Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Calling All Dawns / Baba Yetu x 12!

Baba Yetu is the name of the song that is played when one first starts the popular computer game Civilization IV. The music was so good that I wrote to its composer Christopher Tin 4 years ago and actually got a detailed reply. He was the first 'famous' musician who had replied to my queries so I promised myself that I would buy all his future albums from then on.

Well last month, Christopher released his first album called Calling All Dawns which was four years in the making. I preordered it; the autographed limited edition 'CD jacket' even has a serial number!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

ScanGauge II Automative Computer On A Yaris / Fuel Economy

Normally in any car, you'll be able to see how the car is doing by looking at the dashboard. For example, you can see the speed of the car, the engine RPM, the distance travelled and the approximate amount of fuel left. Now, what happens if you wish to know more about how well the car is performing? Is there any way to obtain additional information such as amount and cost of fuel used, horsepower of the engine and other information? Now why would anyone need this information anyway?! In case you're such a person, (I am), the ScanGuage II car computer is the gadget for you! I bought one from Amazon on 29 August and was delivered by vPost on 16 September. It cost US$140 and vPOST charges were around S$24. This is really a fun gadget to have.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Unitasking and the Kindle

24 Feb 2010 Update: Today's Digital Life has another article on the use of Whispernet in Singapore. I do not recommend users to do this. Please read the other entry for more information.

5 Nov 2009 Update: There are field reports of users using wireless Whispernet in Singapore! It's apparent that the telcos are beta testing this. Check the comments section from this other post.

4 Nov Update: Hello people from Digital Life!

Many are comparing the Barnes & Noble Nook with the Kindle. Actually the Nook is the best thing that has ever happened because it ensures that Amazon will innovate much quicker now that it has more competitors. My feeling is that the Nook is quite unusable if you're thinking of buying ebooks in Singapore. B&N requires a US based credit card to purchase books, which we don't have. (It remains to be seen whether they can allow books from the excellent NLB digital library.) They also don't allow the use of gift cards to buy e-books. The screen is exactly the same as the Kindle's. The much touted 'lending feature' can just be ignored because it just doesn't work as we expect it will. You can lend a book to one person only, and that book is unloanable to anyone else forever.

The other thing is about EPUB. The Kindle is able to read the one million free EPUB public domain books at Google Books using a converter called Calibre. 30,000 Project Gutenberg books are also available for the Kindle without conversion. Just download the Mobipocket version of the files. We live in interesting e-book times. :)

28 Oct Update: Here is another newspaper article that appeared in the Sunday Times. Click to enlarge.


Fantastic news today! Amazon.com announces the new Kindle 2 for international markets. Unfortunately, Singapore is not one of the many countries that the device will be available officially so I still prefer the 'old' version.

A while ago, I had an interview with a Digital Life reporter who was writing on a story about the Kindle. (Click picture to enlarge.)

Today's Digital Life has another short article that resulted from the same conversation I had with reporter Tan Chong Yaw's for his first Kindle article.

This article is about the interesting idea called unitasking which I first came across from articles such as this. Unitasking, as opposed to multitasking, refers to doing one thing at a time.Reading in the Kindle is so appealing because it is able to let us unitask, and this takes away many of the distractions we have when we read. I have come across many accounts of people reading a lot more since they have gotten their Kindles and I reckon one reason this happens is that people are far more focused reading a Kindle than a paper book.

But one may ask: don't we unitask when we read traditional books as well? Yes we do. However, the big difference is that the Kindle manages to take away almost all the possible distractions we have while reading. For me, one such distraction may be the way I hold a paper book. My fingers need 'to do work' to balance the book and to keep the words on the page as equidistant from my eyes as possible. They also need to be able to grasp the thickness of the book properly. When I use a Kindle, that 'hard work' disappears, which is what Bezos meant by the Kindle 'disappearing'. Forget the book; the words are the only things that are left.

Of course, when you add the superb screen and the portability factor, we hit the sweet spot known as the Kindle. Things are really moving quite fast. Hopefully the price of the Kindle DX falls by Christmas!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Credit Card Purchase Verification / Liability

I recently got a bill for my HSBC credit card and it included an annual fee charge of more than a hundred dollars. So I called them up to ask them to waive it. I always say, 'would it be possible for you to waive the charge?' when really, we all know that this is not only possible, but something that the banks are more than happy to do.

Sidetrack: UOB has an interesting twist to this. When you call them up and get the automated 'press 1 for credit card, press 2 to.. ' they include a 'press x to waive your credit card annual fee'! So I tried it once and it was processed without any human intervention. However, some time later, I forgot that I had done it, and tried it again. The funny thing was that it also processed my second request for the annual fee waiver! So in the next bill, I got more than a hundred dollars in credit for the second waiver. So I called them up and told the person to remove the windfall. She said 'thank you for your honesty.'

Anyway back to UOB. The lady of course was very nice and more than willing to waive the annual fee. However, she also said I needed to use the card at least once. I said, sure. She said, 'OK I'll waive it now.' It's just a formality, I didn't really need to use the card. But just for the sake of completeness, I decided to use the card to buy a $10 gift card from Amazon.com for my Kindle book purchases.

