Saturday, March 28, 2009

And I thought this kind of network only exist in Bond movie

In 007 movies, we watched how skillful the spies obtain information from the internet and various places, including at times activating computers remotely. We think that this must be of movie-kind-of-thing only. Guess what, read this:

Canadian researchers just found a huge spy network infecting computers worldwide and the implanted malware can activate the web camera and audio recording function of the computer to gain information! O my, imagine your action and your word being recorded unknowingly. It shudders me. Luckily at least I don't have a web camera in my laptop and neither I am that famous to get access. Now I know that turning off my in speaker volume does not really help.

Perhaps being aware of what website you visited and what files you open will prevent malwares into your computer. At least to a great extent.

Earth hour: the irony

Discussed the Earth hour event with some friends, and here are some of our concerns:
1. Is the promotion and marketing of earth hour event carbon offseted? Well, the publicity of earth hour including website programming needs electricity, paper, water, ink, etc. Can anyone ensure that the resources spent to publicize the earth hour event is less than the minute savings of electricity by the participants of earth hour? Or is this the case of necessary evil?

2. How many participants of earth hour end up in shopping mall? Singaporeans are normally fond of air conditioned locations. So, when they switch off their lamps at home, will they flock to the shopping malls and cause the HVAC system in shopping mall to work harder?

Much more efforts should be coordinated beyond earth hour to battle global warming. Hopefully, whatever resources spent by the earth hour event can spur further awareness and get more people to participate in real time. If not, it may end up as another wasteful effort.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eating medicine daily without knowing

Do you realize that you are taking medicine everyday without knowing? If not, perhaps you can try to read

The news is about the research that discovers the presence of medicine in fishes. In fact, there has been many researches establishing the presence of medicine in our food and drink chain. I remembered reading the findings about the presence of medicine in drinking water in US.

The fact I know are:
1. Whatever drugs you take, they are not totally absorbed by our body. Some will go down the drain via our urine or feces.
2. We can only detect what we know.

The sewerage system worldwide (good or bad) interacts with the environment and in many places, waste water (including urine) is treated to produce drinking water. The main issues are that unless there are specific compound to remove, chances are that noone knows how to remove them. Ozone, UV and whatever treatment given to waste water will not take away residual medicine in water. Medicinal residue in the soil going up to the plants (from even the so called organic plantation), will definitely end up in our kitchen. Even if you say that the soil is organic, there is no way to ensure the water is free from all unwanted residues. In short, our food and drink chain has become so entertwined that everything is linked. The amount of possible residues are also so many that it is virtually impossible to track.

Not trying to be pessimistic, I think we need to realistically accept the fact that we will be taking some of the unwanted medicinal residue. Chances are that the residue is in small amount after being diluted so many times, unless everyone use the same medicine at the same time! So, perhaps it is least likely that anything harm will come to us mainly because of taking those residues. The risk of dying from accident on the way to work or choking on fish bones may actually be higher. Nevertheless, there is no zero risk in this world and most of the time, it is really your perception that matters.

Edit: 28 March 2009
Guess what I have just read.

The article reported a finding that bottles of drinking water in Germany releases xenohormone, that is chemical that has hormone-like effect. Worse, the chemical behaves like estrogen, primary female sex hormone... the hormone promote some female characteristics, not so fun to have that in male, definitely...

This finding reflect exactly the fear on how much unwanted chemicals have entered human lives unknowingly. I wonder how safe glass bottle is as well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SQ321 flight delay from London to Singapore

On 15 March 2009 10.15 pm, I am supposed to return to Singapore from London on A380, flight number SQ321. Unfortunately, the flight is delayed for 12 hours. I'll chronicle that journey in this blog.

