Saturday, May 30, 2009

It Feels Right To Write

It's time to answer a couple of questions.

People have asked me why I bother to blog? Some say it is a waste of time and many wonder where I find the time.

Let's answer one question at a time.

Question 1: Why Write?

Writing does take up my time. What doesn't? Even doing nothing takes up time. Time flies whether you choose to do something useful or not. The question here is whether it is a waste of time.

Tricky. A waste of whose time?

Is it a waste of your time reading my blog? You should know better. To me, this is a tiny problem for it is entirely your choice to read or not to.

Is it a waste of my time writing in a blog? Absolutely not. I have been writing in blogs for years and in this one since last year. I have not found a reason why I should stop doing it. On the contrary, I have found more and more reasons why I should continue to do so.

Here are some of them:

1. Write More Learn More

I do not write about personal trivia, at least, not here. Each time I whip up an article of about 1000 words, I would have read several related articles. They keep me informed and make me think.

Yes, think.

~ Watch your thoughts, for they become words ~
~ Watch your words, for they become actions ~
~ Watch your actions, for they become habits ~
~ Watch your habits, for they become character ~
~ Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny ~

2. Self Conversation

I have a busy schedule. In a typical work day, time flies and by late afternoon, my mind would have been stuffed with many question marks and exclamation marks. Just like eating food, we need to take a moment to 'digest' the going of the day so that we take stock of how things have gone by.

Writing is one of my ways to reflect on things around me. Putting down my thoughts in writing is akin to having a self conversation. I have a chance to ask myself questions and attempt to answer them.

Self conversation (or self reflection) helps me to 'absorb the nutrient of the day and discard the waste'.

"By three methods we may learn wisdom:
first, by reflection, which is the noblest;
second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and
third, by experience, which is the bitterest."
~ Confucius ~

3. Sharing and Shaping Values

Just like anyone else, I have my own set of values. My writing reflects my values and I allow them to be scrutinized. There are values in me which I believe are good and I want to share with like-minded people. There are values in me which I ought to refine, revamp or even remove. I am open to having wiser words going against mine.

At the end of the day, a good set of values is pivoted on one's perspectives. I am prepared to learn to see things from varying angles.

"Every positive value has its price in negative terms ...
the genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima."
~ Pablo Picasso (Painter) ~

4. Improve Writing Skills

This seems obvious. We all know that practice makes perfect.

Writing was never my forte (not even now). I have never really learnt English grammar well and I had great difficulty spelling words right. Even reading was a chore. I could have chosen to stay where I was but I opted for a more sensible choice - move forward.

My writing still pale next to many writers out there. However, my writing today has been better than that of yesterday and that is what that matters most to me.

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure."
~ Samuel Johnson (English author) ~

5. Modify Writing Style

Many friends told me that since they had their last paper in the final year examination, they have hardly written anything more than business reports and emails. By and by, they think and behave like how they write - stiff, cold and sometimes, in passive voice.

I was like them.

Here, I write in a style of my choice. I do not have to worry about executive summaries. I do not have to pitch it for my readers for I do not even know who they are. There is plenty of room for freedom.

"I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind."
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery ~
(French Pilot, Writer and Author of 'The Little Prince', 1900-1944)

So, these are just some reasons why I write. Others are well, perhaps, too personal to be shared here. If all these are a waste of my time, you gotta be kidding!

Question 2: Where do I find the time to write?

The answer is pretty simple: It is the same way as how you have found the time to watch your favourite soap opera on the television; walk your dog in the evening; window-shop in Orchard Road or play soccer during the weekends.

All of us have 24 hours a day, everyday, with the exception of the day we were born and the day we expire. You are your own boss on how you would like to use every minute of your life. I have decided that part of my time should go to writing.

Sorry to disappoint you but the answer is simply: YOU decide if you have the time.

"Until you value yourself, you won't value your time.

Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it."

~ M. Scott Peck (Author, psychiatrist)

I am writing more now and happily addicted to it. It takes up my time and occasionally much of it. It is not as if I have nothing else to do but thus far, it is one of the best investments I have made.

Blog is wonderful. I get to write (almost) anything I want. I get to publish it to a huge pool of potential readers. Best of all, it is free! Other than those times when I suffer from 'writer's block', I enjoy every bit of it. If it is not too disturbing to use 'therapeutic' to describe it, I would.

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it,

I don't feel I should be doing something else.

~ Gloria Steinem (journalist, feminist) ~

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let's Do The Tweet

'Twitter' meant nothing more than birds' chirping to me until recently.

For a long while, I was aware of the popularity of Twitter but I did not get close enough to know more. I thought, I have had enough of online social networking through Facebook alone, why would I need another? Certainly, a sociable hermit does not need so much socializing, ya?