Now this is new. An hour later, someone from HSBC called me up and asked whether I had just used the card to spend at Amazon for a gift card. I said, yes. He said, good, just a routine check.

I like this routine check, especially since we were told recently that we aren't going to get much protection from banks if something goes wrong with our credit cards. (Yesterday, the banks announced that there will be a $100 liability cap if no negligence is involved. I'm not sure of the details, however.) I never worried about my overseas purchases as I'd assumed that the banks would always reverse the charge if it was fraudulent. I'm not so sure now. Hopefully the 'consumer watchdog' in Singapore and the banks clarify things soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

GMail Updated!

Those were fun times on the Internets. When Google announced in March 2004 that it was giving out 1000mb of free email to users, it changed everything. Harddisk space then became 'free' and not a cost concern anymore. People became so excited about having so much free space on the Internet.
Google had a limited release of 'invites' for people to try out the service, and they were doing crazy things just to try out the service. I myself paid I think 10USD to buy an invite from someone on eBay, and in turn sold invites to others after I got my GMail account which included free invites for anyone.
The most fantastic thing about GMail was, and still is, its interface. Everything was so seamless, so natural. Emails had a new metaphor: conversations, which strung discreet emails into one coherent whole. Everything was so forward looking and progressive. It became the best email service available.
However, all these years, there had been one feature that GMail lacked, and this omission was most glaring because it was supposedly a very simple feature that most email services provide: the ability to select your email's recipients by choosing from your contact list. It only offered to Autocomplete the email addresses of your recipients which was okay if you could remember how the email looked like, but this was of course not ideal. So I couldn't understand how this supposedly 'simple' technical issue couldn't be solved. Most interestingly, this issue was absent in the Google Apps version of GMail. It's most incredible and just blows my mind.
So it's with great joy that I read today in GMail's blog that they have successfully rolled out this feature for the 'normal' GMail users! At last GMail has taken care of the 'feature request' that people have asked for so long.
From Gmail blog

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Amazon Kindle 2 In Singapore

Updated 4 August 2010. The Kindle 3 is now on sale. I've a new blog entry up to focus on this latest model.

Updated 10 July 2010. I'm now using AlwaysVPN. If  you're local Kindle user, I don't mind 'sharing' my account with you so that you can use it for free. To use the VPN, switch it on before you open a web browser to go to www.amazon.com to buy books. After buying books, log out of Amazon by clicking on the 'not Your Name', exit your web browser, then exit your VPN.

Updated 24 Feb 2010: Click here for my other Kindle post 'Unitasking and the Kindle' with additional reports from the local media.

Updated 12 Jan 2010. If you have an international Kindle, please do not use Whispernet in Singapore. Continue using your VPN and buy books using the USB method. This is to prevent the raising of any red flags.

Updated 18 Nov 2009. It seems that vPOST is having some problems with shipping the Kindle, and I won't recommend using vPOST for Kindle purchases. More info at the comments section. Borderlinx seems to be a viable alternative. Please continue to use a VPN whenever you access Amazon.com to buy books.

Updated 7 Oct 2009: Updated book buying procedure with the launch of international Kindles. Singapore is not among the countries eligible for wireless Whispernet. Here is a newspaper article where I am mentioned talking about the Kindle and 'unitasking'.


I used to read on my Palm PDA when I had time to kill. Reading short news articles on the Palm was not much of an issue, but if it's an ebook, then it's a bit more difficult because of the small screen. Still, I managed to read Animal Farm for the first time on the Palm.

More than a year ago, Amazon.com released its first ebook reader utilising a screen from the company called E Ink. A few months ago, they released a second version of the Kindle. I ordered one on 11 May and received it via vPOST on 26 May. vPost is really getting better, the turnaround time is now quite good. The Kindle 2 is not really cheap; it cost me around SGD630 in total (including the very nice 'leather' cover.) Then again, it's not easy to put a price on accessibility, which is what the Kindle has the potential to provide: thousands of books in the palm of your hand.

The screen is breathtaking! It's unlike any screen I've seen before. It really does look like paper, and almost seems to use some sort of alien technology.

The other selling point of the Kindle is the huge numbers of books it can store. Most books don't take up a lot of space, technically speaking. The Bible is around 2 Megabytes. Shakespeare's entire works also take up less than 3 Megabytes, according to Gutenberg.org. The Kindle has a storage space of around 1400 MB, which is more than what we would ever need.

Currently, the Kindle is not intended for non-US residents. I didn't know that this 'problem' could be circumvented until I read an article in the Strait Times by ST Online Editor Joanne Lee who revealed she was having a ball with her Kindle! How was this possible?! She was nice enough to elaborate when I emailed her to ask for more details. The workaround can be summarised here. While we cannot use the wireless Whispernet in Singapore, it is quite easy to buy Kindle books from Amazon.com, download the file into the PC, and transfer it to the Kindle using the included USB cable.

