Thursday, June 30, 2005

What I learnt from a Glass Artist and a NASA Astronaut (or, In pursuit of a dream, Part 2)

[Related post - NASA astronaut "Cady" Coleman comes to Singapore, 30 Jun 2005]

What does a Glass Artist and NASA Astronaut have in common?

One, Josh Simpson and Catherine Coleman are married to each other and have sons. Two, they both shared their life story by talking about what they do, and how they ended up in their respective careers. Three, importance they place on family was apparent in their respective talks. Four (perhaps the most important thing I took away from the session tonight), they knew what they wanted in life and they pursued their dream with whatever resources they had then.

Josh Simpson, at 20 years of age, decided he wanted to learn how to blow glass and so, without training, used his entire life savings (all $306) to construct a glass blowing workshop on his own. You hear Josh wax lyrical about glass -- "an alchemic blend of sand & oxides" -- and you know this guy is passionate about this work.

He showed pictures of his early works (quite amateurish-looking, frankly). Then he showed pictures of this works some 17 years later. His skills have obviously improved. Now his works command premium prices.

Cady shared how she got "the most impossible dream job". She said to find what you love to do, find out how to go about doing it, and do all you can to do it well.

She decided she wanted to be an astronaut and went to find out what was needed to even qualify to apply as one. Then she went ahead to pursue her dream (in reality, it's easier than it sounds -- but it's quite simple in a philosophical way).

She said she didn't like physics. That physics didn't "speak to her". Woah -- I thought all Astronauts must be physics nerds. I was wrong. Her point was that she needed to know physics for her work. So she had to work harder at it and paid more attention to it.

On why humans are exploring Mars, she just said as a matter-of-fact, "We're learning about Mars because we're going there." A simple statement that conveyed her passion and conviction of her attitude towards her work. Incidentally, Cady says she temped in a library when younger : )

Another thing I realised: Visiting a library is like being sent into space -- we're in an environment where we're learning about the universe.

Here are the photos from the evening's session. Enjoy.
Jedi Knights in the library?

A Tie-fighter pilot?

They were part of the "show", with the main attraction, NASA Astronaut Dr. Catherine Coleman (center) -- with Josh Simpson in blue-shirt (back to camera).

These fellas sure know how to strike a pose! And the sabers looks real.

The audience waiting for the session to start.

A royal "Jedi Knights" Honor Guard...
... escorting the speakers and Guests of Honors.

Cady Coleman gives out her Mission Patch.
Josh Simpson, Glass Artist, starts his talk.

He explains his creative and learning process of each piece.

Cady Coleman gives insights to how astronauts live in space, eat, sleep, wash, answer calls of nature... (all rated PG, of course).

Cady Coleman swamped by autograph-seekers (can you spot the Astronaut?).
"Eh, brudder, you like my light saber or not?" -- Josh Simpson being confronted by Star Wars characters?

NASA Astronaut, Cady Coleman & Glass Artist, Josh Simpson, posing with the Star Wars Fan Club.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

READ! Singapore has a blogspot site

There's now a blogspot companion site to READ! Singapore -

BTW, I don't consider it a real blog 'cos the postings aren't as spontaneous as I would have liked. I can't complain though. Initially there were some... issues... in getting it officially endorsed. In the end, compromises had to be made (Ok, that's all I'm going to say about that here. As someone advised me, sometimes we've just got to take baby-steps).

The library would like to encourage comments and online discussions of the books, like this one. If you've read the book, give us a few short lines or a few photos etc.

I've got a few book reviews from students, which I'll be posting shortly.

(BTW, do let me know what you think of the READ! Singapore blogspot site).


Monday, June 27, 2005

NASA astronaut "Cady" Coleman comes to Singapore, 30 Jun 2005

How often does one get to meet a true-blue "been-to-space" lady astronaut from NASA? This Thursday, I will make sure I get to meet one!

In Singapore!

In a library (WRL)!

Catherine G. "CADY" Coleman, PH.D. (Colonel, USAF) will talk about her two space missions, about the space station, about the Mars Exploration Programme, and some of her recent adventures in living in Antarctica and in an undersea habitat. And of course, how to become an astronaut. She should know! She's a veteran of two space missions and has logged over 500 hours in space. As we say in Singapore, "Don't play play hor!"

Accompanying her is Josh Simpson, her husband, who's an accomplished Glass Artist. He'll also be at the library and will talk about "the Integration of Art and Science". On this webpage, he notes some significant timelines, including those relating to his wife (see 1990 onwards):
  • 1990 Josh answers wrong number and accidentally meets Air Force Captain Cady Coleman.
  • 1992 Cady Coleman chosen as Mission Specialist NASA Astronaut; Josh overcome with jealousy.
  • 1995 Cady’s first space shuttle flight. Simpson planet goes into orbit.
  • 1997 Josh and Cady marry
  • 1999 Cady’s second space flight. Josh receives digital “pick and place” robot bead machine from Mr. Morito, who challenges him to find new uses for it. First successful image: Elvis
  • 2002 Cady sent by NASA on Extreme Environment Mission to Antarctica for 12 weeks to search for extra terrestrial meteorites. Living full time with his malevolent dad, two year old Jamey is forced to eat vegetables with dinner almost every night
  • 2004 Son Josiah spends College Junior Year living in a dung hut in Tanzania with a Masai family herding cattle. Wife Cady assigned to NASA NEEMO Extreme Environment Mission to live underwater off the coast of Florida. 4 year old Jamey learns to ride a two wheeler. Life is good.
Admission to the WRL programme is free. Programme starts at 6.30pm (Thursday, 30 June 2005).

