April 2008

Wah…The Malaysian Blogging Scene Damn Happening.

I read this post by ShadowFox. I totally enjoyed it. Like my sis would say – guilty indulgence. Like Yoda might say:

“Pain, suffering, death I feel. Something terrible has happened. Young ‘ShadowFox’ is in pain. Terrible pain”

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

His blog posts, comments and links led me down a rabbit hole which makes me feel that the Malaysian blogging Scene is 100times more happening than the Singapore blogging scene.

Nice.

Damn. I’m feeding the trashy self. Must resist. Must resist.

Resistance is futile….

Tangled Web We Weave

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How To Treat Your Fans Right.

If you watch the TV shows done by Joss Whedon, you would notice that he seems to cast some actors regularly into his various works – it’s like he has managed to command a loyalty from them as well as displaying it to them. Now, why does this matter? I believe a big reason why Joss Whedon has a particular status in the world of fandom is not just because he writes well and produces/directs brilliant episodes but also because the actors he has chosen to work with have somehow proven to be accessible to fans.

This is an old story – despite the scifi series Firefly being canceled quite early in its run, it managed to build up quite a passionate group of fans. There was a convention for the fans which got canceled by the organizer and apparently people had arrived for the convention only to realize it was not happening. They then proceeded to organize their own fan convention. Here is where things got interesting – the actors of a canceled show learning of what the fans were doing actually came down on their own accord without any appearance fees and participated in the convention.

Read the comments and follow the links here:

Flanvention canceled.

Serenifly cast turns up to canceled convention.

Nathan said how sorry he was to hear about our con being …. maybe another definition of ‘con’.
He then shouted out, who is from Australia, one young lady came forward (she came from Australia for the convention but she also has family to visit in the area) anyway he gave her a gift from the box, I think it was a book that ties into his next project…
then he asked for others from Australia, those from Great Britain, and other far away places and he gave them stuff from his box….
Turns out Nathan had pulled out books and tapes and ‘Serenity’ money from his closet, dumped them in a box and gave them away!
I didn’t try to get anything I was just marveling at how amazing he was to even think of doing this! So amazingly cool.

TV

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Joss Whedon Has A New Upcoming Series – Dollhouse

Buzzfeed has a ton of links about a new tv series from Joss Whedon – Dollhouse. I am positively salivating in anticipation. The premise of the series is tantalizing, from nymag:

Dollhouse stars Buffy’s Eliza Dushku as Echo, a woman who is programmed to be a fantasy-for-hire in a supersecret, illegal facility known as the Dollhouse. Echo is programmed to forget between fantasies, but she starts to remember and become self-aware as the show gets under way.

I am unashamedly a fan of Buffy and Angel. I used to follow every episode when it was shown on Channel 5 until my National Service days when it became almost impossible because there was only 1 tv in camp, and everyone else wanted to watch Chinese sitcoms and just couldn’t understand the attraction of a girl, albeit a hot one, killing vampires. Thankfully, when I was in university, there was a period that Star World did a run of all the seasons for both Buffy and Angel with daily episodes.

The thing I loved about Joss Whedon is the way his writing is sprinkled with pop cultural references and almost every episode has at least a scene which is a homage to something. You also never know what you might get with each episode in term of filming stylistics. Like the movies of Woody Allen, each episode rewards you when you watch reruns; the writing rewards you for getting smarter and more exposed to our world and its history.

Another thing, the characters in TV shows done by Joss Whedon actually grow as the seasons progress – like Willow who grew to become a powerful witch, Xandar who matured from the clown in season 1 and Watcher Wesley who has probably one of the most interesting character arcs in television history – they aren’t stuck in some time-warp-time-frozen caricature.

This series stars Eliza Dushku. While I love Buffy, I always thought Faith was a more interesting slayer and way hotter – something about the fun spunky damaged self-hating middle-finger-to-authority ‘bad’ girl with a bitter grudge against the world who tries to do good in her own way but just seems to make all the wrong choices. She made the series Tru Calling actually bearable to watch. She also starred in what is probably the greatest cheerleading movie I have ever and will ever watch – Bring It On.

Below is more faith we could do with:

[Picture of Faith unavailable]

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Why The Future Of Blog Monetization & Blog Based Marketing Isn’t Ad Companies Like Nuffnang.

Beware: This is a long long post. Longer than usual. I think.

So, I was invited to The Open Room event hosted by Ogilvy. Daryl Tay from Unique-Frequency shared about his interactions or rather lack of interactions with the people from the companies. By his standard of using namecards, I think I was slightly luckier than him.

I think it might help going for such events alone. Why? For brief moments of the evening, without the support group of friends, I did feel slightly isolated. Damn that room. There was nowhere to hide! Thankfully for me, Brian and his colleague Mel really are the consummate PR professionals. They introduced me to a bunch of really interesting people.

One of them was Keith from Nokia and he demonstrated Nokia’s sharing platform Ovi.com. Seemed easy enough to use. Sadly, my phone doesn’t come preloaded with the software. I really should explore my phone more besides just using it for phonecalls, messaging and taking photos.

I lamented to Keith how each new variation of Snakes on the Nokia phones just disappointed me and I really preferred the original 2d Snakes on the Nokia phones. Keith was helpful enough to suggest a site I might get that version. I realized while I am perfectly comfortable tinkering with the hardware of my desktop and installing new software on my MacBook just to test test play play, I really haven’t gotten into the mindset that my phone can be ‘messed’ around with. Hmmm…

Anyway, Keith also showed me the pictures of his kids. I think his oldest was like 9 years old. And he didn’t look old enough to be a father of such a big kid. Apparently the products of NiuSkin really work.

Ok. The one thing I really took away from that night was the Blogger Outreach Code of Ethics shared by John Bell.

Ogilvy PR’s Blogger Outreach Code of Ethics

* We reach out to bloggers because we respect your influence and feel that we might have something that is “remarkable” which could be of interest to you and/or your audience.

* We will only propose blogger outreach as a tactic if it complements our overall strategy. We will not recommend it as a panacea for every social media campaign.

* We will always be transparent and clearly disclose who we are and who we work for in our outreach email.

* Before we email you, we will check out your blog’s About, Contact and Advertising page in an effort to see if you have blatantly said you would not like to be contacted by PR/Marketing companies. If so, we’ll leave you alone.