Right now, I am on board Twitter and loving it. Before I go on, let's just fill everyone in with some Twitter basics.

What is Twitter

Twitter is one of the many online social networking sites available today. It offers mirco-blogging service that allows its users to send short updates to other users. These updates are known as 'tweets'.

Each 'tweet' is capped at 140 characters (hence 'micro') and due to its brevity, it is sometimes also known as "SMS on the Internet". It is obviously not designed for people with the urge to do a yakkety-yak.

Other users get to see your 'tweets' if they are your 'followers'. Similarly, you get to see updates by those whom you are 'following'. You have control over who can read your 'tweets' and you also have the options to send/receive 'tweets' via the Twitter website, SMS or other applications.

Initially, the 'tweets' were mainly trivial personal updates such as "Just arrived at the LA airport. Fine weather." Now, Twitter's power as an information sharing tool is evident. Famous people who has lots to share use it. Their followers in turn pass the information along to their followers. In the Twitter language, it is called "Re-Tweeting". The spread of information in Twitter is fast and viral.

Barack Obama used Twitter during the 2008 US Presidential campaigns. Celebreties such as Britney Spears reach out to their fans with it. Many commercial outfits too have found the charm of Twitter. In Singapore, our top Twitter, Xavier Lur (whom I am following) uses it to share his tech knowledge and snippets of his life as a 15-year old boy.

By now, Spears has more than 1.5 million followers and Obama has more than 1.2 million. Our young Xavier has close to 71,000.

Since its creation in 2006, Twitter's popularity shot up over a short span of time. It is now tailing behind Facebook (top, founded 2004) and MySpace (2nd, founded 2003).

Now let's get back to what made me use Twitter.

Me And Twitter

To begin with, I am no celebrity, I am no politician, I am no businessman and I probably have little to share. It makes no sense that I should have any motivation to use Twitter at all. But, Twitter charmed me, nonetheless.

My main agenda here is to take in knowledge, effectively.

Typically, it takes effort to browse websites and read long articles only to realise that I have wasted a good few minutes and yet not getting even a niblet of useful information.

In Twitter, I choose to follow like-minded people and allow them to lead me to useful websites. If any of them should excite me enough, I will find out more. In that way, it serves as my daily "Check This Out" index.

Besides good website leads, I also get updates which are witty, humorous and inspirational. I call these updates my daily "knowledge snacks".

As I use it, I come to discover more about the magic of Twitter.

Imagine this:

- A techy updates his followers on the cheapest tech accessories he has come to know and almost instantly, fellow techies jumped in to check them out. If they like it, they in turn 're-tweet' to their followers, thus starting a furious chain of information cascading.

- A foodie posts a question "Where can I find the best blueberry muffin?" and he gets various suggestions in minutes from his followers. Other followers too get to know about the muffins and the sharing continues through the networks of Twitter friends.

Move over, 'Lobang King'! (Singlish, noun: a person with good informal contacts or tips)

The use of Twitter is not limited to individuals and commercially motivated people. In Dec 2008, Israel became the first government to hold a press conference via Twitter, taking questions from the public about the country's war with Hamas.
Before Twitters, many bloggers post brief updates about themselves in blogging sites. Many of them have since switched to Twitters. However, such migration does not necessarily dilute the popularity of blogging. Instead, it allows blogs to be used for deeper discussions and sharing on lengthy opinions which cannot be achieved in Twitter.

In this info-tech era, information overload is everyone's headache. Twitter is one of my ways to manage this problem but its usefulness definitely does not end here. The Twitter ecosystem is growing organically and exponentially! I am glad I am part of this phenomenal growth.

Twitter's co-founder Evan William said during his talk in Feb 2009 that he has no idea what will happen next to Twitter. I guess no one knows. Whatever it is, millions are tweeting as I am writing this.

Are you ready to tweet?

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sociable Hermit

I have been called an introvert then an extrovert then an introvert then an ...

I find myself constantly being toggled between the alternate findings through various personality tests and from time to time, I get varying views from "lay observers" as well.

Why the opposing views and findings? I need to sort that out. First of all, let's get to the meanings of "introvert" and "extrovert".

Basically, an extrovert is a person who is energized by being around other people. This is the opposite of an introvert who is energized by being alone.

Characteristics of an extrovert include:

- easily become bored without other people around
- talk with someone else rather than sit alone and think
- think as they speak rather than think before they speak (they think best when they are talking)
- enjoy social situations and even seek them out
- ability to make small talk and that makes them appear to be more socially adept
- interested in and concerned with the external world

On the other hand, an introvert:

- is concerned with the inner world of the mind
- enjoys thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings
- often avoids social situations because being around people drains their energy (even if they have good social skills)
- needs time alone to "recharge", after being with people for some length of time, such as at a party

I glance at the two sets of characteristics and I find it hard to pinpoint whether I am one or the other. I do see the traits of introversion and extroversion blended in me. Is this wrong?

