Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dating My TV #15

See "Dating My TV #14".

Want to watch Starhub's "TV on Mobile" FOC? Here's how.

1. You must have the right handset

If you are one of the thousands of people with iPhone, you are in. Otherwise, check the list of compatible handsets which are capable of receiving TV programs on mobile phones.

2. You must be a subscriber

If you are currently subscribing to SingTel or M1 Mobile service. You are out.

3. It must be a "Happy Monday"

Why Monday?

Seriously, I don't know. Perhaps it is Starhub's way to beat your Monday blues.

Give it a shot. There are altogether 17 channels to choose from. All free.

See earlier "Dating my TV" posts.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

No Chewing? Fine.

This is a holiday season in Singapore.

We get our longest break from school in the last 8 weeks of the year (and it is ending soon). Being cooped-up in this tiny 710 km² (274 mi²) island state, working and studying hard, the people here cannot wait to get out and do some traveling during this time.

One of the things that Singaporeans flock to enjoy while they are out of this place is 'chewing gum'. This is because it is not available back home. It is quite unthinkable to see people with an estimated (2008) per capita income of US$52,000 being deprived of simple joy like that.

Chewing gum was sold commercially since the 1800s. It is a source of enjoyment for many and it is also a source of nuisance when spent gum is improperly disposed.

Singapore was not immune to this form of public nuisance either.

In 1983, the Minister for National Development was sick and tired of seeing chewing gum stuck in the lift buttons, stairways and pavement of public housing flats. He suggested to Lee Kwan Yew (Prime Minister then) that the substance be banned. Lee thought it was a move too drastic and nothing was done.

In 1987, Singapore had the new multi-billion Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) rail system. It was the biggest public project at that time and naturally the Singapore government was excited about it.

Unfortunately, the chewing gum vandals did not spare the MRT. The last straw that broke the camel's back came when gum stuck on the train door sensors prevented the doors from closing properly. That in turn disrupted train services. Even though such events were not common, the government had zero tolerance towards them.

In 1992, chewing gum was banned.

Since then, anyone bringing in chewing gum will risk being slapped with a fine and/or a jail term. If caught chewing it, offenders may face a fine of US$500-US$1000. Repeat offenders will get a heftier fine plus an assignment of a "Corrective Work Order". This means that the authorities will make the gum chewers sweep the beaches or pick up litters on public pavement.

Yes, it is not funny at all. Gum chewing in Singapore can bring shame to your family.
In the official website of 'The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority' (ICA), chewing gum is listed as one of the 'prohibited goods' alongside other items such as 'controlled drugs' and 'obscene articles'.

In 2004, as part of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the ban was partially lifted. Now, you can get chewing gum but only in pharmacies with a doctor's prescription. This is because the law was relaxed enough only to allow the sale of chewing gum considered to have health benefits.
(Smokers, go and get your Nicorette gum from the nearest Pharmacy)

After the ban in 1992, Singaporeans continue to love chewing gum. The only difference is that they would chew in their neighbors' house leaving their own pristine and gum-free.

I believe Singapore is the only place where chewing gum is banned. The ban is found in travel guides as well as in various compilation of 'weird laws'. Since the ban took effect, there has been no lack of criticism on the imposition of such a regulation. Strangely, most of these comments come from outside Singapore. The usually whiny Singaporeans are often preoccupied with other complaints.

I do miss chewing those gum balls a little but I certainly do not miss stepping or sitting on a sticky splat of spent gum.

Didn't they say Singapore is a 'fine' city?

"Where you find the laws most numerous,
there you will find also the greatest injustice."

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dating My TV #14

See "Dating My TV #13".

I have been using Starhub's "TV on Mobile" since early November. Just to recap, I have set off this "Dating My TV" series with the hope to rekindle my bond with TV (See "Dating My TV #1).

So far, my 'dating' experience has been marred by two things:

1) Smoothness of Streaming

Almost none of the TV programs I have watched was not interrupted with 'dropped line'. Sometimes, it got reconnected within a few seconds. However, there are times when the reconnection took too long, I simply switched off the TV with frustration.

Watching video clips on the Internet can be a problem when the streaming is laggy. Usually, users overcome it by buffering or simply downloading the video. In the case of "TV on Mobile", I am getting live streaming and I cannot do the same.

2) Screen Size

This is a given.

Watching TV programs on mobile phones means that I can only have a small screen. I am using OMNIA II which has a respectable 3.7 inch screen. However, it is nowhere near a normal 42 inch TV at home.