* If you tell us there is a specific way you want to be reached, we’ll adhere to those guidelines.

* We won’t pretend to have read your blog if we haven’t.

* In our email we will convey why we think you, in particular, might be interested in our client’s product, issue, event or message.

* We won’t leave you hanging. If your contact at Ogilvy PR is going out of town or will be unreachable, we will provide you with an alternate point of contact.

* We encourage you to disclose our relationship with you to your readers, and will never ask you to do otherwise.

* You are entitled to blog on information or products we give you in any way you see fit. (Yes, you can even say you hate it.)

* If you don’t want to hear from us again, we will place you on our Do Not Contact list – which we will share with the rest of the Ogilvy PR agency.

* If you are initially interested in the campaign, but don’t respond to one of our emails, we will follow up with you no more than once. If you don’t respond to us at all, we’ll leave you alone.

* Our initial outreach email will always include a link to Ogilvy PR’s Blog Outreach Code of Ethics.

I think this is a brilliantly conceptualized Code of Ethics. Why? Because they are applying the principle of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. Secondly, they show the understanding that blogs have their place in a marketing campaign, just another tool to use, but isn’t the end all be all of online marketing. One of the problems with people peddling ad spaces on blogs is that they hype up the effectiveness of blogs in online marketing. We don’t get it from these guys. Nice.

Pause.

What exactly is a blog? Is is a word that describes a tool or a form?

Take TechCrunch for example. Is it a blog? Well, it uses a blog as the publishing tool. But the form? By the way, what is the form of a blog post? Can it even be defined?

Is the form of a blog post distinguished by its relative informal style of writing as compared to that of an article on a newspaper or other more old-school, mainstream media properties like nytimes.com. Or is just the bad English, limited vocab and grammar like this blog.

Ok. Where am I going with this. It would probably be superfluous to note that there are many types of blogs. One of the types which I suspect constitutes a high number in Nuffnang’s community of bloggers is exemplified by blogs like Xiaxue, Estee and Dawn (list compiled in increasingly level of hotness).

Firstly, Nuffnang is used as an example because they are the highest profile local blog advertising network (at least in my view of this world).

Nuffnang has this pitch for bloggers:

Firstly, there are the monetary gains! We’ll do all the groundwork looking for advertisers and link you in with them. Once an ad is served on your blog, you start making income!

It is our sincere belief that Blogs should be credible and rich sources of information. Correspondingly, we will do our utmost best to ensure the ads served on your Blog match your content and readership as closely as possible. What this means is that your readers will be up to speed with the best deals in the market place!

How people using Nuffnang can try to monetize their blog:

1. Cost Per Unique Visitor Ads
2. CPC Ads
3. Advertorials

What Nuffnang is doing for the bloggers:

1. Blogger Partners
2. Blogger Outings
3. Affiliate Programme
4. Networking Sessions
5. Sponsorship for Blogger Related Events

The stuff Nuffnang is trying to do for the blogging community isn’t new. It resembles a lot what a manager running a Rewards / Loyalty Club Scheme might do. The monetization strategy for blogs is the same as any form of media advertising. Get something which pulls in lots of traffic / eyeballs and stick ads. Of course, we can make the ads more relevant. Really? Are these ads any more relevant then the sort I see when I watch soccer on ESPN. The conceit of people plying the online advertising space is that contextual advertising and demographic targeting is way better than say what we get on radio, print and tv. Really?

Seriously. Really? Think about your experience with Google ads on blogs.

If you need a reminder, see this post – Christian blog against gay lifestyle has Google Ad promoting the gay lifestyle.

Even if it is better, what ad networks like Nuffnang is doing is basically just turning blogs into ad spaces that do not take advantage of the uniqueness of blogs as a form and tool. Sure, blogs give more people a voice. Opinions of most of these bloggers wouldn’t have had a chance to be heard before blogs and these opinions do matter. But, what this just means is that you got more people producing content at more places, and more places to stick ads.

Nothing done so far seems to be born out of the uniqueness of blogs as a medium and form. What do I mean? What am I actually looking for?

Blog based marketing shouldn’t just be about bloggers talking about your products in advertorials or reviews or posts after an event.

Blog based monetization shouldn’t be about ads or about writing advertorials, reviews and post-event news.

Then what should it be about? The key was this line – We won’t pretend to have read your blog if we haven’t.

See, if you read my blog, you will know I am interested in Christianity. If you really read my blog, you will know more about this interest – that I’m not a hardcore Christian who will faithfully go for Festival of Praise nor am I a person who wants nothing to do with Christianity. My feelings and thoughts about Christianity is somewhere in between and if you read my blog to understand, you will know where exactly in between.

My point? Contextual advertising probably can understand the content for individual posts. Maybe even understand what the whole blog is about. But as of now, it cannot understand me as a person. The algorithm does not have the ability to meet me in person over a cup of coffee at Starbucks below your office to talk shop (hint to someone mentioned above).

So, here is why I think the future of blog (and here, I’m referring to a very specific form) monetization (and I believe there are many ways a blog can benefit you monetarily without exactly putting dollars, and in Nuffnang case it seems, cents into your bank account) and blog based marketing isn’t more algorithms for contextual advertising or more ad networks just to treat blogs as ad space and bloggers as anonymous content producers that draw traffic but PR companies like Ogilvy who bring their offline skills in understanding people and connecting people in the online world.

Now, Nuffnang lovers, I do recognize Nuffnang is trying to connect people. Maybe even understand people. But let’s take a look at some numbers – they have thousands of blogs in their network. If you tell me they have a relationship with everyone of those bloggers and understand them as individuals, either you are lying or you are on some narcotic (hint. I might like some cos whatever it is, it seems to put you in a happy happy place).

Nuffnang business model is about numbers.

Ogilvy is talking about people actually reading the blogs. Obviously there are limitations. It might not scale so well. Now. The key then is to build the (or just tweak existing) tools for PR people to do their job easier and better.

Now, here is something I want to add. When I get to know a person better, I stop caring so much about their interests. I do of course. But more importantly, I care about how their life can be better. The last line is a hint where I think the new companies focusing on blog based marketing and blog monetization should focus on.

Happenings
Tangled Web We Weave

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Someone Stole My ThumbDrive!

Was invited by Brian for The Open Room event hosted by Ogilvy. The goodie bag was nice to look at, but the contents were the same except for one small surprise. The N-gage box was empty. Now, I know what was supposed to be inside. A thumbdrive!