On that day, I reached Heathrow at 8.15 pm but alas, at 9.30 pm, the notice board put up "gate opened at 22.50". And at 9.45 pm, they called passengers to collect 10 pounds voucher for meal. I sensed something is wrong, but still, voucher is good for supper. Amazingly little did I realize that shops in the airport open only till 10.00 pm! By the time I got my voucher (which is VERY early compared to other passengers), "TGIF" is no longer taking orders and only sandwiches shops are open. Slightly fed up, I ended up buying some "innocent" smoothies (which I have been craving for) and lots of snacks to bring home. I still can hold my head high and thought perhaps the flight will take place at 11 pm. I was quite happy when they told us to go into the gate at 11.30 pm. I thought finally we'll fly. So, the long queue to the boarding gate by the anxious passengers start. By the time we reached the gate, the bomb fell. The customer service officers said we are to stay overnight in the hotel since there is a hydraulic leak on the landing wheel. They said update will be available on 6 am the day after and hopefully the plane can fly between 8 to 10 am. So, they gave us a box of snack and told us to wait for bus transport.

Amazing thing happen during the waiting for the bus transport outside the airport after exiting from the custom. Noone seem to do a simple calculation: passengers divide by bus capacity equal number of bus required. So, around 20 of us were standing in the cold night waiting for a bus that never come. Basically a fleet of bus waited for the passengers but one more was required. Another simple math calculation missed is the number of overnight kit required. There were lots of passengers without the kit, which was distributed during the queue. I find it amusing for SIA not to have simple consideration as such in the procedure.

Not only that, apparently business class people is put up in Radissons Edwardian, the economy class in Premier Inn. What a difference. And to act a bit more responsibly (which is appreciated), those of us (economy passengers) waiting in the cold, they ended up putting us in Radissons. I thought, at that time, what a luck that there was no old persons with some problems in the queue. None of the customer service officers actually told us to take comfort in the bus waiting room while waiting for 20 minutes in the cold!

Upon reaching the hotel, we checked in and that's 00.45 am. I finally got my overnight kit at around 2 am I think. The overnight kit has an amusing oversight. It contained XL t-shirt and no underwears. O dear, some one in SIA actually think t-shirt is more important than underwear for people forced to do an overnight due to flight delay. I really want to know who has the hand on deciding the overnight kit and whether a proper need assessment has been done to decide the content!

In the morning, I thought someone will be nice enough to call to inform the arranged flight. But well, guess what, despite all the SIA being "world class", noone calls and people were expected to queue to get more information. What I learned during the queue was disturbing. Apparently the busines class passengers was booked on the normal flight at 10.55 am and they booked the economy class passengers to 10.05 pm for the night. Amazingly, apparently the business class passengers know about their booking into the new flight at 10.55 am from the night! Hence, the customer service officers provided misleading information to the economy class passengers. Now, that does not seem to be any fair to me. Where is the customer service standard? The rich rules?

So, the economy class passengers were told to spend time in the hotel. That's quite a bleak way to spend your day, isn't it? Then I went up to the assistant station manager of SIA in London and commented that I would have spent 60 hours on the same clothes by the time I reached Singapore on the midnight flight and asked for a solution. He amusingly told me that I can try to purchase an under garment and TRY to reimburse. Now, that's only a TRY and we can't even reimburse our trip out of hotel, how on earth would I be able to buy the under garment? No offer to purchase one for me or sort of things... what another minus note in the service. So, I dejectedly went back to my room and continued working.

At 10.48 am suddenly I was rang to be told a bus is coming to fetch the economy class passengers at 11.00 am to get the flight on 1.00 pm since the plane was fixed. Wow, 12 minutes to get down and my socks were wet since I washed them thinking I may be able to dry them by 10.00 pm. While ironing, I forgot about the time and only called the receptionist at 11.07 am to check and to be told that the bus was leaving without me and I was told to go down fast. Now, I was really about to be left by the bus and they NEVER even check the name of the passengers in the bus against the hotel list. What a good service!

Cut things short, we ended up in the plane at 1.15 pm and waited till around 2.45 pm for the plane to finally fly since there were 14 passengers not accounted for. Somehow, someone forgot to ask all the contact number of all passengers and never call all of them before deciding to enter people into the plane. And amazingly, snacks were not served to the starving passengers (remember that we entered the waiting room before lunch) until later than 2.00 pm.