Introversion and extroversion are often regarded as a single continuum of human personality. In other words, when you are one you cannot be the other. If that is the case, how do I explain the mixed-bag traits I carry?

I found the answer! It lies in a lesser known personality characteristic known as Ambiversion.

Ambiversion is a term used to describe people who fall more or less directly in the middle of the continuum and exhibit tendencies of both personality. An ambivert is normally comfortable with groups and enjoys social interaction, but also relishes time alone and away from the crowd. You can find a balanced introversive and extroversive tendencies in ambiverts and they are manifested at different times in response to different situations.

This is great! I always thought there must be a third choice, rather than forcefully fit a person into the stereotyped-mould of an introvert or an extrovert.

For a long time, I have been told that the world is made up of introverts and extroverts. Consequentially, people are categorised into one or the other, just like gender.
(Oh well, if you are one of the 500 participants at the 'Pink Dot Sg' last Saturday, you may oppose to my simplistic "Male-Or-Female" gender classification. Anyway, it is not my intention to discuss that issue here.)

I agree that the traditional "Introversion-Or-Extroversion" classification is perhaps overly simplistic. Going forward, we shall consider "Ambiversion" as well.

It is believed that the majority of people in Singapore are introverted. I do not know why. According to research findings based on the MBTI (the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), Singaporean managers are typically introverts, who are "careful with details, concentrates on the job to be done and thinks a lot before acting. He works well alone but needs to develop skills in working with others."

However, it is found that extroversion is more prevalent in the West.

In a study done last year in US, based on an extensive coverage of more than 600,000 questionnaires, a map of personality was drawn up for the US. The study looked at the geographical distribution among the 51 states on the prevalence of five personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness. A similar map has also been drawn up for Canada in a separate study.

From the study, we can see the distribution of people who are extroverted. I find the idea of "Geographical Mapping of Personality" a very refreshing way to profile human traits. On the surface, it may not immediately look useful. You may ask, "so what if North Dakota is ranked first on the Extroversion scale and so what if Mariland is at the bottom?"

May be it really doesn't matter much to most of us. However, for someone who is planning for a new market penetration strategy, such profiling may help them to differentiate their marketing stunts. Wouldn't that be something?

I would be very interested to see such a map for Singapore. I wonder if people in Tampines are more extroverted than people in Jurong? Is anyone planning to get a PhD in Psychology? Here's an idea.

For those who think that they are introverted and would like to glide up the scale of extroversion, here are some suggestions:

Overcome Your Mental Block First

1. Don't undervalue extroversion: Stop telling yourself "I'm born like that." Wake up to the fact that it is equally important to spend time alone and with people.

2. Don't undervalue social skills: Yes, I know you do not have them YET. Just like many other skills, they can be acquired.

3. Erase wrong images of extroverts: Perhaps, you may find some extroverts around you annoying and you do not wish to become like them. You need to refresh the image. Extroversion is not just about being blabbermouthed.

4. Don't think too highly of online socializing: If you think online socializing helps to compensate the introversion in you, you are wrong. On the contrary, it is believed that online social networking may produce introverts.

Once you have gotten rid of your mental block, you are ready to inject some extroversion in you.

Going from introvert to extrovert

1. Envision: Visualise the type of extroverts you would like to become. Build genuine relationship with intelligent extroverts and take your first step towards your vision.

2. Give rather than take: Think of relationship-building more in terms of giving and not in terms of what you can get. It this way, you will have an easier time attracting new friends into your life.

3. Play up your strength: Many introverts have no problem socializing online. In that virtual space, they demonstrate their strength at ease. Bring that strength of yours into the real world and play it up in face-to-face relationships.

4. Develop your social skill consciously: Make it your agenda to become better at building rapport, introducing yourself, keeping a conversation going and asking someone out on a date. Don't know how? Heard of Google before?

Many introverts have done it and so can you. You just have to honestly say "Yes" and the rest will follow. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert but it is better to also harness the other set of traits.

Finally, I know "Sociable Hermit" is an oxymoron but that is exactly what I think I am.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who Will Cry When You Die?

I was at Robin Sharma's seminar last week.

Honestly, I knew little about Robin Sharma other than the fact that he is the author of several bestsellers, notably, "The Monk Who Sold His Ferarri".

Since I did not know enough about him to accord the deserving admiration, I was tempted to pre-judge. I knew that would eventually cap what I could get out of that 6 hours of my life I was about to invest. So, I decided to go to the seminar with an open mind.

Realistically, I expected to hear lots of repetition of what I already knew. That is not necessarily bad. I call that reaffirmation and reminder. Most of all, I wanted to find out what more he could add on to my little brain and make it wiser. Surely, for such a pricey seminar, one must take back something new and useful.

