The Life of Mann, has just relaunched his blog The Museum Of Modern Fiction. His work reminds me of the irreverence and illustrations found in Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy and Roald Dahl‘s short stories.

Just a note though – my apple computers never ever got me laid.

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My Hitchoo Event Was A Disaster But…

My Hitchoo event was a disaster. But, the night wasn’t. The event was a disaster because I had planned for a boardgames session with three other people but only one person turned up. The reason this happened was because I had been vague about the location when creating the event – I said let’s meet at around X time around Y location. I wasn’t specific. I also didn’t leave any contact number for people to reach me. The problem with the current system is that communication channels are blocked for non-paying members. So, as a non-paying member, I had created an event which received some bids, but I was unable to communicate with the people whose bids I accepted. The event information given at the time of creating the event had been my best chance to coordinate with the bidders.

I met Yinghan at the Facebook developer garage on wednesday and shared with him my plight. He did a great thing by helping me contact the other members directly via email, providing those people who had won the bids my number so that I could at least arrange with them the meeting time and place off the site.

In the end, only one person turned up – the other guy got the date wrong while I’m not sure what happened with the other girl.

In any case, the night turned out great. The one lady who turned up was great company. While we didn’t get to play boardgames, we did have a great dinner at Timbre and ended up at Wala-Wala to cap a great night and wonderful conversation.

Now, I know I said this before, but if you are in Singapore, and you love live music, good beer and great food, and you have only one night to go out and have fun, and that night so happens to be either a Thursday or a Saturday, you do not need to bother about choosing from a range of options of what to do. The choice is clear – go down to Wala-Wala to hear Shirlyn and the band UnXpected . This crew of musicians will wow you with their music, tease you with their quips and charm you with their personalities.

I think Hitchoo needs to sort out the interaction between non-paying members and other members as well as that between event organizers and bid winners before it can move from being a good service to a great service. I say it is a good service because despite its teething problems, it did achieve its purpose – it set me up with a great date, and what more can you ask from an online dating site.

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I Think Using Tissue Papers To Chop Seats Is Stupid.

I’ve started work at Shenton Way. The last few days, I’ve been having lunch at Lau Pa Sat and I’ve noticed people leaving free tissue paper on the tables for the next batch of hungry workers. I jest. Tissue papers on the seats and tables is a uniquely Singaporean way to book seats or, as it is more affectionately known among locals, chopping seats.

I think this practice is dumb despite the fact that some people might argue it shows that Singaporeans can be civil because no one will ever sit at a location with a packet of tissue paper. And if you think about it, a tissue paper isn’t some scary dragon guarding a treasure so why do we respect it so much as a marker of ‘ownership’ over the tables. Of course, I guess everyone is trying to avoid creating a scene when the owners of the packet return with trays of food and find their seats taken.

But I digress.

It is a stupid and inefficient practice.

Here is why.

At any point during the peak lunch period, there are 3 groups of people.

1. Those eating their food.
2. Those queuing for their food.
3. Those looking for seats to consume their food.

The people doing 1 and 2 are being productive. People doing 3 are not being productive. They are in fact wasting their time. Why? The reason they are wasting their time is because while they are looking for seats, there are actually empty seats but these seats have been chopped. The chopped seats are a wasted resource.

When a seat is chopped, the person who has chopped it is consuming it while waiting for food and while eating the food.

Mathematically this is roughly what is happening:

Tx = Time Taken To Find Seat.
Ty = Time Taken To Queue For Food.
Tz = Time Taken to Eat.

Total Time For Person 1 = Tx1 + Ty1 + Tz1 – Equation 1.

Here is the thing, if no chopping of seats are allowed, your time taken to find one seat is as long as the time the person using it takes to finish the food.

Ideally, for Person 2, Tx2 = Tz1 – Equation 2.

However, if someone chops a seat, then Tx2 = Ty1 + Tz1 – Equation 3.

Now, assuming that the queuing time for food for both individuals are the same and the time to consume the food is the same.

For Person 2, Total Time = Tx2 + Ty2 + Tz2
= Tx2 + Ty1+ Tz1
= 2Ty1 + 2Tz1 – Using Equation 3

compared to the ideal situation of Tz1 +Ty1 + Tz1 – Using Equation 2.

Since the values are all positive, it is clear from the above that chopping seats are actually adding to the time taken to have lunch.

Now, some people may say I’m totally missing the point – that chopping seats is so that groups of people can have lunch together.

Needy and Clingy humans. It is really quite sad.

Anyway, that’s just an excuse. People chop seats because they don’t want to hunt for seats after getting the food because they think it is an inconvenience and a waste of time. In the bigger picture, everyone will be better off if no one chopped seats. But all we need is just one person to be selfish and take a resource (i.e. the seat) when they don’t actually need it yet and then everyone just starts being selfish and look out for their own short term gain without considering the bigger picture.

