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Friday, October 7th, 2011
1:16 am - My Apple memory: how I wrote to Steve Jobs about getting my first Apple computer

A young Steve Jobs (left) with his Apple founding partner, Steve Wozniak (right)
In 1998, I was a freshman in the University of Wisconsin-Madison, halfway around the world from my home country, Singapore. With a desire to try something new as part of college life, I spent US$2,3000 to buy a new PowerBook G3 "Wallstreet", with a 233MHz CPU, 32MB of RAM, 2GB of hard disk space, and a 12-inch screen.

But Apple had just released this new line of PowerBooks, so supply was limited. When my freshman term started, I still had not received my PowerBook, even though my order had been placed for more than a week (I think). The only response that DoIT (UW's computer store) could provide was that it was on the way.

So one day, I went to a computer lab and wrote an email to sjobs@apple.com. Yes, I was writing to Steve Jobs, who had just taken over as interim CEO at Apple a year before. I wrote about my predicament in getting my PowerBook quickly, now that the school term had started. I mentioned that this was to be my first Apple computer. I told him about UW's strong support for the Macintosh platform, even though Apple was still languishing in 1998. I ended by saying that I hoped that Apple could somehow expedite my order.

Unfortunately, I never kept a copy of that email, so I can't verify anything.

A few days later, I got a call from DoIT. My PowerBook had arrived! And I was one of the first customers on campus to receive it.

I don/t know if my email had played any part in my receiving my PowerBook. And I don/t recall if I ever wrote a thank-you email to Steve Jobs for it.

But I do know that from that time forward, I have always used an Apple computer for my personal use, as follows:

  • PowerBook G3
  • PowerBook G4 Titanium (first version)
  • iMac G5 (second version)
  • MacBook Air (second version) -- my current computer
Along the way, I've also owned an iPod, an iPod nano and an Apple TV. I don't own an iPhone because I've been holding out for a white version, but iPhone 4S with Siri sounds interesting.

And that's my Apple memory of Steve Jobs. RIP.

current mood: mellow

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Monday, May 2nd, 2011
3:09 pm - "An Unofficial Guide to Voting in Singapore"
On May 7, 2011, Singapore citizens will vote at a landmark general election. Unlike past elections, 82 out of 87 seats are being contested this year, giving almost all eligible voters the chance to vote.

Like many of these voters, I am a first-time voter this year. As such, I thought it important to learn about what to do at their polling stations in order to vote properly.

I prepared this slide presentation to describe the polling station and what goes on in there. I hope that this demystifies the voting procedure in Singapore, and gives everyone the confidence and comfort when they vote on May 7.

Disclaimer: I am a polling agent for the Workers' Party (WP). Some of the information in this guide came from what I had learned at the WP's polling agent briefing.

current mood: optimistic

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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
11:39 pm - ST Forum letter: "Children of abused foreign mums deserve proper care"
Last Saturday's newspapers featured a story about the plight of foreign brides in Singapore who are mistreated by their Singaporean husbands. It also included a small section on how the children of these couples suffer. Moved by that section, I wrote a letter to the Straits Times Forum.

Here's a comparison of what I had emailed to the Straits Times and how it was finally published.

Singaporean children of foreign brides Children of abused foreign mums deserve state protection proper care

I refer to the article, "Bride and gloom" (ST 19 March 2011). I felt am distressed that such horrific situations still occur in modern Singapore, where women who are strangers in a strange land there are foreign brides who are helpless against their abusive husbands ('Bride and gloom'; last Saturday). (removed paragraph break) But when When I read about the plight of the their children, I felt even more hurt pain. Not only are these These children are not only the innocent victims of predicaments that are out of their control, but it also appears that they have been forgotten by the authorities.

We should not forget that these children are Singapore citizens. As such, they deserve all of the rights and privileges accorded to them. This includes providing state protection and welfare from their abusive fathers. These children should be protected like any Singaporean. And to To ensure that the children they continue to enjoy the love and care of their one responsible parent mothers, such protection should also be extended to their foreign mothers these women.

One obstacle is the sponsorship of the foreign mothers' long-term social visit passes. But this should be a trivial matter against the bigger picture. If the delinquent fathers are unwilling to sponsor their spouses' passes, then the immediate next-of-kin should be allowed to sponsor the mothers on behalf of the children do so. This ensures that the bond between mother and child is maintained amidst the family turmoil.

How many more of of these children need to be street vagrants in foreign lands and suffering from psychological problems before our government brings them back into the safety of their homeland?

I implore the The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to should take up the challenge of helping these children. Besides it appears hypocritical that on one hand, the government constantly urges its people to procreate, while on the other hand, it neglects these young citizens.

The ST Forum editor's butchering of my letter has left me feeling even more distressed now. He/She appears to be more willing to sacrifice objectivity for maintaining Singapore's squeaky clean reputation publicly. Against the bleak backdrop of the Saturday feature, this move appears hypocritical.

The part that hurt me most was that all mention of the rights and privileges of Singapore citizenship was completely erased from my letter! But that was my whole point! Without that stance, my letter becomes nothing more than something written by a guy with nothing better to do than complain into the wind.

The Straits Times completely lost the plot to appease the government.

Moral of the story:

  • Singapore citizenship has no place to be mentioned in a newspaper forum.

  • NEVER mention Singapore in a bad light!

  • NEVER make a snide remark at government policy!

  • When suggesting a next step, leave emotion out of the picture and focus purely on intellectual, logical, pragmatic reasons.

  • Also, when suggesting a next step to the government, use indirect language. (Government of the people? pfft!)

current mood: discontent

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Sunday, January 9th, 2011
10:18 pm - How I browse the web securely on my Firefox browser with 3 add-ons
Some people may know that I'm a huge fan of Firefox, the free web browser from Mozilla. I've been using it faithfully as my primary web browser since its version 1 days. That was the time when it was the primary challenger to the incumbent Internet Explorer.

What I especially love about Firefox is its huge library of add-ons. These are small little apps that enhance Firefox's functionality. It is because of this add-ons library that I remain a Firefox user, even though there are new browsers like Apple Safari and Google Chrome.

Recently, I've installed three add-ons to make my web browsing even more secure. Firefox already provides great built-in security, like warning against browsing bad websites and private browsing. But there are new and hidden threats that Firefox doesn't protect. This is where these add-ons come in to assist the paranoid.
  1. Safe
    When you browse a secure site (one that uses "HTTPS" in its address), usually with banks or other e-commerce sites, Firefox will automatically display the website owner's name in the address bar. This reassures you that the secure website that you're browsing really belongs to the person or organization that you expect.

    But sometimes, that little indicator, or a "lock" icon, isn't very noticeable. That's where "Safe" comes in. It not only draws a coloured border within the window, it also colours the window's tab. This gives you a very clear — albeit garish — indicator that you are, indeed, browsing a secure site delivered via the HTTPS protocol.

    By default, the border is very thick, as if Safe's developer wanted to reinforce the indicator as blatantly clear as possible. Fortunately, this can be adjusted to be thinner. On the other hand, there's no way to change the available colours. From what I can tell, there are only three colours: red, blue and green, and these are toggled according to which site you're browsing.

  2. HTTPS Everywhere
    HTTPS Everywhere
    HTTPS is the Internet protocol by which a secure connection is established between your web browser and the website that you're browsing. With this secure connection, it is theoretically and almost practically impossible for an outsider to see what information is being transferred. As I had mentioned above, almost every financial and e-commerce site uses HTTPS to deliver its information to you.

    But HTTPS can — and should — be used beyond these kinds of websites. In fact, any time that you have to login to a website, you should be using a secure connection. Popular sites like Facebook and Twitter already provide these kinds of HTTPS connections on their login pages.