Robin Sharma did not disappoint me. I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to share. It was a leadership seminar and he shared on how we can see the current crisis as an opportunity and becoming a better leader.

It is not my intention to turn this article into a review of the seminar. A brief mention from me won't do the seminar justice. You can find out more about him at his website.

I was going through one of his books, "Who Will Cry When You Die?" and found so much common sense in the book. I asked myself if I am already doing most of them, since they are common sense after all. I felt a sense of guilt as I whispered "No" to myself.

As I browsed through the book, I was happy to find a few things which I am already doing. However, there are many more which I have not. I make two lists and here are some of them in each:

List 1: "I Am Doing"

1. Keeping A Journal (You are reading one my journals)

This is a good way to develop my self-awareness by having frequent one-to-one conversations with myself. Since I started doing this, I acquire a clearer mind and daily challenges appear to be more manageable. The book says "If your life is worth thinking about, it is worth writing about."

2. Develop An Honesty Philosophy

I have been given many promises and many of them broken. I can't do much to change that but I can adopt and develop an honesty philosophy for myself. And I do. I want to be honest to others, and most importantly, to myself. The book says "Every time you do not tell the truth, you feed the habit of being untruthful."

3. Always Carry A Book With You

I don't need to sell the benefits of reading books but many of us don't read enough. We spend much of our time doing things which yield no benefits. We leave all the "must do" undone because we tell ourselves we have no time. In this aspect, I put a book within reach, everywhere: in my bag, in my car, in my bedroom and in my office. Whenever I have a moment to steal, I read. The book says "Knowing how to read but failing to do so puts you in exactly the same position as the person who cannot read but wants to."

List 2: "I Am NOT Doing, Yet"

1. Honor Your Past

I know I must not look back but I can do better in this aspect. Each time I spend a minute brooding about my past, I waste that minute which I could use to propel me forward. I am still dwelling on some past mistakes, even long after everyone has forgiven me and forgotten about them. There shall be no more such time. The book says "Remember, happy people have often experienced as much adversity as those who are unhappy."

2. Learn To Be Silent

How often do you feel that you have been busy but cannot pinpoint on what exactly you have accomplished? I experience such moments from time to time. I failed to make time to be silent and still, thanks to all the modern distractions. There is probably never a better era to be busy for the sake of just being busy. I owe myself the time to revisit, recheck and reset my priorities. The book says "It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is what are you busy about?"

3. Get Behind People's Eyeball

All of us yearn to be understood but few of us do enough to understand others. I need to learn to "get behind the eyeballs" when dealing with people and see the world from their perspective. I need to listen more than I talk, after all, I have two ears but only one mouth. The book says "Since you are not doing all the talking, you are doing all the learning, gaining access to information you would have missed had you been engaged in the usual monologue."

4. Keep Your Cool

I lose my cool more often than I desire. It does not take a genius to get angry - anyone knows how to do that. The point is, I am a big loser whenever I lose my cool. In a moment of outburst, I damage the relationship I took much pain to build and I reduce my credibility I earned over a long time. The book says "Control your temper by asking three questions: (1) Are these words truthful? (2) Are these words necessary? (3) Are these words kind?"

5. Remember The Rule Of 21

It takes about 21 days to develop a new habit and I shared that with many. I certainly do what I preach but far from enough. It is human nature to maintain status quo so long as everything remains working. We resist new habits even though we know that they are our means to higher living. The book says "New habits are much like a new pair of shoes: For the first few days, they will feel uncomfortable. But if you break them in for about three weeks, they will fit like a second skin."

The above are part of my 'have done' and 'have not done' items. You should draw up your own lists too.

Lastly, I pick this wisdom from the book as I believe it would have appeared in most of our 'have not done' list:

Live Fully So That You Can Die Happy

The book says "Most people don't discover what life is all about until just before they die. We have taller buildings but shorter tempers, more possessions but less happiness, fuller minds but emptier lives. Do not wait until you are on your deathbed to realize the meaning of life and the precious role you have to play within it."

For more wisdom, you'd have to read the book yourself.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Manic Panic

When I said "I saw panic in pandemic", it was taken as humorous.

Yes, I laughed along too but the other part of my brain was thinking of something else. I had too because both 'pandemic' and 'panic' were not funny to me.

Of course, I was thinking about the Influenza A (H1N1) flu which was earlier known as Swine Flu.

The H1N1 flu panic is not an unexpected phenomenon. There have been many similar outbreaks in the past and people reacted in just the same way. The diseases/causes may differ but the panic was the same. All those lessons were hard but our short memory often reinstate the mistakes that brought us the very suffering.

Let's recap some of the past panics...


If you are from Singapore, how could you not know the SARS episode in 2003?