I am strongly unimpressed by the SIA's customer service in London and what disturbs me is that no offer of compensation for the inconvenience is even mentioned. I believe there should be some measure for such but they seem to be avoiding that. My e-mail to them has gone unanswered. This really shows that SIA has a long way to go for the customer service to be first class. I wonder whether the next quality certification will find this issue?

Death on the MRT

Another death yesterday on the train track in Singapore. I wonder why there is quite a number of death in Singapore while there is nothing about death on the track in UK. There are lots more train track in UK than in Singapore. There is a plan to include platform screen door in Singapore to reduce accident in the track. This seems to be a fire fighting response and pretty much, a corrective action. There is no such screen in the upper ground platform in London and yet, everything seems fine. Perhaps Singapore is addressing the issue from the wrong angle?

Passengers should be aware of their surrounding more often to spot their fellow passengers who need help. Most of the time, people in Singapore is too mechanistic and have a race hourse view (blinded from side view). I myself at times feel so when I am waiting for train either due to drowsiness or plain stress from my commuting experience. Being aware at the surrounding surely help, but then again that will take some mindset change, not an entirely easy option. Perhaps the authorities know this and choose the easy way out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Something that SBS and SMRT should consider

Who never complains about SBS's and SMRT's waiting time in Singapore? Let me have a show of hand. I must confess I am not impressed at all by their standard. However, it's also true that their standard is better than the undeground in London. But hey, in London, the distance between station can be easily travelled on foot! In Singapore, unless you have the time (I mean it), strength of will and strong leg power, I do not suggest walking between the train stations outside the business district. So, the bottom line is that both cities are different. Where the options of route and type of transportation are not available, the train and bus service are the only thing that people can take. Hence, it is extremely important for the service to be efficient for the user of the public transport. Sadly, it is not the way it should be in Singapore.

Perhaps the SBS and SMRT can look at for some inspiration on how to better their bus services. At least according to the article, heuristic programming allows the Spanish to create a better bus route. Anything that will allow the passengers to have a reasonable waiting time should be tried, provided they are there to serve the public (I know many people think the companies said here do not serve the public, but that is another issue).

Nanotechnology: the unknown

People are crazy about nanotechnology. Even household cleaning products tout the presence of nano-sized particle in the mixture. The big issue here about nanotechnology is the pretty much the lack of knowledge on what the result of the interaction between nanotechnology and living organism is. As far as I understand, researchers have been trying to use nanotechnology to kill bacteria. Researchers have also understood by now that nano-sized material behave differently from the big size one (by big size, it can mean micro to few meters). You can easily search for these information in the net. Yet, because of its mass appeal, nanotechnology produces many nano-sized particles that have been rolled out into the market without fully testing whether the particles affect the world in the wrong way. Recently, I came across a report saying that the nano-sized particles in the sunscreen were found to kill the beneficial microbes in the environment. I shudder to think that this is really only on the iceberg.

Technology advancement is crucial important for human advancement. Nanotechnology is indeed one of the forefront in the effort to better human lives. However, researchers need to have the moral and ethical understanding that technology interacts with the environment. Technology should not be made in the expense of the environment. Nothing good will emerge if the environment start dying because of human foolishness and lack of effort to understand their own made technology.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New mammals?

Two species of new mouse have been discovered! Read it at

Well, frankly, the expanse of earth makes it almost impossible for human to catalogue the entire world of animals and plants. I remembered recently about the discovery of a new tree in Europe as well. At times I wonder why the attempt to understand the earth's population is receiving far less attention than the space exploration. Perhaps the idea is that space exploration creates more spin off invention that has benefited human kind. There are tonnes of such ideas actually.

However, it has also been widely known of the attempt to replicate some of the nature properties to help human, for example the study of bird flight to create better flight engine, the study of gecko to create better adhesives, etc. Perhaps if more attention is put to study nature, there are lots of ideas to equal those presented by the space exploration as well?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Big vs. Small

Books on Economic always tell about the agility of small corporation and the high inertia of big corporation. I've never really thought about that until recently. Simply said, I come to appreciate the difference between different sizes of a company. Small company equals to small number of employees. When there are few employees, they are all somehow forced to reach quite high efficiency and productivity. People would also be more resourceful. Hence, the cost of keeping them are pretty much similar.