    Unfortunately, HTTPS is rarely used beyond the login pages. And a few months ago, a nefarious Firefox add-on was developed to show the evils of this practice. Called "Firesheep", this add-on allows anyone to take over another person's browsing session on a website over a network, e.g. a wireless connection. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a more complete write-up of Firesheep.)

    Suffice to say that if all (good) websites enforced HTTPS connections when delivering personalized content, then we would be able to browse more comfortably and with greater trust. But because these websites don't enforce HTTPS, it falls on third parties to make it happen.

    That's what EFF's "HTTPS Everywhere" does. When you're browsing a website that is known to allow HTTPS connections, like Google, Facebook and Twitter, HTTPS Everywhere will automatically force Firefox to connect to the site via a HTTPS connection. This is even if you are browsing a non-login page, like Gmail, a Facebook fan page or someone's Twitter profile. If you're using Safe, then you should see the (garish) coloured border and tab on these pages.

    One downside of HTTPS Everywhere is that you may experience slightly slower browsing speeds when browsing these websites. But this slowdown is measured in milliseconds, and isn't your security worth that small amount of waiting time?

    Another downside is that not all websites that allow HTTPS connections will operate properly. For example, Facebook Chat doesn't work over a HTTPS connection.

  3. BetterPrivacy
    If you've been browsing the web for a long time, then you're probably familiar with "cookies", little bits of information that are stored in your web browser, usually to track your login credentials or online behaviour. But have you heard of the "evercookie"? That's a nickname for data that is stored in your web browser — and cannot be removed by your browser's usual "Delete cookies" option.

    If you have the Flash plugin (and chances are, you do), then you probably already have evercookies. Unlike normal web browser cookies, evercookies are stored as part of your Flash plugin's temporary data. Called "Local Shared Objects", or LSOs, they are stored together with other Flash temporary data, like buffered video, until you explicitly clear your Flash plugin's cache.

    Unfortunately, it isn't easy to delete the contents of your Flash plugin's cache. (Here's the Adobe help page that allows you to view and delete your Flash plugin's cache.) Also, within Firefox, there's no option to not store LSOs because it is an Adobe Flash technology, not a browser setting.

    "BetterPrivacy" helps you manage evercookies more easily. Like the standard Firefox cookies settings, BetterPrivacy lets you view the LSOs in your Flash plugin's cache and remove any that you don't want. Also, whenever you quit Firefox, BetterPrivacy will prompt you if you want to delete any LSOs that it has found. (Of course, you have the option to automatically delete these LSOs without prompting.)

    On top of that, BetterPrivacy guards against another kind of evercookies. Instead of being Flash-based, these evercookies are stored in your web browser through a new technology called "Web Storage". Web Storage is a feature of the new HTML5 specification to allow web services to store data within your browser. Needless to say, this includes cookies. Like LSOs, there's no easy way to remove these Web Storage data, including the evercookies. Fortunately, BetterPrivacy will let you automatically delete any Web Storage data that it finds.

    (I suspect that this auto-removal feature will need to be improved in future. There is certainly some Web Storage data that could be deemed useful over separate browsing sessions and should not be removed.)

    So if you are already viewing and removing your regular Firefox cookies — or even blocking them, then you might also want to consider BetterPrivacy for an added layer of protection against evercookies.
So those are the three Firefox security-related add-ons that I've added to my browser. I've used them with the newest Firefox 4 and haven't encountered any trouble with them (so far).

I know that this reeks of paranoia and some of my information/opinions may be challenged or contradicted, but when it comes to security, I'd personally prefer to err on the side of caution. There are still some dark corners in the far reaches of the World Wide Web that I'd like to insure myself against. Safe, HTTPS Everywhere and BetterPrivacy allow me to surf the web just that bit more comfortably.


current mood: satisfied

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Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
10:52 pm - Review: "하녀 (The Housemaid)"
하녀 (The Housemaid)
Thanks to omy.sg, I had the opportunity to catch a preview of "하녀" (or, in English, "The Housemaid"). This was the first Korean drama movie that I was going to watch, so given what I knew about Korean shows, I expected something that was dragged out and emotional.

I was not let down. The pace was glacial compared to what I'm used to with mainstream Hollwood fare. There was also much less dialogue, though fortunately no intercut scenes of people staring at one another. However, the easy-to-understand plot and moments of humour helped to make the film very watchable, even for one who doesn't normally watch Korean shows. (The last Korean movie I watched is "Sex is Zero", if that means anything about what I know about Korean film.)

The film tells the story of a young and attractive housemaid who sleeps with the man of the house, resulting in dark consequences for her and the family. Apparently, this is a remake of the 1960 movie of the same name. Not having seen the original, I can only judge this modern interpretation of "The Housemaid" on its own.

As the sweet but naive housemaid, Jeon Do-yeon was believable in everything she did, from the way she fawned over the young daughter to her performing of the household chores. I could really feel pity for her when she succumbed to temptation. It's too bad then that the ending was both sudden and a headscratcher. After two hours of playing a traumatized young woman, we were left without seeing her really descend into her madness and subsequent tragic end, and instead "treated" to a 10-minute wrap-up.

On the other hand, I thought that almost all of the characters were plastic. Especially the wife of the family. She was written as very black-and-white. Her mother was supposed to be like an evil witch, but she came across as whiny. And the husband was, I guess, like any Korean man -- manly and detached. The use of money was also too convenient, which resulted in the lack of emotional depth in the story.

The only stand-out actress was Yun Yeo-Jong, who played the senior housemaid. We could see her journey from haughty "elder stateswoman" to a somewhat grandmotherly figure. She was also the one who was responsible for injecting most of the humour into this dark film. Her one nude scene had the amusing effect of making the audience cringe.

One thing that I was confused about had nothing to do with the film itself, but with its rating. For some reason, the Singapore Board of Censorship had slapped it with a R21 rating. However, there was only about five minutes' worth of nudity. The one sex scene was filmed in such close-up that you could only see the waist/butt area of both characters. There was no homosexuality, which in Singapore means an automatic R21 rating. Unless the censors count the scene where two women share a bed as homosexuality, which I regard as two people who have no choice but to share a bed because of their cramped one-room apartment. So I'm curious to know what warranted the R21 rating.

The rating aside, I'd say that this is an enjoyable movie if you're new to Korean films. The plot isn't too convincing, the actors are easy on the eyes, and the cinematography is gorgeous. But be prepared to squirm in your seat as you wonder when the pace will pick up (hint: it doesn't).

current mood: okay

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Sunday, October 24th, 2010
5:15 pm - 3 things I like about the new MacBook Air
MacBook Air
This week, Steve Jobs introduced a refresh of the MacBook Air laptop computers from Apple. These new portables are now the lightest computers that Apple offers across its venerable Mac line.

I already own the previous version of the MacBook Air. I had bought it in March, so that I could not only bring it on my holiday then, but also use it for a few presentations at work and BarCamp Singapore. What led me to buy this MacBook Air, which I named "Aironaut, was its light weight. From personal experience, I know that even portable computers can be backbreaking, once you add in the weight of the power adapter.

The new MacBook Air is just as light as the previous versions, weighing in at just about 40 grammes less for the 13-inch version. But there are a few other things that I like about this new version, namely:
  1. Two USB ports
  2. Flash-based internal disk
  3. Thumb drive-based software reinstall disk
1. Two USB ports
When it came to connecting devices, I believe that the MacBook Air had a "wireless" principle. That meant wireless networking (it requires an adapter to connect an Ethernet cable) and wireless accessories, like a wireless mouse. So one USB port has generally been sufficient for me when connecting an external disk.