BTW, our guests would be escorted by librarians dressed up as Star Wars characters! Another photo-opportunity for those who missed the previous photo-op at TRL.

Plug: The above is part of the "Exploration and Expression: Fusion of Arts and Space" series of programmes (brought to you by my librarian colleagues from Adult and Young People Services).


Ju Ming, Taiwanese Sculptor (or, In pursuit of a dream, Part 1)

Caught an episode of the "Crossings" series on Discovery Channel this afternoon. It told the story of the world-famous Taiwanese Sculptor, Ju Ming.

Great storytelling, partly because a wonderful story was there waiting to be told.

I did not know who Ju Ming was until today. He appeared genuinely humble and approachable on TV. I'm very much impressed and inspired by his life story. To me, he's an artist, a logical thinker, a businessman (he built his own museum!), an entrepreneur/ risk-taker, a pragmatic dreamer.

Ju Ming has been designated as Taiwan's living treasure (he's still very much alive and kicking). The Caltex (a sponsor of the programme series) press release gives an excellent overview of his humble beginnings and road to success:
Life Journey of Ju Ming

Ju Ming started out as an apprentice to renowned craftsman Lee Chin Chuan in his homeland of Taiwan. He went on to set up a crafts workshop and was earning a lucrative living as a woodcarver, but artistically Ju Ming was becoming increasingly unhappy.

At the age of 30, he sold his thriving workshop and set off for Taipei where he hoped to study under Taiwan's foremost modern sculptor Yuyu Yang.

With no academic credentials and four young children in tow, Ju Ming was hardly a choice candidate for a sculptor but Yuyu Yang saw potential in the earnest young man and took him in as an apprentice.

Eight years later, Ju Ming stunned Taiwan with his debut solo show at the National History Museum of Taipei where his 'nativist' sculptures of folk heroes and rural life met with immediate approval and gained widespread acclaim. Ju Ming, the unknown woodcarver from Miaoli County became a national icon overnight.

Yuyu Yang played another part in Ju Ming's path to fame, for it was at the prompting of his mentor that Ju Ming took up the art of Taichi boxing.

What started as a quest for physical strength and fitness soon evolved into a journey into the heart of Chinese aesthetics and philosophy – Ju Ming became fascinated with the principle of Yin and Yang that governed Taichi boxing, and started creating sculptures based on the Taichi strokes.

Taiwan's art community, favouring his nativist works, was dismayed by Ju Ming's new preoccupation and vehemently opposed his desire to exhibit the Taichi sculptures abroad.

But Ju Ming proved his critics wrong. Bold and energetic, quintessentially Chinese yet universally appreciated, the Taichi sculptures clinched Ju Ming's place as a Chinese sculptor of international merit.

Ever restless in his search for artistic breakthroughs, Ju Ming left Taiwan for New York City, the hub of international art. Famous in Taiwan but totally unknown in New York, Ju Ming had to build his reputation from scratch.

For a year, he had to work out of a garage and struggled to gain exposure in this foreign land. Ju Ming's persistence paid off when the Max Hutchinson Gallery hosted his first solo show in the USA and sold 2 of his works. New York City completed Ju Ming's transformation into an international artist and it was here that he came into contact with avant garde artistic movements such as performance art and pop art.

Inspired by the free-reining spirit of pop art, he started experimenting with different materials for his Living World series including wood, bronze, stainless steel and styrofoam.

In 1987, Ju Ming bought an acre of land in Jinshan county, an hour from Taipei city, intending to use this space to store his life-sized sculptures but these plans soon evolved into a 12-year quest to build a museum and an outdoor sculpture garden.

During this time, Ju Ming faced several seemingly insurmountable obstacles and even ran out of money but once again he persisted and in 1999, the Ju Ming Museum opened its doors to the public. Covering more than 11 hectares of land, the museum showcases the full range of Ju Ming's works and is testament to why he is considered one of Taiwan's living national treasures.


Incidentally, the Singapore Arts Museum (SAM) staged his works from 1 July to 19 September in 2004 in Singapore.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

IFLA Journal vol. 31 no.2 (2005)

Here's the PDF version of the IFLA Journal, vol 31, No. 2 -

This issue focuses on libraries in the five "Nordic countries" - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - to provide a background to the World Library and Information Congress (71st IFLA Conference) in Oslo, August 2005.

Table of Contents:
  • Editorial: Northern Highlights/ Lis Byberg
  • A Voyage Through the Norwegian Library Landscape and Some Challenges on the Horizon/ Leikny Haga Indergaard
  • The Nordic Countries: cultural and library cooperation/ Asbjørn Langeland
  • Library Development in the Electronic Environment: Iceland 2005/ Sigrún Klara Hannesdóttir
  • New Demands - Old Skills. A strategy for bridging the competence gap: building competencies in a daily working context/ Jens Thorhauge
  • The Manuscript and the Internet: digital repatriation of cultural heritage/ Ivan Boserup
  • How do Politicians and Central Decision-Makers View Public Libraries? The case of Norway/ Ragnar Audunson
  • Collaborative Information Literacy by Government/ Anne Kauhanen-Simanainen
  • Together We Shape Better Libraries: the Swedish Quality Handbook Project/ Christina Jönsson Adrial, Johan Edgren, Jan Nilsson and Susanna Månsby
  • Nordic Networking: cooperation in Nordic LIS research/ Nils Pharo
  • REPORT: ICABS - A New Approach to International Cooperation/ Renate Gömpel
  • NEWS
Several articles had really interesting snippets. I'll blog about them separately.