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus hopped from animal to human in Southern China, killing the first victim in Nov 2002. It then spread unchecked, thanks to the cover-ups. After it was brought into Hong Kong by a mainland Chinese businessman, the disease started to go international. Over 8,000 people were infected and nearly 800 was killed, mostly in China and Hong Kong.

By July 2003, there were no more human cases reported and the virus was considered contained. However, the experts warned that it could come back.

Mad Cow Disease

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a disease which causes degeneration of brains in infected cows and hence it's nickname, mad cow disease.

It is not contagious through person-to-person contact. However, a person can become sick by eating brain or spinal tissue from an infected cow or contaminated cuts, if proper safety measures are not observed.

The disease gradually destroys nervous tissue in the brain, resulting in dementia, memory loss, seizures and death. Unfortunately, it is incurable and always fatal.

The largest outbreak occurred in Britain beginning in 1984, killing more than 150 people. By now, about 189,000 cows have been infected and more than 200 people have contracted the human version of this disease. More than 95% of these cows and more than 75% of these people are from UK.

The main reason for the spread of this disease is the way the cows are fed. Farmers have been advised to avoid feeding ground remains of other cattle. I wonder how much have changed since the first outbreak.

Lead Toys

Panics are not always caused by flu virus

In 2007, toy maker Mattel recalled more than nine million toys after they were found to contain lead paint, which can cause impaired brain development in children. This led to similar reactions from other toy companies, each discovering similar tainting in their toys.

Most toys today are made in China. When this is coupled with lax safety standards in Chinese manufacturing plants, the world awaits a constant flow of defective and health-threatening products into their markets.

Mattel settled the matter out of court and US imposed stricter rules on imports. Sounds goods except I think that nothing much has changed in most Chinese factories.

The Melamine Scare

In 2007, a massive pet food recall was activated by many pet food manufacturers, after incidents of serious illness and death of pets were reported. The culprit was found to be wheat gluten used to make pet food, imported from a single source - China.

That could have been a warning for the Chinese authorities to step up checks on manufacturing process. Obviously, not enough correction, if at all, was done to prevent the scandal in the following year.

In Sep 2008, several Chinese milk manufacturing companies got into trouble when their products were found to be adulterated with melamine. More than 12,800 were hospitalised and the victims were mainly infants and young children, with four infant deaths.

The incident stirred a wave of panic in Singapore even though no one was sickened by contaminated milk. The sale of dairy products here plunged as people indiscriminately avoided them. One by one, more and more products were told to be removed from the shelves as the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) discovered more contaminated items.

Greed, corruption, sluggish regulatory presence are the main reasons behind the Melamine scandal. Have we seen the trio disappear from the Chinese economic and political arena? Apparently not. More scandals and more panics await.

The above are just some examples of past panics. The list is longer and growing.

When the fast-spreading H1N1 flu first took the stage last month, the mood was tense. Many people reacted as they should. However, some over-reacted (i.e. panic) and behaved irrationally. Some seized the opportunity to pursue political and economical agendas, such as mass pig culling and banning of pork imports.

On 11 May, Singapore's Disease Outbreak Response System Alert (DORSCON) status was stepped down from Orange to Yellow. Today, the Singapore Home Quarantine Order (HQO) on recent travellers to Mexico is lifted since its imposition on 4 May.

While these measures help to ease some panic, they also give the perception that the threat is over.

The threat is really far from over for the virus is coming nearer to us. Today, the Malaysian health authorities have just confirmed their first case of H1N1 virus. While there is no need for any manic panic, it serves as a timely reminder to Singaporeans that the game is not over yet.

Having said that, I do not think we should drastically change the way we live and let paranoia lead our behavior. At times like this... no, at all times, common sense always prevails.

I know common sense is often uncommon. Just use whatever you have.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Modern 'Brandology'

Here I am, talking about names again.

Nowadays, we use many IT words and some have grown to become part of our daily tech vocabulary. For example, when we need to search for something, we "Google" and when we need to find an answer, we "Wiki". "Blackberry" is the synonym for mobile email and "iPod" is another word of MP3 player.

The bottom line is that commercial names were so given because the companies believe that they are attractive. However, I have been curious about the origins of some of these names and that has prompted me to go on an etymological journey which has proven to be rather insightful. Here are some:


Why Apple? I don't see any resemblance of the fruit in any of the Apple products other than in the logo.

When Steve Jobs went into business in 1976, he and his partner needed a name for their company. At that time, Jobs was involved in running an orchard. When he suggested "Apple Computer", his partner assumed that his work at the orchard had inspired the name. However, his partner was concerned about copyright issues with that name. So they brainstormed on other more unique and tech-sounding names such as Executek. In the end, they did not take very long to decide that nothing was going to beat "Apple".