Here are the steps I use. Do note that Amazon doesn't support Kindles in Singapore. There are instances where buyers were found to be not from 'authorised countries' and their accounts were disabled. Your mileage may vary. Caveat Emptor. 
  • Install a VPN* to make yourself situated in the US. You may turn it off later when you're done purchasing. 
  • Go to Manage your Kindle at the Kindle product page.
  • Go to 'your country' and edit your country if it's not the US. Use any US address.
  • Go to your account, 'manage payment options', and erase your credit card info if you have any credit cards associated with Amazon.com .
  • Turn off 1-Click ordering.
  • Buy a gift card, say USD300 which is sufficient to buy the Kindle 2 and the leather cover. Send the gift card to your email address. When you receive it in the mail, apply the gift amount to your account
  • Go to your account, 'manage payment options', and erase your credit card info. Do this step everytime you use your credit card.
  • Buy the  Kindle 2 and the leather cover. You don't need to use a credit card as you have money in your account from the redeemed gift cards. You then need to use a forwarding company to ship the package to Singapore. I used vPOST, but there are some problems with them now, so please don't use them to buy Kindles. You may wish to try Borderlinx instead.
  • To buy e-books, ensure that you have sufficient funds in your account. If not, buy more gift cards and pay yourself.
  • Switch on your VPN* (see updates at the top), then open your browser to buy books.  (Very important! Amazon is now disabling accounts temporarily if you're from an 'unauthorised location.)
  • At the page of the book you want, click 'buy now with 1-click', 'deliver to your Kindle'.
  • Go to Manage your Kindle and download your book onto your PC, then transfer it using the USB cable provided.
  • *A VPN is something that tells Amazon that you're from the States when in fact you're not. (You're not but your digital presence is, technically.) You need to use this to avoid 'trouble'.
I have not too many complaints about the device. It is a glorious product. Hopefully the price will get cheaper. If Bill Gates' vision is to have a 'computer in every desk and in every home', someone should be aiming for a Kindle (or similar e reader) on every desk in every classroom. Or some variation of it. Maybe that will happen in 5 years time when the Kindle is as common as an iPod. For now, it's the slickest ebook reader around. It won't be too long before competitors start appearing in greater numbers.

The Kindle's design team is Lab126. It's President was/is Gregg Zehr who was originally a VP of Hardware Engineering from Palm. So it seems that after all these years, I'm still reading on a Palm, albeit a bigger one now!

    Here are some screenshots of LOTR that I've bought.

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    Reservist Duty

    I'm on a three-week tour of reservist duty again; it's quite similar to what I did in March. The exercise is quite disruptive especially for people who cannot afford to leave their jobs or who need to go back home. In Singapore, the main fighting force that will be mobilised in times of war will be the reservist, and not the professional army (because there aren't enough of them.) I'm interested to know more about the reservist system found in other countries. If you need to do similar things in your own country, please leave a comment!
    Update (!): This in-camp training was featured in the June issue of Army News. I'm seated in one of the trucks at the back. :)

    Thursday, April 30, 2009

    AWARE Saga: Christ Is Neutral Towards Homosexuality?

    Updated: Added and amended last 2 paragraphs. Things have again worsened. On the AWARE website, there's now a .pdf document targetting the old AWARE's so-called focus on homosexuality. It's titled 'AWARE Old Guard hijacked against family values'. Of course, the irony now is that just not so long ago...
    On Thursday, the new team said Aware had become too focused on just one issue - promoting lesbianism and homosexuality.
    Of course this is quite untrue but sometimes FUD stick. Guess who the people focusing on homosexuality are now! I would like to go back to what Dr Thio said.
    Dr Thio said she went on to discover that in Aware's comprehensive sexuality education programme, which is taken to schools, homosexuality is regarded as a neutral word, not a negative word. 'I started thinking, 'Hey, parents, you better know what's happening,'' she said. 'I talked to parents. I said: You better do something about this, otherwise your daughter will come back and say, 'Mum, I want to marry my girlfriend.' 'Or your son will say: 'Dad, I want to marry my boyfriend.''
    Thio is guided by her church and what the church teaches. She believes she is speaking for her faith when she says that homosexuality is a sin. For many years now I haven't been sure if that's actually taught in the Bible. Well, there are some verses that seem to suggest this, but on closer examination, they need not have shown anything beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is natural, thus, to ask ourselves the issue that Thio talks about: homosexuality shouldn't be neutral; it should be negative. Anyone that doesn't think so is promoting homosexuality and their daughters will become lesbians and so on.

    Now, let's just take a look at what an important person says. How about, let's see what the most important person in the Christian faith say about this issue. Surely Jesus Christ has something to say about this topic that the Thio's church deems important enough to have a big link at its top-left sidebar on its website emphasing its position on homosexuality. What does Christ Himself say about this important and urgent issue?