Librarianship can be hazardous

This news is more for non-librarians (I'd expect most librarians to have heard about this already, especially those on IFLA's mailing list).

An Italian librarian has been accused under the Italian Criminal Code for distributing an obscene book to a minor. The book in question is entitled Scopami (F**k me) by Virginie Despentes (see IFLA's press release, 10 Jun 05).

No, the NLB libraries do not have the book in question. But here's Google's print reference (isn't the Internet wonderful?). The book has been described as "part Thelma and Louise, part Viking conquest."

Oh, the good news is that the librarian has been cleared on the obscenity charge. I bet that librarian's colleagues must have thrown a party for him or her after that.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Star Wars characters in the library

Thanks to these bunch of sporting folks who volunteered their time at Tampines Regional Library (TRL) today - "Star Wars Invades The Library":
It felt like good old community work because we made so many people’s day, too bad we didn’t have our entire group out in full force otherwise it’d have been even more fun!

That's right, volunteering at libraries can take many forms.

The above was part of the "Exploration and Expression: Fusion of Arts and Space" series of events organised by the Adult & Young People Services (Public Library Services).

For those who missed the photo-taking with the Star Wars characters at TRL, there's another session coming up on 30 June. More on this soon.

Hint: An upcoming programme in this series involves a true-blue "I've been to space", Ph.D. (Colonel, USAF) NASA Astronaut. In Singapore.


Want to lose weight? Read a book, turn off that TV

My wife pointed out this snippet from Her World magazine (p. 333, July 2004):
Body metabolism (hence calorie burning) is 14.5 per cent slower when you're watching TV than when you're reading a book.
I guess it's not necessarily just reading per se, but the act of engaging the brain through intellectual exercise. But hey, if reading is a way to lose weight, go pick up a book!


Saturday, June 18, 2005

It's not what you teach but how you teach it (more or less)

Filipino School Librarian, Zarah, shares her thoughts on a library orientation class (seems like 12 year olds) she conducted. The following quotes were of interest to me:
And true enough, they know the rules, the guidelines and procedures, the references and information sources we provide and the expected behavior in the LRC. However, they do not seem to put these concepts, ideas and skills in practice.

Circulation statistic among grades 6 and 7 is very low. They do not borrow or read books at all. They still perceive that the computers in the Reference and IT Lab can be used for fun and recreation. And if the librarian or the staff isn't looking, they can check on cheat codes and play Ragnarok.

Well Zarah, you're not alone! :)

We have the same issue in Singapore (public libraries). Librarians conduct library tours and orientation sessions to students (of varying age ranges), including the use of OPACs and online databases. Quite frankly, at the end of the sessions, most do not really fully appreciate or apply what has been covered to their school work or projects.

The way I see it, the problem has been that librarians tend to "teach". E.g., "This is an OPAC. And it is used in this manner...". The kids would go "Uh, Ok." Then they go home and google.

Recognising this issue, we're now "facilitating" (rather than "teaching") and more important, we facilitate in context. For instance, we don't just tell them what OPAC can do. We take an example that students can identify -- like a school project theme or computer games -- and show them how OPAC and other library resources could be used, i.e. Contextual Relevance.

And more recently, we've gone one step further and are now conducting workshops not on "how to use the library" per se, but "how to plan your school project" (in which students would be introduced to the library facilities and resources). We're still experimenting and refining our approach. So far, responses from teachers and students have been very encouraging.

Something for Zarah to consider for her next orientation class:
  1. Start by getting the kids to search for cheat codes and even play Ragnorak (or is it Ragnarok?) for a while. The kids probably know how to search for the codes, as well as knowing which site is reliable and relevant.
  2. Relate the search and evaluation strategies they used to the library's context (concepts like Boolean search, evaluation of websites)
  3. Get them to search for library materials via OPAC relating to Ragnorak, online games, characters, Fantasy genre, weapons, war, battles... see where we're heading? Link it to the so-called "serious" topics.
  4. As an incentive, tell them for every right answer they give to your library-related questions, they get 1 minute of play time at the end of your session. Throw about 20 to 30 questions.
  5. After that, let them play their Ragnorak. Heck, play with them!
  6. End of your session, you prepare some books (fiction or otherwise) that they might be interested in borrowing. Would be good to let them borrow on the spot.
  7. Additional -- get the kids to blog about what they've learnt and what they did -- including playing Ragnorak -- after your session.

If the above achieves nothing else, I think Zarah won't be worse off than what she's facing right now. And I think the kids will remember that they have a really cool librarian. That already counts for something. :)

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Crossing barriers with the help of the Blogosphere & Internet

I was pleasantly surprised to find Sybilla leaving a comment in my earlier post (which was linked to hers). Sybilla even posted a greeting at her blog. She says:
I’m a librarian (well… kind of) who blogs about all sorts of stuff relating to new technologies and developments in information and education.

Now I know her name, as well as what she blogs about! She also wrote:
Aldus Ivan Chew oftewel Rambling Librarian over een post op mijn weblog. Leuk dat Ivan mij ontdekt heeft!

