Thursday, July 29, 2004

Disappointing Innocence

An article in today's ST reported the result of a recent round of balloting for places in primary schools. The print edition displays a photo of a father holding his 6yo daughter with the caption:

"It's disappointment for some, like this father consoling his little girl, who was among the 32 names that were not picked out of the ballot box at CHIJ (Toa Payoh) yesterday."

Now how can a child at such a tender age experience the kind of profound disappointment that is implied by this caption?

A year ago a segment on the evening news also reported on balloting results and they showed a young boy saying how disappointed he is because he lost a chance to get into a good school yada yada.

As G points out, these children are simply told by their parents that they have to get into these schools because of the excellent track record of producing good students yada yada. But I doubt they really understand, at 6yo, how a lack of a good education and conducive environment would impact them in their early and especially vulnerable developmental stages.

Instead of ending the article with "ACS (Junior) had to disappoint 45 boys...", I say it should be corrected to read "...had to disappoint the hopeful and eager parents of the 45 boys".

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

You and I

You and I Both
Jason Mraz



Was it you who spoke the words that things would happen but not to me
Oh, things are gonna happen naturally
Oh, and taking your advice and I'm looking on the bright side
And balancing the whole thing
Oh, But it often times those words get tangled up in lines
And the bright light turns to night
Oh, Until the dawn it brings
Another day to sing about the magic that was you and me

Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of, others only read a of the love
Oh, the love that I love

See I'm all about them words
Over numbers, unencumbered numbered words
Hundreds of pages, pages, pages, for words
More words then I had ever heard and I feel so alive

Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of and if you could see me now
Oh, love love, you and I, you and I,
not so little you and I anymore, Umm
And with this silence brings a moral story
More importantly evolving is the glory of a boy

Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of and if you could see me now
Well that I’m almost finally out of
I’m finally out of
Finally-dee-deedle le dee dee
Well I’m almost finally, finally
Well I am free, Oh, I'm free

And it's okay if you had to go away
Oh, just remember the telephone well their workin it both ways
But if I never ever hear them ring
If nothing else I'll think the bells inside
Have finally found you someone else and that's okay
Cause I'll remember everything you sang

Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of and if you could see me now
Well that I’m almost finally out of
I’m finally out of, Finally-dee-deedle le dee dee
Well I’m almost finally, finally
Out of words



Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Emptiness

"Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves."


Milan Kundera
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I,Human

I've gotta think of less cheesy titles for my blogs.


While I,Robot was deemed more a science-fiction action thriller than an engaging thoughtpiece (*all science fiction fans yell travesty*), the 2 essential questions posed by the show (and suggested by Asimov) do come through clearly: What does it mean to be human? Can humanity be programmed into bits and bytes; can the complex human brain be imitated with artificial intelligence?

Recent films dealing with the same subject matter:
  • Bicentennial Man (1999)
    (incidentally based on the short story by Isaac Asimov and on the novel, "The Positronic Man", by Asimov and Robert Silverberg)

  • The Matrix (1999)

  • A.I. (2001)

The 2 scenes that effectively capture the show's substantial message: When Sonny jumps Will Smith in a room full of robots and asks in a chillingly human voice, "what am I?". Where the viewer expected a highly intelligent but malfunctioning killing machine, a bewildered creature who is cowed and cornered is revealed instead.

The other scene is when Smith rhetorically asks Sonny if robots can paint a masterpiece and Sonny floors him with his simple retort "can you?". To my puzzlement, the rest of the theater broke out in laughter. Either this momentarily blurred difference between (angry afro-american) man and machine (with growing pubescent-like self-awareness) eluded most or I've lost my sense of humour.

There are no answers to these questions that can satisfy all of humanity. While I'm still searching for my own answers, I shall not presume to provide any here.

Interesting Links

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Viva la Blog!

"Bloggers are navel-gazers. And they're about as interesting as friends who make you look at their scrap books."