Having said that, "one USB port good, two USB ports better". When backing up some disks recently, I found out just how limiting one USB port can be. In the end, I had to obtain a USB hub, so that I could back up everything easily.

I still think that there is a wireless principle for the MacBook Air, especially as more peripherals have wireless capabilities, e.g. printers, hard disks, etc. But for the short-term, the new MacBook Air's two USB ports definitely makes connecting peripherals so much more convenient.

2. Flash-based internal disk
When I was buying Aironaut, I was very tempted to get the version with its solid state drive (SSD), i.e. a flash disk. The traditional hard disk still has its uses and sturdiness, but a flash disk is so much sexier, quieter, and less prone to mechanical failure, especially when moving the computer while the disk is busy.

Unfortunately, the cost of the MacBook Air with the SSD exceeded my budget, and so I had to settle for the one with the usual hard disk. The new MacBook Airs don't give you that choice. Instead, you choose whether you want a lot of disk space, or even lots more disk space, and all in flash disk goodness.

Naysayers might say that a flash disk is not "persisitent". What this means is that, due to the nature of flash disks, if there's no power for a very long time, the flash disk could essentially be wiped clean. Besides not really knowing for sure what "a very long time" actually means, the other thing is that, as a computer, it should have power quite consistently. At most, it may not be used for a few days, but that shouldn't be "a very long time". So in my opinion, this argument is moot.

Besides the display, the internal disk is the other big consumer of power. A flash disk uses less power than a mechanical hard disk, so I'm sure that's one reason why Apple can boast a 30-day standby time on a full battery charge.

And yes, I was wowed when Steve Jobs boasted about the 30-day standby time. That's unheard of in the computer industry for laptops.

3. Thumb drive-based software reinstall disk
This is huge. I've always known that the computer industry would eventually have to move away from optical disks (CDs, DVDs) for software installation to thumb drives. As the cost of thumb drives plummeted while their storage space increased, it was only a question of time as to when the switch would occur.

And now, Apple has led the way with the MacBook Air. Again, this medium makes sense for the MacBook Air due to its lack of an optical disk drive. My Aironaut's software reinstall comes on DVDs. I had never needed to use them until one day, when I needed to get QuickTime 7 out of them. I had to make use of the "Remote Disc" feature, where the MacBook Air can use the optical disk drive of another computer, but it was just not an ideal setup.

A thumb drive makes so much more sense, not only in terms of not needing to hunt down an optical disc-equipped computer, but also the amount of software that can be stored in it. My Aironaut needs two DVDs, but the new MacBook Air only has one thumb drive. No more swapping of discs, no more needless wondering about which disc contains the software I want.

Computer users who are used to swapping discs when installing software are going to appreciate this convenience, once all of the other software publishers move to thumb drives or other flash memory-based storage, like SD cards (oh look, the MacBook Air has a built-in SD card reader!).

So those are my three reasons for why I like the new MacBook Air:
  1. One extra USB port
  2. Flash-based internal disk
  3. Thumb drive to reinstall Apple software
But since I had bought Aironaut only about half a year ago, I'm not going to upgrade just yet. Maybe I'll wait for another MacBook Air refresh.

current mood: geeky

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Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
5:13 pm - Dell Home - evening of revelry and entertainment
Thanks to XPR, I was invited to an event by Dell, teasingly called "An evening of revelry and entertainment". I thought that it'd be a time of fun and games, especially since it was held in an apartment at a prestigious condominium, Scotts Highpark, near the Newton MRT station.

It turned out to be more like a regular ol' house party, except that it was hosted by Dell Asia Pacific and there were several Dell and Alienware laptops placed in the rooms. Since it was held at 7pm (I arrived fashionably late at 7:30pm), my tummy was rumbling, so I headed straight for the buffet.

While eating, I wandered around the four-room apartment (one big hall/dining area and three bedrooms) to survey what was available. The house had clearly been decked out to showcase how Dell's computers fit with the needs and wants of every member of the modern family.
  • In "Bree's Kitchen", there was also a touchscreen computer, Inspiron One, that had an Excel spreadsheet of the family budget and a browser window showing Recipes.com.
  • "Michael's Room" was decked out to be the typical male gamer's room, with high-end Alienware desktop and laptop computers.
  • The next one was "Bernadette's Room", where the "daughter" lounged on her bed with a Dell laptop and she commented (no doubt through a script) on how she liked the colour and feel of her Inspiron laptop.
  • Finally, there was "Dennis' Study", where the man of the house was with his Inspiron One touchscreen desktop, browsing the stock market and other websites.
Finally, there were three Dell laptops and three Alienware laptops in the hall for attendees to play with. There was also a big flatscreen hung on the other end of the hall. When I arrived, it had a message about being ready to use with an "Intel Wireless Connect" device. About an hour-and-a-half later, it still had the same message. Clearly, this was supposed to be a demonstration that no one had figured out to, well, demonstrate.

So I did. Only one Inspiron 15R in the hall had Intel Wireless Connect. I pressed a button in the program, and -- voila! -- whatever was on the laptop's screen was now shown on the TV as well. I played a few videos, and that's when people started to realize what was going on, and the PR folks jumped in to explain the setup. I casually walked away to let others be wowed.

While the screen sharing was supposed to be real-time, I noticed that the TV would display about a half-second after what was on the laptop. I guess that's as close to real-time as is possible, given the state of today's wireless communications. But video playback was definitely smooth on both screens with no jerkiness. I think that's more of a credit to Intel's software rather than the Dell Inspiron laptop.

The Dell Inspiron laptop itself was like any other modern Windows 7-based laptop in the market. Big and bright screen, full-size keyboard, the usual connectors, built-in camera. It weighed in at about 3kg, which I've now discovered is a pain to pick up with one hand. I'm too used to the lightweight of my MacBook Air.

I did notice, though, that there was a slight static electricity discharge around the keyboard. The last time I noticed this was with an old Apple laptop that was plugged into the wall. Which meant that either the Dell's power adapter wasn't correctly designed for Singapore's voltage, or the Inspiron's casing is not well grounded. From this, I would recommend that the user ground himself at all times. Or herself, as in "Bernadette's" case.

As for the Inspiron One touchscreen desktop, I initially found it fun to use, but the novelty wore off soon enough. As Steve Jobs had said recently in his introduction to the new MacBook Air, having your arm raised in front of you all the time to touch a screen is painful and weary. It didn't help that typing or even things like mouse dragging were difficult. "Dennis" himself had constant difficulty trying to expand the on-screen handwriting interface. As a result of forearm muscle ache at needing to hold my hand straight in front, I quickly lost interest in the Inspiron One.

On the other hand, I must say that the handwriting interface was very accurate! This was in spite of my and others' scrawls. Dell or Microsoft just needs to get it to interpret the writing faster, so that the user can write faster too.

Not being a gamer myself, I didn't care much about the Alienware laptops' prowess. But at nearly 5kg, I don't think they can rightfully be called "portable" computers! More like "back breaking".

At the end of the day, Dell's computers are still Windows 7-based computers, and there's nothing in them that sets them apart from the other Windows 7-based computers. While it was fun to play with some new laptops, I wouldn't be switching from a Mac anytime soon.

Also, as mentioned, I've now really come to appreciate the lightness of my MacBook Air. Dell probably has similar lightweight laptops, but none were showcased that night. And I definitely will not be getting any insanely heavy Alienware laptops!

As for touchscreen desktops, I'll continue to treat them as a novelty. Steve Jobs was right -- humans are designed to touch surfaces in a downward motion, not straight ahead.

