Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Goodbye Continues

11 years ago, the world was shocked by the sudden death of Lady Diana. I remember that day. The memory was an unerasable one.

It was a lazy Sunday and I was attracted to the news flash on TV with grave disbelief. For the rest of the day, and till today, the world is still talking about the tragic death of a well-loved character.

More than a decade later, the people's love towards her has not faded. They hold on to the beautiful images she has left behind and admire her as the public character that most are familiar with.

Who is she any way?

To me, she was an ordinary mother who tirelessly trying to protect her children and provided them with what she believed was the best for them. She was an ordinary woman who yearned for care and love, although her search for true love was not endorsed by all. She was an ordinary wife who stood by her husband but only for as long as it was reasonable to do so.

If she was so ordinary to me, why was she so extraordinary to the world?

Perhaps, we are all extraordinary in some ways. We just do not know it. Perhaps, in our own ways, we could do what we could to make the world a better place, albeit a little. Lady Diana was aware of that and she simply did what she could.

Her beautiful legend shall stay and our resigned goodbye shall continue....

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Let's Get To The PUB Via The PIE

I saw this in the newspapers today - Aims.

Ahha! Another acronym added to our already countless list of ERP, COE, PIE, NTUC blah blah blah. This new addition stands for Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society. I must say that I have no idea how this can be abbreviated to Aims. Why not ACOTIONMOS? Okay, I admit that it sounds more like a long word than an abbreviation.

I checked its website to find out more.

The home page informs that it is set up to study the far-reaching social, ethical, legal and regulatory implications of a rapidly growing Interactive Digital Media (IDM) sector. Oh man, another acronym !

Why are we so obsessed with acronyms??

Visitors are usually blasted with acronyms right from the moment of arrival till the time of departure. The online street directory is aware of their predicament and publishes a list of commonly used acronyms in their website.

Singaporeans are quite clever with acronyms. Consistency is maintained for highway names where the first two consonants are used, eg. Pan Island Expressway, BuKit Timah Expressway and SeLetar Expressway. Consistency is also avoided when necessary. When the National University of Singapore became NUS, they were careful not to rename the former Nantah to National University of Technology for NUT is obviously not a good name for any institution.
We love to use acronyms and we are also fairly creative in giving them playful alternative meanings. Hear this:

To help ease the traffic, motorist have to pay Cash On Expressway (COE). If that doesn't help, they can always Eternally Raise Prices (ERP) on the roads. If you don't own a car, you can always make a Mad Rush to Train (MRT) or get squashed in a bus, Side By Side (SBS).

The list of unofficial acronym meaning goes on.. SGH: Sure Give Up Hope, POSB: Purposely Owe Some Banks, CPF: Cash Prior to Funeral and HDB: Highly Dangerous Buildings. Even a proper name is not spared. SENTOSA has become So Expensive and Nothing To See Actually. These creative alternatives are not entirely flattering but amusing. If only such creativity is put to productive use :)

Now let's take a more serious look at what's abbreviation. Braodly, there are three types: Clippings, Acronyms and Initialism.

Clippings refer to a shortened form of word such as Condo from Condominium. Acronyms are forming of words using the initials. For example, SANA is read as SA-NA, not S.A.N.A. (Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association). Initialism is what we see around us most of the time where we would read each individual initials, eg. PUB is Pee Yew Bee and not pub. Other examples are URA, KKH and PAP.

When Singapore attained independence in 1965, most Singaporeans were not educated in English. Understandably, government departments had found abbreviation to be helpful when it came to bringing messages across in the public services. Even though we are now all educated in English, abbreviation has become very much our way of life. The younger generation has nothing to complain for they have helped to flourish and expand the use of shortened languages on SMS and online chat.

Looks like abbreviations are here to stay. TTYL.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Every Dog Has Its Day

Today the King of Pop Michael Jackson celebrates his 50th birthday.

Many may not know that exactly 15 years ago, he celebrated his 35th birthday right here in Singapore. He was on his Dangerous World Tour when he performed his first concert in Singapore, on 29th and 30th Aug 1993, at the National Stadium. I was there on 29th Aug together with tens of thousands of wild crowd who sang him a birthday song. His appeal then was unmaskable.

His fame went down the hill when he was accused of sexual abuse against minors in 1993. His career never quite pick up since then, thanks to the numerous unfavorable publicities relating to sexual abuse, parenthood, financial struggle, family relationship and marriage.

Jacko Wacko, as he is known, started his singing career at the age of six and his life and personality can be best described as bizarre and eccentric. He claimed that he has been deprived of a normal childhood and that drove him to build the Neverland. Many thought that he suffered from the Peter Pan syndrome when he did what he could to revive his lost childhood. At his 50th birthday celebration he said that 'I feel very wise and sage, but at the same time very young', and he planned to celebrate his birthday watching cartoons.