I believe the first problem can be overcome, although I am not sure how. It is potentially one of the items to be included in Starhub's 2010 'TO DO" list.

The second problem is actually not a problem. Rather, I see it as a trade-off between viewing pleasure and mobility.

See earlier "Dating My TV" posts.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unwrapping The "2004 Boxing Day"

Today is boxing day.

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and traditionally, it was the day to open the Christmas Box to share the contents with the poor. In places such as UK, Australia, Germany and Hong Kong, it is a public holiday (but not in Singapore).

Exactly five years ago, much pain was inflicted to the world on this day.

On that fateful day, at 00:58:53 UTC (Singapore 08:58:53 local time), the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake hit the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia in a ferocious way. The impact was so great that it resulted in devastating tsunami killing nearly 230,000 people in 11 countries (above). Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand were the hardest hit.

That was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

Historically, natural disasters have swept away lives by the thousands. Regrettably, earthquake, has been one of the main culprits.

In 1976, Tangshan earthquake (China) took almost 800,000 lives (above). More recently, in 2008, the Sichuan earthquake (China) killed about 70,000 people.

Technically, anywhere on earth is capable of experiencing earthquake. The question is more on the likelihood and the scale of the impact. Most people here believe that Singapore is 'immune' to earthquake. Unfortunately, I think there is no such thing as immunity to earthquake. The only comfort we have is that, based on the present geological make-up, Singapore has very low likelihood of getting an earthquake.

The 2004 Boxing Day earthquake was record at a magnitude of 9.3. In earthquake terms, this number is rather astronomical.

The measurement used to tell the size of earthquake is known as the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS). Before the 1970s, the Ritcher Magniture Scale was commonly used. Both scales are logarithmic. This means that when the earthquake is measured to be one number higher, the impact is many times more powerful. In the case of MMS, an earthquake measured 7.0 is about 31 times more powerful than one at 6.0.

On MMS, the recent Sichuan earthquake in 2008 (above) was recorded as 7.9. Comparatively, the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake measuring 9.3 is more than 31 times stronger.

When I was traveling in Taiwan a couple of weeks ago, I was told that there is an earthquake every other day there. However, most of these earthquakes are mild and can only be detected by instruments. I felt rather assured and I did not give much thought to the matter throughout the week of traveling. One day after I returned to Singapore, an earthquake hit Hualien (East Coast of Taiwan) measuring 6.4 and strong tremor was felt in many parts of Taiwan, including Taipei. I felt lucky and naive at the same time.

The instrument used to record the occurrence and power of earthquake is known as Seismometer. The first Seismometer was invented in year 132 by Zhang Heng (张衡), an astronomer from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).

Zhang Heng's instrument (above) was able to determine the direction (out of eight directions) of earthquakes. Since then, the modern Seismometer has grown in sophistication and is able to record earthquakes with greater precision. However, despite years of effort, scientists have yet to find a satisfactory way to foretell the occurrence of earthquakes. For now, they can only make intelligent and calculated guesses.

Until then, mankind can only pray that Mother Earth will keep cool and will not blow her top for as long as possible.

To those who vanished five years ago on this day, RIP.

"Mother Nature doesn't have a bullet with your name on it,
she has millions of bullets
inscribed with 'to whom it may concern'”

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Dating My TV #13

See "Dating My TV #12".

In Oct this year, there was a big hoo-haa after a local Telco, SingTel, won the rights to broadcast EPL matches for three years from August 2010. This has shocked many as rival telco, Starhub has reigned this turf for the last 12 years.

There was immediately a huge outrage among the football fans here in Singapore. An avalanche of comments soon poured in by the Netizens and most of them were upset with the switch.

This episode illustrates at least one thing - the football fans community in Singapore takes the broadcasting of major football games very seriously.

I am not a football fan. Naturally, I am the least attracted to the football channels on Starhub's "TV on Mobile". Currently, there are three of such channels - "Football Channel", "Goal TV1" and "Goal TV2".

When I first used "TV on Mobile", I was skeptical about anyone ever wanting to watch football matches on mobile phones. I argued that the tiny screen size on mobile phones would have killed the joy of watching such programs. Nonetheless, I tried watching it once or twice. Even though I was not sure about what was going on, I could imagine the thrill of a die-hard fan watching his favorite match on the go.