I stayed at the apartment till about 10pm. After the lucky draw at about 8:30pm, there was nothing much else going on. By 9:30pm, the models were off duty too. Everyone was just chatting and socializing. I don't know if there was much "revelry" or "entertainment", but as for me, it was time to leave.

I still wonder how Dell got the apartment though. It was definitely swanky! A pleasant place to be at for a person who would probably never be able to live in something like it.

Finally, few suggestion for XPR:
  • Please hire Asian models! We're in Singapore, not some Western colony! I dare say that the waitresses, in their maid uniform, were far cuter than the plastic-looking "Bernadette".
  • If your lucky draw is based solely on those who had dropped in namecards, please also allow for people without namecards to drop in a name label into the bowl. As I had not submitted a namecard, I lost interest in the lucky draw proceedings and went off to play with a computer instead.
  • Please reply when your invited guest responds to you. Don't leave them hanging, wondering if the email got through to you.

current mood: okay

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Thursday, October 21st, 2010
11:43 pm - Launch of Windows Phone 7 in Singapore
Windows Phone 7
Microsoft unleashed its answer to Apple's smartphone leader, iPhone, with its Windows Phone 7 platform. This is supposedly a significant upgrade from the previous Windows Mobile platforms and represents Microsoft's last chance to catch up with Apple.

Thanks to the folks from WeberShandwick, I was invited to the Windows Phone 7 launch at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. This event was a rather fancy shindig, attended by supposed luminaries in whatever industry they hail from. Sorry, you may be important people, but I certainly didn't recognize anyone. Though I met an old buddy there.

Doors were open at 7pm, but the event started at 8pm proper. After drinks and finger food, we were ushered into a darkened room and told to step within a lighted area. The show started with the MC welcoming us, then a few words of introduction from Microsoft Singapore's managing director, Jessica Tan.

This was followed by a brief introduction by Celeste Chong of Butter Factory and Loh Lik Peng of Hotel 1929 to talk about their apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace. No demos, unfortunately, so we had to imagine what their apps were like.

Matthew Hardman, Windows Client Business Group Lead, then came on stage to talk about a few key features of Windows Phone 7. Again, there was no real-time demo, not even a video, so the audience had to make do with the static images while Hardman rattled on. This was very disappointing, because Microsoft had a great big screen on stage, but failed to capitalize on it.

And then, the phones had their moment to shine as six models trotted out, posing with the phones from Dell, LG, HTC and Samsung. Someone should have taught the models to keep the phone screens on, because the phones didn't look picture-worthy with their black screens.

We were told to stand in the lighted box, because behind the black curtains surrounding us were the four exhibition areas: photos, gaming/entertainment, marketplace and office mobility (at a mock-up cafe). After the show was over, we were invited to experience Windows Phone 7's capabilities at these areas.

This turned out to be a letdown, from a first-hand experience point-of-view because... there was limited first-hand experience! Instead of having several phones available for the hundreds of attendees to play with, there were probably only about 15 in total in the room. And this included the few that were either already in the models' hands or handled by the Microsoft staff. I counted only four phones that were affixed to the exhibition areas for attendees to use. And, of course, these were hogged constantly.

So I had to settle for a verbal demonstration by Microsoft staff, as they played with the phones and showed us how easy it was to use. Yeah, I took their phones a few times to get my hands on them. But it felt quite pressuring to fiddle with a phone while someone constantly kept a close eye on me.

The few times that I did use one of the Windows Phone 7 phones, I had mixed feelings about the platform. The homescreen looked useful with its flashing tiles that let you know what's going on, e.g. friend updates on Facebook/Twitter, app updates, etc. Typing seemed easy enough, even though the touchscreen keys are smaller than the iPhone's, as did swiping/scrolling.

But the interface took a lot of getting used to. It wasn't something that I picked up intuitively. For example, the many small icons in the camera were for everything except taking a picture. I guess we're spoiled by the iPhone having its big shutter button on screen, so many times, I and my friend would accidentally find ourselves back at the homescreen or doing a Bing search.

That's another thing that irritated me. Each app had its small icon buttons at the bottom, even for common things like SMS and the contact list. But these icons somehow didn't look descriptive enough, nor were they easy to press due to their small size.

I was not the only one who thought that the Windows Phone 7 interface had a steep learning curve. Even a demo lady wearing a Microsoft polo T-shirt admitted to it! Haha, I appreciate such open honesty from those who've eaten their own dog food!

I was told that Windows Phone 7 will work with a Mac through an upcoming Zune Desktop Client. With the name "Zune" and memories of that failed Microsoft music player, I don't know if I have as much faith in it as I do with Apple's trusty iSync/Address Book/iCal combo.

I was also informed that, at least for the Dell phone, a full battery charge could last from about 7am to 10pm with constant web surfing, presumably with 3G or Wifi. That's not even a day's full use, quite like the iPhone.

As my old buddy had commented, Apple has nothing to worry from Windows Phone 7. The iPhone, with its iOS, is light years ahead, though the homescreen could be improved. Instead, Google should be the one shaking in its knees. Android still has a rather geeky interface, so ordinary folks would likely find issues with it. As he said, Android is like Linux -- it's powerful but would never work on a computer for laymen. But Windows Phone 7 looks sexy enough to challenge Android head-on, even in spite of its flaws.

Finally, a few suggestions for WeberShandwick:
  • Please provide a map in your invitation. Not everyone knows where the glitzy hotspots are. It doesn't help that GoThere didn't recognize "72-13 Theatre".
  • Stop giving out paper materials. Be environmentally friendly -- and practical! -- by putting your materials in a thumb drive. Not only can you also include high-resolution pictures (and thus saving us media folks from typing a complicated SkyDrive URL), but we can also re-use the thumbdrives for other personal purposes. And if you or your client brands the thumbdrives, hey, that's free advertising for you!
  • Provide better indication at the reception counter, so that we know which person we're supposed to register with. Or at least make sure the person whom we replied to is at the counter. If bloggers are considered as media, please let the bloggers know too.
  • Please hire Asian models. We're in Singapore, for chrissake! There are lots of gorgeous local girls who are not as plastic. In fact, I thought that the sole Asian model was the most natural and relaxed of the lot.

current mood: pensive

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Sunday, October 10th, 2010
4:38 pm - BarCamp Singapore 6 at The National Art Gallery Singapore
This weekend, I made my way to The National Art Gallery Singapore for BarCamp Singapore 6, i.e. the sixth BarCamp in Singapore. I had been half-hearted to attend, and even more half-hearted to present. But eventually, I packed in my trusty ol' MacBook Air "Aironaut" and made my way down the former City Hall at Fullerton Road.

A "BarCamp" is an informal conference where anyone can speak on their topics, and attendees can vote on who they want to listen to. However, given the shortage of speakers in Singapore, almost everyone who wants to speak will eventually speak, even if he gets no votes. Oh wait, this is Singapore democracy...

Longer BarCamp, more sessions
What made this BarCamp Singapore special was that it was held over two days instead of the usual one day. With sessions held every half hour between 12pm-6pm, that amounted to a whopping 96 sessions! As usual, about half of them were tech-related, but there were just as many that covered other subjects, like "Why buildings hog so much energy" and "How to be a successful author in Singapore".

The venue: The National Art Gallery Singapore (former City Hall and Supreme Court of Singapore)
The National Art Gallery Singapore itself was quite chaotic, since there was an open house this weekend. As a result, not only did BarCamp attendees and Art Gallery visitors have to squeeze past each other, but there was the occasional interruptions from young children and old seniors during the presentations.

But BarCamp Singapore was purposely held during this time to (a) take advantage of the facilities when they're publicly available, and (b) to let members of the public become aware of BarCamp. (b) was moderately successful, with some members of the public peeking in initially out of curiosity, then staying for a session or two.

