Monday, January 25, 2010

Coffin Academy - Dying to Live

Coffin what? Say that again??

I know this may sound quirky but it is not my intention to be so. When I first came across Coffin Academy, I was a little taken aback. I thought it was a prank or a joke gone wrong. I went ahead to find out more, nonetheless.

It turned out that it was more than just a gory name.

Coffin Academy is a seminar that was launched in February 2009 and run by Jung Joon from South Korea. Here, you get to attend your own 'funeral and experience your own 'death' at US$25 per session.

At the seminar, a group of about a dozen learns the 'meaning of life' and goes through hours of 'soul-searching' exercises. The learning wraps up with a tearful group writing their last words and tombstone epitaphs before their 'death'.

They will then proceed to try the size of the casket before 'dying' in there. The participants will each step into their own wooden casket and lie in there, face up, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the lids of the caskets are shut and within, they 'rest in peace' in total, claustrophobic darkness.

So far, the 'how' part sounds weird if not disturbing.

Jung explains that death simulation is a way to motivate people to improve their lives. This may be a good thing given that South Korea has one of the highest suicide rate.

However, opposers think that it will further promote death fetishism. They warned that such sessions may lead to the idea that "life in the underworld" is much better.

There is obviously no lack of takers. Besides individuals, companies are also sending their employees to experience 'death' and benefit from this unconventional program. Some even make the program a compulsory segment of their corporate training.

For example, the Kyobo insurance company has required all 4,000 of its employees to attend such sessions as they believe this is an inventive way to boost productivity.

You get the idea so far, don't you? Yes, Jung intends to teach the people that it is not a good idea to take your own life. Jung explains that he came to appreciate the fragility of life when he donated a kidney to his ailing father some years back.

The seminar, he believes, does not encourage death. Instead, the participants get to appreciate the preciousness of life.

In the 'last letters', the participants would address their 'last thoughts' to their loved ones. They often recount their regrets and ponder over how they might have done things differently. In short, it is a hard moment of self-reflection.

Jung believes that the 'fake death' session has a more impactful effect in getting people to think about their lives. A victim of a failed suicide himself, Jung is committed to let people understand the priorities in life and that each day really counts.

In an interview with BBC, Jung shared that one participant, after experiencing his own 'death', came to understand the importance of family. He made the first move and contacted his mother whom he has not spoken to for 30 years.

If the 'fake death' seminar sounds scary to you, you are not alone. Jung recounted that some participants hesitated when it was their time to step into the wooden caskets. Some would ask for the lid to stay open. To these people, the fear of death is real, even though they know they would 'come alive' again after 10 minutes.

I can imagine the whole session to be so emotionally-charged. When we are alive, we rarely give a thought to the things we can undo and improve while we still have the chance. People often change for the better only after they have had a near-death experience.

Why wait till then?

Since the time of early civilization, men have asked for the meaning of life and many never found an answer. This is precisely so because the answer is a complex one, fusing philosophical and religious concepts.

In their pursuit of the real meaning, people have often insisted on their own interpretation. They hardwire the meaning into their brains and refuse to see alternative views.

Today, the world remains divided and tensions amongst the various groups of beliefs continue to threaten peace. It is not my intention to demonstrate the inclination of my belief in this article. Rather, all I want to say is that, I can definitely agree with Jung on one thing:

Life is precious and everyday counts.

See report on L A Times.

"Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it.
~Christopher Morley~

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Little Red Dot on Google Map

Allan and Barbara Pease wrote "Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps" in 1999.

In a nutshell, the book explains the strengths and weaknesses of both genders. Obviously, among other things, the authors are saying that, well, 'women can't read maps'.

I have to admit that I am naturally not good at it and I know many who are worse. I think the GPS makers are aware of the potential market and they have got me using one too. See an earlier post on "A Device For The (Lost) Goons?".

When Google brought Google Street View to Singapore in Dec last year, I was one of the early users. I just had to find out if they have made map reading easier for me.