Karma’s
a bitch.

Happenings

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The Straits Time Has An Ironic + Prophetic Name

Singapore’s main English language newspaper is The Straits Times. I tried finding a definitive history of the newspaper but couldn’t so I’m making a not too presumptuous assumption that the newspaper was named because Singapore was once part of the Straits Settlements – a collection of territories of the British East India Company.

At this current point in its history, the newspaper has been accused of being a mouthpiece of the government. Its journalists and editors have been accused of pandering to the ruling party and writes fluff pieces to further the government’s agenda.

True? A little bit true? Totally unsubstantiated lies?

Who knows.

A strait is defined as:

1. a narrow channel of the sea joining two larger bodies of water
2. pass: a bad or difficult situation or state of affairs

The first meaning is rather ironic considering how there seems to be a general impression (at least online) that the government and the newspaper is out of touch with the rest of the citizens. The divide between both groups cannot possibly be considered narrow. It is more like a gaping chasm wider than whatever Indiana Jones had to swing across.

The second meaning is prophetic in the sense that one could imagine the unenviable position some of the people working at The Straits Times are in. I do not suppose anyone ever dreams of growing up to be in a career where being labeled a stooge of the government is an almost everyday affair. I do suppose that a good number of those who aspired to be a journalist do find it rather unpalatable that there are real and imaginary out of bound markers to what they can investigate, analyze and write.

On Singapore

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A New Singaporean Bus Company You Could Love

I asked a question a while back about how Singaporeans themselves can improve the public transport system?

I learned of a new transport company started by NUS undergraduates to help get students to NUS easily. The company’s name is Veloce and I think it is a terrific idea. They saw a problem – getting to NUS was not easy for people not staying in the west. They saw a significant number of people having the problems which usually means a business opportunity and they seized the opportunity.

Go check their site out if you are a NUS student tired of the hassle to getting to school. The site and their service just induces a warm fuzzy feeling.

On Singapore

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Should Minister Wong Kan Seng Resign? Between a Rock and Hard Place is The Chance To Take The Red Pill

Success is due to my efforts, Failure is the team’s fault.

I have rarely met a leader in Singapore who has not said the above, but instead the bottom:

Success is due to the team’s efforts, Failure is my responsibility.

Aaron seems to think the option we choose will

either we create a culture of aversion to mistakes or we create a modern day nobility.

I’m assuming that Aaron is saying if we force Minister Wong to resign or fire him or demote him or just plain make him suffer beyond the current high level of stress he definitely looks like he is going through, then we will create a culture of aversion to mistakes.

I think Aaron’s post had to do with what our Prime Minister said:

‘I will ask the same questions of the minister: How is he involved in the matter? Has he been incompetent or negligent? Most serious of all, is there a question of integrity? If so, he has to go, even if the actual incident is minor.

‘I will also ask: Is the minister able to put things right or does the situation call for a new pair of hands not encumbered by what went before to take charge and make a fresh start? Of course, the Prime Minister himself is accountable too, to Parliament and ultimately to the electorate.

‘However, we should not encourage a culture where officials and ministers resign whenever something goes wrong on their watch, regardless of whether or not they are actually to blame. That would be the easy way out. It may temporarily appease an angry public but it will not fundamentally solve the problem.’

from: Beyond witch-hunts to sanction for lapses

or was it this line:

“If you generate the culture that nobody wants to make mistakes and (is) afraid to do something for fear of making mistakes, that – as Dr Goh Keng Swee used to say – would be the biggest mistake of all,”

from: Endoh’s post quotes PM as saying the above.

I learned something new about how to assess the situation when something goes wrong from Lucky Tan:

Look at – 1. People 2. Processes 3. Checks

Now. People who don’t do their jobs get fired all the time. So the question is, whether Minister Wong was doing his job. What was his job? I don’t know what his bosses say his job is, but as a citizen, I had always assumed the job of the Minister of Home Affairs was to ensure that the proper processes and checks was in place for the whole of his Ministry to do what their site states – to bring about a safe and secure best home for Singaporeans.

Obviously, he can’t come out with all the processes and checks. He has people under him to do that.

The question, then, is did he ensure those people under him were doing their job. If yes, then someone lied to him and the chopping knife should probably stop with that liar. Of course, the next question then is why isn’t there a check to ensure people can’t lie to our Minister of Home Affairs. Did our Minister ensure that there was such a check to prevent people lying to him. If yes, then the one responsible for the checks should be given 100 times jialat jialat. We could keep going on. The check on the check. But let’s be reasonable.

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then clearly, Minister Wong has failed in his job. Of course, we are ALL assuming what his job scope is.

I think Endoh has the questions pegged down.

A. Is Mr Wong unaware/not kept in the loop/advised on the latest development in a high-security facility housing terrorists, especially when it is guarded by two prominent units – ISD and Gurkhas?

B. Is Mr Wong not briefed/aware/advised on major projects like the construction or renovation of Whitley Detention Centre governed by his Ministry?

C. With so many lapses as I have stated above, why is Mr Wong always not in the loop?

D. If the answer to all or any of the above is yes, why weren’t these flaws spotted by Mr Wong during all his meetings and briefings?

E. If the answer to all or any of the above is no, is Mr Wong even proactive and involved in all these development?

Here is the thing. There are many kinds of risks. There are super dumb totally unjustifiable not calculated type of risks like jumping out of a window on the 21st level of a building with no parachute hoping you will survive the fall and there is the calculated albeit slightly crazy risk like jumping out of the same window with a parachute.

Punishing people for not doing their job is different from punishing people for making mistakes. The question that needs to be asked is the severity of the mistake and how the mistake came to be made. Was the mistake made in earnest because an attempt was made to do the job? Or was the mistake made because nothing was done to do the job?

It isn’t just action that is risky or that leads to mistakes. Inaction by itself can also be a risky choice and can lead to mistakes.

Punishing people for mistakes also isn’t a bad thing. What it does is force people not to take unreasonable risks.

The keyword here is unreasonable.

The end product isn’t a culture that is risk adverse. The end product is a culture that is risk sensitive.

In fact, I would say not punishing the Minister makes future Ministers risk adverse in initiating change. Why do anything differently from the last one if he could get by with the current system and still draw a million dollar salary. Why make the extra effort?