He is a rather reclusive figure these days but far from being forgotten. I believe he still holds a strong fan base. I do not consider myself a fan of any sort but I respect his contribution to the music industry. When I hear the Fall Out Boy screaming Beat It on the radio, I can't help favoring Jacko's original version. In some ways, he is irreplaceable.

Well, every dog has its day. Happy birthday Jacko !

Do check out his performance at the National Stadium 15 years ago from a blur but real footage....

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Stork Has Gone AWOL

The newspapers have been going goo goo gaa gaa in the past few weeks covering all the baby talks. I would usually skip those articles for they really do not interest me.

I can explain my apathetic behavior.

Since the 1970s, the baby talks have been thriving. The well-known 'Stop-At-Two' campaign drove a strong and wild message across the island. It was a runaway success only to turn Singapore into a victim of her own success decades later. Now, we wish we can find some magic potions to make the procreation business flourish. That's right, after doing some sums, Singapore desperately needs babies.

After the 'Stop-At-Two' era, the much respected stick has since been replaced with carrots. Unfortunately, the carrots have not been doing a good job. The government dangled more carrots each time the birth rate dropped. This year, more carrots were offered when the Prime Minister announced a slew of pro-baby encouragement at the National Day Rally. It seems that the prolonged baby dearth has forced the policymakers to intrude into the bedroom.

Will the fatter carrots make any difference this time? I doubt it.

The problem is not with the size of the carrots. The problem is not with the fertility rate. The problem is also not with the lack of childcare support so claimed by many. To me, the real problem is the widespread ideal parenthood mentality. Singaporeans are looking for the path of least resistance to parenthood. In doing so, they await the path to be cleared. They want lots of encouragement and assurance that parenthood is not a money losing business. Their resistance over the years has been met with a myriad of ever more attractive baby bonuses.

I wonder if these goodies are encouraging the people to procreate or reaffirming their idealism?

I came across the term 'learned helplessness' and I think it is what we are experiencing now. Basically, it means that, if we are given increased help over the years, we learn to act helpless even if we have the ability to overcome the circumstances. So long as the state of 'helplessness' is not unlearned, I do not expect the birth rate to turn northward in the foreseeable future.

I do not enjoy seeing the idealism spiral down deeper into a chronic state of 'learned helplessness'. I empathize with the government's anxiety and I can accept that it is not entirely the people's fault that they are in a state of 'learned helplessness'. Basically I am just bored with the baby talks that have gone on for decades.

~sigh~ It is time to have a heart-to-heart talk with the stork.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We Have A Date in 2012

The games was over in 16 days but the impression will last for a much longer time.

After Beijing wrapped up the highly successful 2008 Olympics, some attention was shifted to the next host, London. It is difficult to imagine that the British will bother to put in the same determination to win the world over. Not that they need to.
For a start, their people will not be seen picking up English feverishly. When Beijing won the bid in 2001, one of the items on their 'to-do' list was to encourage their people to learn English. The effort was fairly visible but far from enough to change Beijing into a English-proficient city.

Let's get back to London.

What is London doing to be ready in four years' time? They already have the world's most expensive stadium: the Wembley Stadium, completed in 2007, with a whooping cost of £778 million. But the focus of the 2012 games will be on the Olympic Park in East London. The progress of the building was reported to be on schedule.

When London Mayor Boris Johnson took over the Olympic flags from China on 24 Aug 2008, one of the issues which he might be thinking of at that moment is security. He has good reasons to be concerned. London won the bids on 6 July 2005. The celebration was rudely disrupted when the 7 July bombing incident killed 52 people on the capital's public transport. Understandably, security will be a big ticket item on their budget list.

The overall budget is the biggest headache. The original budget set aside was £2.5 billion. It has since blown up four times to £9.3 billion. In the next four years, do expect some discussions and debates on London's ability to tame the spiraling budget. When the Wembley Stadium was built, they experienced pretty serious cost and time overruns. When the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow was launched, the initial 'wow' soon turned into moans and groans as the readiness was terribly lacking. Looks like London need to do some image corrections.

At the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony, we saw the new host putting up some illustrative performances to tease to world on what to expect in 2012. Many would remember the double-decker bus and the bicycles. The message from the organisers on their preferred mode of transport during the next Olympics was quite clear. They want the visitors to arrive at the Olympics by public transport, on bicycle or on foot. It will be interesting to see how London tune their public transport system to ferry millions of people in and out of the Olympic Park.

Well, they have about four years before the 30th Summer Olympics opens on 27 Jul 2012.