Google Street View is not new. When it was first launched in May 2007, it covered areas of only five cities in the USA (New York, San Francisco, Denver, Miami and Las Vegas). More areas were later added but they were all within the USA.

In July 2008, Google Street View covered the first areas outside the USA (France and Italy). By now, it has coverage in at least nine countries. Singapore is the first in the South East Asia.

I have some initial thoughts about Google Street View after using it for more than a month now. Before I go on, it is helpful to note that Google Street View in Singapore is somewhat unique.

Singapore is a tiny island state (710.2 km2 or 274.2 sq mi) and it is known as the "Little Red Dot" by the local people. Being tiny, Google was able to extend the coverage of Google Street View to almost the entire country.

The Google Street View camera cars were first spotted on the streets here in Oct 08 and a year later, it was launched on 2 Dec 09.

Google Street View is simple to use. To view a chosen part of a street, you simply drag the orange 'pegman' icon from its position onto the location on the map. You may want to scale the map first. At each position, you can navigate to view upwards or sideways to enjoy 360° horizontal and 290° vertical views.

It is very useful to have an extensive coverage in Singapore. Besides rendering aids to people who need more help to visualize maps, there are other ways Google Street View comes in handy:

1. Tourists

Singapore is a popular tourist destination. Now, tourists can visit the country virtually before arriving here. They can plan their itinerary as they visually comb (almost) the entire island.

See street view of the Esplanade (foreground) and the Singapore Flyer (background) taken from the Esplanade Drive in the picture above.

2. Singaporeans Abroad

Home sick? Our fellow Singaporeans away from home can always 'walk' around their neighborhood or visit their old schools whenever they feel like it.

Picture above shows Singapore public housing taken from Bedok North Street 2.

3. Foreign Investors

Thinking of buying a posh house here? Why not check out the property and its surrounding first?

4. Foreign Students

Planning to further your education in Singapore? With Google Street View, you can take a look at the shortlisted schools and the amenities around them.

Picture above is taken from outside the Singapore Anglo-Chinese Junior College at Dover Road.

5. Customers

Now customers have one more way to check out a new restaurant. They can take a look on Google Street View first before heading down. House hunters can check out the estate and have some ideas of the location before seeing the house.

Picture above shows a view from Damsey Road, a location filled with exciting restaurants.

6. Every User

With Google Street View, you can indicate a meeting place to friends, plan a jogging route or recce a camp site. The uses are only limited by our imagination.

So far, Google Street View sounds god-sent. However, there have been no lack of opposing voices since Google Street View hit the street in 2007. The main controversy is the privacy issue.

Images on Google Street View are taken from a camera mounted on a moving vehicle. Inevitably, images of people taken at some inappropriate places have given rise to complaints.

In May 2008, Google began using the face-blurring technology on its photos of Manhattan streets. Today this technology is also used in many other areas. In Singapore, the face-blurring technology is applied and the car license plates are also blurred.

Infringement of privacy will remain a main concern. If it is not handled satisfactorily, it may become a stumbling block for the future expansion of Google Street View.

Besides the privacy issues, Google Street View is sometimes being criticized for its photo quality. has some examples of such sightings. Take a look. You are allowed to laugh.

Finally, click on the Google Street View site and come 'visit' Singapore.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Picture Blog #9 : Droste Effect - The Math Art

This term 'Droste' may be unfamiliar to you but you will soon find out, the pictures are not.

The 'Droste effect' refers to a way of capturing images in a loop and never-ending manner. This little story helps to illustrates the concept:

"Once upon a time, there was an old monk who lived in an old temple with a little monk. He told the little monk a little story and he said, 'Once upon a time, there was an old monk who... ' and he went on and on." .'

The story goes into a loop and never ends.
The Droste effect in imagery can similarly tell a never ending story in a picture.

Imagine a picture of yourself holding picture in your hand. The picture in your hand similarly shows the same picture of yourself holding a picture in your hand and it goes on, only reducing in size.

Theoretically, the loop effect can go into infinity. However, realistically, the resolution and the size of the image would have put a cap to the effect.