    What?! What do you mean, 'nothing', you ask. Well, it's true, nothing. Christ does not mention homosexuality anywhere in the Gospels. (The Gospels are four books of the Bible that describes the birth, death and Resurrection of Christ. It also contains His teachers and what He said.) If you don't believe me, you may want to read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John yourself and see if Christ mentions anything about this issue. Well, I guess He is also quite neutral about it. If not, won't He have mentioned something about it, especially since it's such a big sin? While Christ does not mention homosexuality, he does have a lot to say about hypocrisy and using God's name in vain.
    "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone..." Luke 11
    "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye..." "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7
    I wonder what Thio will say about this? Does she think that Christ promotes homosexuality since He is neutral on the subject and has never spoken about it? Now, it is of course correct to say that just because Christ doesn't mention about something, it doesn't mean that it's right. For example, just because music piracy isn't mentioned by Christ, it doesn't mean we should download music illegally. However, in the AWARE case, we are dealing with a sin supposedly so big that it justified the taking over of AWARE using scorched earth methods. I think the bar we have set ourselves to condemn and discriminate others has become that much higher. People who are interested to do things in the name of God need to really read and see what Christ teaches and go back to first principles. The EGM takes place tomorrow. Good luck to the Old Guard!

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    AWARE And Obama's National Academy of Sciences Speech

    A week ago, Dr Thio Su Mien came out at the press conference of the new AWARE exco and announced that the sex education program conducted in schools under the watch of the previous exco had the ability to make students become gays and lesbians. Yesterday, the Ministry of Education issued a press statement which essentially destroyed Thio's ridiculous statements.
    ...Sexuality education conducted in MOE schools is premised on the importance of the family and respect for the values and beliefs of the different ethnic and religious communities on sexuality issues. The aim is to help students make responsible values-based choices on matters involving sexuality....

    The schools that engaged AWARE found that the content and messages of the sessions conducted were appropriate for their students and adhered to guidelines to respect the values of different religious groups. The schools did not receive any negative feedback from students who attended the workshops and talks or their parents...

    When Thio first made those statements using arguments that seem ridiculous, I was very intrigued as to how this could have happened: I couldn't reconcile it with the idea that Thio seems to be a brilliant lawyer! Or at least I assume that she is one given the fact that she was the first female dean of the Law Faculty at the National University of Singapore. So I wasn't able to fit the role that she plays (as a lawyer) with the assumption that her role usually entails possessing persuasive skills. Her argument are definitely not persuasive to the casual observer.

    The only explanation that I could come up with then was that a higher power had replaced the 'lawyer in her'. This was of course her faith, or at least how she interpreted it. One's faith or ideology (depending on your preference), becomes the rock on which all other opinions rest on. Reasonable debates thus gets thrown out the window, rendering the person to make simple mistakes that people at the top of their fields are unlikely to make.

    I am reminded just how important it is to separate a pre-determined set of ideology with facts, open mindedness and reasonable thinking; quite similar to what we call science. Two days ago, President Obama gave a speech at the Academy of Sciences when he promised increased investments in scientific research and development. He also addressed a serious issue which was seen during Bush's administration: the tainting of scientific judgement due to the influence of lobbyists and faith-based viewpoints. For example, right wingers like Focus on the Family's James Dobson had for years denied that global warming was happening because it would have been costly to businesses if that was indeed found to be true. A lot of other scientific research was also amended to suit particular ideologies ane political affiliations. This has to stop, Obama says.

    On March 9th, I signed an executive memorandum with a clear message: Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over. Our progress as a nation - and our values as a nation - are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.
    That is why I have charged the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with leading a new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information. I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions - and not the other way around.
    This is so, so important. I think that what is happening behind all the bad thinking and poor arguments from Thio and other new AWARE personnel can be attributed to a set of prior beliefs and assumptions that they hold. This ideology 'insists on its own way' and doesn't give open mindedness a chance. Instead, dissent tends to constitute a failure of faith. 'I find your lack of faith... disturbing...' that sort of thing. Another inherent difficulty is getting out of groupthink in an 'organised religion'. (Sometimes it's not exactly the organisation's fault in that the leaders haven't really planned it like that; groupthink just naturally happens.) Fortunately though, this does not describe all faith based places. There are churches which are more progressive do not interpret scriptures in similar ways.
    At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it. Some truths fill us with awe. Others force us to question long held views. Science cannot answer every question; indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be. Science cannot supplant our ethics, our values, our principles, or our faith, but science can inform those things, and help put these values, these moral sentiments, that faith, to work - to feed a child, to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this earth.
    So, what the previous exco needs to do at the Extraordinary General Meeting Saturday will be to systematically demolish what the new exco have said themselves such as fear scaremongering and misrepresentation of previous work done by AWARE. There is a need for facts that concerns our health, because in matters of sex ed, we're dealing life and death issues. Presenting inaccurate information and holding on to an ideology when the evidence doesn't seem to support it cheapens the value of open inquiry. Science can help 'inform things', let's keep it that way.

    Additional reading: Why smart people defend bad ideas.

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    AWARE: Analysis of Statements From A Representative Of New Guard

    Today has been a watershed day and a sad one as well. For over several years now, I've wondered when religion is going to permeate Singapore society in a significant but not-so-good way. Today is the first time that this has explicitly happened. The national press has started to use the word 'coup' (pronunciation: koo) to describe the taking over of AWARE. The relevation of the coup leader Dr Thio Su Mien is most alarming: she was the one who was sort of behind the whole operation.