Elizabeth Osder
Visiting professor, School of Journalism
University of Southern California
Wired.com


Hurrah for the Weblog, otherwise known as the blog! Online is where I can freely say anything about virtually everything while hiding comfortably behind a monitor and even a pseudonym if I so desire! If my opinions are highly biased and bigoted, and perhaps even likely to spark riots somewhere, all the more people will read them and keep coming back for more!

Sound self-indulgent to you? Absolutely.

A frivolous and pointless pursuit? Think twice before you dismiss 'em boring blogs, buddy.

Power to the Bloggers!


Of course, not everyone cares to read about the daily events in the uninteresting lives of common folk. So why read Weblogs? Because of their scintillating and highly scandalizing contents! After all, if I want comprehensive and objective reports on world happenings, I'd read the news. If I want qualified expert opinions on complex subjects, I'd read editorials. Now if I want some quality bitching that can't be found in the media, where'd I go?

The humble Weblog first demonstrated its insidious power in journalism and politics. Bloggers were the ones who brought about the fall of Republican Senator Trent Lott by making the press notice Lott's racist remarks that were earlier overlooked and more significantly, pack journalism at work.

During the height of the Iraq war, Christopher Allbritton, a freelance journalist, solicited more than $14,000 in donations from his Weblog readers to fund his trip to Iraq and launch Back to Iraq.

America's Democratic Party not only joined in the fray with the Weblog as another tool in their campaigning arsenal, but also invited bloggers to attend the Democratic National Convention happening in 3 days' time. To be fair, that's 30 bloggers out of some 35,000 delegates.


What initially began as an subculture of Internet users sharing links and personal comments within their online community has grown into a phenomenon referred to as the Blogosphere where bloggers are heavily interconnected through reading, referencing and commenting on each other's Weblogs. Collectively, bloggers can pack a mean punch. Where once readers were confined to coffee shop banter and the occasional formal letter written to the press, readers today are able to engage actively in scrutinizing and criticizing journalists' works.

While the ability to express oneself, unbridled by censorship or the journalist's code of ethics, makes blogging extremely attractive, the ease of online publishing through blogging software is just as crucial in bringing about this trend. After all, it really helps that we don't need a degree in computer science to setup and maintain a blog.

Fact: Only 11% of Web surfers visit blogs.
Fact: Only 10% of American bloggers update their blogs daily.

CNN.com


Weblogs are also being promoted as an educational tool that essentially engages students beyond the classroom by empowering them to take charge of the content of their Weblogs. At the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication, the Weblog has been used as a teaching tool since 1999 to sharpen the news reporting skills of aspiring journalists.

Even attorneys like Ernest E. Svenson have hopped on the blogging wagon as he continues "searching for truth and justice (in an unjust world)". Incidentally, according to the Infotech Update article I read, Ernie the Attorney is 4 times more linked than the top five law firm Web sites.

Moral of the story? Better not piss off a blogger though or else not only other friends but the whole world will know about your evil deeds. But bloggers beware; take free speech too far and you'll lose your job, as did Steve Olafson, then a reporter with The Houston Chronicle, whose political comments cost him.


Businesses were next to feel the impact of Weblogs, so deeply that BlogOn 2004 - the very first conference focusing on the business of social media - was just held last week.

The ability of Weblogs to facilitate informal communication and the sharing of information and knowledge have inevitably make them ideal communication tools in the arena of knowledge management and online content management. Weblog vendors, such as Traction Software, are tweaking their software to enable the further use of the Weblog as a collaboration tool in enterprises.

Weblogs are also being mined for their marketing value - the latest marketing concept being viral marketing or word-of-mouth marketing where companies try to create amongst people a buzz about their products so that these people spread the information on the companies' behalf. Go figure how this works in the ultra-linked Blogosphere.

The important points to remember here as you try to sell the features of blogging to your boss: easy publishing and efficient distribution of information. Perfect for busy people with good ideas to share or quality bitching to partake of.

But like a double-edged sword, blogging employees can work both for and against their companies and true to this, top Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble speaks freely about his employer's products. Even Six Apart, a Weblog vendor, was subject to scathing critisms from bloggers using its very own blogging technology.

Up Next?


