Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Web Standards Group (WebSG) Singapore Meetup #2

Around 35 people turned up at tonight's Web Standards Singapore Meetup #2, held at the Central Lending Library. I didn't do a count for the first meetup. Seems to have more people this time round (I didn't see the two teenaged students though). During the presentations, there was a quiet, even subdued, atmosphere. But the brains were churning, judging from the spontaneous questions and comments during Q&A.

My personal notes from the presentations:

1) “Reality check: Beyond the hype of web standards” by Yuhui
  • Flash is not W3C-recommended. Better to deploy Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG).
  • ACID 2 test for web compliance browser verification (apparently, after you run through the test, the more compliant your site, the more of the smiley face would appear)
  • Browser market still dominated by IE (Yuhui showed a chart with 84% share by IE) which isn't Web Standards compliant (partly the reason why Web standards are not widely adopted).
  • Yuhui maintains there's still a need for Web Standards. Implementing Web standards tends to result in lower maintenance costs in longer run (in brief, there's less work involved to effect changes in the site)
  • Some suggested sites for developers: Layoutgala (free layouts); (source codes & loads of stuff); (site for testing webpages by emulating various browsers); (tutorial for W3C-recommended standards)
  • Q&A: I asked if vendors would charge more to develop Web Standards Compliant projects. Responses from Yuhui and the floor was that generally it shouldn't cost more. Even if it did (e.g. increased time taken to verify that the codes work across different platforms), the difference shouldn't be too significant.
  • [I would have wanted to ask how a client could verify if a web developer knows about Web Standards Compliance, but we needed to move on to the other topic. Guess I'll ask at the next meetup]

2) Firefox Tips & Tricks by Chu Yeow
  • Even for a non-techie like me, I found this segment interesting. Chu Yeow showed his favourite developer tips, tricks, Firefox browser hacks and cool Firefox extensions that mac users will appreciate. I was just enjoying the "show" and didn't bother to take down specific notes. Oh man, Siva you didn't know what you missed! LOL
  • Also showed keyboard shortcuts like CTRL-Shift-T (opens a tab and loads the last page that was closed)
  • To me, this segment was a peek into "what a web developer does". I don't know why knowing something like that is comforting (from a client's point of view) but it just does. It was also comforting to hear an experienced web developer like Lucian say , "There are things I don't know as well"
  • Lucian also quipped, "Now we know 'what we need to know'". That simple statement may just sum up the spirit and intent of such meetups, i.e. more for participants to get an idea and follow-up on it later, should they choose to do so.

3) - Introduction to Microformats by Lucian
  • I didn't really pay attention to this segment, as I was fiddling with the light switches for the room to make Lucian's presentation show up better. Something about XFN and "Microformats to organise the web". Well, read more here

Out of curiosity, I requested Lucian to asked the following questions before the participants left:
  • How many were visiting the Central Lending Library for the first time? (Responses = Five out of 35);
  • How many were visiting a NLB library for the first time ever? (Responses = Two)
  • How many are NOT web designers/ developers? (Responses = Five)
Too bad there wasn't time left for the participants to hang around more to chit chat, and maybe give them a quick tour of the library (maybe prompt some of them to borrow books or graphic novels, heh).

A few of them said it was nice to have the session at the library (free WIFI at CLL) but some felt the session was too short, i.e. the library had to close at 9pm; they would have loved to stay longer to chat and network.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Patrick Jones' "Nailed": Not quite a book review

coverLoved Patrick Jones' relatively recent YP story, titled "Nailed". I could imagine myself enjoying and identifying with this book as a teenager today (or even back in my youth). I certainly enjoyed reading it now.

While reading the book, I made a list of keywords as the story unfolded. Quick and simple way to remember key parts of the story, if I should ever need to refer or recommend this book (i.e. Readers' Advisory).

I've blogged it at RoughNotes, where the keywords are tagged/ linked to Technorati. My way of experimenting if "reviews" can be presented in a different way, and whether there's any additional value to the review by tagging and creating hyperlinks.

Speaking of book reviews, I discovered one of my earlier posts titled "Writing Reviews: What are we really afraid of?". Hmm, I haven't consciously implemented any of those ideas listed in the post. I shall discuss with my colleagues to see what they think of it.