    Now what I would like to do is to analyse what has been said, and look at it from a non-religious point of view. The reason is that the only way we can resolve this amicably in a pluralistic society is to use plain logic and to be rationale in our discourse. There is enough material apart from the religious aspects that paint a picture of no-confidence on this group of people. The following analysis is based on what is reported in the papers.

    Huge Leaps of Logic
    Thio spoke of the reasons why she wanted the old management changed.
    Dr Thio explained that her concern about the direction that Aware was taking was partly prompted by a letter from a parent who was concerned that the society was promoting a homosexual agenda. He wrote to the Today newspaper in 2007 to ask why Aware's choice of a movie for a charity show was Spider Lilies, about two lesbians who fall in love.
    Well, this inference and conclusion seems quite reasonable at first glance, but a little more thought will help us see that this is quite a bad argument and is just not tenable. Just because an organisation shows a movie with lesbian characters doesn't mean that the organisation wants the viewers to become lesbians! I went to research on other charity screenings and found the following.
    • The SMRT had a charity screening of Spiderman III. From this we can tell that it wants to encourage its customers to swing from place to place instead of taking the train. In addition, it endorses violent behaviours in its customers like smashing into trains and blowing up public structures as seen in Spiderman II.
    • The NTU School of Art, Design and Media helped to publicise a charity screening of We Want Roses Too, a movie about the 1970s sexual revolution and feminist movement in Italy. A central character of this movie has an illicit abortion. NTU's aim is to try and to influence its students to have illicit abortions. MCYS' Youth.sg portal promoted the same film too. Its aims, obviously, are similar.
    • HumanTrafficing.org had a charity screening of the movie Lilya 4-ever. Its sponsor was Mrs. Lim Hwee Hua, Minister of State for Finance and Transport. This movie examines 'human trafficing and sexual slavery'. By having this movie screening, humantrafficing.org is trying to promote and endorse sexual slavery among movie goers.
    • The National Committee for UNIFEM had a charity screening of Take My Eyes. This movie involves a woman who runs away from her abusive husband but later returns to him because she still loves him, only to be beaten up again. This movie encourages and endorses husbands to be abusive towards their wives because, well, their wives will always return to them.
    • AWARE had a charity screening of Spider Lilies. This is a movie about two women who fall in love and who are lesbians. By screening this movie, AWARE is endorsing, promoting and encouraging the viewers to become lesbians themselves.
    Sex Ed
    I've written about this before 2 years ago. My concern about sex education that is linked to a particular faith might be less objective. The primary reason might be that the theology (interpreted accordingly) tends to be more important than the disinterested facts. The facts sometimes need to be tweaked to accommodate the theology. This is not good for the consumer because I think there should be full disclosure so that people can make their own decisions. We don't want to lose the trust of the people we mentor. Let's have a look at what Thio says.
    Dr Thio said she went on to discover that in Aware's comprehensive sexuality education programme, which is taken to schools, homosexuality is regarded as a neutral word, not a negative word. 'I started thinking, 'Hey, parents, you better know what's happening,'' she said.

    'I talked to parents. I said: You better do something about this, otherwise your daughter will come back and say, 'Mum, I want to marry my girlfriend.'

    'Or your son will say: 'Dad, I want to marry my boyfriend.''

    These parents were flabbergasted, she said, adding that such sexuality education was taking place in the United States and Europe and was not new.

    'What is happening in society is that we are redefining marriage, we are redefining families,' she said.

    'So I'm a concerned citizen and if people are so ignorant, I think I want to teach them.'
    Here we have another series of leaps of logic. I'm not sure why she wants to describes groups of people in negative terms, but let's look at the government's Health Promotion Board website. In the section titled 'Do You (a girl) Really Prefer Girls or Are You Just Different?'
    Lesbians are women who are romantically attracted to other women, but it’s never as simple as that. It’s hard to say for certain what makes a woman a lesbian. Some argue it’s due to environmental factors, while others believe genetics determine our sexual preferences.

    Are you a lesbian or just not a “girly” girl? There’s no clear cut answer except this − only you would know if you are a lesbian. But being one doesn’t make you less normal. Each human being is unique, with different likes and dislikes.
    Now, even the official health advice website is neutral on the topic. What gives Thio the right to paint a negative picture of people who are not like her?

    Thio continues.
    Pointing out that Aware's programme was already in 30 schools, she said: 'The suggestion is that in this programme, young girls from 12 to 18 are taught that it's okay to experiment with each other.
    'And this is something which should concern parents in Singapore. Are we going to have an entire generation of lesbians?'
    Yet another strange leap in logic. A central argument that she has is that AWARE is trying to promote people to be lesbians. This statement is really quite ludicrous. How on earth do you try to encourage someone to be a lesbian? I'm a heterosexual. Now, why on earth would a counsellor tell me to try to be a homosexual if I'm not? It just doesn't make sense at all! Now, assuming that there were indeed some counsellor as strange as that, how on earth am I going to follow that advice? "OK, I think you're right, I'm better off being a homosexual person." I just don't see how this process will work. It's just wildly incredulous.

    The claim that youngsters are encouraged to 'experiment' also sounds fishy. According to Mathia Lee who is an AWARE sex ed trainer,
    What do we teach about homosexuality?
    We don’t impose our views. In the first 2 sessions, we explore view points by asking the students what they think. Our aim is to open up students to the fact that there are many different views, and to open up their minds to all these different views so that they can think about it, and make their own choices based on their own personal values.