I was curious what that meant in English. Thanks to the Internet, I looked up the words from two Dutch/ English dictionaries, and -- this was really cool -- two online text and web page language translation services!

[*Links are at the bottom of this post. I've since added the URLs of the online translation services under "Useful Links" at my blog sidebar.]

I think Sybilla wrote the following (please correct me if I'm wrong, Sybilla):
"Thus, Ivan Chew or RamblingLibrarian came across a post on my weblog. Nice that Ivan discovered me".

Just yesterday, I learnt about a blog (in English) from an Argentinean librarian, Edgardo (Log of a Librarian). Reading his first post reminds me -- once again -- that librarians world-wide share common interests and ponder over similar issues.

Before I blogged, the only way I met overseas librarians was from attending conferences (and I didn't attend that many). There were also the library-related listservs but you don't really get to know your counterpart from reading their listserv postings.

It's so much different with blogs, as any blogger can tell you.

For one, you get to know more people. Second, reading the blog posts gives you some insights into the values and thinking of that person. That's not to say you'd really know a person inside out. But you definitely get a better sense of whether you can identify with that person or not.

I think at present, the main barrier in the Blogosphere is Language. For instance, I'd like Sybilla to blog in English so that I understand what she writes, but that's like asking me to blog in say, Mandarin and Dutch and Malay etc.

However, even that barrier is slowly being crossed with the help of free online translation services. Not perfect translations but good enough for me to understand Sybilla's posts, and leave intelligent comments (at least I think they were intelligent).

We might see browsers incorporating them (like how Google search is incorporated into Firefox). And why not even library OPACs even, and e-book readers.

And maybe it's not too farfetched to think that we would soon see portable translation devices as ubiquitous as mobile phones, being carried and used when people travel.

* These were really useful to translate and cross-reference the words:
All sites last accessed on 18 Jun 05.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Why bother to promote to those who don't want to use libraries?

A few years ago, a colleague asked me something to this effect -- "Why do we have to try so hard to promote the library, implement outreach activities, do loan promotions? Why spend all the effort trying to get those who aren't interested in reading to use libraries? Why don't we only serve those who want to read?"

I was reminded of that after reading Michael McGrorty's post, Moving Libraries (14 Jun 05).

The person whom Michael described in his post would be what the NLB defines as a "non-user", in the category of those who are more concerned about hand-to-mouth issues rather than think about "expanding one's learning capacity". As Michael puts it, these people "have their hands full just getting along".

Essentially, Michael is saying that opening libraries isn't enough on its own. He advocates outreach activities, as well as for libraries to consider other options to reach these people. I agree wholeheartedly with Michael. But I have no answers how to effectively do this.

It is very tough trying to reach out to these people who are just not inclined to use libraries (I mean, consider READ! Singapore. As it is, not all readers are participating).

Over the years, NLB have tired to target the non-users. And we're still trying, like the kidsREAD programme that targets at children from low-income families. There are successes, though it's never enough.

Trying to serve this group is extremely morale-draining. One can lose heart because the response from them just isn't forthcoming. I'll be bullshitting you if I said I'm never disheartened. Oh, many times especially at the beginning of my career.

Now, perhaps because of my current responsibilities, I take a more detached view to such things. But instead of feeling disheartened directly, it's more of dealing with issues of staff resenting you for, say, asking them to do outreach when the results have not been forthcoming. Reading an earlier post of mine, I realised I was actually expressing some of that frustration.

So as much as I want to say that "parents have to play their part", the reality is that if libraries don't do something, the vicious cycle continues.

If I was asked the same question again, I'd refer my colleague to Michael's post.

I could recall vague bits of my answer to my colleague. Frankly I don't think I was that convincing. Or maybe this colleague of mine didn't really want an answer. Or maybe, I tried too hard to give one.

Perhaps the only answer (at least one that I believe in) is that we public service librarians just have to do it, because no one else will.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hear/ See/ Speak no evil -- but no one said anything about blogging

I have no idea what's being posted at this blog, (Dutch?). For some reason, I've subscribed to it.

But I understood this cartoon. At least I think I do.

Then it struck me -- the Hands. I've seen the Three Monkeys hundreds of times but I've never really noticed the hands. The hands have the power to make us deaf, blind and dumb.

And if I use this analogy in the context of blogs...

"Bookclub with Attitude":

Received an email from Flemming Madsen (subject "Social Networks meet Books (ConnectViaBooks)"). Thought it was spam but lucky for Flemming (I don't know him personally) I decided to read rather than junk it.

So he says he's put up a site for people to make lists of books they like and then connect with others who enjoy the same or similar books. He also says he'd love to have his site listed on my blog, as well as receive my comments on his site. He also included a press release statement (dated 13 June 05).

Flemming, I'm flattered that you want me to blog about it. You must think I get thousands of hits. I don't :)

But anyway, I checked out your site and woah! You've got more than a site! I like what your press release says:
Book club with attitude
"Book clubs serve a slightly different need," says Madsen, "ConnectViaBooks isn't just about sharing the latest novels. People may have favourite books on cookery, dressmaking or something more esoteric like Japanese prints." Whatever your hobbies and interests, you can now find others who have been inspired by the same writers. It's a book club with attitude.

I'm going to use that name for a bookclub that I want to setup!

Ok folks, the site is at

Step 1: Registration was a breeze, though I wish my date of birth age was not a compulsory field. Not that I mind publicising my age per se, but I do mind giving out my actual birthdate. Maybe it allows the system to connect to people of the same age. Or maybe sell the info. Anyway, I didn't put in my real age, so there.