Post-session voting of speakers/topics
This BarCamp also allowed attendees to vote for their favourite speakers after each session. Voting was carried out through Twitter, apparently as a wide-scale beta test for someone's new web service. My gripe with this was that, for some bizarre reason, "retweets" were not counted as votes. (My other gripe was that voting was done on Twitter exclusively, so if you don't tweet, you don't have a voice. (Oh wait, Singapore democracy...)

I liked the new concept of extending BarCamp Singapore to be more than one day. From previous BarCamps, I've noticed that there would be a few sessions that unfortunately didn't garner any votes and were thus left out. But I'm sure attendees would still benefit from those sessions. So I think this was a good idea.

But I'm not so hot on the post-session voting. And I'm not complaining because I'm a sore loser who will miss out on winning the iPad. I think its voting mechanics are flawed fundamentally and a manual count should be considered, especially if the vote counting system is still under testing.

Damn, I keep forgetting, Singapore democracy...

current mood: okay

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Monday, September 27th, 2010
11:49 pm - Review: omy.sg invitation to MINI Singles Party
On a Sunday evening, the night of the finals for the Singapore Formula One race, I made my way down to CHIJMES for a singles party. I had been contacted through omy.sg some time back and frankly, I'd forgotten that I'd even furnished my details with them.

Registration was from 6-6:30pm, so of course I arrived at 6:30pm. The party was held on the front lawn on the ground floor, an open area that was encircled by a simple white chain. There was huge MINI backdrop at the front and two tables with finger food and alcoholic drinks to the rear. There were also some small tables for standing and milling around.

By the time I arrived, the proceedings had already begun. At the registration table, I got my goodie bag, which consisted of a few vouchers for spas and beauty treatments, then entered the lawn area.

Since I had gone alone, I wasn't sure of what to expect and had actually decided that if I wasn't having fun, then I'd just leave early. When the MC finished with her round of quizzes, we were invited to partake of the food and drink. I helped myself to some of the finger foods and took a cup of grape juice + vodka + apple bits. I should've gone for the orange + vodka a.k.a. screwdriver.

A lady saw my drink and asked me what it was. That question led to my joining her and her friend at a table. A few others joined us and soon I was talking for a long time with some of the women there. Two Japanese ladies also joined us, and soon they were lost in a Japanese conversation with the first lady.

The basic questions that we asked were: "Is this your first time at such an event?" and "How did you find out about this event?" The most common answers were, respectively, "Yes" and "Through an email". I later pieced together that this was organized by the Social Development Unit (i.e. the Singapore government's dating agency) and omy.sg was one of the partners. MINI was a sponsor, in conjunction with the ongoing F1 race.

While I was chatting with someone, Violet Lim of Lunch Actually took the mic and gave some tips on how to break the ice on a first date. She made everyone take part by making us ask one another "What is your dream job?" That question was supposed to spur us to be creative and get to impress the other person. But in the end, we mostly went back to familiar topics of conversation, like current job and music taste and "What would you be doing now if you weren't here?"

Later, six couples who had been preselected to go on dates were brought up on stage to find out which couple had learned the most about each other. However, by then, almost everyone in the audience was more interested in socializing. So I don't know what questions the couples were quizzed about nor who won.

Around 8pm, the party had ended. There was going to be a live screening of the F1, but there was hardly anybody left. Some of us who stayed a bit longer continued to meet and talk with the others, with some contacts being exchanged. This being the 21st century, I collected Facebook contacts rather than the usual phone numbers!

Generally, this party was badly organized. There were a lot of things to complain about. Firstly, there was the food, or rather, the lack of it. We were promised "free flow of food and drinks". But for an event that was held at dinner time and serving alcoholic drinks, the food was simply not substantial. I had to grab something to eat later, otherwise I'd be starving through the night.

The other letdown was the MINI sponsorship. We were only treated to a static backdrop with a picture of a MINI car. There was no actual MINI to be seen anywhere. And the contest prizes were for things other than MINI-related items. (T-shirts had been given away earlier, but I don't know if these were MINI-branded.)

And then there was the lack of any real ice-breakers, except for Violet Lim's challenge to us. This being a singles party, where almost everyone was a stranger, it would have been good to have some kind of simple organized activities.

Fortunately, there were people who were more adept at socializing among the participants, and they were able to get the reserved ones, like me, out of our shells. So kudos to those participants, but zero points to the organizers.

By the time I left, a few of us were talking about a movie outing. So I guess something potentially good came out of it.

And yes, I've added a few new Facebook friends too.

current mood: satisfied

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Friday, September 17th, 2010
11:31 pm - Review: "Hush"
As the credits rolled in the darkened hall after the end of this 22-minute short film, I had only one thought running through my mind:

"This was the worst $7 I had ever spent on a film!"

Though I'm a supporter of made-in-Singapore movies, there are some films that are as bad as any B-grade flick from Hollywood or Europe. And "Hush" is one of them (next to almost every Jack Neo movie ever made).

"Hush" is a locally made short film by Jeremiah R. Oh. It starts off with a family sitting down for dinner, but in the short span of time, you gradually realize that each member is keeping his or her own deep, dark secret. Well, all except the middle daughter.

What makes this film so bad is its failure to live up to its promise. It is definitely raunchy. But there's sex that helps to move a film forward, and there's sex that's there to tease the audience. "Hush" fell into the latter.

I walked away thinking that "Hush" was simply an excuse for Mr. Oh to indulge in watching naked Singaporean women perform for him. There was ample nudity to arouse the common man, but I felt that the short film could have done without it and still tell its so-called story.

The plot itself left me -- and the majority of the audience, judging by the talk that I heard around me -- thinking "What the f--k" in a disappointed way. There was, actually, no story. Instead, there were just bits and pieces of ideas flung onto film and hoping that they all stuck and came together to tell... something.

Also, the long silent panning scenes, which for some irritating reason seem to be a hallmark of Singapore movies, meant that precious film time -- and all the more precious for a short film -- was used up for no good reason, thus leaving the audience with a sense of loss and uncertainty.

I would recommend that you save your $7 for some other entertainment. "Hush" is simply not worth a single cent.

current mood: disappointed

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Saturday, September 11th, 2010
10:56 pm - Review: "囡囡 (Girl$)"
囡囡 (Girl$)
I don't normally watch Chinese movies, let alone Hong Kong ones, because I always feel that they're too slow or too flashy. So when I saw the trailer for "囡囡" (or, in English, "Girl$"), I decided to give it a shot. Of course, it also helped that the show promised some adult content, a suitable visual respite from the doldrums of the daily regiment.

"囡囡" follows the lives of four ladies who work in the Hong Kong lifestyle of "paid dates", or more commonly known as "escorting" in other parts of the world. These girls literally get paid to go on dates with men, and usually end with the romp in bed. Through the four women's stories, we got to see different aspects / reasons for why they -- and all of the other "paid dates" women -- would work in this line. And it's not just for money alone, but even companionship or boredom.

"囡囡" started off quite refreshingly, showing the women going about their work, or even using animated characters. There were even light-hearted moments, such as when Ronnie, who pays customers instead of the other way around, pays one bloke HK$10 instead of the usual HK$1,000.

But unlike that other more well-known movie about a prostitute, "Pretty Women", "囡囡" also exposed the dangers that these women go through. In the opening scene, we already see an escort being murdered and chopped up. Later, we see a man do things to Lin with golf balls in a condom.