    The bottom line is: respect for each other, even though we disagree. If the students bring it up, we acknowledge that some religions do hold homosexuality as being wrong. But just as we’ve learnt to respect each other’s religion where dietary restrictions are concerned, and not to impose on each other, we can also respect each other’s religious views in the same manner.

    Our Program contents?
    Part 1: Exploring different views and values — we do not use the terms “right” and “wrong” on any view.
    Part 2: Factual info on contraception and STIs — here we do have “right” and “wrong” eg. AIDS can be cured is clearly wrong.
    This seems reasonable to me. There seems to be a certain openness, a non-judgemental approach to dealing with people, much like what is painted at the HPB website. Thio has more.
    She said that there were many women's issues that needed to be looked into, and cited the need to ensure that retrenched women are dealt with fairly. 'I find to my dismay that Aware seems to be only very interested in lesbianism and the advancement of homosexuality, which is a man's issue,' she said.
    She felt this matter had to be discussed, but Aware should focus on going back to look after all women in Singapore.
    Now it is fairly obvious that if Thio thinks the way she does, of course she will feel that lesbianism (whatever that means) is the only thing that AWARE is interested in. Our previous analysis has shown this line of thinking to be quite false. A quick check on its website clearly shows that AWARE is also about a lot of things. Another website shows that, on the contrary, AWARE has done nothing much for lesbians in the past two decades.

    Hopefully the press will continue to keep an eye on this story. The EOGM is on 2 May. More details here. Check out http://we-are-aware.sg/.

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    AWARE: Demonstration Of Democracy

    The recent developments at AWARE have been most fascinating. To have an understanding about the official point of view and preference about what we're supposed to think, it's useful to refer to the Straits Times. Today's newspaper is full of stories about the negative aspects of the 'hostile takeover' as well as a negative portrayal of the new executive committee of the women's group. The unorthodox public scolding from the new President's boss DBS bank has also raised an eyebrow or two. Whether this is is just a good news story or whether this is a concerted effort to discredit the new team remains to be seen.

    I believe that the new executive committee did nothing wrong per se to get elected. They followed the rules. They planned, they strategised, they got many people to attend the AGM, and they managed to get themselves voted in with their (and other unrelated people's) help. This is how one obtains power; any capable politician knows this.

    Most of us are not aware that such a thing can be possible (as seen from the shock expressed by the existing members of the organisation). A change in leadership requires people to vote. Firstly, a lot of locals don't get to vote due to realities of electoral rules. (My father hasn't voted in parliamentary elections for 30 years, for example.) Second, when they do have a chance to vote, they should have some sort of expectation that they might be successful; that some things can, and might, be changed. Usually in this country, that doesn't happen (or at least change happens very slowly). That's one reason for the apathy of young people; they just don't believe that they can do anything to change things.

    So, out of the blue, we have this AWARE snafu. A few people who did their homework, obeyed the rules and simply just showed up proved to the rest of the other members who chose to stay at home that change is indeed possible. It's not a mathematical, nor practical impossibility. But more than that, these people who planned the 'coup' at AWARE managed to do something far more psychologically significant. They demonstrated that it is possible to change the status quo, and to do it in just one AGM.

    Now, this surely will result in a 'disturbance in the Force', a challenge to our existing paradigm. Do we sit on our lazy butts and wait for others to change things, or do we try to change some things ourselves? Now, one can carry this possibility into national elections, and the thought of it can be a little... disturbing, at least to some. Why might happen if more people thought that it is possible to enact change by voting? This might explain the current backlash against the new executive committee in the official press.

    On a different note, I guess this development might be the beginning of the emergence of the right wingers I wrote about 4 years ago. This country cannot really afford this sort of thing, and I'm comforted that the man upstairs probably doesn't want it to happen too. There seems to be an EOGM next month. May the Force be with them...

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    She Dreamed A Dream

    'I Dreamed A Dream' is a song from my favourite musical Les Miserables. It's a song about hopelessness and sadness; I find it very comforting to listen to.
    There was a time when men were kind, And their voices were soft, And their words inviting. There was a time when love was blind, And the world was a song, And the song was exciting. There was a time when it all went wrong... I dreamed a dream in time gone by, When hope was high and life, worth living. I dreamed that love would never die, I dreamed that God would be forgiving. Then I was young and unafraid, And dreams were made and used and wasted. There was no ransom to be paid, No song unsung, no wine, untasted. But the tigers come at night, With their voices soft as thunder, As they tear your hope apart, And they turn your dream to shame. He slept a summer by my side, He filled my days with endless wonder... He took my childhood in his stride, But he was gone when autumn came! And still I dream he'll come to me, That we will live the years together, But there are dreams that cannot be, And there are storms we cannot weather! I had a dream my life would be So different from this hell I'm living, So different now from what it seemed... Now life has killed the dream I dreamed... Les Miserables/Claude-Michel Schönberg/Herbert Kretzmer
    Sometimes singing this song results in the most delicious of ironies. The success of Susan Boyle in the talent show Britains Got Talent tells us as much about us (who don't expect less-than-attractive people to sing well) as about how an angelic voice can smash our stereotypes. It is truly amazing to watch, and hear, Boyle sing. She says she wants to sing like Elaine Paige (who sang Memories in Cats). I guess she's well on her way to her dreams now!
    Other cover versions...