Step 2: Created my first booklist. I had better luck keying in the ISBN than using the keyword search. I typed "To kill a mockingbird" and got spark notes (not want I wanted). Keying in the ISBN got the right title.

After adding to your list, you could rate the book (though it's not clear if a higher rating meant a better rating. I presumed it was so).

BTW, if you want to add "Lord of the Rings" to your list, you might be better off searching "J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings" to reduce the search results.

Suggestion for Flemming: It would be nice to limit my search to "Bookcover Image only", 'cos I prefer to have book cover images for my booklist. And while you're at it, maybe you could let users limit by formats (e.g. Books or DVD/ AV)

Here's my booklist (you gotta have an account to view it).

Step 3: "Tell about yourself" (shouldn't it be "Tell others about yourself" or "Write about yourself"? I selected "Singapore" and was puzzled to find another option for "Johor", "Riau" and "Other (No) Region". You blokes got us mixed up with Malaysia. :)

There's also a "I am interested in talking to people about the following":
  • Job offers to me
  • Contract or consulting
  • Relevant ventures
  • Discussing books I have read or their topic
  • I will answer questions about books I have read
Really? Job offers? Did I mention that I'm a librarian? We don't get paid very much. Anyway, I checked off only the last 2 options.

Oh, I decided to upload a photo too. A nicer one... Hmm, I'm at the edit profile page and it says "Profiles with pictures are more likely to be contacted by others." Maybe in my case I'd want to take down my photo! Seems the site administrators review the pictures and About Me text. For filtering spam and porn, maybe?

Search for people: Once my registration was verified, I logged in and searched for people based on my booklist (under the "Search" Tab at the top). There were 5, but none in Singapore yet.

Suggestion -- instead of naming the tab as "Search", would it be better to call it "Search & Connect" or "People Search"? The word "Search" alone gave me the impression that it was to search for more books to add to my list, rather than search for people. Maybe it's just me.

Ok, Flemming. Hope this was useful, and good luck. If I do get to connect with people (in Singapore) who share the same reading interests, and we form a bookclub that way, then you can be assured I'll promote your site like mad!

More excerpts from the press release:
So how does it work?
Once you have registered, which is free for a basic membership, you can then draw on a huge database of 50 million books to create your own personal book lists. A book list may include books that you have read or would like to read. You can create multiple book lists to match particular interests or create lists consisting entirely of textbooks and other learned publications - thus making the site a practical tool for academics and researchers who may find it difficult to find others interested in their field.

And because it's possible to see if someone lives in your area, gardeners, clock restorers or academics for example, can arrange to meet.*

Having created your book lists, you then tell the system to track down members who have chosen the same titles. As a further refinement, members whose lists match the greatest number of your own choices are ranked highest in your list of potential correspondents. From that point on, it's down to individual members to pursue the dialogue. Membership is international though initially most interest is likely to come from Europe, North America
and Japan.

Hey Flemming, how come you didn't mention "librarians"? : )

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Tip on disabling lost mobile phones (or "Channel 9" for Singapore company blogs?)

NTUC Income CEO shares a tip on disabling your lost mobile phone, to prevent the thief from using it even if they switch the SIM card.

BTW, I've been following his blog and noticed a distinct improvement in his blogging style. His posts are much more conversational, and he now gives direct replies to the comments (see previous post).

Perhaps seasoned bloggers might think, "That's Blogging 101 -- nothing significant". But one has to recognise that those new to blogging may not realise certain subtleties to blogging. In my experience, many don't.

Anyway, would his blog make people buy more products from NTUC Income? Hard to say. But it sure makes NTUC Income seem a lot more accessible. In Accounting, there's something called Goodwill: accounting concept that describes the value of a business entity not directly attributable to its physical assets and liabilities (source: Wikipedia)
I'm sure blogging contributes positively to the company's Goodwill. If Mr Tan is reading this, here's a suggestion:
  • Implement an NTUC Income blog (think Microsoft Channel 9)
  • At an appropriate time, commission a survey to measure the Goodwill value.

On certain airlines, you can plug in a headset to the seat and listen to the"Channel 9" banter between traffic control, ground control, and the pilot. That's what inspired Microsoft (read it here and here). Their Channel 9 Doctrine is worth a read too.

I had a chance to listen to such a channel on a flight and well, it's quite boring after a while.

So the idea (for company blogs) is more of applying the principle of letting people take a peek into how the business is run, rather than listening in to everything. For potential customers to get an idea of how the people working in the company (rather than "The Company" itself) think. Potential customers can therefore infer certain values about the company.

Can such an organisation blog be "faked"? It could. But if it's found out (and it will be), the company would be quickly seen through and lose all credibility.

If NTUC Income does this, I think they might end up changing how insurance companies do business in Singapore.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Endorsement for NLB libraries

Some days I question myself, "Why do I bother to work so hard? Is the library service making a difference in the lives of our users? What if all this is for nothing?"

Then I read a post like this, and self-doubt vanishes. I throw myself into work with confidence.

... I love love love the library...

There were a few times that I secretly cursed the library for being so fast and wished that I didn’t purchase a book on impulse.

Talking about delighting a customer. I think many other government organizations have a lot to learn from them.

Thanks, Mel!