However, in big company, there are lots of employees. Hence, there are far more people who work inefficiently and perhaps sit around doing nothing. These people who contribute not much still need cost to keep them and these huge cost when divided among the departments would definitely increase the cost to keep of all people across the board, including those competent, productive employee. This is also the main reason that the reason that big company can take in more people because the cost will be spread to many people. The bad news is that if one's hard work is also distributed to the same amount of people.

I believe, though, that the recent globalization and the pace at which the world moves will derail the big corporation who maintains their sluggishness. They either have reinvent themselves and seek for more efficient operation or face the risk of being perish within 5 to 10 years time. The world is no longer capable of waiting for anyone who sits tight. It's so dynamic and collaboration is everywhere. Innovation is pretty much alive with the concept of mass idea. The big corporation that works inefficiently will be soon taken over by other small agile companies that manage to harness the power of the crowd.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A car? no! a plane!

See this:

Amazing innovation, priced at <>

I would be wondering about the danger though. If I were to drive in such a car, I think I'd wear parachute at all time. Someone really need to do good risk assessment of the car and show the buyer!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hoshi - Japanese Restaurant

Just ate at Hoshi, a Japanese restaurant in IMM. The restaurant was quite crowded so I am a bit surprised. I went there with my wife because her Japanese friend said the restaurant serves good Japanese food. So, we tried. We bought onigiri, saba shiyoaki and karee katsu. The onigiri has salmon and taste quite good although it was quite cold. It could have been better if it's warmer. The karee is a bit too average and the miso soup that came with the set tastes like soup made with some miso bought from supermarket. Admittedly, the soup is still better than the one in Sakae Sushi. The chawanmushi, though simple with a tiny cut of chicken, tastes quite good actually. There is stock with the chawanmushi and the egg texture is smooth. The karee comes with salad, ebi prawn and chicken katsu. The ebi prawn has too thick a batter although the prawn is crunchy. On average, the price is quite reasonable, we paid around 35 SGD so the food worth the price in fact.

If you do go, try to sit near the side facing the garden, at least there are some better views. The service is good actually. They employ a lot of Singaporean elderly and they speak english well! This is really in contrast with other restaurants which tend to employ mainly Chinese from PRC who speaks no English (e.g. Mayim restaurant in Bukit Batok, just try it). The uncle serving us the green tea even provided a baby seat for my wife to put her bag! That's what I called good service. He even threw away the cold tea and poured for us the hot ones.

7/10 for the taste
8/10 for the service

Friday, March 6, 2009

More conspiracy theory

And now the situation has somewhat worsened. News in Indonesia reported the parents of the student saying that they never saw wrist wound and Singapore police confirmed the absence of the wound. They said they saw slash wound in the neck of the student. They indicated that it may be the student who was assaulted. The student's friend claimed that the student carried a bag with towels, drinking bottles and other normal stuffs implying that he did not intend to kill (? or do any harm). There is even an opinion that there are 3 people in the room where the incident happens!

Now, this has gotten more out of hand for the fact that the police is somehow keeping very quiet. I hope the police works fair and faster.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I hope it ends fast

I hope the police can reveal what happens in the stabbing fast. There is far too much speculation going on that would do more harm than good. Undeniably, there has been lots of pressure into the scholars to produce good results at all time. I understand clearly their pain because I was one myself. However, part of the problem lies on the scholars themselves. By subjecting themselves to the scholarship, they have taken part in adding the pressure into themselves, knowingly or unknowingly. Self-expectation, parents' expectation, peer pressure and the benefactor's expectation is a deadly mixture of pressure that can easily culminate in a sad incident.

Take this analogy:
Studying hard and enjoying the good result is like developing a cocoon that protects the scholars. Once a wrong turn is taken, the cocoon has a hole exposing the weak developing pupa to the harsh world. Unless the pupa manages to close the hole, heaven knows what will happen to the pupa. But the pupa should have known at the beginning that by doing the cocoon, he is subjecting himself to a vulnerability.