The term 'Droste' is coined from an advertisement of 'Droste cocoa powder' from the Netherlands, which showed an image of a nurse carrying a a box of cocoa powder of the same brand with the same image (above).

From a mathematical perspective, pictures with Droste effect are said to be recursive. So, if you you like, you can call Droste effect pictures, 'Math Art'.

In this digital age, the Droste effect grows in its sophistication. Here are 25 examples. Hold on to your seat and do not get disoriented.

"You don't take a photograph, you make it."
~Ansel Adams~

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dating My TV #18 (Last Post)

See "Dating My TV #17".

This shall be the last post of this series. Two months of 'dating' is sufficient to get a good idea of where I am heading.

In "Dating My TV #1", I explained the weakened bond between the TV and I. As I was given the opportunity to try out Starhub's "TV on Mobile", I thought I would take the opportunity to see if I would begin to like watching TV again, now, from a new perspective.

I went on to try it out for two months.

Watching TV programs on mobile phones is not a new idea. It is obvious that mobility is the main attraction and it will remain so. Other than that, I have gathered some thoughts during the two months with "TV on Mobile".

1. Coverage of Reception

The whole idea about watching TV on the go is freedom. You would want to be able to do it anytime and anywhere. After all, Singapore is such a tiny island and that is not too much to ask for. However, I have experienced various 'blind spots' within which I could not receive any TV signals. This means that, there will be effectively no mobile TV while riding in a bus or train.

2. Smoothness of Data Streaming

Nothing can be more irritating than watching TV programs in a 'staccato' mode. However, that seemed to be the experience I had gone through in the last two months. There was hardly a program which was not disrupted by bad streaming in one way or another. The only difference was the degree of severity.

3. Variety of Programs

Like it or not, we are spoilt for choices today. We have long past the era when we only had MediaCorp's Channel 5 and Channel 8 to choose from.
On Starhub's "TV on Mobile", there are altogether 17 channels. Honestly, 17 is not an impressive number in this aspect. For 'TV on Mobile' to be attractive, the number of channels should not be compromised.

4. Size Does Matter

Most households have flat-screen TVs ranging from 30" to 45" and some have bigger ones. Home theaters are also not uncommon either and wall-size screens further enhance viewing experience. With this backdrop, it seems pathetic to have to watch TV programs on tiny mobile phone screens.
However, I have come to accept that the trade-off on screen size is a given as I cannot possibly lug a 100" device and move around.

5. Image Quality

There is a great difference between watching a movie on a 42" HD TV and on a 3.2" mobile phone. Inevitably, you lose a lot of details on the latter.

In "Dating My TV #1", I mentioned that 3D TV is tailing behind us and before I could wrap up this series, exciting talks are already taking place in the industry. If you have been following the talks at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, you would have noticed the number of players who came out to rave about their 3D TVs.

Perhaps the success of "Avatar" (3D version) might just accelerate the arrival of 3D TV in homes. When that happens, the disparity in viewing pleasure between 3D TV and mobile phone will be even greater.

6. Ease of Usage

You would need to select "GEE! 3G/GPRS" access point to use the StarHub TV on Mobile service and before that Gee! has to be activated. All these steps may not be difficult at all for someone who is tech-savvy. However, it can be a struggle if the mobile phone users are unable to go beyond taking calls and texting.

Setting it up can be an ordeal to some.

7. Ease of Surfing

At a click of button, your TV at home would come alive and you can start your channel surfing. However, TV surfing on mobile phones can bring excruciating pain. Getting it started requires some patience for the connection would not take place instantly. Switching from channel to channel means more waiting.

In an era when speed is everything, too much of 'hourglass' watching is not acceptable.

8. Parting Words

It was not all bad. "TV on Mobile" had kept me company in some otherwise very bored moments. However, the possibility of me growing very fond of it is quite slim. Perhaps, I expect too much. Perhaps, it ought to be better. Perhaps, we are just not meant for each other.

Whatever... "Dating My TV" ends here and we remain platonic. Thanks for tuning in.

See the entire "Dating My TV" series.

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