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Straits Times Changes Headline 4 Times Today!

    There are possibly three reasons why I continue to pay money to read the Straits Times online. The first reason is that I want to know what others are reading daily, the second is I want to know what I'm supposed to know, and the third is that I get to experience pure journalistic gems like what has happened today.

    In a continuing episode of Stop The Presses, we shall look at an article about foreigners who are going to be hired by one of the two new casinos to be opened here. The Sentosa Integrated Resort (IR) seems to be hiring a lot of foreigners rather than locals, and people are seemingly complaining about this. Mr Wang has the full text reproduced in his blog.

    The problem is that the title of the article published this morning, "Singaporeans will get most IR jobs", does not seem to indicate what the rest of the article is trying to convey (because Singaporeans will not be getting the most IR jobs, it seems). Coincidentally, it was just today that I explained to my students that a newspaper article's headline is very important. In situational writing, if the exam question requires the student to write a report/article with a particular title, then the rest of the article should be adjusted accordingly. Mr Wang hypothesizes that in this case, the headline was perhaps written separately from the article. The problem was that the article did not say what the headline meant!

    Now at this point in time, if I were the reporter who wrote the story, my head will probably just explode. How can I possibly reconcile this intractable dilemma?! So, the only ethical thing to do was to change the headline a few minutes after the first version went online, as Mr Wang suggests. The second iteration of the headline reads "IR jobs for foreigners?" Indeed, I think that the reporter might have been trying to send a coded SOS message out to alert readers: as pointed out by a commenter, he spelt his own name wrongly to accompany the first unreasonable and erroneous headline, only to correct it later to accompany the more reasonable amendment. (This need not be true; I just thought it would be funny if this really was what happened!)

    Anyway, the title didn't seem to satisfy some people, and it was changed yet again to "Buzz Over Resort Jobs". I was just checking the STReader, and the title is now "Uproar over reports of IR jobs going to foreigners". I think this is a reasonable headline. At the very least, it isn't factually wrong!

    4th Headline

    So, what can we learn from this? Well, we learn that it is not easy to write newspaper headlines sometimes! Secondly, the various attempts to change the headline is a story in itself. I hope the reporter will continue to be on the case and will look forward to more updates. It's a most fascinating way of presenting a story!

    Background reading: Mr Wang's entry.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    In-Camp Training

    I just had my first Army In-Camp Training 12 years after completing my conscription duties. I was expecting the worst because I guess I am so out of touch with military life. Fortunately though, it was quite a pleasant experience (all things considered) despite the 2 weeks of hassle and disruption it has on my work and life in general. 

    I think generally speaking, Singaporeans do sacrifice quite a bit when it comes to National Service. The maximum number of days that the military can ask people to drop whatever they are doing and to go back for military training (after being given months of advanced notice) is 40 days, which is really a lot of time. I couldn't believe it when I found out this figure recently; I thought it was a typo! Naturally, the support from family and colleagues and work is crucial for this to work out.  

    During the time I did my 28-months conscript obligations, I served in various places including Infantry, Air Force, and Armour units local and overseas. I didn't get reassigned until 2 years ago when I was posted to 2 People Defence's Force and a unit called Armour Support Unit (ASU), which is under HQ32SIB according to here.

    It turns out that ASU is a pretty cool unit to be in because its main vehicle is the V200 which is used to transport infantry troops. The vehicle has big wheels that look impressive and it does travel rather quickly on the roads. More information can be found here , here, here, here, here and here. According to this MINDEF website , it's built by Cadillac Gage and also known as the Commando. A 3-person crew mans the V200: driver, gunner and vehicle commander.

    I had the oppotunity to learn how to be the gunner and vehicle commander. During in-camp training, there'll be a mix of people whom you'll get to meet. This is especially true in 2PDF where "we take NSmen from different non-functional units and group them together during their first three In-Camp Training (ICT) stints... In their NSF (conscript) days, they might have been drivers, storemen or instructors of training institutions, but we put them together and slowly mould them into a battalion..." according to a MINDEF writeup. This makes the unit more interesting than usual because of varying military experiences of the makeup of your colleagues. 

    Another interesting this is the 'leveler effect' of the uniform. Normally we might perceive people by the civilian jobs they do but when everyone is wearing the same thing, people just treat each other the same way whether it's cleaning the vehicle or mounting an 80kg big gun (in their disassembled parts) onto the turrent. People have generally no airs about themselves when it comes to this sort of thing (at least that was my experience this time.)

    I was also interested in morale. What sort of attitudes do NSMen (working adults who need to come back for 'reservist' training) have about the whole thing? I'm happy to report that, most of the guys were quite serious about training. They knew that this was a necessary hassle but they also understood that they needed to get the job done. We're all in this together so we might as well enjoy the ride.  