It's a two-two relationship, that of the benefactor and the scholars. Both have their own motives. None is at fault.

What should really be done is to encourage communication. Although the online world opens up possibility of many connecting virtual friends, visible friends are those that can save the day. One in the net can't reach his hand to pull his friend out of a mud, although after multiple connections, the virtual friend can reach a visible friend to help which hopefully by then won't be too late.

A buddy system and network should be implemented. Sadly, the tutor system in NTU never works. I can tell honestly that I've not seen my tutor more than the first time ever when he was supposed to see me. After all, if the lecturers are pressured into producing research, how can they spend time to teach and mentor? The university nowadays are putting themselves into the shoes of research institute and have neglected the holy duty of teaching. I've seen a number of my old lecturers, capable of teaching well, being asked to become "teaching fellow" and get their teaching duty decreased with a lot lower pay. The saving then spent for young and brilliant researchers who speak bad english and zero teaching skill but with extremely good journals. Who can blame the university if the world measures the rank of universities by research (just look at Times).

This incident should be a good wake up call for the university to re look their priority and the scholars to think about what they are really doing.

The truth will never be revealed

The real story on what really happened during the stabbing in NTU will never go out. Sadly, that's how I feel. There is only one witness alive at this time and that witness will be the one ruling where the story will go. Apparently the student had been warned about his falling grade three times according to the news, contrary to what I felt previously. However, it would be nice if the parents can confirm this. You see, I am not a believer of one sided story. People are usually vindicated due to one sided story. Not that I am saying that the A/P is wrong. It just that two stories from different perspective will bring a more complete picture the situation.

Only if the student was alive to tell his story that solution can be found. His untimely death, decided by himself, brought him and the history more harm. Now, no way that we can get the real story. Even by reconstructing the event based on the one sided story, we'd only have again, one perspective.

After all, it's actually quite hard to fail your final year project. Experiments can always be wrong. There is no idea and experiments that can have its result predicted with 100% certainty. So, it won't be fair to penalize due to experiments not producing the expected results. After all, even the lecturers know so and hence, they will be lenient (I hope...). Hence, to be so afraid of failing is really... a myth propagated by self-fear. I hope no other student will fall into that trap.

I am still intrigued by the fact that the blood is splattered at the other end of the table containing the monitor. I hope more complete picture will emerge when the police is done with their fair investigation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Analysis of the incident in NTU - flaws in logic

I read that lots of people in the net is saying that the student (David) was told by A/P Chan that his scholarship was revoked and hence David became angry thinking that A/P Chan was the one initiating the idea. Then the killing. I think there are a couple of issues with such logic that need to be addressed:

1. I believe that unless there is a huge breach in confidentiality, A/P Chan should not even know whether or not any ASEAN scholarship is withdrawn. Scholarship matter belongs to the university and only the university staff administering the scholarship are supposed to know whether or not they are withdrawing any scholarship from anyone. If indeed A/P Chan somehow knows the scholarship issues, this matter should be investigated.

2. If any scholarship is withdrawn, the scholarship should have been withdrawn before the beginning of the new semester. Hence, it seems that the student has a long time to think about? I am not sure what exactly happen, but it may be too short (<2>

Student - lecturer relationship can easily get sour for many things. What the university should do are:
1. Employ lecturers who can teach and can read students' feelings better.
2. Teach lecturers to do that.
3. Provide avenue for students to complain. Many times, students feel disillusioned and greatly disappointed for not knowing where to lodge complain. When complaints are put up, nobody seems to care.
4. Hold sessions to seek feedback from students under pressure, i.e. students having scholarships, having to take loan, etc.
5. Find a better way to communicate any bad news. Ready counsellor at all times.

In the current hard time, there will definitely students who are affected by the recession. There must be measures in place to help such students.

In all honesty, being an ex-student of NTU, there are TONNES of things that the university should have done better in preventing such an unnecessary death and incident.