Today, "Apple" is a well-down brand and at the mention of the name, beautifully designed gadgets pop in our heads. Perhaps one day, our children will ask us "why is this fruit named after the computer?"


In 1995, Ward Cunningham came up with an easy way for software developers to discuss software patterns on the World Wide Web. He called it "Wiki Wiki Web", presumably trying to preserved the same abbreviation of "WWW".

Cunningham was once told by a staff at a Hawaii airport to take 'wiki wiki" shuttle bus to another terminal. He came to know that "wiki wiki" was actually a Hawaiian term for "quick". He had the intention to name his web "quick-web" but thought that "wiki wiki" was a better substitute for "quick".

I am glad that he made that choice as "Wiki" is a lot more catchy.

Today, Wikipedia, which is a portmanteau of the terms "wiki" and "encyclopedia"
, has become a widely used technology for creating collaborative websites. The idea is rather simple where people all over the world come together and contribute contents to this giant online encyclopedia.

There are currently 262 language editions of Wikipedia and it is used by millions of people. Its popularity has also invited criticism that it is a breeding ground for plagiarism. It is also being said to be a source of inaccuracies due to the lack of editing.

Incidentally, it has just been reported in the news that an Irish undergrad posted a fake quote by Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer died on March 28. Very quickly, the made-up quote was being used and cited. He was shocked by the result of his 'experiment' and said that the fake quote would have gone down history if he did not come forward to clarify.

Talking about portmanteau, it seems that this fanciful way of gelling two unrelated words to form a new term is becoming very popular in today's modern "brandology".

I always find "Google" an adorable name and puerile to a certain extent. In fact, we can trace its origin to a 9-year boy.

"Google" came from a maths term "Googol".

A googol is a very huge number. I won't do it here but you can try writing one googol which is,
digit 1 followed by one hundred zeroes, ie, 1,000,000,000 .....(do it when you are really bored).

The term "googol" was first used by P
rofessor Edward Kasner in 1938 at the suggestion of his 9-year-old nephew, Milton Sirotta.

"Googolplex", on the other hand, is a even huger number which is digit 1 followed by a googol of zeroes. If I were to write one googolplex in numerical expression in this article, you will just going to see zeroes and more zeroes across the whole page! (try writing it when you are really bored... and insane!)

Now I can understand why Google named its headquarter in California "Googleplex".


A "BlackBerry" is a wireless handheld device or smartphone, popularly known for its push-email functionality.

But why "BlackBerry" and not "StrawBerry" or "BlueBerry"? Why "Berry" in the first place?

Apparently, "Berry" was inspired by the buttons on the device which looked like tiny seeds in a strawberry. The company, Research In Motion (RIM) decided that strawberry was not right and went for "BlackBerry" instead. They thought that this name went along better with the color of the device.

I personally don't think "StrawBerry" is a nice name for a tech gadget too. Perhaps it can be reserved for some 'Cloned in China' models.

BlackBerry offers the ability to read/receive email on the go and the device has been known to be infamously addictive. When President Obama took office in the White House, his security team apparently had to bend the "no BlackBerry" rule because he was so attached to the gadget.

It is no surprise why it has earned unflattering nicknames such as "CrackBerry", a reference to the street drug form of cocaine known as crack.
Many users simply refer to BlackBerry devices as "berries" and "berry thumb" or "berry blister" are terms used to describe the soreness that occurs from handling the keyboard.

In Singapore, BlackBerry is also well-liked. Perhaps, we can coin our own term such as "berry shiok" (adj. a Singaporean colloquial expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality).


Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging web application. It allows users to send and read updates which are not more than 140 characters each. These updates are known as "tweets".

"Tweet" actually came from "twttr", which is the sound made by birds. It is presumed that birds communicate with short burst of information, that goes "twttr", "twttr", "twttr"... and that appropriately describes the use of the application, which gives brief information/updates on the go.

The popularity of Twitter was best noted in US during the forum for the 44th US president's campaign.


Mozilla Firefox is a commonly used web browser. It is usually just known as "Firefox".

Originally, the "fox" was actually a "bird" with the brand name "Firebird". However, due to the presence of another similarly-named application, it was renamed "Firefox".

Firefox is another name for Red Panda. But why "Firefox"? I guess I will never know because all that Mozilla would say was "It's easy to remember. It sounds good. It's unique".

Wouldn't you like Firefox much better than Firebird!


Before 1992, IBM used to name their products by boring model numbers, such as IBM 5150.

The name "ThinkPad" was inspired by leather-bound pocket notepads which were issued to all IBM employees. On the cover of those notepads, the corporate motto "Think" was embossed. The combination of "Think" and "Notepad" led to "ThinkPad".

Apparently, the "old school" within IBM was initially against the new name since all previous models were referred by model numbers. However, the "ThinkPad" brand name became so popular that the rest was history.