I was about to actually comment that it is sad that in Lau Pa Sat, at the heart of our CBD, where our banks, consultancies and finance companies are located, all institutions that thrive because of the supposed free market mechanisms that arguably are the best in resource allocation, such abject resource usage is occurring.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Personally, despite everything my Econs teacher has tried to teach me and the arguments everyone in the finance industry make to justify their arguably inflated salaries, I believe the only things that really drive human society and our economics is greed and fear.

Chopping of seats reflect that. Fear of not having something. Greed of hoarding something.

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Turning Life Into A Game … Will It Make It Better?

Jane McGonigal shares about why reality is broken and how we can fix it through games.

So right now, pretty much every one of our games works better than reality, because we are the best designers of human experience, and we’re applying all of our talent, all our insight to optimizing virtual experience.

My rant is about the fact that reality is fundamentally broken, and we have a responsibility as game designers to fix it, with better algorithms and better missions and better feedback and better stories and better community and everything else we know how to make.

We make the games, we have the knowledge, and we have the power. We can take what we’ve learned by making games and apply it to reality, to make real life work more like a game – not make our games more realistic and lifelike, but make our real life more game like – so that when people all over the world wake up every morning, they wake up with a mission, with allies, with a sense of being a part of a bigger story, part of a system that wants them to be happy.

As usual, it is another great post which really got me thinking about how I can apply gaming principles to my life. I remembered when I was younger, I would play KOEI games where at the start of the game, we were allocated points and had to decide how to allocate them to customize our character’s abilities – do I give the character more charisma so that I can win the loyalty of my enemy’s general, do I give my character more fighting ability …

Each turn, I would be having only a certain amount of resources like food and gold and would have to make agonizing decisions how to allocate them. Once a decision was made, I would be informed of the results and the impact to the game’s goals immediately or after the number of turns for the action to be completed. The feedback was important to gauge and tune the resource allocations.

In life, do we have such efficient and informative feedback systems regarding the allocation of our resources like time, money and energy? Feedback systems that let us know the impact of the decisions we take to the rest of our life. For example, each month an individual who has a credit card would most probably get a statement stating his or her expenditure for a certain period – we know where the money goes. Do we have a way to measure the impact of the money spent besides that on the balance sheet? Do we have a way to say X money was spent on transport, Y amount saved towards a goal? Do we have a way to say X amount was spent on activities that shorten our lives, Y amount on activities that enrich it? Do we have a way to gauge how far or near we are to a goal after each time we debit or credit our account? Do we have a way to reduce our life-bar when we spent money on smoking and drinking?

Some people do implement systems to help record and track their expenses. But the use of the system takes discipline – it isn’t fun like a game – which makes the consistent use of the system difficult. I think if we can do what Jane is saying, making our life more game-like, it would give people an incentive as well as a fun tool to make goals and attain them.

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The Problem With Indian Outsourcing

Interesting article from Forbes about the impending death of the current Indian outsourcing model.

Yet, India, for all its glory, is still the world’s back office. India’s tech industry is a “services” industry. The Indians don’t do the thinking. The customers do. India executes.

The two main problems with the current model:

1. Wage increases
2. Lack of technological innovation and product creation.

Having worked for an Indian company for the last 1 and a half years, I can attest that these are two very real problems. My company has been shifting its orientation to be a products company to address both of the above issues. The idea is that developing a product is a fixed cost. The marginal cost is in customization and deployment which is minimal relative to the initial cost of creating the product. Instead of charging for ‘man hours’ to provide the service of developing solutions, the company charges for licenses which scales must better in relation to wage cost.

The company has also implemented branding initiatives so that with the name, a premium can be placed on its products.

The writer for the article linked above is rather harsh in the assertion that the Indians don’t do any thinking. They do. However, the thinking is to provide solutions for specific problems for each client. The experience gained in tackling each problem does not translate to any long term advantage unless the problems faced by all the clients are similar – that is why certain companies like mine only specialize in certain domains. However, it isn’t just enough for the company to specialize in a domain of problems, there needs to be an efficient system in place for the transfer of knowledge between the members of the company and processes need to be established so that subsequent teams can easily solve the problems in the domain based on prior work. Reducing solutions to paint-by-the-numbers implementations can help deal with the issue of wage increases because the number of actual ‘man hours’ needed won’t need to scale exponentially, or even linearly, to the number of projects. I can’t speak for other Indian companies, but I know that is what my company tries to do. And because Indian companies have been in this game longer than the other companies from other countries now providing competitive low-cost labor, if they can crystallize that experience into process innovation, they can survive if not thrive. I do not believe everything a company needs can exist as software-as-a-service. Of course, not all companies will be able to do this. Many will still be stuck in the ‘throw-enough-people-at-a-problem-and-it-will-be-solved’ mentality. These companies will be the ones that die once Indian outsourcing ceases to be the golden ticket it currently is.

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