I don't do book reviews as part of my current job scope as a manager, other than the occasional ones for High Browse Online. Writing book reviews, however, is a key job component for our public service librarians. Some of my colleagues' reviews are regularly featured in national publications like The Straits Times and ZaoBao, as well as selected magazines. More reviews can be found at the Book Reviews section of the NLB website.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Setting up the Second Life "Singapore Island" sim: Interview with Alvin

After reading the plans to start a Singapore island Sim (i.e. simulation) in Second Life from Alvin's blog yesterday, I met him in Second Life this afternoon. I interviewed him regarding the plans for the sim (which, btw, will be called "Lion City").

Here's the transcript of our chat (edited for brevity). Alvin is "Alvin Korvin" (his Second Life name, pictured on the right) and mine is "IvanChew Link" (blue-skinned avatar... hey, it's SL!)
IvanChew Link & Alvin Korvin

IvanChew Link: What role do you see yourself playing in the sim?

Alvin Korvin: I can foresee myself doing lotsa Builds. apart from that, I will have to think of events and stuff to get people on, but that's when the Sim is done. so for now its still more of a building, scripting role I guess. One thing for sure -- I'll be pushing for more events on the new Sim. I want people to have a purpose for coming to SL. Hope that the Sim would be a great platform for that.

IvanChew Link: What about the roles of those setting up SL island? For instance, as you're paying for it, do you see yourself as Chief Architect?

Alvin Korvin: Hmm... never crossed my mind on the roles. I guess I'll be the Chief Coordinator or something... I definitely can't build up an entire Sim by myself. At the last meetup, I got some volunteers who would build together with me. Or I should be the Chief Second Life Enthusiast of Singapore, lol..

IvanChew Link: How can others help? What roles or activities do you wish others can take up as part of this Sim?

Alvin Korvin: That'll depend on what the individual can do. For those who can Build and Script, they can help to develop the Sim together with me. Some can suggest ideas, host events or mentor new residents that came on. Anything that works to create a pleasant experience for the Sim.

I hope we'll get more virtual "guides" or mentors as SL called it. No point having a dead town with all facilities running, and some new resident come in, no idea how to interact with items, would be an instant turn off.

We'll need many people to volunteer to be around the Sim, talk to people, interact, help new residents. These people have to be patient as some might not even know how to operate a computer properly, lol.

Why do we need alot of these helpers? Because we all have our own RL commitments. Sometimes you can make it to come on, sometimes you can't. In the Second Life Mentors group, we have about 900+ helpers but you seldom see mentors in Orientation/Help Island.

IvanChew Link: What issues or problems do you foresee in setting up this Sim?

Alvin Korvin: I can foresee that when you need to discuss something, the other person might not be on. Not everyone would like to "expose" their RL [Real Life], hence, RL communications like MSN, cellphones, or even email, might not be a solution.

... we should not stop people from contributing even if he/ she might not want to be contactable in RL. You can't fault anyone. So i guess that might be one of the possible inconveniences.
Alvin Korvin & IvanChew Link
IvanChew Link: What opportunities do you think this Singapore sim presents?

Alvin Korvin: opportunities could be endless.. as i mentioned before, it depends on what you want to get out of SL. you set your own purposes.

some people might want to get a life partner or something. that's an opportunity for them. a meeting place.

some people would be thinking of making big bucks or something. its a meeting place to explore the possibilities of SL.

IvanChew Link: Maybe we can ask SDU (Social Development Unit) to co-sponsor an island or event!

Alvin Korvin: lol. That'll be interesting.

IvanChew Link: Do you foresee the Sim being "exploited" or "abused"?

Alvin Korvin: That's one of my primary concern. I need to guard against that. Initially the thought of pooling for funds to open up a Sim didn't materialise because I wasn't sure if would we end up (with a situation where) those who pay more get a bigger plot of land to play with. Doesn't mean that everyone is mistrusted. Just that the island has to stay focused in helping new residents -- showcasing to the world what Singapore is about

IvanChew Link: Which brings us back to the "role" that you see yourself. If you are paying for the island, then it's very clear cut you're the owner.

Alvin Korvin: Yes. That'll be much easier to control.