If however, there was some sort of punishment for our leaders who failed to do their job, they might be more on the ball to ensure the risk of their rice bowl being lost is protected. They will then take calculated risks to do their job.

There are many types of risk and risks that are assumed by different people.

When people aren’t punished for not doing their job, the risk of them not doing their job is assumed by those who depend on them. In this case, the citizens of a country bear the higher risk that the Minister will not do his job.

Finally, one thing which hasn’t been emphasized enough is rewards for taking on risk and responsibilities. The members of our government are being paid quite a bit. They are being compensated for having to manage more things than the people under them. Also, they are being compensated because the risk of something not directly under their responsibilities messing up is higher than a guy under them managing a smaller organization.

You create a risk adverse culture when the people aren’t able to assess risk and reward effectively or when you skew or break the positive correlation between risk and reward.

So, if indeed Minister Wong really didn’t not do his job, then yeah, no point making him a scapegoat just to appease the mob with their pitchforks. But we shouldn’t be afraid to punish our leaders if they had failed us just to prevent creating a risk adverse government.

Cos everyone takes risk.

This was a chance for our government to take the red pill and wake up to the reality of how the rest of us feel about the current system of leadership, rewards and responsibilities and do something about that reality. Instead, they chose to take the blue pill and remain oblivious or to twist what Aaron said, to remain in a state between hardness and rockness.

On Singapore

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China Colleague Asked Me – Do You Love Your Country?

Over today’s lunch, my colleague asked me if I love my country. I told him I did but I didn’t like it or rather disliked certain aspects of it.

I asked him how he felt about China. His answer was the same but he added:

You only really dislike aspects of something if you love it. If not you don’t care. You don’t bother. You hate the whole thing.

My government has constantly talked about whether Singaporeans were stayers or leavers, whether we have a national identity, whether we have people who are loyal to the country …

At the same time, the government seems to want to suppress dissent and negative opinions about stuff in the country and more specifically about the government.

True, not all dissent and negative opinions are equal. Some come from people who hate the country who don’t really care if the country changes and even if they do, they probably won’t be satisfied.

But, a lot of it is really coming from people who dislike only certain aspects of the country. We still care.

Suppress the voices, and very soon, two things will happen – the voices of those who care will disappear (we don’t hate or love the country, we become indifferent) and those who hate the country will just get louder.

On Singapore
Whispering from the Cubicle

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Is Nuffnang, Advertlets and other Blog Advertising Networks Destroying Ping.sg And Other Social Media Aggregators?

Two interesting posts today related to social media ( whatever that means ).

Jerry Springer For Programmers: Only A Matter Of Time

Giles Bowkett has this to say:

Advertizing-supported media gains much more from your attention than it does from your edification.

and the below paragraph is the one that ‘inspired’ the header of my post:

Blog ads encourage a fundamentally trashy form of “journalism.” Keep this in mind the next time somebody suggests building a business on ad revenue. To the extent that it functions as an economic incentive to useless, divisive gossip, ad revenue is fundamentally erosive to the communities which generate it. That makes it parasitic, and nothing to be proud of.

Are we building Universities or Amphitheaters? by Reg Braithwaite neatly separates the two extreme types of social media aggregators that can be built.

Such things quickly drive out all useful information, but they bring slavering crowds into the amphitheater to watch the Christians battle the Lions.

Universities of old: places of learning where people shared and debated ideas for the purpose of advancing knowledge.

So, do companies like Nuffnang, Advertlets and others providing blog advertising products and services destroy the social media aggregators like Ping.sg.

I make no reservations when I say that I hope Ping.sg will become more like a university than an amphitheater. So, when I use the word ‘destroy’, I actually mean ‘decrease its chance of becoming an university’.

Hmmm…I was thinking about the posts mentioned above. There is only one way to get attention – provide content that people want. Sadly, a good number of us enjoy lowest common denominator sensationalistic content – this is the reason why Britney Spears must die.

It is easier to provide trashy content than insightful, helpful and intelligent content.

I would like to believe that if you do not like trashy content, then after the first time of being ‘tricked’, the site will no longer have your business. It is the ones providing content that edifies you that will get your business. In this way, it is perfectly alright for individual sites to want to provide trashy content – let them attract their kindred spirits, those who are different can go elsewhere.

The problem is when there is a confluence of these 3 factors:

1. Many such individual sites sprout out because of the ease in providing lowest common denominator content.
2. The marketing of blog advertising companies that make you believe that it is desirable if not profitable to stick ads on your site.
3. Aggregaters like Ping.sg become popular and a community develops around it.

The openness of Ping.sg works against it in this case to becoming an university.

Which brings me to a message I posted on Twitter. The problem with a lot of social media filtering services is that for the service to be useful to one person, many people need to use it – think Digg. AideRSS works to solve this problem by using other metrics (like the number of comments left on a post) not dependent on its own users. The problem is that these metrics depend on other humans which to me seems like a rather big flaw.

Is there a way for social media filtering without relying on human signals. Without explicit human signals?

On Singapore
Tangled Web We Weave

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A Very Brilliant Typing Game – TypeRacer

Via Buzzfeed, I learned of a really brilliant typing game called TypeRacer.

TypeRacer is a typing game gone social – you can match your typing speed against that of friends and strangers. Beyond making a typing game social, here is why I think it is brilliant.

When you are playing the game, you are voluntarily submitting yourself to be exposed to marketing. So far, the lines I have typed have been from books and movies. Besides giving me the occasional thrill to spot a familiar sentence, I’m being exposed to new material.

The second reason I think the game is brilliant because it has taken the output of a common activity like typing and used it as an input for something else. When we type, we aren’t just producing words on the screen, we are pushing the car forward. The creator(s) of the game has taken our interest in measuring our typing speed and mapped that variable to something else – the speed of the car as it races across (or in my case, crawls across) the screen.

I always appreciate it when people do these sort of mapping of patterns from one domain to another. It isn’t easy to spot these sort of stuff.

Links Watch
Tangled Web We Weave

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To Christians, Alternative Sources Of Energy Shouldn’t Really Be That Alternative

Do the words ‘alternate‘ and ‘alternative‘ mean different things to you?

Both these words have this definition:

allowing a choice

But do you also associate the word with ‘alternative’ with this meaning:

pertaining to unconventional choices

where ‘unconventional’ means:

not conforming to accepted rules or standards

When you use the word ‘alternative’ in describing something, does it carry both meanings at the same time?