I was just wondering if "Think" was printed on every employee's corporate-issued coffee mugs, would "ThinkPad" have become "ThinkMug"?


Facebook is a social networking application on the net which started in 2004. Since then, it experienced explosive international growth and now it has a user base of more than 200 million.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in 2004. However, it is believed that the seed of the idea was planted in him during his high school days.

Back then in high school, he would receive his copy of students' directory. It was nothing more than a listing of students' photos and their contact information. Even though the cover of the directory said "The Photo Address Book", the students affectionately called it "The Facebook", presumably because of the photos in there.

Facebook is so widely used that even the courts endorse it.

In Dec 2008, the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory ruled that Facebook is a valid protocol to serve court notices to defendants. In Mar 2009, the New Zealand High Court allowed the serving of legal papers via Facebook.

In Singapore, politicians are also using it to promote their causes or just staying connected. The government feedback unit "REACH" has a Facebook account to engage and reach out to the people. It currently has close to 2000 members.


Bluetooth is a universal standard used in transmitting information between two devices wirelessly. It is commonly found in mobile phones and notebooks.

The name came from the 10th Century King of Denmark, King Harald Blatand (Blatand is translated as Bluetooth in English). He was known for uniting Norway and Denmark in the same way Bluetooth unites devices.

Legend has it that King Harald loved to eat blueberries, so much so that his teeth would be stained with the colour. It was believed that he earned his name that way.

Originally, "Bluetooth" was the codename for a yet to be marketed technology. It took a long time for the working group to decide on the official name. Many names were suggested and one of them was "Flirt", which came with a catch phrase "getting close, but not touching." To cut the long story short, the group eventually decided to use the temporary codename "Bluetooth" as the official name, after a long drawn naming process.

I cannot imagine if "Flirt" was chosen instead. Will we then be saying "Can my mobile phone flirt with yours, please?" ... Eeeew!

The above are just some examples of popular names for technology companies or gadgets and the list is long and changing fast. Whatever it is, a name is a name. Whether it is meant for a person, a place, a business or a product, people should not take naming lightly.

Many years ago, I came across a shop in Malaysia with a trade name "Tahi" which is a rough translation from "大喜" (loosely translated as 'great happiness' in Chinese). You may not think that there is anything wrong with that name until someone tells you that "Tahi" actually means... pardon my language, "shit" in Malay. That was really an "OMG" moment for me.

When it comes to naming, one cannot be too careful because it is just not easy to get a safe name, let alone a good name.


More articles on naming:
Moo Moo & Baa Baa
What's In A Gr8 Name?
What's In A Name?

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Ubiquitous Digital Divide

I have this strange urge to do some geek talk.

It is getting a little odd here as I do not even like to do geek talk. I am guilty of stereotyping geek people and adjectives such as nerd, flashy, spendthrift do come to my mind. I honestly do not think I fit any of the images very well.

Never mind. Let's do some geek talk anyway - because it is necessary.

I use the computers because I HAVE TO. It is not as if my bosses ask me if I would still prefer to stick to pen and paper. Over the last 2 decades, I was gradually being moulded into a typical computer user who can do simple chores like work-processing, emailing and now, Internet surfing.

If '10' means very tech-savvy, I would give myself 2.481 out of 10. Wait a m... doesn't this number look kind of familiar to me? I guess I must have seen it somewhere. OK, let's come back to my tech-savvy score of 2.481. All I am saying is that my score is low.

I am using so much of the computer that I suffer from separation anxiety whenever I am without one for too long. I don't think that is a good thing but I have accepted that life is no longer the same today.

I use a computer to work:

- I hammer on my keyboard vigorously churning reports with word-processors. (I miss the days of leaky ballpoint pen and foolscap paper)

- I shoot emails to all the people who do the same to me using "Reply To All" and I smile thinking that I communicate well.

- I swim inside giant spreadsheets and taking short breaks to look for motion-sickness pills.

- I piece interesting presentation stories on Powerpoints and spending time choosing font colors. I go to and fro between magenta and orange and telling myself that perhaps I am artistic after all.

I use a computer to play:

- Word games are my favorites. I am good at forming weird-looking words which I have no idea what they mean and pretending to be a lexicon. When I hit a handsome score, I fool myself that the 'spell' of my 'disability to spell' has been broken.

- Once in a blue moon (which I define as at most a few times a year), I numb my mind on dumb games like 'Collapse'.

I use a computer to socialize:

- I am a Facebooker. Not avid, just regular. I think Facebook is fun but I avoid elements of narcissism.

- I am a Twitter user. I enjoy 'following' more than being 'followed' (Nothing to do with my leadership quality, ay!). I particularly love witty and clever tweets.