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Chinese Language Meetup participates in READ! Singapore

With permission from Preetam, who's also the organiser for the Singapore Chinese Language Meetup Group:
Meetup this Thursday May 19, 7 PM. The venue is Tea Chapter on Neil Road, the nearest landmark is Maxwell Food Court and the nearest MRT is Chinatown.

We will be introducing some starting books, some of the places where you can learn Chinese in Singapore and other learning resources. We will also be exchanging travel stories and travel tips.

Just so that we know how many are turning up, please RSVP on the meetup site. m/115/events/4684110/

At the time of this post, there were 10 people who have RSVPed. Preetam also agreed to participate in READ! Singapore by choosing books from Chinese book selection.

No one is forced to read the proposed books of course. But it would be good to count the meetup group as a participant. I have recommended these two books:

Love at the Convenience Store_Han Han
7-Eleven狂想曲: 函函青春小说
Love at the Convenience Store by Han Han
NLB Call No.: SING HNHN (Singapore Collection)
Click here to check item availability
Direct link to
discussion guide

Short Stories_Xi Ni Er
Short Stories of Xi Ni Er
NLB Call No.:
SING XINE (Singapore Collection)
Click here for item availability.
Direct link to discussion guide

They are short stories, with each story averaging about 10 pages in relatively large font. Perfect for me 'cos I have to reply heavily on my Chinese-to-English dictionary to decipher almost every character.

I'm choosing "Love at the Convenience Store". It's written by a young lady, real name Chen Qiyun. She's currently an undergrad at NTU (if I read the blurb correctly). Wah, early 20s and published author. There's a picture of her behind the front cover.

I asked Preetam if the members of the Chinese Language Meetup were experts in the Chinese Language. He says most are "learners", which prompted me to join. What better way to improve my Mandarin than to discuss about books in the language, in an informal setting. Read Preetam's post about the group here.

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Book vouchers to be won: READ! Singapore

In case you weren't aware:
READ! Singapore Book Quiz Contest
* 1st prize: $500 book voucher
* 2nd prize: $300 book voucher
* 3rd prize: $100 book voucher

How to participate
  1. Borrow any FOUR books (need not be from the READ! Singapore selection)
  2. Attach that loan receipt to the contest form (available at the libraries).
  3. In the contest form, name any one book title from each of the four official languages -- English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil.
  4. Deposit the form in the contest box in library.
Winners will be drawn and notified by 6 Aug 2005.

In case you missed the link above -- here's where you can check out the titles. Enough hints?

As you can tell, the NLB would like you to visit the READ! Singapore site (just check out the titles at the very least), and drop by the nearest library. The book vouchers will make a good gift, wouldn't they?


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

David Weinberger's re-explanation of KM

Updated: 8 Jun 05

David Weinberger puts it so succinctly:
The K stands for blogs.
The M stands for tags.
Put 'em together and you get "KM."*
*Knowledge Management

I just have one problem -- my Technorati tags don't always work with

I created this My Technorati Tags post to list all the tags I've used, which is like an Index to retrieve my posts (by subjects, if you will). It also serves to remind me what tags I've used, so that I don't duplicate.

Unfortunately, the tags don't always work. For instance, I know I have several posts tagged . But Technorati tells me there are no posts with such tag, when I know I have this, this, this, this, this,and this.

Maybe I'm missing something here.

Anyway, I sometimes resort to using the Google search (provided by with the same Technorati tag terms in quotation marks, like this -- "rambling librarian interview".

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Ask a librarian to help with a creative project

Came across this article "Apple brings "The Studio" to more retail stores" (31 May 05), and this made me sit up:
The Studio helps customers with creative projects, rather than technical questions. "It's a place where our team of Creatives -- filmmakers, musicians, photographers, and designers -- work one-on-one with you to make your creative projects a reality. Whether you're making a movie, a photo album, a song, or a logo, we can help you make it amazing."

I'm not a Mac user, less so an evangelist (not that there's any thing wrong in that). I took notice of the article because it articulated what I've been trying to tell my public librarian colleagues -- that in today's context, public librarians should act as (for want of a better term) "creative information consultants" to users rather than just "information technicians".

To me, using Google and even online databases are technical skills. Once you learn the basics, you don't need a librarian to help anymore, because you have access to those tools. Even navigating within the library has been made intuitive.

Basically, as a "technician", we're being made redundant.

But as "information consultants", we do more than provide answers or show users how to go about obtaining information. The information gathering part is just one aspect. There's also the thinking and planning. As consultants, we also leverage on personal networks to provide answers to the user.

I'm suggesting that librarians work one-on-one with users to make their "projects" or tasks better than they can do alone (within reasonable timeframes). And not just school projects. It could be "projects" like "Buying a Digital Camera" or "Renovating my apartment".

The technical part for those "projects" would be to cite magazines and books on the above subjects. The creative consultation part is really to offer suggestions, ask other people on the behalf of the enquirer (even via blogs and forums).

The idea is for public librarians to really make a difference in the user's entire information value-chain. And if I may even paraphrase: "To help you make it amazing."

OK, I know my views might not sit well with librarians. So fire away. :)

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Storytelling at the MRT - READ! Singapore

If you were at Jurong East MRT station on 2 June 2005, around 2.30pm, you might have caught the "storytelling/play" in the front carriage going towards Woodlands. Two very talented volunteers enacted scenes from the book "城南旧事" (Cheng Nan Jiu Shi - "Memories of the Southern Suburbs").