What does this have anything to do with energy?

Earth day has just passed, oil prices have been rising, and the Rambling Librarian has blogged about energy.

When you hear about alternative energy, do you think they are the suicide girls of the energy world.

If so, does it affect how we approach the research, commercialization and use of alternate sources for energy?

When I was in Primary School, one of the first things we learned in science about nature and the world is the concept of cycles. My favorite example was the water cycle. It was a really beautiful system. It has mechanisms to control the amount of water moving through the system. It is a sustainable and self correcting system that ensures that life on this planet gets the water it needs. The system is closed. What is used isn’t lost. It is just in a different form and there is a way to get it back to a form that it can be used again.

Our current energy system dependent on oil isn’t like that.

Oil is a by product of earth’s history and age. It isn’t something the planet started with.

Now, I don’t really know what to make of God. Sometimes, he seems to be a mass murderer. Sometimes, he seems to be a guy who hates amputees. Other times, he seems pretty cool – I mean, come on, his son Jesus turns water to wine. How can you hate a guy like that?

So, I don’t really know much about God, but I do believe, if there is a God, then he isn’t someone who does things for no reason.

So, if he is going to put us here, I think he would have made it such that the Earth at its initial stage would be enough to take care of us and our energy needs which he would have seen. We wouldn’t need to depend on waste material which takes years to change and take a form which is useful to us.

Wind energy, solar energy, Geothermal energy – all these are sources that already exist from the start – we just need to know how to harness it. 70% of the world covered with water. Our distance away from the sun. All these must have a purpose. It can’t possibly be some arbitrary value if you believe in a God.

So, if you are a Christian, or you believe in some form of omnipresent, omniscient, loving God then alternate sources of energy aren’t really suicide girls alternative. In fact, these sources of energy should be considered the actual sources of energy we should have used all along – the natural choices, the only choices, the alpha and the omega in our energy considerations.

Of course, if you don’t believe in God / gods….

Ignore This

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God Is Imaginary – 50 Simple Proofs

God is imaginary. 50 simple proofs.

It makes you wonder: If God has the time and the will to answer these trivial prayers, manipulating the mustard molecules in response to a housewife’s prayer, then what the heck is God doing ignoring the billions of people on this planet who are living in stark, abject poverty? It is when you think about this simple question that you realize how imaginary God is and how delusional and completely self-centered Christians can be.

via: metafilter

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A Lesson Learned

One of the many mistakes I made summarized well by Ridz:

On another note, I think sometimes bloggers make the mistake of discussing issues and also naming individuals as examples. I think isolating individuals when bringing up large issues is a quick formula for disaster.

from a comment on another blog.

Tangled Web We Weave

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Transformers – They Exist!

This video proving the existence of Transformers brought a small to this little nerd’s face.

via:kottke

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DK’s response to what I wrote. My response to that.

DK’s response

I don’t usually respond to groundless accusations. But this time, it has involved too many parties and I think I need to clarify some stuff. Have to use my blog instead of the comment page as this is going to be a super long story.

Just a background on what happen yesterday. We were playing a joke on Jean, saying that any entries with her name would hit top 10 within a few hours. So I posted an article with Jean’s name on the title and asked Ridzuan to help pong that article. It was a joke and a one time incident. If anyone felt offended by this joke, I would like to take this chance to apologise to you.

But I’m utterly disappointed when I saw the blog article talking about the incident as if it always happen. Just because he saw it once, he wrote the article in a manner that it portray the incident as a everyday event among the regulars in ping.sg. I feel that the article is making groundless accusation, not just on me, but the regulars in ping.sg. Most of the regulars in ping.sg write excellent article and their blog entries deserve to be in the top 10 based on their own rights. By suggesting that ping.sg regulars pong each other’s entries in ping.sg is suggesting that the regulars gang up and cheat the system. I’m sorry to all the regulars in ping.sg that my one action causes you and your reputation to be tarnished.

And do note that all along, I mentioned ping.sg regulars. I did not use the word elite and don’t think anyone in the community should be called an elite. Ping.sg is a community. Everyone is free to signup ping.sg Everyone is allowed to join the gathering organised by ping.sg The details about gathering are all posted on forums and we do not bar anyone from attending. I think that it is very insulting to the entire community by saying that the regulars formed an elite group. That has never happen and will never happen.

The reason why the regulars often pong other regular’s entries is not because we are trying to knock down the non-regulars. We click the entries because over the time, we have become friends with each other and want to find out more about what our friends are doing. There is never the intention to knock down the non-regulars. I feel that this is a very unfair accusation made without any proof. So what do you expect the regulars to do? Not make friends with each other? Or not read about what our friend wrote in their blog?

There is never a barrier to prevent anyone to join the community. The door is always open. Anyone is free to join in the conversation in the shoutbox or join the gathering. And when you start making friends, naturally you will find more and more friends reading your blog. The idea about ping.sg is not just a collection of blogs. Its a community. If you are active in the community, naturally more people would want to know you more by reading your blog. I don’t think this should be considered cheating.

I’m very disappointed that someone would blast the entire community with such groundless accusation. I’m more disappointed that the person is trying to use this case to justify creating multiple nick for pong cheating. If we were to allow this to happen, then the whole entire community will close down because everyone is cheating.

I hope that article will not tear the entire community into pieces. I have been in this great community for more than 1 year. I would not allow anyone to tarnish the reputation of the regulars in the community. Neither will I allow anyone to make groundless accusation about the whole community.

My response – my post has been misunderstood. I have reread my post and the fault is mine because I wasn’t clear. I shall try to address his comments.

Firstly, I apologize for not clarifying with you that what you (i.e. DK) was doing was part of a one-time joke on Jean. However, I added in bold, at the end of my post, before your post was made that I concede what I saw that day could very well be a one-off thing.

Secondly, the post’s aim was never to tear the community in pieces nor tarnish the reputation of the regulars.

One of the problematic statements in my post is this line:

Simple really – it is where a core group of members pong each other entries until they get to the leaderboard and let the public (non-core group) take over.

Now, in light of what I wrote at the bottom of the post about DK asking Ridz to help pong a post, the above line reads like I’m saying that the regulars deliberately pong each other posts to get to the top of the post. In fact, that was not what I meant. The responsibility of the misunderstanding is mine to bear.