The nudity/sex was, indeed, as graphic as promised, with enough exposed breasts to keep the "dirty old men" glued to their seats. The version shown in Singapore was rated R21, the highest rating possible, and was still supposedly cut by censors. Which makes me wonder just how further lurid this film was. But then, "囡囡" was never about the nudity. As the show progressed through its 90 minutes, there was less and less sex, but I was still captivated by the stories of the four women.

And this was in spite of the show never really jolting me with any climactic moments. Sure, there was the moment when Icy realized she had been filmed secretly, or the above-mentioned golf ball scene. But these were played out calmly and steadily, so that they did not elicit any strong feelings. I think that's a strength of the movie, that you intellectually realize that women engage in "paid dating" with both eyes open, as with any other job, but also appreciate that the dangers that they're exposed to are more severe.

"囡囡" ended without a complete closure. Instead of seeing the four women's story threads tied up nicely, as one would expect from Hollywood films, we are presented with even more question marks. One has to live with HIV/AIDS, another looks like she's about to sell her virginity, and so on. In fact, the movie ends with the four women walking in opposite directions, metaphorically showing that though they share the similar line of work, they are still driven by individual choices and experiences.

Even if there were no nudie bits, "囡囡" would still be a satisfactory introduction to the underworld of "paid dates", including its reliance on modern Internet technology like forums and instant messaging. And the movie would also make you want to know more about the motivations and lifestyle of those who live the escort life.

current mood: satisfied

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Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
11:56 pm - Apple TV - no longer a global player
Apple TV
Less than 24 hours ago, Steve Jobs introduced the new iteration of Apple's hobby, the Apple TV. At one-quarter the size of the original and jet black in colour, it is Apple's latest attempt to gain some traction in the living room the way it has with computing and mobile phones.

The Apple TV continues to do what it does best: play films and videos in high definition through a regular television set. As before, it gets its content from a connected computer, usually wirelessly. And you can still watch videos from YouTube or browse photographs through Flickr.

But I think Apple has taken a huge step back in taking the Apple TV global. Instead, this new version of Apple's media player is now focused on the U.S. market. The new Apple TV lets you stream TV shows from U.S. broadcasters, ABC and Fox. It lets you watch Netflix films, which is only available in the U.S.

Of course, the Apple TV has always been quite U.S.-centric, with its legal limitation of showing only movies and TV shows that you had purchased through the iTunes Store (though I suppose for non-U.S. iTunes Stores' purchases, you could also watch them on Apple TV).

But with this new version, Apple is further restricting its reach. And it has done it in a huge way by removing the hard disk drive. This is the first Apple TV to lack a hard disk drive. This is because the device is designed to stream videos either through the iTunes Store or via a connected computer. Nothing is stored in the Apple TV, so there's no need for an expansive data storage medium. (Of course, I'm sure there is some storage, probably as flash memory, to store things like the operating system and a buffer for streaming, but it probably measures in megabytes or the low gigabytes, with limited free space for "other" use.)

Many Apple TV end users have taken advantage of the hard disk to "hack" their beloved media players to support other file formats, or for other non-entertainment purposes. Outside of the U.S., hacking allows owners to transfer their non-U.S. videos into the Apple TV to watch on their television sets. This opens up a whole new opportunity to make fuller use of the grey box for TV entertainment. Not to mention for storing favourite films in the device, removing the need to stream from a switched-on computer.

Also, not only has Apple removed the hard disk, it has also changed the USB port to the mini USB version. That means thumb drives, which have been the primary delivery tool for the initial step in hacking the Apple TV, are negated from use with this new device. Again, limiting hacking ability means limiting playback options.

So, without a hard disk drive, without a standard USB port that thumb drives can use, these lead to a restriction on hacking ability. And the Apple TV is reduced to being what it was originally conceived to be: a dumb box that lets you playback U.S. films and TV shows (primarily).

I'm glad I have my big grey Apple TV. People still wonder why I have it. But it works great in playing my iTunes shows. And after hacking it, it also functions perfectly in playing all other kinds of videos. Plus the opening jingle is just... grand.

Which makes the Apple TV a lot more valuable to me as an entertainment device. As for the new Apple TV, with its U.S.-centric restriction? It means nothing to me. Absolutely nada. Zero value. And I suspect that I'm not the only non-U.S. Apple fan who feels that way too.

Related entries:

current mood: disappointed

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Saturday, August 28th, 2010
4:54 pm - Why doesn't the President sing the National Anthem?
About a week after National Day on 9 August 2010, I submitted an enquiry to the Istana's feedback form. I won't elaborate on what it is because it's self-explanatory.
Firstly, please note that this message is not a joke. I'm asking it in all seriousness because it is something that many people have noticed, but no one has the answer to.

I've noticed that at every National Day Parade, during the singing of the National Anthem, the President is shown to be not singing it. This year, the camera was focused on him at the tail-end of the anthem, but his lips were visibly sealed.

With all due respect to His Excellency, I was wondering if there is a protocol that says that the President is exempt from singing the National Anthem.

Thank you for your time.

Yu Hui
After waiting about a week and not receiving any response, not even an automated "thank you", I sent the above to the Straits Times Forum and Today Voices. Till today, I have not seen this enquiry published in either of the mainstream newspapers.

So I'm just posting it here on the hope that someone will chance upon it and know the answer that is on a lot of people's minds:

Why doesn't the President of Singapore sing the National Anthem during National Day parades?

current mood: curious

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Friday, August 13th, 2010
7:02 pm - Universal Studios Singapore -- fun, imaginative... too American
"Hollywood" sign at entrance
About half a year after it opened, I finally had the chance to step through the gates of Universal Studios Singapore and experience this internationally acclaimed theme park first hand. My expectations were set both by the hype around this local version of the Universal theme park franchise, and also my previous experience at the Los Angeles one.

Having arrived after the rest of the group, I met up with the others at the "Shrek 4D" attraction. This was where we would join Shrek and Donkey in rescuing Fiona. We donned our glasses to watch the 3D effects and got sprayed with water and bounced around in the seats to get the "4D" effect. (Technically, the fourth dimension is time, but who am I to argue with creative licensing in the name of fun?) Like any motion simulator ride, the "4D" effects were simple and predictable, especially the water spray... though it did feel rather gross to get wet when Shrek sneezed on screen!

Outside the "Revenge of the Mummy" ride
We wanted to go for the Jurassic Park water ride, but there was a one-hour wait for it, so we went to the "Revenge of the Mummy" ride instead. It had a reportedly shorter wait of 45 minutes, but we were in-and-out within half an hour! This was an indoor roller-coaster where we were supposed to find the Book of... something. Anyway, the story wasn't important, we were there to scream! And as luck would have it, I got into the first row.

We got a slow build-up for about a minute and then it was a full-on roller coaster ride! Unfortunately, the whole thing ended in a few minutes. We expected some kind of big climactic final drop, so we were disappointed when we found ourselves heading for the alighting point.

This indoor roller-coaster ride felt... safe.

Outside the "Battlestar Galactica" ride
We walked a bit further and found ourselves in the "Sci-fi" section. The highlight was the "Battlestar Galactica" twin roller-coaster. This was, of course, closed, and has been closed almost since the park opened. A few of us went to the "Accelerator", which is really like Disneyworld's Mad Hatter's tea cup ride, except that we're supposed to imagine that we're in some kind of high-tech spinning accelerator. It didn't help that the in-car wheel was so stiff to turn! Actually, the speed of our spinning felt to be controlled more by the external system rather than our own turning efforts.

"New York""New York"
We walked through the "New York" section and had a break at "Mel's Diner". I had a chocolate milkshake while some of the others bought burger meals. While sitting and chatting, we saw a performance going on outdoors. It was supposed to be for the filming of a beach song-and-dance for a 1960s/1970s movie.