According to the Starhub website:

"The Football Channel is all about football, with three of the top four leagues in the world- The Barclays Premier League, the Spanish Primera Liga and the German Bundesliga. It also offers viewers Asian and South American football, with the J-League and the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana."; and

"Goal TV is a dedicated football network with distribution across 14 countries since the launched in 2004. GOAL TV 1 and GOAL TV 2 are two 24-hour channels featuring comprehensive coverage of top clubs Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona FC and Bayern Munich, and live games from major European leagues. "

I would have to leave it to football fans to comment on the quality of the coverage.

See earlier "Dating My TV" posts.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

What I Don't Wish To See In My Stocking

Tomorrow is Christmas day!

To some people, Christmas and Santa Claus are almost synonymous. This naturally leads to Santa and all his geeks - from his fleet of reindeer, his sleigh, his 'ho ho ho' to his sackful of presents.

I will not insist that you believe in Santa. However, I am quite sure that you would love to receive a present or two on this special day.

It is the Christmas tradition to hang up an empty stocking on the Christmas eve. Little children in many parts of the world were brought up to believe that on Christmas Day, they will wake up to find presents that Santa has dropped in the stocking the night before. Many soon realized that it was their parents who quietly dropped the stocking stuffers while they were asleep. (Aww, it must have been hard to find out the truth.)

We love to receive presents (for any occasions) because we love pleasant surprises. Unfortunately, not all presents would surprise us in a pleasant way.

I once received a set of CDs from a visiting guest. It was a lovely gesture on his part but there was just a little snag: I do not appreciate Chinese Opera that much... err, or should I say, not at all?

Some gifts are totally not thoughtful. Imagine giving a hairdryer to someone who is bald, wine to someone who is allergic to alcohol or a book on "Cooking for Dummies" to a restaurant chef.

While it is nice to receive presents from loved ones and friends, there are just certain things which I do not wish to receive. Here are 10 examples and I shall explain why.

1. A Framed Picture of the Giver

This is what I have to say to him/her.

"Hi! Thanks for the thought but firstly, I may not know you that well and it would be odd to place your photo on my TV console. Secondly, I am running out of space to display recent pictures of my family and thirdly, even if I wish to have a picture of you, I would rather have it in soft copy. Let's go green."

Tip : Narcissism and Christmas gift do not mix.

2. Knitted Sweater

This gift is likely to come from someone who has just picked up the hobby. Feeling extremely high and enthusiastic about her new found love, she cannot wait to see her creation being hung on everybody.

Look, I live in the tropics and a woolen sweater is the last thing I need. Besides, that sweater design may make me look like a walking Italian flag and that is, if I can squeeze into that thing in the first place.

Tip : If you really have to give, do some homework on measurement and taste first.

3. Undergarments

Hey! You leave these things to me, OK?

Tip : Don't get too personal in your choice of casual gifts.

4. Latest Wii Games

Sigh! I do not even have a Wii video game console. What am I suppose to do with this "New Super Mario Bros Wii"?

Tip : Everyone loves gadgets but not everyone loves the SAME gadgets.

5. Shopping Vouchers

Nice thoughts, buddy! If this gets any better, it would have been cash! The thing is, these vouchers may be expiring even before I can finish saying "Merry Christmas". Some of them also come with a list of fine-prints which render them almost 'useless'.

In any case, I find it difficult to associate shopping vouchers with Christmas gifts.

Tip : If you really must give shopping vouchers, check the expiry date and the terms and conditions of use.

6. A book on "How to raise smart children"

What? Are you trying to say that my children are not smart?

Tip : Avoid a gift item which may send an inappropriate message.

7. Golf Balls

Many people love this game but I am not one of them. I do play sports but the giver should at least find out what I am into first.

I guess I can pass these balls to our cats as toys.

Tip : Specialized sports equipment is better left to the sports player himself.

8. OSIM Blood Pressure Monitor

My blood pressure might just shoot up after seeing this present. Why don't you just give me a pacemaker instead? (I think my heart has just missed a beat)

Tip : Do not buy medical equipment as Christmas gifts. Period.

9. Hello Kitty Accessories

"Cute!" So you say.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. May I add on by saying "so is cuteness"!

Tip : What appears to be 'cute' to you may be 'ugly' or 'childish' to others.

10. Toilet Brush

OK, you meant it as a joke, right?

Humor in gifts is acceptable provided you are dead sure that the receiver share the same sense of humor as you. I mean, in this case, you would not wish to risk having your head dunked into a toilet bowl, would you?

Tip : If you intend to crack a joke, make sure that it is indeed funny to the receiver.

It may be too late for most of you as your gifts would have made their way to your receivers by now. Well, there is always the next Christmas. Keep these tips in mind.