The above line should have been made clearer in context with the subsequent lines:

This is natural. If I know who you are, if we hang out, if we chat, if we msn, if we basically get social with each other, it is probably not presumptuous to say I’ll read your posts and more often than others.

So, basically, I am acknowledging what cobalt paladin and DK are saying – under the new system, it is natural for the friendships formed to affect what goes up to leaderboard because of the very nature of friendships and how it influences our behaviour and the choices we make when deciding what to read.

This isn’t pong cheating in the sense of setting up multiple accounts and using them to pong entries of your own blogs.

The line above was also worded wrongly. My intention was to say that the current system skews the leaderboard the way the actions of a pong cheat would. While the skewing of a pong cheat would lead to more noise, the current skewing is arguably not bad though I think it decreases the filtering capabilities of Ping.sg

Now, DK is right about how anyone can be part of the community. I have never disputed that. But the sheer nature of space, time, human nature, logistics and the whole shebang is that not everyone is equal in a community – I would go even so far to say that online communities always develop a core. The core, whether it is an insidious entity or not, and in this case, I never said Ping.sg regulars were such nor do I believe they are, affects the utility of the online community. My case then is that the core/regular members affect one function of Ping.sg – the filtering of stuff.

Now, I did note that I was being presumptuous that Ping.sg and the leaderboard had the function of helping filter posts worth reading and worth reading by everyone (not just the core/regulars) interested in the Singapore blogging scene.

Now, I never said the core/regulars were elitist or referred to them as elites. The word elite was used in reference to the situation in Singapore politics/society and the core group in it.

DK is right. I don’t for a minute believe the regulars are trying to knock down the non-regulars. But that is besides the point because the friendships and consequent interactions/actions do lead to that in my opinion. Likewise, I don’t believe our government deliberate creates policies to keep the rest of us down. But I believe it is an inevitability.

The use of the word back-scratching was wrong to convey this idea and it make things are unnecessarily confrontational.

I apologize to the members of Ping.sg and DK for any affront to the community and your characters.

On Singapore
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What DK, Simplyjean & Cobalt Paladin Tell Us About Ping.sg

I wanted to comment on this for sometime. Cobalt Paladin highlighted something which was part of what I wanted to say in his post DK is Power Blogger! Sometime ago, I wrote a post – Is There A Need For Ping.sg?

For those who might not remember the earlier days of Ping.sg and the leaderboard, entries entered the leaderboard based on the number of Pongs they got, just like now, except that then, anyone could contribute to a Pong. Now, you need to be a member and logged into the site to make your Read count as a Pong.

I’ve tried to look for stats on the site to see whether under the new system, the entries with the top Pongs are also those with the most Reads ( ‘Reads’ is the count of the number of people who click on an entry ). I couldn’t. If anyone knows of where these stats can be obtained, do leave a comment.

The earlier system gave rise to the practice of link-baiting to get the attention of the wider group of users who either are not members of the site or don’t log on when using the site. Link-baiting is definitely still going on but under the new system, they seem to rise less often to the leaderboard because the members of Ping.sg seem more savvy.

Based on my totally unscientific observations, the leaderboard has been exhibiting the DK-effect after the new system was implemented. What is the DK-effect? Simple really – it is where a core group of members pong each other entries until they get to the leaderboard and let the public (non-core group) take over. This is natural. If I know who you are, if we hang out, if we chat, if we msn, if we basically get social with each other, it is probably not presumptuous to say I’ll read your posts and more often than others.

This isn’t pong cheating in the sense of setting up multiple accounts and using them to pong entries of your own blogs.

However, this current state of affairs definitely reduce the effectiveness of the leaderboard being a filtering mechanism at least in the wider sense of what interests the readers of Ping.sg and probably more importantly, what are the posts worth reading. What the leaderboard has become then is a reflection of who the core members of Ping.sg are, maybe even who is the most popular people in this core group and their interests in the context of blog posts they read.

Which of course is perfectly fine.

Ping.sg never had any pretensions of being the community meta blog for ALL Singaporean bloggers nor was its main aim ( at least from what I have read about Ping.sg ) to be a tool for discovering and filtering. From the earliest post I can find on the blog, the aim was to build a thorough database of blogs and allow the bloggers to build communities.

Would like to digress and say there is nothing contradicting about the two aims of NOT building a community for ALL Singaporean bloggers and at the same time building a THOROUGH database of Singapore blogs.

Now, I’ve gone on a rather meandering path to get to this point. Ping.sg is now a place where a core group of people come together to play and the rest of the people are allowed to participate either as casual observers, people trying to join the core group or individuals trying to contribute to the community if not rise to prominence in the wider community without actually being part of the core group. This seems to me to be a natural progression of any type of group.

Yesterday I met up with Ridz at the Starbucks located at Raffles City opposite Chijmes. DK was there and I think Jean from simplyjean was also there. I witnessed ( wah..make it sound so dramatic ) DK asking for a little back-scrating from Ridz to get Jean a pong for one of her entries pong his entry about Jean.

Back-scratching among a core group of people from any community is natural. In politics, more specifically, in Singapore politics, we call these core group the elites and a subset of that group is people affiliated with the PAP. When we talk about back-scratching happening in other countries, we use the term nepotism.

So, here is the thing. If we do it at our level, why should we expect any different from the people above.

Just because of the stuff they say and the stuff they do? Just because of how they police us in what we can say and do. If you trace past discussions on Ping.sg, you would notice at least one case where the core members of Ping.sg were up in arms against explicit pong cheating.

Same difference.

So back to the actual point of this post. Ping.sg to me is an interesting example of how communities progress. Not that it is unexpected. Just that it is rather ironic, that bloggers, not necessarily those in the core group of Ping.sg tend to be more vocal about the government yet the two main aggregaters of content online which are blogger community powered seem to exhibit the same attributes and tendencies as the very thing we seem to be against.

You only hate power when you don’t have it.


I will make the concession that yesterday was a one-off. That no other member has ever or will ever pong a post just for the sake to register a pong instead of it being a result of being genuinely interested to read the post of a friend/fellow member. However, this only means Ping.sg might not be a convenient example to use.

On Singapore
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1 Way In Which We Can Make The Earth A Better Place

Today is Earthday. A whole lot of people are probably going around being smug.

My views on this has been shaped by George Carlin – The Planet Is Fine (video link).


Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference. Difference. The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years.

Full Transcript at the bottom.

So, we are all so concerned about the Earth, but we can’t even take care of our own species. One case in point – New York Times has an article about a female performance artist who was killed on a peace trip.

wearing white wedding dresses, they would hitchhike from Italy to the Balkans to the Middle East to send a message of peace and “marriage between different peoples and nations”

Ms. Bacca’s trip was cut short near the village of Gebze, about 40 miles southeast of Istanbul. An unemployed man, Murat Karatas, 38, has confessed to killing her shortly after picking her up on March 31, the authorities have said.

Maybe, there is hope for us, seeing that it was just one guy out of many more who helped them without pulling some shit stunt.

“In every country, including Turkey, we hitched rides with amazing people, from students to farmers to businessmen,” Ms. Moro said. “Some offered us lunch. Others didn’t even ask why we were dressed like that; they didn’t even care.”

Maybe. Maybe not. Just check out the world news on New York Times.

Maybe this is really the solution to the Earth’s problems – The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

As promised, full franscript of George Carlin’s performance:

“We’re so self-important. So self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another, we’re gonna save the fucking planet?

I’m getting tired of that shit. Tired of that shit. I’m tired of fucking Earth Day, I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world save for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. They don’t care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference. Difference. The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years.
Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We’ve been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we’ve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we’re a threat? That somehow we’re gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just a-floatin’ around the sun?

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles…hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages…And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet…the planet…the planet isn’t going anywhere. WE ARE!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.

You wanna know how the planet’s doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet’s doing. You wanna know if the planet’s all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilowaia, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room.

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?” Plastic…asshole.

So, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that’s begun. Don’t you think that’s already started? I think, to be fair, the planet sees us as a mild threat. Something to be dealt with. And the planet can defend itself in an organized, collective way, the way a beehive or an ant colony can. A collective defense mechanism. The planet will think of something. What would you do if you were the planet? How would you defend yourself against this troublesome, pesky species? Let’s see… Viruses. Viruses might be good. They seem vulnerable to viruses. And, uh…viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed. Perhaps, this first virus could be one that compromises the immune system of these creatures. Perhaps a human immunodeficiency virus, making them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases and infections that might come along. And maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction.

Well, that’s a poetic note. And it’s a start. And I can dream, can’t I? See I don’t worry about the little things: bees, trees, whales, snails. I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we will ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? The Big Electron. The Big Electron…whoooa. Whoooa. Whoooa. It doesn’t punish, it doesn’t reward, it doesn’t judge at all. It just is. And so are we. For a little while.”

Musing about Life

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An Awesome Comedy Site

I think I just discovered the site that will make me happy whenever I feel down. iCOMEDYtv is a whole lot of goodness.

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The Right To Be Anonymous Yet Play A Part

So, a group of bloggers have proposed a sweeping change in Internet regulation. Two online bloggers I highly respect are part of this group – Alex Au and Bernard Leong.

Darkness, has written a comment on Aaron’s blog and there is some BH discussion going on at Singapore Daily.

Here is what I think – the open call required people to reveal their identity to be part of the process. Some people aren’t comfortable with revealing their identity completely online. I am one such person. While I do not attempt to hide my identity – like if I meet you at a conference, I’ll tell you my real name and where I blog – I would like to blog with this alias online. Why? I feel the name Ian Timothy has more meaning than my given name at this phase of my life.

But I digress.

I am not sure if I get everything Darkness is saying but this is one bit I think I understand – there needs to be a way for people who want to be anonymous to contribute to the process.

The way the proposal was drafted required people to meet in person to discuss the issues. Is there a way we can do it online?

I have always been a strong believer that the nature of anything is heavily influenced, if not determined, by the nature of its beginnings. Likewise, this proposal and its subsequent impact on the online community will be affected by how it was drafted whether or not the government implements it.

A potential problem with an online process with anonymous contributors is that when you allow everyone to play, things can go down the shit hole pretty fast – pretty much like the Internet as it currently is. One of the main points of this proposal is that the community can take care of itself if not learn how to take care of itself.

Like the people drafting the proposal, I believe with freedom, possibly even in spite of it, as a community (i.e. Singaporeans who blog) we can grow to be more responsible.

So why not put it to the test? Can the community come together in the actual environment we are trying to regulate or rather deregulate and draft a proposal regarding these issues.

To use popular Web 2.0 terminology – can we open-source and crowd-source this process.

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One Of The Best Webcomic I’ve Read

I have discovered a new webcomic that I totally love. It isn’t a ‘haha…nice…’ kind of webcomic. More like a ‘sigh….i feel that too’ and ‘shucks…that’s so true’ kind of comic.

After going through the archives, there was a knot in my chest and an inexplicable sadness that seems to flirt with a hope about life that I’m clinging onto.

The site: tinyghosts.com

Some of my favorites plus my own notes.

Waiting For God To Call. He Needs Help.

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I’m Not Interest In A Condo, 2 Room, 3 Room, 4 Room Flat, Landed House. I Just Want A Home With You.

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Why Some People Like Children – Metaphorically speaking of course

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I Hope My GF Is Not Thinking These Thoughts

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For me, I think 11 would have been just about right

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I like how the creator wrote about the site:

A while back I had this idea of telling an entire story in just two sentences, kinda like a haiku, but two sentences instead of 17 syllables and with some semblence of plot. So I wrote a bunch of them down, but nobody really cared. Then somebody gave me a copy of photoshop and I thought maybe some photos might make the stories go down a bit easier. You are supposed to be able to use each comic as a jumping off point to create an entire world/characters/storyline in your head. If you feel like thinking that is.

It’s about what it feels like to be a monster/ghost/robot/toy/etc. but not the scary kind. It’s about being frightened of war and what you might turn into when you grow up if you aren’t careful. It’s about loss and longing and love and hope and being small and scared of a big world and not knowing your place in it and wanting to belong but always being on the outside and not being sure that God loves you but really hoping he does even though pretty much everyone else thinks you are a weirdo. Stuff like that.

The idea was freeform self-expression, not money or fame. If I charge people money (or eyeballs) there is an expectation that they will receive something of value in return. If I publicize myself and talk about how cool I am for having an avant-garde online comic, then I open myself up to criticism that I’m not as cool as I think I am. By gaining nothing and remaining anonymous and non-profit, then I’m under no obligation to entertain you. If you want to like it, you can, if you think it sucks, that’s fine too. You can criticize the work, but you can’t criticize me because I’m not gaining anything by creating it.