Other Olympics Stories:

From The Ancient Greece To The Middle Kingdom


The Gold Rush and The Medal Drought

The Human Sailfish

Will You Eat That Humble Pie?

The Human Race To Infinity

The Real Fighters In Sports

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Electronic Leash

Since time immemorial, our most basic means of communication is using voice. We talked, we sang and we shouted. We did all that initially. Unfortunately, our voice cannot go very far. So we wrote letters and had it delivered over long distance but that was just too slow. So we invented stuff to help us to communicate in real time over longer distance.

Hundreds of years of ago, we used fire, bells or smoke to send signals. There were no better alternatives until the 1800s when a slew of inventions greeted the world. Telegraph and radio may sound archaic today but they helped to propel the world forward back then.

Not too long ago, pager was a common tool in the 80s. Some called it beeper for it would irritate us with that shrieking tone which was meant to chase us to return a call. It was not entirely trendy to have one. I personally found it to be a great bugbear.

Then came the mobile phone. The cost of owning it somehow linked it to affordability and that alleviated it to become a status symbol. Today, it is so fused into our lives that we won’t want to leave home without it. A day without a mobile phone can cause separation anxiety. Carrying one with a flat battery can bring much frustration and having it stolen would certainly trigger some mild psychological injuries!

If that is not enough, we have Blackberry and portable PC to ‘help’ us say connected at all times, 24/7, here and abroad. Within the norm of civilization, there are probably very few places in world where we can remain uncontactable.

Human has created a series of electronic leash and we are now leased to each other by choice or otherwise. Come to think of it, we could just switch off our mobile phones but somehow we won’t. The feeling of being disconnected is just too unbearable!

We used to be able to preserve some sanity while on board a plane. Well, thanks to technology, that privilege is dissipating. Now, more airlines are introducing WI-FI on board. What that means is that, we will remain leased as if you are on land.

Good news? Nightmare? It depends.

I am thinking ahead... and imagining our future. Will they plant some chips in us and have us tracked by satellite one day? What a shuddering thought. Even if they don't, the electronic leash can only get thicker and tighter. We shall all embrace our future where people will be closely knit, virtually.

I miss the human touch.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

The Human Race To Infinity

Exactly 17 years ago, Carl Lewis broke the 100m run record at 9.86s on 25 Aug 1991. It was a much-celebrated achievement and the IOC voted him as the “Sportsman of the Century”.

Before that, there was doubt if it was even possible for the record to go below 10s. Back in 1912, the record was 10.6s and in 1968, Jim Hines from the USA broke the 10s line clocking 9.9s. Since then, the time has been gradually slashed by hundredth of seconds. A few days ago, Bolt pushed it lower to 9.69s at the 2008 Olympics.

Just how much faster can a man run? Is there a limit to what the human body can do?

There is no lack of scientists who believe that there is no end to this record-breaking game. It sounds incredible to me and I am beginning to picture a human antelope sprinting before a cheering crowd.

OK, let's look at it with more respect.

If it is left to evolution, the progress is going to be painfully slow and the sports fraternities will not have the patience to wait. They want to see results by the next race. The answer to visible betterment will have to come from improved sports science.

Firstly, better training techniques allow the elite athletes to maximize their potential. Using motion capture system, the most minute movement can be refined to match the precision suggested by machines.

Secondly, newly invented materials help to push the boundaries. Running shoes are designed with lighter materials and running tracks are covered with stuff that are more agreeable with each stomp of the feet.

Thirdly, sports talent identification will no longer be based on willingness to train hard. In order to gain that marginal advantage, ‘sports prodigy’ may be redefined to give greater weight for the right body type.

Then, Improved sports diet is another answer to make the human body give that extra burst. Nutrients measured punctiliously to feed the need of every cell in the body may help it to achieve a slight edge.

Lastly, it is the human mind. We often underestimate the human ability to perform sports miracles. With enhanced sports psychology, the minds can be shaped to help release an enormous power to push the body. One of the factors which separates record-breakers from the rest of the crowd is self-belief.

While is seems that the human body can continue to push the limit, it has become increasingly difficult to break each record. The margins are expected to get smaller and smaller. One day, we may have to separate the Gold and Silver medal by one thousandth of a second.

The human body is indeed astonishing!! I am delighted to be reminded that while I am not built to break the 100m record, I am blessed with able mind and body.

Let's celebrate the human achievement while checking out the past 100m records ... Be amazed. Be very amazed.

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” – Ronald Reagan


Other Olympics Stories:

From The Ancient Greece To The Middle Kingdom


The Gold Rush and The Medal Drought

The Human Sailfish

Will You Eat That Humble Pie?

We Have A Date in 2012

The Real Fighters In Sports

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Will You Eat That Humble Pie?