Merry Christmas!

“The greatest gift you can give another
is the purity of your attention.”
~Richard Moss~

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dating My TV #12

See "Dating My TV #11".

Today, I tuned to one of the new channels, the National Geography Channel (NGC). It was screening "Wild Wednesday" featuring poachers killing all the rhinos in Botswana in the 90's and how attempts were made to help bring the population of rhinos back to normal levels.

I love nature and animals and such programs appeal to me. I would have enjoyed the show much more if not for the usual intermittent dropped line and reconnection.

If you are Starhub mobile subscribers, you might want to try to tune in to NGC while on the go. It is not one of the free channels but you can always watch it on Starhub's "Happy Mondays" when you get to watch "TV on Mobile" free.

You would need a supported mobile handset to watch StarHub TV on Mobile channels. With the recent launch of Apple handphone by Starhub, "iPhone" and "iPhone 3GS" models have been added to the list of compatible handsets.

See earlier "Dating My TV" posts.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bilingualism - Making It Happen

It is good to be back after a brief hiatus.

I spent the past week or so traveling in Taiwan. It was a great time checking out scenic spots and spending hilarious moments with the family.

While moving around in Taiwan, I was constantly tested on the competency of my Mandarin. I do admit that there were times I felt very discouraged and embarrassed with my less than adequate command of the language.

All the time, I have claimed that I am bilingual in my resume. However, I am fully aware of my lopsided ability of the two languages (English and Chinese) I have been taught to use. Actually, almost everyone educated in Singapore can make the same claim that they are bilingual.

Bilingualism was introduced in 1966 with two main objectives:

(1) Making English the first language for everyone so as to facilitate our integration into the global economy, and

(2) Educating the children with their mother tongue based on their ethnic groups so as to preserve their cultural and Asian values.

Bilingualism has been controversial in Singapore. Many parents frown at the thought of it, especially when they see their children struggle to cope with the demand from both languages. These parents often pleaded for the bilingual policy to be softened.

The mother tongue language is also known as the second language in the school curriculum. Although taking the second place after English, it is by no means unimportant. In the past, students who did not attain a certain level of achievement could not get a place in the local university notwithstanding their impressive results in other subjects.

In the past decade, the educators have gradually changed the way Chinese is taught in school. They have also varied the syllabus after recognizing that not every child has the same ability to handle two languages. However, parents with struggling kids are still very concerned that the demand for the second language is too high.

On the other hand, the Chinese linguists are now worried about the deterioration of the Chinese language in Singapore. They often remind on the importance of the language and often justify their claims with the 'emergence of China in the global economy'.

Their claim is not unfounded. In fact, Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world (followed by Spanish and English).

Last month, the founder of modern Singapore, Minister Mentor (MM) Lee Kuan Yew admitted that "Bilingual policy was most difficult". He has come to accept that intelligence does not equate to language ability and prompted for a change in the approach on the bilingual policy. (see report).

MM Lee reckoned that learning Chinese has to be fun (for that matter, any language, I thought). The Singapore educators are now told to be more receptive in using English to teach Chinese, a teaching approach which was not acceptable in the past.

As a nation, what we know about the Chinese language (and culture) is shallow and I am one of the many who contributes to the current situation. Every year, since 1979, the "Speak Mandarin Campaign" (讲华语运动) aims to get more Chinese to speak Mandarin and with that, hopefully the bonding among the Chinese will remain closely knit.

The Chinese has 5000 years of history and knowing the language opens up the doorway to learn from the past wisdom. While in Taiwan, I had a chance to take a quick glimpse at the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院). It is one of the leading museums in the world with a collection of over 650,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artworks. The depth and vastness of the Chinese richness were just so awesome.

There is no doubt about it. After 5000 years, the Chinese language remains an important tool to civilization.

It is an asset. Acquire it.

"Never be contented with your study;
never be impatient with your teaching."
~Confucius~ (551 B.C. – 479 B.C)

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dating My TV #11

See "Dating My TV #10".

The iPhone battle among the three telcos in Singapore, Singtel, Starhub and M1 was officially launched on 9 Dec 09. Previously, only Singtel owned the exclusive right to distribute the much sought-after mobile phone.

Since then, the telcos have been having sleepless night fine-tuning their marketing strategies. The consumers were also kept busy comparing the special offers which were changing by the day. If you are not put off by long queues, join the crowd outside the telco service and retail centres around the island to be part of the big mobile phone fiesta.

I sure like healthy competition. It makes things better and more affordable.