Personally, I thought the story was lost on the Singaporean/Asian spectators. And that performance summed up my thoughts about Universal Studios Singapore. What the planners seemed to have done was to transfer the American model into Singapore, lock, stock and barrel. There was very little "localization" done. That meant American food, American performances, American attractions. Granted, there's little localization that could be done for the attractions, but songs and dances could have been better adapted for the local taste. Perhaps Universal needs to partner with a few Asian filmmakers to inject that local flavour into its Singapore theme park.

After our break, we went to watch a Steven Spielberg-hosted attraction about special effects. We were to imagine that we were in old New York City and a hurricane was coming down on us. Again, it felt... safe. We were supposed to feel a hurricane, but I thought our own local monsoon thunderstorms were more dreadful. When a metal beam fell from the roof, it dropped mechanically. When a boat burst into the dock that we spectators were supposed to be in, it just floated in undramatically.

Our final attraction was "Monster Rock". I thought it would be something like the "Rocky Horror" show. Instead, it was about a song-and-dance show featuring non-scary monsters. And -- again -- it was very Western. I could understand the "scientist's" fast-spoken opening monologue. The monsters project on-screen were their classic horror versions, but the performers who came out were instead prim and proper and, for the females, sexy.

At least this show featured some localization. There was a routine when Dracula serenaded his Bride in a Chinese song. (While I recognize the song, I don't know its title.) The audience loved that! They were screaming and whooping at the start and applauding loudly at the end. If I were a Universal Studios planner, I'd start working on more localization for other acts to make them more enjoyable by a predominantly Asian audience.

"Hollywood" street at dusk
Finally, the day ended with some shopping back at the "Hollywood" street at the entrance. Amazingly, we had completed almost all of the key attractions in half a day. (The only one that I wanted to go to but didn't have the chance was the Jurassic Park water ride.) That showed just how small the theme park is. As a friend remarked, we could have walked the park completely in an hour. Of course, Universal Studios Singapore (also called "USS" in acronym-mad Singapore) is limited by land area, so I think it's quite admirable with what it has achieved with its constraints.

What was most ironic for me was that, of all the attractions that I went to, I had never watched the movies nor television shows that they were based on! But that didn't mar my time, since I was there to have fun, fun, fun!

In spite of its flaws, I'd go back to Universal Studios Singapore again... once the "Battlestar Galactica" ride opens!

Final comment: I was surprised to hear the theme song of "Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock" playing over the intercom. "Star Trek" is a Paramount movie. Then again, so are the Dreamworks-produced "Shrek" and "Madagascar". Maybe this is a Universal-Paramount partnership.

current mood: happy

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Monday, August 9th, 2010
4:56 pm - Personal dreams shaped by 45 years of Singapore nationhood
Singapore flag created with <canvas>
In half an hour, the National Day Parade will begin with great pomp and circumstance at the Padang. For the next two-and-a-half hours, the nation will be treated to the annual celebration of Singapore's independence. This year is our 45th National Day (i.e. Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965) and the theme is for all Singaporeans to live their dreams.

What were my dreams?

When I was a young boy, my dreams were really quite materialistic. Be rich. Own a thriving business. Be famous. Or, you know, be a politician (which is akin to being a celebrity in Singapore). Looking back, I had perhaps been subconsciously indoctrinated into the whole "5Cs" dream, i.e. to have Cash, Condominium apartment, Credit cards, Car and Country club membership.

What wasn't subconscious was that to attain that dream, I would need to study hard, earn straight A's in my exams and get a degree from a reputable university.

The thing is, by the time I entered university, I had more-or-less realized that being rich and famous wasn't really all it was cracked up to be. Perhaps it was because of where I studied, but I became more idealistic. My dreams were now of intangibles like freedom and personal happiness and gaining knowledge outside of books.

But reality set in and those dreams were brushed aside for more pragmatic demands, like earning a steady income, rising up the corporate ladder, and -- ultimately -- marrying and having children.

The funny thing is that those are exactly what any work-a-day person can hope to achieve if he follows the "study hard, get straight A's" route. Everyday, there are stories of people who've achieved the 5Cs by not following that straight and broad path. Everyone else with a university degree has become an "office monkey".

What's my dream now?

Today, my dreams are more down-to-earth. Save enough to own an apartment and hopefully not a hole in the wall. Grow my nest egg that I'm not a beggar when I'm old and incapable of being productive. And yes, I still want to have my own family with the girl of my dreams.

What other dreams are there?

There is that dream of being my own boss. Which feeds back to my youthful dream of being rich and famous, though I think at the back of my mind, as long as I don't go into bankruptcy, then that should be fine for me.

Or the other dream of being a filmmaker. Yes, I know, that's the path to poverty in Singapore unless you are blessed with a sizable inheritance. I figure that all I really need is to make one film to satiate myself.

One other dream is not really a dream, but a passion to inculcate environmental responsibility in everyone. (This coming from a person who still takes long baths.) Which hopefully leads to the path of becoming a politician, because nothing happens in Singapore unless a person in Government says so.

If I don't achieve my dreams, can I still be happy?

Someone asked me the other day, "Are you happy?" My immediate answer was "yes".

Though my first instinct was to say "No," though not because I am unhappy. I am always reminded of this story that I studied in university. I can't remember the title or the author or the characters, but I know that it's a Greek tale. There was this wise man who was quite rich and famous. So the king asked him if he was happy. He said "no". Later on, at two other different times in the wise man's life, even as life got better for him, he would still say "no" when the king asked him if he was happy.

Exasperated, the king asked him why he was unhappy if he had everything that the gods had granted. To which the wise man said, "I can only know whether I am happy or not after I've completed living my life." By this, he meant that you could not know when is your happiest moment till after you've lived every moment, and then you can look back and identify the happiest one.

My personal reading is that, while happiness is important, it is far better to be content with what life has given me. So my real answer to that person should be "I am content." I can't really complain about my life. As long as there are people worse off than me, even in prosperous Singapore, I feel that I don't have a right to complain.

Dreams are lofty. I am content.

Happy 45th Birthday, Singapore!

current mood: content

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Sunday, July 4th, 2010
12:28 am - HTML5 media tracking - proof-of-concept with Google Analytics
HTML5 introduces new video and audio tags to allow you to embed multimedia content in your website. These content -- collectively called "media" -- can be played natively within HTML5-compatible web browsers, i.e. without any plug-ins, like Flash. Apple has been making a lot of noise about HTML5's capabilities, and some folks are warming up to the idea.

If you're a marketer or just interested in knowing how well your website is being used, then you'd also want to know whether your website visitors are using your HTML5-based videos or audio files.

To achieve web analytics tracking for HTML5 media, I've written a script that, for now, sends tracking information to Google Analytics. Take a look at my HTML5 media tracking proof-of-concept here. While crude, it works well in showcasing my tracking code's capabilities.

I've tested my proof-of-concept in Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera on my Mac. All of these browsers send the tracking information successfully.

I'm currently working on fine-tuning the code and adding Omniture tracking as well. As with most of my programming work, this HTML5 media tracking is open source under the GNU Public Licence version 3, so anyone can use and modify it.

Try out my HTML5 media tracking proof-of-concept and let me know your comments about it!

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Sunday, June 27th, 2010
10:07 pm - Overflowing with durians
The recent spell of hot-and-cold weather had made me feel rather unsettled. To comfort myself (or was it to pamper myself? ha), I decided to treat myself to some durians. So I made my way to my favourite durian seller to buy some durians.

Was I astonished to see his stall! There were baskets and baskets of durians everywhere! They were in his shop, on his tables, along the corridor, outside his stall. There were baskets of durians stacked upon other baskets of the fruit. In fact, the whole market was flooded with the thorny fruit -- to the point where even his neighbours' stalls were filled with durians!