Moblog, short for Mobile Blogging, refers to blogging via pda's and mobile phones while on the go. Moblogs have been around for about 2 years now but we haven't seen any radical impact yet. At least now you can follow your favourite celebrity (such as Jamie Oliver) around through the virtual window opened into his or her life.

Perhaps the most interesting use of the moblog was by Joi Ito and his virtual organization. Once Ito simultaneously moblogged during a conference in order to facilitate Q&A for some 110 of his blog readers around the world.

Locally, we have Singapore's 1st Moblog as part of this year's National Day celebrations (if following the lives of local celebs is considered celebrating) and the world's 1st moblog reality show both organized by Singtel. Pretty frivolous, if you ask me, but definitely another marketing tool to be exploited.

A "blogs on steroids" service called Amplify touts its ability to allow users to collate information on the Web and create customized pages. Though there's nothing particularly innovative about this service, the convenience of managing less windows on my desktop does sound geekily appealing.

On the flip side, many have lamented the recent decline of interest in literature, both reading and writing, while the trend of blogging and fisking continues to rise. But frankly, I'd rather be where the action is.

So what do all these mean for the rest of us? Keep on blogging!

More Interesting Links




Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Have a Heart

A few days ago, I was walking through an underpass in Orchard with G. On the floor, sat this beggar who oddly didn't fit the profile of a beggar. Though it was only a cursory glimpse, I thought he looked pretty young (20's?), healthy and fit with 4 able limbs, and sporting a crew cut and decent plastic spectables.

His placard read, "FAMILY BROTHER SISTER NO MONEY PLEASE DONATE".

I would never donate a single cent to him because he looks perfectly capable of supporting himself and his family, no matter no many mothers, brothers and sisters he has to feed. He could attend those job fairs that local CDC's organize regularly in the heartlands targeted at the unemployed by providing them job opportunities and subsidized rates to equip themselves with new skills.

But bigger questions remain: Why beg? What drove this seemingly able-bodied man to swallow his pride and dignity? Is the money that good?

I wonder if I am conveniently assuming that he is capable of supporting himself.


This morning, I was on a bus heading home with my breakfast of hot, steaming pau's. Along the way, a smelly-looking and probably homeless old man boarded the bus. He had white wispy hair and dark leathery skin and was clad in scruffy clothes - a cheap white cotton t-shirt and blue berms. From the way he shuffled slowly and painfully down the aisle, he must have been suffering from some ailment, either in the back or in his legs. I didn't notice whether he had money or an EZ-link card to pay for his bus fare.

What perturbed the most was that a middle-aged lady, garbed in presentable office attire and seated 2 rows in front of me, immediately shifted from the inner seat to the outer one, preventing this old man from sitting next to her. While her calculated gluteal maneuver was not accompanied with outright haste or a vehement show of disgust, her intention was clear - right to the edge of the cushion squashed beneath her comfort.

Then the old man shuffled nearer and it occurred to me that he might want to sit next to me. Nostrils instantly flaring, I tried to detect whiffs of homeless, unbathed putridity. I recall how once in Hong Kong, I passed a hobo who reeked of feces. The old man stopped and leaned against the side of the bus, with only about 2 rows of empty standing space between us. I couldn't smell anything.

Double phew.

I sat there, contemplating the reactions of both myself and the lady. What if he's really poor and unbearably hungry, and the smell of my food agitates him into snatching it? I further wondered if I should offer him half my breakfast but decided against it. How do I really know that he's homeless and too poor to buy his own food? What if he feels insulted, spits and rails at me in Hokkien?

Before I got up to walk past him, I positioned my food on my left, away from him, and tried to walk as naturally as possible as I got off the bus.

Horrible thoughts for an able-bodied and educated young male. Am I actually cowardly and selfish? At least I'm honest about it, are you?


It takes a whole lot of courage and genuine love to embrace this old man, to acknowledge him as an equal human being, and to offer him help. Now you know why we need to be prompted and reminded to pay it forward.