Everything in this world is similar to other things. There are only a limited number of new ideas. This comic is not the first to use photos instead of drawings, or to not be funny, or to not have recurring characters, but that doesn’t mean it’s not unique in it’s own way. Would you say Calvin & Hobbes is a ripoff of Peanuts because they both deal with an unpopular kid and his talking pet?

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Why Do You Expect The Government To Take Care Of You?

I’ve been thinking about this question for sometime. We complain and discuss about issues online with what seems like a rather presumptuous expectation that the government should take care of its people. Why?

What has been the history of any form of authority in human society?

We can change the systems, but we cannot change the participants.

People form groups and contribute to them at times out of altruistic reasons but from what I have learned, the main reason is because the group might help the individual survive longer, if not thrive.

If an individual can survive and thrive by himself or herself, or a group can take care of its self with its present members, what incentive is there to increase the size of the group?

Because it is humane?

But humane isn’t human.

What has been the human thing to do?

Kill a brother for personal advancement comes to mind.

We can argue that the way a thing is doesn’t necessarily mean it ought to be.

Why? Why shouldn’t things be the way it is.

Is it because we aren’t benefiting from the current system?

Is it because we are aggrieved by how much other people are benefiting from the current system.

I won’t be so presumptuous to believe there is no one who wants to do good just for its own sake and not just because the big guy up there promises heaven/eternal life/virgins/hole in ones.

But where does that desire come from?

Where does the expectation that others should do likewise come from?

Musing about Life
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Anti-Gay Christian Blog Uses Gays For A Quick Buck

So, there is a lot of noise going on at Ping.sg about gay bashers, intolerance towards gays, intolerance towards those who are intolerant towards gays, intolerance towards those who are intolerant about those who are intolerance about gays …

This post isn’t about any of that although by following the conversation regarding ShadowFox and the offending post led me to this gem which highlights the problems with contextual advertising on blogs and possibly automatic endorsements of brands based on Facebook activity.

This was found on the blog of a Christian blogger who is against homosexuality.

Screenshot

NOTE: I am just deliberately being obtuse with the post title.

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Owen Hargreaves Might Be A Better Free Kick Taker Than Ronaldo

Yesterday, Owen Hargreaves scored the winning goal against Arsenal from a free kick just outside the penalty box. I think I’ve only seen him take two free kicks and he has scored from both. I’m pretty sure he must have taken more than 2 free kicks during this season – he has taken 28 shots this season – but whatever that number is, it is less than the number of free kicks taken by Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo has taken 230 shots and a good number of them are free kicks. He has scored a couple of sensational goals from free kicks but the question is whether he is scoring as much as he should to justify him being the first choice free kick taker.

Based on memory from watching the games, I think Owen has a better scoring ratio from free kicks than Ronaldo.

Which brings up an interesting question.

Which is the better player? The one who insists on taking the shots and scores a higher number of goals but with a low success ratio or the one who chooses to take only kicks from certain ranges and angles and scores with a higher success ratio.

I think you need both kind of players in a team but when does the first one start suffocating the second?

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What Have We Learned, If Anything?

The New York Review of Books has an article by Tony Judt on history and how mis-remembering the last century and not reflecting enough on it is causing some of the problems we have now.

First paragraph:

The twentieth century is hardly behind us but already its quarrels and its achievements, its ideals and its fears are slipping into the obscurity of mis-memory. In the West we have made haste to dispense whenever possible with the economic, intellectual, and institutional baggage of the twentieth century and encouraged others to do likewise. In the wake of 1989, with boundless confidence and insufficient reflection, we put the twentieth century behind us and strode boldly into its successor swaddled in self-serving half-truths: the triumph of the West, the end of History, the unipolar Ameri-can moment, the ineluctable march of globalization and the free market.

About how we expose our youth to history:

But such official commemoration does not enhance our appreciation and awareness of the past. It serves as a substitute, a surrogate. Instead of teaching history we walk children through museums and memorials. Worse still, we encourage them to see the past— and its lessons—through the vector of their ancestors’ suffering. Today, the “common” interpretation of the recent past is thus composed of the manifold fragments of separate pasts, each of them (Jewish, Polish, Serb, Armenian, German, Asian-American, Palestinian, Irish, homosexual…) marked by its own distinctive and assertive victimhood.

About contrasting views on war:

With the exception of the generation of men who fought in World War II, the United States thus has no modern memory of combat or loss remotely comparable to that of the armed forces of other countries. But it is civilian casualties that leave the most enduring mark on national memory and here the contrast is piquant indeed. In World War II alone the British suffered 67,000 civilian dead. In continental Europe, France lost 270,000 civilians. Yugoslavia recorded over half a million civilian deaths, Germany 1.8 million, Poland 5.5 million, and the Soviet Union an estimated 11.4 million. These aggregate figures include some 5.8 million Jewish dead. Further afield, in China, the death count exceeded 16 million. American civilian losses (excluding the merchant navy) in both world wars amounted to less than 2,000 dead.

As a consequence, the United States today is the only advanced democracy where public figures glorify and exalt the military, a sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945 but quite unknown today. Politicians in the US surround themselves with the symbols and trappings of armed prowess; even in 2008 American commentators excoriate allies that hesitate to engage in armed conflict. I believe it is this contrasting recollection of war and its impact, rather than any structural difference between the US and otherwise comparable countries, which accounts for their dissimilar responses to international challenges today. Indeed, the complacent neoconservative claim that war and conflict are things Americans understand—in contrast to naive Europeans with their pacifistic fantasies —seems to me exactly wrong: it is Europeans (along with Asians and Africans) who understand war all too well. Most Americans have been fortunate enough to live in blissful ignorance of its true significance.

About torture:

This abstracting of foes and threats from their context—this ease with which we have talked ourselves into believing that we are at war with “Islamofascists,” “extremists” from a strange culture, who dwell in some distant “Islamistan,” who hate us for who we are and seek to destroy “our way of life”—is a sure sign that we have forgotten the lesson of the twentieth century: the ease with which war and fear and dogma can bring us to demonize others, deny them a common humanity or the protection of our laws, and do unspeakable things to them.

These excerpts are just here as my notes. Please do go over to the site and read the full article.

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