Usain Bolt is undoubtedly a golden man in the record-breaking fast lane. He bagged 3 gold medals in the 2008 Olympics in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m runs - quite a jaw-dropping feat.

But there is just one problem, so some thought.

The Jamaican star athlete is not the usual runner who completes his run with his chest pushing against the finishing line and both hands waving in air. Bolt's unconventional, animated and flirtatious interaction with the crowd was received with mixed reactions. When a man draws such mixed and extreme reactions, he must be somebody. That is how I see it.

Many think that he has been too disrespectful with his extravagant gestures which some considered as immature. The president of the IOC showed his disapproval when he commented that it was 'not the way we perceive being a champion'.

The others disagree. They feel that such occasions merit extraordinary celebrations. Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Teo Ser Luck, seems to be on Bolt's side (though closer to the fence). He noted that 'the excitement must be overwhelming' and he thought: 'He didn't do anything detrimental to others. He didn't belittle the other runners. He certainly can be forgiven.'

It seems that Bolt is not the least bothered when he said, 'The medals will change my life. But I won't change.' He claimed that other athletes are "OK with it" and that he was merely enjoying himself.

Here you go. Bolt's gestures can be interpreted in more than one ways. Miscommunication does not necessarily come from the domain of spoken language. In fact, it is even more likely to take place when "spoken" through body language. After all, more than half of our communication comes from body language.

OK, back to Bolt. Just how should a winner behave? Flashy is bad? Humble is good? Are we going into a value system debate already?

One of the Chinese deep-set values is to always stay humble and modest. If that is the case, the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony certainly spoke otherwise. The loud and unrestrained display of power was awakening and there was no sign of being humble.

In the older education system, students were encouraged to remain passive while diligently absorbing imparted knowledge. Discussion was acceptable but argumentative debates were frowned upon. I grew up hearing teachers giving negative comments such as "She talks too much!" and I was almost convinced that talking was bad.

Today, we nudge our kids out of their seats and motivate them to expressively speak their minds. Exchanges of views are given thumbs-up while demure and prim conducts do not necessarily earn merit points in report cards.

I say, 'times have changed' and I wonder 'has the deep-set value system changed too?'

"Plenty of people want to be pious, but no one yearns to be humble" - François de la Rochefoucauld


Other Olympics Stories:

From The Ancient Greece To The Middle Kingdom


The Gold Rush and The Medal Drought

The Human Sailfish

The Human Race To Infinity

We Have A Date in 2012

The Real Fighters In Sports

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oh! Let's Wear That Phone

Apple announced the birth of iPhone in Jan 2007 and since then the global iPhone craze has been phenomenal. In case you have not been told, it has stormed Singapore on 22 Aug.

The media were all feverish covering stories from all over the world about this135g gadget and the Time magazine called it the Invention of the Year in 2007. I have moments of difficulty trying to grasp the whole obsession and feeling somewhat alienated when I fail to echo the same excitement. Should I see this as a great technological adoption or maniacal pursuit of fashion statement?

I own a mobile phone (who doesn't?) and I understand the usefulness of having one (or more?). In Singapore, there were 1225 mobile phone subscribers for every 1000 population in 2007. Today, the number can only be bigger. Simplistically analyzed, the statistics suggest that everyone owns at least one mobile phone, not including those forgotten older models tugged away in the drawers.

The phone makers and the telcos are on high alert about this must-have gizmo in the new era. Their range of products and services speaks clearly of their intention to cannibalize the entire population. Whether you are the geeky or the geek-phobia, they have something suitable for you. Whether you are the rich or the poor, you can find a model that meets your budget. Whether you are the young or the old, they understand what appeals to you. Whether you are the masculine or the feminine, you can find designs that bring out your inborn or acquired gender inclination. Yes, the gadgets are cool and the competition is hot!

I have laid my hands on an iPhone (even before its arrival here) and I can understand the appeal it brings. The new owner was beaming and bursting with pride when she shared her new toy from the USA with me.

I held it gently in my palm trying to fall in love with it in the same way she did but nothing stirred in my heart (~sign~). I thought briefly: What can it do that its competitors cannot? I could not quite pinpoint anything.

I turned to her, perplexed. I wanted to understand what compelled her to own it. After all, all mobile phones do the same tricks. She did not quite answer me but instead, she retorted, "You need to put on your clothes before leaving the house and would you rather wear something nicer or otherwise? All your clothes cover your body just the same, don't they?”

OK, she got me there.

When Graham invented the telephone more than 130 years ago, fashion was the last thing on his mind. But today, it will be suicidal to sell something solely on functionality merit. I begin to think that keeping up to date with technology does not stop at knowing how it works. I need to keep up with the fashion that it brings along, too.