Memories of the Southern Suburbs_Lin Haiying
NLB Call No.: LNHY
[Check for item availability]

Here's a shot of my colleagues and the SMRT staff getting ready. The lady in red (extreme right) was one of the performer, Xiangling (who hails from Guangzhou, China).

Here they are again, making their way to the platform (going North, towards Woodlands Station).

I observed that if one carries an officious looking banner, people will clear a path for you. Notice the wide empty pathway infront of my colleague who's carrying the banner. I wonder if it will work with those people who don't give way for alighting passengers.

My colleague, Peter (Executive, Programmes & Events Management) doing the introduction. To his right (left of picture) is the other volunteer performer, Zhaojia, who also hails from China.

We had space for up to 80 people (teens and adults were our main target audience), but as you can see from the next picture, most of the passengers were really shy. They stayed far, far away.
The 3 guys here are SMRT staff.

Shy but still curious.

Well, after the train passed a few stops, we managed to persuade people to move to the front to watch the play.


Both of the volunteers (teachers in a local language school) were really good. I don't know how to describe it. For several moments, I forgot I was in a train.

Watching the performance made me curious about the book so I'm now flipping through the pages. My ability to read Mandarin not too good though. Anyway, I understand that it's about everyday life in Beijing in the 1930s, as recounted by a young girl named Yingzi. The book is a semi-autobiographical work of Lin Haiying.


The performance ended exactly on cue, at Woodlands MRT station.
End of show.

Storytelling in the train isn't new. SMRT has collaborated with NLB for past two years, holding storytelling sessions -- like this and this one -- in the trains as part of the Great Singapore Stories event.

But a performance targeting at teenagers and adults is something new. It's the first time we're trying out a teen/ adult programme. I wish there were more people attending though. Apparently that week was the school remedial week so we couldn't get that many teens (from our school contacts) to attend. We also learnt that we should have separate publicity for teens (the schedule was grouped with the other SMRT storytelling sessions for Children).

I was talking to the SMRT executive in charged of community projects. It's tough trying to think of ideas to get teens to participate. Maybe a music fest ala "Unplugged"?


Sunday afternoon essay: Musings on War, Poetry and Life

Timesonline (4 Jun 05): The kamikaze pilot who chose life before empire. Picture of 81 year-old Shigeyoshi san in the foreground; a salvaged Zero Fighter in the back. I'm particularly moved by the caption:
Shigeyoshi Hamazono survived two missions as a kamikaze pilot... The pilots, he said, were said to have saluted the Emperor before death, but they probably cried for their mothers instead.

I saw Shigeyoshi san on TV once. He cried as he recalled that episode in his life.

Once, on a plane, I conversed with a New Zealander about people and life in general. At one point, we talked about history and wars, where I commented that so long there was Man, there would always be wars. Because human memories are short.

History lessons, public education -- they all help to remind but I think our propensity to forget exceeds our comprehension of true suffering.

Time is a great desensitiser (this is neither good nor bad thing -- it just is).

Black flower in the sky: Poems of a Korean bridegroom in Hiroshima
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]
See also: Thunder gods: The kamikaze pilots tell their story

Museums, libraries and National Archives might slow down the "knowledge deterioration" but then these are not exactly the favourite hangouts for the masses, generally speaking. Such institutions also get destroyed in wars.

Even if museums and libraries are popular hangouts, there's still the fact that reading about history is different from hearing about it from people like Shigeyoshi san. I can see him cry. But how much can I appreciate why?

Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen: Selected poems
[Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

Here's a thought: Suppose Virtual Reality develops to a point like what they had in The Matrix(where Neo downloaded Kung-fu techniques and became an expert in seconds). I would imagine history lessons being "taught" this way. Experiential Learning brought to a higher plane. We might even experience the horrors first-hand. Scary thought, but then it's a price to pay for peace I think.
The Matrix (Warner Home Video, c2001)
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Humans turn war into something beautiful. It becomes romanticised.

Poems of Love and War/ A. K. Ramanujan
[See also: Poets of the Tamil anthologies: Ancient poems of love and war]

The Iliad of Homer/ Homer [Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

Here's a poem I wrote in May last year. It's not anti-war. More of a thought-experiment on what a young soldier might think in the midst of battle:
Soldier's Lament
Why did they lie to me so?

For God and Country
I was told

But when shrapnel's a-flying
And boys are a-dying

God is on vacation

The only land that matters
Is the sodden earth
In which they bury me

Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
See also: The poems of Wilfred Owen]

The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon
See also: Siegfried Sassoon: A study of the war poetry

Many years ago while holidaying in an overseas resort, I was asked by the resort owner, "If Singapore goes to war, would the people fight?". I said, "Yes" without hesitation.

I was 19.

I'll be in my mid-30s in a few years time. My answer would still be 'Yes'. It might not be what I really want, deep in my heart. But I'd do it anyway.

Because I, like the rest of us, am only human.
As a military pilot, there was no way to say no. I was grateful for my training, and the responsibility given to me, and my Zero fighter. This was my duty. That night all I thought about was my mission.” ~ Shigeyoshi Hamazono
How we remember and why we forget/ Rebecca Rupp
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Great poets of World War I: Poetry from the great war
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Poets of World War II
[Check for item in NLB catalogue]

Air combat paintings: Masterworks collection
[Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

Aftershock: Poems and Prose from the Vietnam War
See also: War story: Vietnam war poems

[Check for item in NLB Catalogue]

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

All librarians should have a Book Blog

I've been maintaining a "BookBlog" (i.e. a blog on books) for almost a year now, over at Raw Notes. The reason for keeping a reading journal was simple: I can't remember all that I've read. And sometimes, I find myself wanting to recommend a title but unable to cite it.