    How about leadership? Do we feel that our commanders are committed and can be relied in operations? There is a difference between the commanders I encountered during my conscript days and what I see now. It seems that as folks grow older, they also become more understanding and will do the right things, and not just do things right. (Probably the 'thinking soldiers' mantra is starting to have an effect.) The officers and warrant officers all seemed to be very reasonable. They are not overly bureaucratic and they try to help make the best use of our time in camp. So overall, it was quite a good experience and I met many interesting people. I have another ICT in 2 months time(!) and I'm most probably going to revert to my previous job: a logistics/storeman sergeant. This one will last 20 days! If they can only make the training a little shorter...

    Update (!): Here's a picture of the last day of my second ICT.


    Sunday, March 1, 2009


    KTM railway track in Singapore [Nikkor AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm ]

    I am not allowed to run the train,
    The whistle I cannot blow.
    I'm not the one who designates
    How far the train will go.

    I'm not allowed to let off steam,
    Or even ring the bell.
    But let the train just jump the track,
    And see who catches hell.
    ~Unknown disgruntled railway worker

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    President Obama!

    I slept at 2am today. It didn’t seem that tiring to stay up this late to watch the Inauguration compared to the 8 dreadful years of the Bush administration. It is a different air that we breathe today. It really isn’t just about skin colour and race. It’s really us, I think, that have changed.

    Obama may be the leader of the movement, but because leaders were chosen in this instance by many, many other people,  we have this monumental shift in our bearings and our standing so much so that the old era is almost unrecognisable, well as least to me. Who outside America isn’t rooting for America now? And what a huge difference this is compared to the years of wasted goodwill from the rest of the world.
    I introduced Obama in three English classes today. Slavery, Lincoln, , Civil War, Segregation, Parks, Civil Rights, Dr King; and the intertwining of Obama’s story. 40 years after King’s death, someone had the audacity of hope to run, and win the general elections, someone who also believes in the same dream, that one day we’ll be judged not by the colour of our skin, but by the content of our character. Obama demonstrated that in the general election. The campaign was masterful, classy, intelligent, competent. It was Presidential.

    So where do we go from here? And I don't mean just Americans, but people all over the world. I think it means that we have to change, if we haven’t already. We have to see the world through new eyes, to find new ways of solving our problems. We shall be hopeful. We will tell our kids that anything is possible, for just today, a Black man became President, and thus his Blackness became less relevant. It's his character and competance that is more important. And I think we have plenty of that in President Obama. Yes we can!

    Friday, January 9, 2009

    The Return of Palm


    A few hours ago, Palm, Inc. unveiled the newest ‘smartphone’, the Palm Pre. After years of stagnation on the ‘features’ front, it looks like they’ve finally got their act together!

    Palm is my favourite technology company. Its history has been one fraught with near-death experiences, and after so many quarters of losing money, I think someone decided ‘enough is enough!’ It’s time for the philosophy of Palm to once again produce a device so well thought out that it changes, again, the relationship between man and machine/gadget.

    In Version 1.0 of the Palm story, we have characters like Jeff Hawkins who envisioned an operating system so refined that they have a whole set of philosophy marketed as the Zen of Palm. This Zen (interesting stuff, really!) is something that holds fans of Palm together and something that urges them not to abandon the platform even as newer and more ‘advanced’ phones appeared in the marketplace. Interestingly enough, I haven’t seen a ‘datebook’ application implemented in current phones/devices as well as Palm’s version which appeared over 10 years ago, and is still being found in the latest models. Hopefully this Zen does not go away in Version 2.0; and I suspect that it won't.

    Version 2.0 has interesting characters too. Irish rocker Bono is co-founder of Elevation Partners that recently pumped US100 million into Palm in this uncertain economic climate. They obviously sensed that something else is quite certain, the awesomeness of the new OS. Palm and Apple also shares a close partnership of some sort, and not just their shared focus on the user-interface experience of their products. I remember that many at Version 1.0 of Palm came from Apple. In Version 2.0, the person who headed the iPod division, Jon Rubinstein, left Apple and joined Palm as Chairman. For years people have speculated what would happen if Steve Jobs really decided to buy over Palm. I think it’s safe to say that what we have in Version 2.0 equals, or exceeds, what Steve would have done.

    Anyway, the details of the new Palm pre are here and here. I can’t wait to get my hands on the SDK and redo some of my old but simple applications. Will we see the ‘good old days’ again? Palm’s stock just rose 35% in a day. I think that’s our early answer! More discussion at the Singapore Palm Users’ Group.


    The Classic Palm V Advertisement

    Thursday, January 1, 2009

    Happy New Year! / Pandan Reservoir

    My resolution is to start the new year off on the right foot, so I went to Pandan Reservoir this morning and jogged 6km. The reservoir is the world’s most picturesque and largest bodies of  fresh water that is shaped like an elephant’s nose. You really need to be there to experience it. It’s around 2km in length. The phenomenon of high and low tides is not observable here, for some unexplainable reason. There are few trees lining the running route, so it’s advisable to go jogging in the early morning or late evening.

    Details of the jog is found here. More pictures (not mine) are found here.pandan