So, is it time to change my mobile phone? Shall I get an iPhone? Oh, wait, maybe a Vertu ... Oh, nah! Unless you are thinking of giving it to me free. Looks like I won't be buying an iPhone or Vertu anytime soon.

Sapient? Dated? Obstinate? You decide.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

You Are How You Write ?

There have been some online debates going on about "Ant Writing". They are bantering about it after the Straits Times collected 186 scripts from teenagers and 30% of them produced “Ant Writing”, presumably a form of bad handwriting.

The focus of discussion hovers around who’s to blame.

The teachers are obviously not happy with the illegible handwriting which makes script-marking draining. The students blame the teachers and parents for the lack of coaching on penmanship. Amidst the exchanges, everyone seems to agree that the main culprit is technology.

Is penmanship really so important today? Should we care so much about it since most of the time we are choosing font types rather than worrying too much about good handwriting? How about the smart people? Is their penmanship as impressive as their grey matter? Let’s check out some.

Doctors are known to be notorious in their handwriting and they are smart people, aren’t they? (I hope so!)

Leonardo Da Vinci was a famous Italian polymath. His handwriting was messy and he used mirror writing. It is not exactly known why he did that but we all know that he is a genius.

A quick check seems to suggest that smart people have awful penmanship, or does it? May be not.

Einstein’s handwriting is known to be structured, organized and meticulous and he’s a genius, too. A test was done when his handwriting was sent to handwriting analysts without revealing his identity. It was concluded that the writer had to be a genius after noting that his letters always looked the same. If explained in today’s context, he ‘typed’ using his pen such that all his a’s and b’s were all looking the same. Amazing! Usually, only typewriters can maintain such consistency.

I, too, am a ‘victim’ of technology when it comes to penmanship. Nowadays, I type more than I write. Most of the time, writing is confined to scribbling short notes on Post IT pads or on the back of envelopes. Over time, the only thing that can happen to my penmanship is deterioration. Millions others are like me.

While I do not need to write much, I find writing (with a pen) therapeutic. I enjoy feeling how the tip of the pen scratches the paper and seeing the ink glides across the pages. I may not produce impressive handwriting (or contents) but that does not disturb me. At times, I would resort to using mirror writing just to switch to an alternative mode of therapy. I do not know what made me do mirror writing but some believe it is genetic (yes, dad could do it, too).

It seems to me that there is no correlation between penmanship and intelligence. So I offer myself a no-brainer conclusion that I could be a genius - or otherwise. In any case, I have decided not to be bothered by the truth.

Ant Writing?

Chill !

A man's penmanship is an unfailing index of his character, moral and mental, and a criterion by which to judge his peculiarities of taste and sentiments. - Philip Dormer Stanhope

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gosh! What Does She Think She's Doing??

"Must be a woman driver!!”

You have heard that familiar curse on the road, coming from an automobile driver or fellow passengers. More often than not, the curse is shot almost conclusively at the fact that woman drivers are responsible for most of the unpleasant driving experiences one can get on the road.

Why? Is that a fact of life or is that a perception reserved for the sexists?

I am a woman driver and it would be hard for me to put across a defense without sounding bias. OK, let's be fair. I do have some observations to share. Hear me out:

One - Insurance companies found that claims made by woman are for relatively minor accidents.

Two - Woman drivers often drive with more courteous attitude.

Three - Some car insurance companies are giving discounts to woman drivers.

I just might have a case that the curse was uncalled for.

Having said all these, I have a confession to make: parallel parking can be excruciating for woman drivers. I would avoid parallel parking where possible. Perhaps, such consistent and prolonged avoidance explains why my parking skills are not making visible progress.

Well, I found myself a piece of good news, though. Car makers are starting to push out self-parking cars because they sense a consumer demand. Here you go, with technology, there is no reason for us to sweat over matters such as parking. Let the machines do it.

The next time you run out of ideas what Christmas present to get for a female friend, consider a self-parking kit! She would love it!

Before I end, watch this godsent marvel for mankind. Oops!! I mean, womankind.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Sky Is The Limit

Dense – there are 4.6 million of us sharing this little red dot.
Denser – there will be 6.0 million of us sharing the same little red dot.
How will that change our cityscape?
Upwards, of course, you say.
Why not downward? I ask.

Singapore’s tallest skyscrapers are the Republic Plaza, the OUB Centre and the UOB Plaza One. All of them are standing at 280m tall. Thanks to height limit set by the CAAS, our buildings aren’t growing any taller than that.

Other tall siblings in the private residential family are The Sail @ Marina Bay Tower 1 at 245m (70-storey) and Tower 2 at 215m (63-storey) and both due for completion in 2009. In the same year, the tallest HDB flats at 152m (50-storey) at Duxton Plain will greet Singapore too. The vertical race, I am sure, will not end here.