- I yak on Instant Messaging with people half a globe away and those sitting a meter from me. Inside the computer world, everyone is equidistant.

I use a computer to learn:

- There are around 156 million of websites out there - more than enough to burst my tiny brain.

- I am fairly tactile but I read online newspapers. Why? Because the ink on the dailies irks me, not to mention the 'table-cloth' size of the local major papers. (Listen up: It's time to go tabloid size!). One day, I may consider Kindle. (Don't know what Kindle is? Check it out.)

- I do read e-books occasionally but I still prefer the good old paperbacks. Why? Because I am tactile, duh!

I use a computer for entertainment:

- I pipe my favorite tunes via the earphone from the labyrinth of song databases found in the digital world. It helps to ease the tension whenever my MP3 player is out of reach. I think life will just get better with an 'Ultimate Ear MetroFi' earpiece.

- I watch movies on my notebook even though my 12.1" screen will not do justice to the mammoth epic-scale scenes and I may not notice the iceberg in Titanic.

It may seem that I am doing a lot with my computer. The truth is, there are a lot more things the computer can do for me and I am fairly ignorant about them. Hence, 2.481/10 on the techy scale is a pretty generous score, given my shallowness.

The geek world is changing at a scary pace and geek stuff are permeating our lives faster than the swine flu is spreading. Like the flu virus, it mutates at a furious rate and I feel myself trying to climb the slippery 'geek' slope and constantly trying not to slip. It is easy to just stay down there but I don't consider that an option.

Everyday, I receive useful 'tweets' telling me nuggets of geek news. Some are very interesting but most of them sound Greek to me. I have great inertia finding out about new gizmo let alone learning to use one. I admire fanciful top-of-the-range mobile phones. However, I continue to use a simple one and hope that it will never give up on me. I love to listen to songs but I do not have an iPod. I have yet to own a camera despite my love for photography. The list of ironies goes on.

I am not a geek person. Period.

Gizmo was never part of the landscape I grew up with. When I was in school, the computers were humongous and Apple IIe was my first date. Mobile computing was not even in my wildest dream. Later, they introduced the so called 'laptops' and bragged that the 'lightweight' machines offered great mobility. It was an amazingly strange claim for I failed to see how I could ever comfortably rest a 10kg 'laptop' on my laps without causing some paralysis!

Today, the gizmo are going sleek and slim. Fashion has become as important as if not, more important than functionality. Just look at Apple products and you would know what I mean.

Schools in Singapore are beginning to introduce notebooks in classrooms. The juniors carry their textbooks and homework in their personal notebooks. They use it in their classrooms, at home and when they are hanging out somewhere.

In Norway, the schools for the 16-19 year old are trying out laptop-based system. Every student will be given a laptop by their government when the turn 16. Besides their regular school work, the students use the notebooks for exam as well.

I believe the situations in Singapore and Norway are not unique. Within the next 5 to 10 years, the young adults would live a substantial part of their lives inside the cyber world. Slowly but surely, the new generation would redefine the meaning of 'firm handshakes', 'intimate moments' and 'eye contacts'.

Increasingly, the digital divide is tearing the social fabric that is traditionally founded on and maintained by social norms I grew up with. Everything seems to have two sides now: the traditional tactile and the digital virtual.

Why are some people not coming over to the 'digital side' of the digital divide? The main causes usually are: Income level, language barriers and mindset.

I do not consider the first two causes to be prevalent in Singapore. Our income gap is manageable and there is no chronic poverty issue. English being an official language and according to the Singapore Department of Statistics, literacy level is high at 92.5%.

The only problem seems to be MINDSET.

On one end of the digital divide, we have tech-savvy people constantly keeping themselves relevant via the cyber knowledge world. On the other end, we have Singaporeans who are coping with the invasion and evolution of technology usage. The latter are not necessarily old, poor or uneducated.

Due to the pace of change, younger people are at risk of becoming irrelevant too. They are complacent as they presume youth naturally goes with relevance and most worrying of all, they do not realise that the world is moving faster than they thought it is. Many are therefore not keeping up as fast as they should.

The middle-age and the elderly groups have been struggling to keep up. Many are resigned to the fact that tech stuff are meant for the young. They apply the 'out-of-side and out-of-mind' mentality and avoid the use of technology.

I have good and bad news for them.

Let's start with the good one. Basic computing and net-surfing are not as difficult as they may sound. I have seen many success stories and I think their successes are not sheer miracles or coincidence and I am sure age is never a barrier.

The bad news is that, they are heading towards a world with increasing unfamiliarity. Besides disconnection with the outside world, they may soon find themselves having to struggle with simple daily modern tasks.

As I have said at the beginning, I don't like to do geek talk but I will do it anyway because it is necessary. I hope I have convinced you that it is indeed so.

The ubiquitous digital divide is real and widening. Which side are you?

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