Prior to the blog, I've been keeping a record of titles that I've read (it lasted for about 10 months 'cos I lost the journal...). Unless shuts down, I'd have my reviews quite permanently. Plus searchable online.

After I started keeping records, I realised its value went beyond just recalling the titles. It was useful to analyse what I've read, just to see if I've expanded my reading interests. I'm pretty sure 10 years from now, I'd appreciate a record of this phase in my life via the books read.

Wished I'd kept a record since the day I started reading in Primary School. Well, better now than never.

I don't always blog each book that I've read. When I post, I try to go beyond listing the titles only, but I don't want to write a book review per se. The reason for naming the blog "Raw Notes" was because I only want to post notes (e.g. might not be complete sentences), like the scribblings in the margins of my school textbooks. But inevitably, I always end up writing longer... it's the pressure of writing for the web, I tell you.

If I were a teacher, I'd certainly do an experiment to see if a student's motivation for improving their writing increased if they blogged. I've certainly been urging for librarians to blog on what they've read. It's an incentive to write better, if nothing else.

The bookcover images link to, to which I've signed up as an Associate Member. I signed up not to earn referral fees (that would be nice of course) but because I wanted to link readers to the bells and whistles that provides (the content pages, previews, reviews etc).

For my recent posts for the last few months, I've included direct links to the NLB catalogue (here's how you do it).

Here's a list of the stuff posted for May 05:
How to draw and sell-- comic strips-- for newspapers and comic books!
How to draw and sell comic strips for newspapers and comic books/ Alan McKenzie

The Reef/ Nora Roberts

Dreaming down under/ Edited by Jack Dann & Janeen Webb


Friday, June 03, 2005

How to participate in READ! Singapore (even if you are overseas)

This is a common question: "I'm interested in READ! Singapore, but how do I actually participate?" Here's what I tell people:
  1. Get a few like-minded friends or colleagues together;
  2. Pick on one of the 12 books to read and discuss (some people pick more);
  3. Find a time to discuss (face-to-face, email, blog etc). Here's the discussion guides;
  4. Take a picture or two of your session, with a short note of your main discussion and reflections. Email me. I'll get it posted in the library website.
If you are in Singapore and you can't find another person to discuss or to form a group, do contact your nearest public library and join the activities there. Too many to list here.

If you are overseas, like Loy (From a Singapore Angle), you can do what's he's planning to do!

You are not even required to read the entire book. Your group could agree on certain chapters to read, or read them aloud when you meet. My personal recommendation for the English books would be "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime".

The first book is really great for sharing with younger children or teens, who may not be fully aware of issues like race relations, prejudice and discrimination. The second book is an easy read, and useful in getting a glimpse of how life as an autistic child might be.

I'd be grateful if you could help spread the word around.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Seiko Epson's flexible E-paper

Anyone else read this? Seiko Epson Develops 200 ppi Definition Flexible E-paper (Tech-On, 30 May 2005).
The display used an electrophoresis electronic paper developed by E Ink Corp. Seiko Epson "aims to commercialize the technology within 1-2 years" targeting such markets as handheld products.
I read it via Engadget -- interesting discussion in the blog as well. Apparently you can't fold the e-paper but you can roll it. And according to one comment, the advantage of the e-paper is in its low power consumption.

The E-paper reminds me of the technology that was used in The Minority Report, staring Tom Cruise.
(DVD is not available in NLB libraries yet, as of this post)

Btw, did you know the movie was based on the 1956 Philip K. Dick short story? Here are some links to items in NLB holdings:
Wonder what applications would the e-paper wind up eventually?


Friend of the Library (FOL) programme

Just read a BBC News article that says "... volunteering can be good for the CV, the waistline - even the love life." What a pitch: Improve your employability, your looks and your love life. Folks from the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) ought to adopt it as their tagline. :)

Which reminds me how many Singaporeans are not aware of NLB's Friend of the Library (FOL) programme. The FOL information is not on the NLB website, which is something that would be corrected in the near future... soon... if all goes according to plans...

I might as well use my lunch time to do a pitch for my colleague, Valerie, who works for the Community Partnerships & Outreach (CPO) office.

Typically, we have volunteers who tell stories, or keep the peace in the libraries, or attend to customers etc. We have an active group of Senior FOLs (retirees).

Students could help under the Ministry of Education Community Involvement Programme (CIP). Ok, I've read some student blogs out there who post that their CIP time in libraries are boring. I won't deny that, but reason is this -- most students can only commit to 6 hours. Most don't understand that library jobs can be complex and there are quality standards to follow (e.g. we have to ensure volunteer storytellers are trained also).

So unfortunately, we can only let them do shelving and shelf-reading. It's an important task, mind you, but admittedly not the most exciting. But hey, that's experiential learning for you.

The library also welcome ideas from volunteers about different ways they would want to serve the libraries & its users. My CPO colleagues would love to have a chat with you. At the time of this post, NLB is interested in setting up and running of Reading Clubs/ Groups.

BTW, some libraries overseas charge people a fee to join as a library volunteer! They are usually a semi-independent registered group, who will help raise funds for the library and run some library activities.