Height Phobia? Nah!
The Frenchman Alain Robert recently came to Singapore on the invitation of SPH for the ST anniversary. The ‘Spiderman’ wowed a 15000 spellbound crowd when he scaled the 176m Suntec Tower One on 16 Aug 08. He started climbing up buildings when he was 12 and his other affairs with tall buildings include the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House and Taipei 101. Without any doubt, he loves tall buildings and he shows it by scaling them.

Tall buildings are mesmerizing, not just to the Alain Robert. Singaporeans equate high living to living high. Having a dwelling place up above everybody else is viewed favorably. Such upward drive is seen in some buildings which deliberately create a huge ‘void deck’ just to jack the building upwards.

How Low Can You Go?
Despite the expression ‘the sky is the limit’, we know our buildings are to be stunted at a preset height. Interestingly, I have not heard of any depth limit imposed for subterranean structures. Have you? I assume that the authorities are not in a hurry to set such a limit as we are not desperate to create more space by digging out soil. One thing for sure, any building going downwards would have to let go the much loved panoramic view and for that matter, any view. (Is there such thing as worms view?)

CityLink Mall at Marina Centre is a rare example of buildings totally ‘submerged’ underground. I can understand why the land scarce Singapore is not showing much enthusiasm in moving far below the ground level. With problems such as ventilation, waterproofing, drainage and insulation, going downwards can pose great challenges – not that Singaporeans can’t wait to live like the Hobbits, in some underground enclosures.

It seems that we are not heading south any time soon.

You ask me what I love
I say,
The splendid view from above
You ask is that true
I hesitate,
Glazing at the sky so blue
You ponder and are unsure
I nod
Such was not a lure

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

F7 - The Formula For Good Spelling

Lexophiles are people who love words and I do not consider myself one of them.

I find spelling a chore and I must admit that it is not my favorite pastime. Somehow, all the English teachers seemed to think that spelling is a necessary evil and mine too nourished me with loads of spelling tests. I abhorred those times especially when the teachers returned me with the scripts, generously slashed and crossed.

OK, fine. I can't spell and so what?? When my teachers fed me with the weekly spelling list, they thought they were preparing me for a lifelong skill. Little did they know that I am blessed with wizards such are spellcheck decades later.

Today, I still can't spell but I am an avid Scrabble player. Ironical? Not really.
Scrabble was invented by an architect (I thought architects can't spell, too?) and has gained popularity since the 1950s. If you equate the game with spelling skills and the love for vocabulary, I'm afraid you have thought rather highly of Scrabble players. ~ flattered ~
Parkorn Nemitrmansuk is one of the top ranking Scrabble players in the international arena and he is from Thailand. Coincidentally, he has his day job as an architect, too.
Can you arrive at some logical deduction here?
Firstly, English need not be your native tongue. Secondly, you only need to be creative, logical and structured, just like the architects.
So, you think your command of English is less than desirable? May be you are right, I don't know. I am not an English teacher and I can't comment on that. One thing I am certain - you can play Scrabble. Everyone can play Scrabble, including one who has a defective gene for spelling.
The next time you need help on spelling, just push the F7 button.

“Sometimes you can't look up the correct spelling of a word in the dictionary because you don't know how to spell it”

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Not For The Insomniac

I do go vegetarian at times - when I drink coffee.

I know I have no lag of company when it comes to taking in that caffeinated drink. But I can't say for sure that all the coffee drinkers love the same type of coffee.

Many decades ago, Starbucks and Gloria Jean's meant nothing to the coffee drinkers. Coffee was just how our English-speaking counterpart called Kopi, which is a simple but delicious beverage well loved by the local folks.

Today, we have to be specific when stating our preference of caffeine shots. Coffeehouses are sprouting up everywhere. From the traditional Ya Kun to the cosmopolitan Starbucks, we are spoilt for choices.

Do I really have a preference? Hmmm.. never really ponder over that question.

I was introduced to the black beverage at a very young age and I was told it's called kopi-O, which translates into black coffee, literally. The otherwise bitter drink, which was heavily sweetened, did not have much trouble stealing my heart. It soon became a staple drink even though I later found out to my horror that they actually ran the drinks through a giant white sock!

Fast forward… Today, I still love the drink, except that I would lighten the color with the help of some milk and cut out the initially loved sweetness. I can move from Starbucks to Ya Kun without any bias. I love them just the same. (Ya, it's true !)

Seriously, I find the traditional coffee and the western influenced counterpart both offer a different facet to the enjoyment. They are different but equally good. (I have to say this so that I stand an equal chance to be treated to either Starbucks or Ya kun, heh! )

Do I go for expensive ones? Well, that depends on what you mean by expensive.