And if sympathy ever afflicts us, we are only willing to offer our money, not our precious time and manicured hands. Even then, death-defying stunts performed by celebrities and luxurious lucky draw prizes are needed to motivate us to loosen our purse strings tied firmly around our hearts.

Lyrics of Hands by Jewel

If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all OK
And not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn't steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn't ever after
We'll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what's right
'Cause where there's a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
I am never broken
In the end only kindness matters
In the end only kindness matters
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's mind
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's heart
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's eyes
We are God's hands
We are God's hands

Friday, July 16, 2004

Up Sai Your Mewl, Sir?

That's our local, auntie-delivered version of "would you like to super size your meal?".



I recently caught Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. It was every bit as entertaining and informative as described by reviews. It was also pretty ironic that I was buying a drink from Mac's just before the show.

Funniest moment: When a kid identified a saintly portrait of Jesus as George W Bush (in the same experiment, kids readily identified Ronald McDonald with ease).



Most sobering moment: On day 3 of his McExperiment, Spurlock force fed himself a super-sized meal - a large burger, a pound of fries & half a gallon of Coke. His lean figure literally couldn't stomach so much food and after 15 agonizing minutes, vomited all of it - to the audience's collective disgust.



As Spurlock himself points out, the film has achieved its main objective, which is to raise awareness of issues by becoming a talking point. It's interesting how MacDonald's chose to ignore Spurlock and to deny that its recent maneuvers were in response to his film.

At a bus-stop yesterday, I overheard 2 guys discussing the show, talking about the very same force-feeding scene. While Spurlock made me realize the adverse effects of eating processed food, these 2 guys made me wonder, do we all fully understand what personal responsibility entails?

A month ago, I was inspired by my McDonald's breakfast to post this entry which I never published:

Still Lovin' It?

Nothing beats piping hot pancakes and free flow of coffee first thing in the morning! Till you realize that it's 600 calories of mostly sugars and that margarine made from hydrogenated corn is bad for you.

How's that for a spoiler?



Other than that one moment of early morning folly, I haven't had another meal under the Golden Arches. In fact, the last time I put non-MacDonald's fries into my mouth, it was met with strong internals feelings of guilt and reprehension, followed a barrage of jokes from friends about widespread famine in parts of the world when I didn't finish my food. Yet rewind 10 years back in my life and you'll find me blissfully sharing an entire tray full of fries with other innocent, naive friends.

What's changed?
 
I believe it's heightened self-awareness and personal responsibility.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi, Ce Soir?

That's French for "Would you sleep with me tonight?".

Have been watching Sex and the City (SATC) with G. I've to admit, the very 1st episode we caught (about threesomes) actually left us feeling too prudish and conservative for the show. Now, 3 and a half seasons later, I'd gladly recommend the show to everyone, be they single/married/divorced/horny/asexual.

Call me Charlotte the prude, but every episode leaves me amazed at how sexually liberated the Americans are. When was the last time I had an engaging conversation about sex and dildos?? But beyond the blatant sex talk and multiple sex partners, the show poignantly portrays the ups and downs, ins and outs (pardon the imagery) of dating, relationships, and the clichéd F word - friendship.

The character that intrigues me the most? Miranda, the unattractive and career-driven redhead who is often angry yet desparate for a man, cynical about life and relationships and yet hopeful and yearning, fiercely independent yet emotionally vulnerable.

But this isn't a TV review.

A friend I met recently bemoaned how being attached is not only the default but also the ideal state that most S'porean men are or desire to be in. According to him, S'porean men are pathetic in our need and fulfilment in couplehood, or in his words "for someone to reply to their sms-es late in the night". Within one hour over lunch, my 23yo single & eligible friend had imparted way too much information about his sex life, opinions and taste for women, and a roving eye that was quick to critique anything in a skirt that was vaguely attractive.

FYI I'm not particularly worried about him reading this. His reaction "Not another f*****g blog!" to the URL I sent him tells me that he won't be visiting this page any time soon.

In typical SATC fashion, his comment got me wondering.