There is just one such good news for users of Starhub "TV on Mobile". From 9 Dec, I get to tune in to three new lifestyle channels: National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Adventure and Fashion TV. With the previous 17 channels, I now have 20 to choose from.

The subscription fee for Starhub "TV on Mobile" is S$26.75 per month. For light users, they have the choice of paying S$1.00/day on the days they wish to tune in. Once paid, they have unlimited access for the day. Alternatively, Starhub customers can choose to watch the free channels such as CNBC, BBC News or Animax. In any case, Starhub customers can sample any channel for free on Mondays.

Check out the list of 20 channels here.

See earlier "Dating My TV" posts.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

One World, Many Timezones

Going to catch a plane in a moment...

One of the things you do before traveling is to check the timezone difference of the destination. In this case, there is obviously none because Taiwan (where I am going) and Singapore are both 8 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), ie GMT+8.

Experiencing timezone difference can be a pain. Biologically, our bodies have been conditioned to the local timezone and will push the "auto shutdown button" when it is time to snooze. This gives rise to the one of the most hateful side-effects of traveling - jet lag.

A timezone is a region on earth that has uniform local time. In 1675, the GMT was established to help the seamen to tell the longitude at sea. In 1868, New Zealand officially standardized its local time to 11h 30m ahead of GMT. It was probably the first country to adopt a standard time based on GMT.

The GMT timezone essentially is determined based on the rotation of the earth, which interestingly, is not going on at a constant rate. Such a flaw in precision is not well tolerated in this modern time. In 1972, a new timezone standard was used.

The new time system is known as 'Coordinated Universal Time' (UTC). Its abbreviation of 'UTC' is derived from the French term, 'Temps Universel Coordonné'. With this new standard, the local timezone for Singapore is expressed as UTC+8. However, I do find 'GMT+8' to be more commonly used. I guess most men on the street can live without such precision in timezone.

There is an interesting history behind the Singapore timezone.

Before 31 may 1905, Singapore was 6h 55m ahead of GMT. In 1920. the idea of adopting 'Daylight Saving Time' similar to that in England was mooted (Singapore was a British Colony). After years of deliberation, Singapore had 'Daylight Saving Time' of GMT +7h20m in 1933. This was later adjusted to GMT +7h30m in 1941.

Later, during the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), our local time was adjusted to GMT+9 to follow the local time in Japan. After the Japanese surrendered in Singapore, the local time went back to GMT +7h30m.

In 1981, the Peninsular Malaysia (a.k.a West Malaysia) moved its local time from GMT+7.30 to GMT+8 to match the timezone in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak). Singapore, which is just a stone throw below the West Malaysia, would be in a rather awkward position if the 30-minute timezone difference was maintained. So, for practical reasons, Singapore followed suit and the adjustment took effect on 1 Jan 1982. (I cannot imagine having to adjust my watch each time I take a short ride across the border.)

Can anyone remember that 'ceremonial' moment when half an hour was added to all the timepieces when the clock hit 12.00 midnight on 31 Dec 1981?

Come to think of it, we never had the time between 0000hr to 0030hr on 1 Jan 1982. I supposed no one in Singapore was officially born during those 30 minutes? Another way of looking at it, those born before 1982 are indeed half an hour younger than they now officially are.

OK, same timezone or not, it is time to sign off. I will not be updating the blog until a week's time. Do stay tuned for more sharing.

Click here to see the Singapore local time.

"Yesterday is a canceled check;
tomorrow is a promissory note;
today is the only cash you have - so spend it wisely”
~Kay Lyons~

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Dating My TV #10

See "Dating My TV #9".

I will be leaving for Taiwan tonight... Correction: I should say that 'I would be leaving for Taiwan tomorrow morning' as the departure time is slightly past 12 midnight.

I enjoy traveling (who doesn't?) but minus the flying part.

I always find the custom procedures and the cramp cabin in the 'zoo' class (cannot affo
rd business class) to be holiday spoilers.

The hours spent waiting at the airport and during the flight often make me nervous. Those moments often feel like eternity and I begin to imagine spider webs spinning around me. I am not afraid of flying but I get very jittery when I am not gainfully occupied.

I have included in my packing list things that would keep me up when I am bored. I was tempted to pack my Omnia II so that I could watch "TV on Mobile". I was quickly reminded that it might not a good idea to do so. Come to think of it, I wonder if I would be able to tune to any TV programs on the mobile phone from there.

Oh well, never mind, I shall fall back to something more conventional. It is called 'book'.

See earlier "Dating My TV" posts.

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