I could settle for the $1.00 traditional kopi at the corner coffee shop. I too enjoy a good quiet time sipping the $10.00 premium brew at some posher downtown outlets. I would also reconcile for a simple instant fix with a 3-in-1 coffee mix. Err, that probably costs about $0.30 per fix?

You see, I am a coffee nut. Not a coffee snob. The next time you hear me say "Let's go for a drink", it means, "Let's go for coffee.” Any kind…

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Human Sailfish

The Sailfish is the world's fastest fish in nature and at the Beijing Water Cube, we see the human version coming from swimmers like Michael Phelps.

If you have watched any keenly competed swimming event, you will see the swimmers swimming almost at the same position across the lanes. It is humanly impossible to tell who is ahead and by how many seconds. Gone were the days of manual stop watches. Today, more advanced time pieces help to tell the precise difference between the first and the second winners by one hundredth of a second. At the men's 100m butterfly, Phelps secured his 7th gold medal by a whisker, i.e. 0.01 second (I think I take longer to blink!).

While the technologically advanced gadgets help to tell the time, what could have helped the swimmers increase their speed?

Firstly, it must be the sports talent of the swimmers coupled with more advanced training techniques used by their coaches.

Then, what they wear matters. The use of the latest Speedo Racer (see picture above) has been debated. It is a corset-like suit which helps the body to be more streamlined and hence reducing the drag in the water. It is not clear if it too, aids buoyancy. Those who oppose to its use equated Racer with ‘technological doping’. Now, that's a rather serious accusation.

Lastly, the pool design might have a part to play in helping the swimmers gain speed. At the Water Cube, the pools are designed to help to dissipate wave actions that can slow a swimmer and the pools are also given more depth to lessen water resistance. The design of the starting blocks would facilitate a propulsive takeoff which might shave a good fraction of a second. Given such features, the swimmers are probably experiencing some slightly enhanced speed.

It has become harder to break records as there is a limit to the body functions. Naturally, technology is being used creatively to help the human body to gain some advantage. The problem is that, it is increasingly hard to draw a line between the human power and the technological force. I wonder what is really accounting for all the world records and what more can technology do to help push the limits?

Short of growing fins (through human-sailfish cloning?), I am eager to see how the human body can increasingly go faster in water.


Other Olympics Stories:

From The Ancient Greece To The Middle Kingdom


The Gold Rush and The Medal Drought

Will You Eat That Humble Pie?

The Human Race To Infinity

We Have A Date in 2012

The Real Fighters In Sports

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Gold Rush and The Medal Drought

The Olympics fever is inconcealable.

I do not follow the events closely but would peek into some headlines that occasionally arouse my curiosity. It would be impossible not to get infected by the feverish people around who would constantly remind me of how excited they are about their favourite events. Thanks to Michael Phelps, Swimming was the pet event for many... until the Singapore Women Table Tennis team got past the semi-final.

Finally, many said, Singapore is breaking the long drought of Olympics medal since 1960, almost half a century ago. Wow! That's a long time. The sole medal winner Tan Howe Liang is clearly relieved when he said "Now reporters won't come and ask me the same questions every four years."

At 6.10pm yesterday, the Singapore paddlers fought tooth and nail and defeated the South Korean team. The matches were most thrilling and almost chilling. Under the Singapore National Olympic Council's Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme, the team will receive a bonus of $750,000 for silver and $1,500,000 for gold. Many expressed how envious they feel about the $750,000 that the team is about to receive as if they have already won the silver medal. There is no sign of regret or disappointment that Singapore will at most going to get a silver. It is either a case of contentment or being realistic as the next opponent from China is simply too formidable. The sentiment is that this silver medal is going to mean more to us than the gold medal to China.

While the USA and China is playing the 'Gold Rush" game in this Olympics (and I believe in the next few Olympics as well), Singapore is vying for a medal... any medal. I concede that it is not easy to hunt for Olympics grade talents in a tiny nation with 4.6 million people. So, let's look at things proportionately.

In the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the USA bagged 102 medals. If I were to consider its 301 million population, it works out to be 0.3 medal per million population. Assuming we have our fair share of talent distribution, Singapore should get at least one medal with its 4.6 million people.

You may argue that my mathematical assumption is far too simplistic. I say, you are being too lenient and complacent.

So, Singapore... go for more medals for 'one' is only the baseline!


Other Olympics Stories:

From The Ancient Greece To The Middle Kingdom


The Human Sailfish

Will You Eat That Humble Pie?

The Human Race To Infinity

We Have A Date in 2012

The Real Fighters In Sports

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Friday, August 15, 2008

See Beyond That Symbol

The world watched the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony on 8 Aug. I was one of them.