*cue Carrie Bradshaw narrating*

"Are we all wired to need that special someone to make us feel loved and appreciated at the end of the day? Is singlehood really a less desirable and even laughable state to be in? When do swinglehood and wanton sex romps start losing their appeal, and eventually become overtaken by the urge to settle down with the one and have kids - 2 or more if you can afford it?"


Notwithstanding my personal resume with only one relationship to boot and my brief 25 years of life experience, I have a strong, personal belief in monogamy, i.e. lifelong, faithful commitment to a single partner even while dating.

A while ago, I was chatting with another friend online when he suddenly asked me how I had gotten together with G. Apparently he needed to review his wooing tactics towards achieving success that has eluded many a male. Suffice to say, I was pretty amused and a tad flattered that someone was actually asking me for love advice? Am I there already??

Honestly speaking, I'm not. Another friend - a self-proclaimed relationship guru - recently related over email the sobering relationship experiences of his guy friends. While I'm glad that nobody has broken my heart yet, I realize how emotionally (and sexually) inexperienced I am. This is not to say that I have gained little from my present relationship. But there is really so much in the gamut of love and lust many of us will not get to experience.

So I cannot yet answer whether singlehood/swinglehood/couplehood is the answer. We all have to make our own.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Caught the movie with G last wednesday. It's a wonderfully brilliant film that exposes how man cannot but hold on tenaciously to the memories of his life experiences that define who he is. And above this, it reminds us that love is a great thing that cannot be stamped out.




Kirsten Dunst's character quotes these lines from a poem by Alexander Pope titled "Eloisa to Abelard":


How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Who Me? Entrepreneur and Socialite??

Last night I attended an IT Networking Session organized by NUS OAR. Targeted at both fresh graduates and working alumni, the evening consisted of a panel discussion on the topic of "Taking on the Entrepreneurial Spirit with IT" and a networking session over dinner.

It was to be my very first social event of this nature. For the past few days, I felt rather apprehensive about it; all I could imagine was myself, a fledgling fresh grad, lost and silent among a crowd of successful people busy at socializing. When I tried asking friends to accompany me, they hadn't heard about it and weren't interested anyway. But it wasn't so bad when I got there. Fortunately I met an acquaintance there and managed to avoid looking sad and lonely.

The panelists consisted of a mix of 4 successful young personalities - one dead serious and dead boring, another totally irreverent, and one utterly intelligent and well-spoken. The discussion was many things to me - mostly sobering, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes dead boring, occasionally hilarious, and overall quite inspiring.

Many personal anecdotes and experiences were shared, encapsulating invaluable nuggets of wisdom. But nothing said was novel or radical; we've all heard these familiar words one time or another:

"stepping out of comfort zone"
"pursuing a dream passionately"
"choosing to working for yourself or for others"
"compelled by choice or no choice"
"the ability to sell is crucial"
"spotting and catching the next big wave"

But to a professional bummer, closeted at home in my comfort zone most of the time, these are simply pretty phrases of information, chucked away in my mental log for future reference, if ever. True epiphany occurs through enlightenment or experience when information becomes knowledge and wisdom. To this point, one panelist related how he took 11 years to realize that

[profit = revenue - cost]

For me, my epiphany is that entrepreneurship is not an occupation, it's a mindset, an attitude towards life of grabbing the bull by the horns. Of course, I don't know about every single thing that entrepreneurship entails. But I know now that it's not something only for the street-smart, business-savvy, or the sole proprietor. The label "entrepreneur in the corporate world" is still ringing in my head.

Once the discussion ended, everyone headed out directly at the food. Instantly it could be seen who was socially-savvy and who wasn't: people who dived into the food first, and others who socialized first; people who clung on to others they knew, and other who went up to the panelists to introduce themselves. Took me a while to warm up to it, but finally I stuck my face into 2 of the panelists' and introduced myself. To my surprise, they were warm and friendly. One even got me to treat him to lunch. What struck me most was the confidence and energy that shone through the glint in their eyes.

So am I going to start my own business? Maybe.

Am I going to shamelessly make friends with total strangers? Perhaps.

Am I going to grab life by its horns? Definitely!