As to be expected, the odour from the King of Fruits was quite unpleasant and it raised a stink in the neighbourhood. Fortunately, years of consuming the fleshy yellow fruit had made me quite immune to it, so I carefully wade through the baskets of fruit to get to the durian stall.

Inside, I could see my durian seller guiding his assistants impatiently. His arms flailed and his voice boomed as he directed them to move the durians here and there. Some of his assistants were already outside, recovering the durians as quickly as they could. Others were inside the stall, where they transferred the baskets of fruit out of sight as quickly as their tired arms could.

Just then, my durian seller saw me approach him. He barked another order to a hapless assistant, then walked towards me. He was clearly exasperated and I didn't know what to say to calm him, or if I should even say anything.

"Look at this mess!" he exclaimed. "How to work like that?"

"What happened?" I asked gingerly.

"Over there, lah!" he said, pointing into the distance. "Got traffic jam, so the lorries all cannot carry their durians out. In the end, the durians all kena dump here."

I looked into the distance but could not see the lorries that he spoke of nor whatever was blocking the roads. "I've never known the roads to be this badly jammed," I remarked.

"You don't know," he drawled. "This place always got jams. But my assistants always help to direct vehicles away. My assistants are very good. Tell them to check every six months, they check and clear the jams. That's why always no problem."

"I didn't know your assistants have to check the roads for jams."

"I am the landlord here, so it's my responsibility. Some more, this is premiere shopping area. If nobody check, and the roads kena jammed, then customers disappear, then we all lose big money. So of course I get my assistants to check. Then confirm got durian to sell and got customers to buy. And everyone is happy."

I nodded in understanding. "But that doesn't explain this situation. How does a traffic jam cause this overflow of durians?"

"You never read the durian forecast in the newspapers? Got flash bumper crop! As if all the durians trees start dropping their durians! This only happen once every 50 years!"

"A bumper crop should be good for your business," I noted. "You can sell more durians and satisfy your customers' thirst for it."

"You say lucky, I say sueh! The durian farmers must move the durians before they all get rotten, right? Their drivers all drive very fast, move the durians quickly, they also very good workers. And then what happened?" He gestured at the distance again.

"A traffic jam," I replied.

"The drivers got no choice, dump their durians here, then go back to collect some more." He stared at his shop, and I noticed that he was giving his workers his classic evil eye. "They all, lah! Never check the roads for jams. Now I must make sure they work double hard! Check six months, not enough. Check three months also not enough. I tell them: check the roads every month!"

He mellowed for a moment and shook his head in despair. "The impact and disruption to customers and business -- all not acceptable one."

Then, just as quickly, his rage returned. He stormed back into his stall. "Next time better not have any more traffic jams! Otherwise you all know what it means to die!" His assistants all cowered in fear and moved even quicker.

My durian seller was clearly not in a selling mood today, so I left the market quietly. While leaving, I surveyed the damage. At one of the nearby stalls that was filled with durians, I saw an old uncle drinking his kopi while avoiding getting swamped by the thorny husks of the durians.

This was truly a disaster.

current mood: cynical

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12:43 am - Review: "The A-Team"
The A-Team
Two weeks ago, a movie about a crack military team was released in Singapore. Still screening at some cinemas, it survived the openings of "Toy Story 3" and "Karate Kid". If you want to see it, and the cinema operators still haven't pulled it from their schedules, then maybe you can watch... "The A-Team"!

Hahaha, okay. That was lame. And if you didn't catch the reference, it's a paraphrasing of the familiar opening monologue to "The A-Team" TV series from the 1980s.

The 2010 remake, starring Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper, successfully re-captured the spirit and tone of the TV show. The opening 20 minutes showed how the team was brought together, but for the rest of this two-hour flick, you could believe that the four Rangers had been working together for eons.

Anyone going in expecting a story would be sorely disappointed. "The A-Team" is all about adrenaline and action. It is about impractical plans and loud explosions. It is about pulling that last ditch attempt out of the impossible and making it seem like it's all in a day's work.

Even characterizations are stretched thin, but that's all right. The easygoing banter between Faceman, Murdock and B.A. makes for an enjoyable buddy-buddy-buddy film. It is to the actors' credit that they managed to pull this off without looking like acting work. It kind of reminded me of the relationship between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the "Lethal Weapon" movies, where it seemed like these long-time friends just happened to be working together in the same movie.

Die-hard fans may be disappointed with some aspects of the movie though. Like Hannibal's indecisiveness and B.A.'s embrace of non-violence. Or *spoiler* the destruction of the black General Motors van in the opening scene. On the other hand, as mentioned above, the relationship between the characters was spot-on and a hoot to watch. Especially the back-and-forth between Murdock and B.A., those sent the audience laughing in stitches.

*spoiler alert!*
Personally, I was disappointed that the final act's grand plan was concocted by Faceman, not Hannibal. It made me have a lower impression of the ever-decisive and scheming leader that was Hannibal. On the other hand, I appreciated that perhaps it was time to "pass the baton" to his second-in-command, Faceman. I'd like to see how that plays out in the sequel, if there's one.
*end spoiler alert*

If the filmmakers' plan was to make a movie that was a fun escape from the humdrum of reality, then, well, I love it when a plan comes together.


current mood: satisfied

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Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
10:54 pm - SBS Transit online feedback really works well!
I have new found respect for local public transport company, SBS Transit. And it's because they've shown that online feedback don't go into a corporate blackhole, but are actually responded to and acted upon by real human beings.

On 9 June, when taking SBS 14, I found that I had been incorrectly overcharged. Not just that, I had been overcharged according to the distance-based fares that are only supposed to start in July. (I wonder if any other passengers realised this error too.) As soon as I could, I went to SBS Transit's website and submitted my feedback on the error through their online form.

(By the way, SBS Transit, please fix your form. It really doesn't make sense to split it into two pages.)

That day, I received two emails from SBS Transit. The first was a standard computer-generated acknowledgment email that I immediately consigned to the electronic bin.

But the second email was from Sophia Tan Yen Peng (no title provided). A real human response from SBS Transit. Sophia stated that SBS Transit would be investigating the matter, then gave a cookie-cutter response about how I could submit a request for a fare refund.

After reading Sophia's email, I figured that that was the end of the story for me. Except that it wasn't.

Today, I received another email from SBS Transit, this time by Asrina Binte Asari (Head, Customer Relations). Apparently, there was a technical glitch (which sounds like the equivalent of a doctor telling you that you're sick because of a virus) and SBS Transit has taken measures to resolve it (the doctor prescribes antibiotics).

But the gesture was very much appreciated. It's comforting to see that a big organization takes the time and effort to have someone reply to little ol' me. And the complimentary travel voucher was a nice touch too.

Oh, and I was advised to file my refund five days after the incident. It's been almost two weeks already, and frankly, I thought nothing of the refund after getting Sophia's reply. If you're nice enough to respond to me personally on behalf of your organization, I'm nice enough to forgive your trespass.

The thing that really touches me is that this isn't the first time that I've received an actual human response from SBS Transit or that action has been taken based on my feedback. The first time was when I had complained about a bus which air-con was leaking so badly it was as if it was raining inside the bus. The next day, that bus was nowhere to be seen at the usual time. And when it reappeared, it was as dry as one would expect the interior of a bus to be.

SBS Transit has proved, at least for itself, that online feedback don't disappear into the ether. I hope my experience encourages others to submit their feedback as well. And maybe together, we can make public transport slightly more comfortable for all in Singapore.

current mood: impressed

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