The show would not be complete without the entry parade. 204 countries took their turn to appear before millions of viewers with their flag bearers proudly holding their national flags. Many told me they got bored watching the athletes streaming ceaselessly pass the TV screen. Some stayed on because they were waiting for the Singapore contingent to appear.

The basis for the order of appearance was rather refreshing. Instead of the usual A to Z, the countries appeared in the order based on of the number of strokes of their transcripted Chinese names, with the lowest number of strokes appearing first. For record, Singapore was the 188th country in the march.

I was excited when participants from the first few countries waved at the camera. My excitement went down the hill when more countries with unpronounceable names started to turn up. My attention drifted from their jerseys, to their hairstyle, to their national costumes and finally I found myself checking out their national flags.

Don't get me wrong. I am not obsessed with flags. Somehow, they remind me of the times I was asked to draw the national flag in class. Those were the times you wished the national flag was simpler. I wonder if the kids around the world feel the same way too. Let's check out some flags seen during the entry parade....

The Simple:
It's always good to start with something manageable and familiar such as the Japan flag. The Japanese kids just need to trace the bottom of their water bottles to get a perfect circle. They shouldn't complaint

The Really Simple:
So you think the Japan flag is simple? Check out the Libya flag. Unbelievable! It is a green flag and I mean it. The whole flag is green with no motif or words. The school kids there must be thrilled (provided they stock up their green color pencils).

Up-side down:
The Indonesian flag is made up of two horizontal equal bands with red on top and white at the bottom and the Poland flag takes the up-side down version. Interesting!

The Twin:
Yes, there are countries with the same flag! You don't believe so? See the Indonesian flag and the Monaco flag. Now, try to spot the difference :)

The Sleeping and the Standing:
The Bolivia flag is made up of three equal horizontal bands with Red on top, Yellow in the middle and Green at the bottom. Turn it anti-clockwise and make it stand up and you will get the Guinea flag.

The Mirror Image:
If you put the Guinea flag in front of the mirror, you will get the Mali flag. Wow! That's easy!

The Complex:
I have always thought that the USA flag is complex. So many stars and so many stripes. How to ensure that you don't miss out one or two stars? I wonder how the American kids hand in their 'draw-the-national-flag' homework :(

The Highly Complex:
I guess the kids in Bhutan don't have to draw flags. If they do, they would have to ask for many more days to hand in their homework. Check out that beautiful dragon!

You see, flags can be rather interesting if you take a closer look at them. If you would like to see them all, get a world flag chart from a bookshop. You may also want to consider getting a box of country flag erasers (Hmm, do you know what I am referring to?). Well, if, for some reasons, your interest is aroused beyond the level of curiosity or hobby, consider vexillology (the scientific study of flags)!

So, do offer some admiration the next time you see a national flag. Every bit on it means something.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Smile and Say GST

I scanned today's Straits Times and saw "Complaints up against Sim Lim shops". It appears to be a rather nondescript headline, hardly a scoop but it was resonant to me.

It reports "According to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), shoppers' complaints have risen steadily, from 119 in 2006, to 188 in 2007, to 133 so far this year. The Funan IT Mall, by comparison, usually receives between 20 and 30 complaints a year" and that the "shoppers commonly complained about being overcharged and sold defective goods." Some of the complaints were more upsetting as they involve verbal or physical abuses.

It appears that these 'bad guys' were under some 'rehabilitation' programs put in by the building management but they can't seem to kick their old habits. The STB supported these programs and was waiting in line to award the 'good guys'. I think either the programs were bogus or the award was unappetizing
. What a funereal situation.

I admit that I am a bit prejudiced (OK, OK, perhaps slightly more than a bit)... the problem at the Sim Lim Square seems to be really chronic. Come to think of it, how could it be so coincidental that so many 'bad guys' are herded into the same building leaving the nicer ones serving us at the other places. Puzzling. I can't say that the bad service attitude is trade related for consumers do not have the same issue at The Funan IT Mall. Strange phenomenon. Could it be the Feng Shui thingy? (see entry on
Wheel of Fortune)

I often hear grouses about poor service on this little island and how we have been attempting to propel this young nation to mature into a gracious society. I feel that we have a long way to go. Well, the rest of the island may not be as worrisome as Sim Lim but if we are pitching ourselves to compete with other cities, ever so hungry for the tourist dollars, we can't be complacent with the current state of affair.

Oh, yes! I find it totally insulting and ironical that slogans promoting good service culture are also grim reminders of pains to our wallets. How does GST sound to you when it actually means
Greet, Smile and Thanks.

Now, give me a smile and say Geez! :)

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