IvanChew Link: In a way (at least the way I see it) it's within your rights to set certain rules. Especially if you're already not using the word "Singapore" for the island. You're pretty safe, in that you won't be seen as exploiting the Singapore brand.

Alvin Korvin: lol. Now I'm not sure whether naming the group "SL Singapore" would get me into any trouble.

IvanChew Link: I don't think so... unless you are using the Singapore brand to sell something. It's not a very black/ white area... I guess it comes down to the intent, if there's any dispute.

IvanChew Link: Do you think that you being the owner/ sole person paying for the Sim (for now) as a hinderance? Or that it wouldn't matter?

Alvin Korvin: Don't think that'll matter much in SL's context. Item and Builds are all under their respective owners. The Sim is only a platform for things to happen. If one day I'm not able to support the sim anymore, someone can just open up another one, and everyone can just do a right-click, "take", to take back their items, teleport to the new Sim, put it there.

IvanChew Link: What are some immediate plans to get this Sim started? The name has been agreed, and you've contacted Linden Labs. What else?

Alvin Korvin: Once the Sim is online, we'll plot out areas/ zones. (We will need) someone to be in-charge of getting certain parts of the Sim ready.

Also, I asked Alvin how much he'd be paying for the Sim. He said he'd worked out the sums and was prepared to pay the equivalent of SGD$400 - $500 per month. I joked if he's consulted his wife. He said that's been cleared, heh.

Upcoming plans also include the setting up of a email list and a blog to post updates on the "Lion City" Sim and activities of the SL Singapore group.

Lion City Gets Publicity (15 Mar 2007)
Mailing List for SLSingapore (13 Apr 2007)

Proposed Singapore Island Sim in Second Life

Some people say that "Typical Singaporeans" cannot think for themselves. That Singaporeans tend to wait for the Government to tell them what to do. Well, either this bunch aren't your typical Singaporeans, or the "wait for things to happen" attitude is getting less pervasive.

The idea of a Singapore Sim in Second Life was first mooted at the Real Life meetup for Singaporean Second Lifers. Now we have people like Alvin & other SG SLifers who are getting the idea moving further from "talk" to "actualisation".

Alvin wrote that he's going to fund the Singapore Sim for a start, so that the idea can move forward. Hat tip to you, man!

There was no mention of any fund-raising efforts. Maybe Alvin recognises that fund-raising efforts might not go very far, plus the accountability (for the real cash that's raised) that goes with it.

But here's an idea -- raise funds not in terms of real-world dollars but in Lindens, L$ (the SecondLife currency).

I'm not sure if Linden Dollars could be used to offset the costs of maintaining a Sim. If not, it could go into buying goods or services for building Singapore Island.

So here's my pledge for the Singapore Sim: I'll donate at least 80% of sales proceeds from my works on SL Exchange. It's pittance, but at least I'll be able to do something meaningful with my L$.

I suggested earlier that the Singapore Sim could be funded in part by private and government funding. Just occurred to me the Singaporean Second Lifers (SgSLs) could try for the MICA Creative Community funding once the Singapore Sim is initiated.

Other things I'm prepared to contribute as part of setting up the Singapore Sim (I didn't promise that I'd be good at any of them; just that I'm prepared to offer it, heh):
  • Help set-up and staff the public library service in the Singapore Sim;
  • Give free "live" or recorded music concerts (tips will go towards Singapore Sim);
  • Help set-up, maintain & moderate (where necessary) an emailing list for SG SLifers. This list is open regardless if you've signed up for SL;
  • Assist in orientation tours for those new to the Singapore Sim;
  • Assist in organising & conducting Learning-related sessions in the Singapore Sim

BTW Alvin, how come I wasn't informed of the SL meetup? Did you "accidentally" forget me? LOL.

The cynics might think I'm using this opportunity to promote my items. Well, I seriously doubt if my sales will rocket by publicising it like this. I'm not likely to get rich from selling my stuff in Second Life, not at those prices.

I started selling my SL Guitars around Oct/ Nov 2006. Eight guitars have been sold thus far. At L$50 per SL guitar, and deducting the SL Exchange commission of L$3 per item sold, I've have L$376. That's USD$1.30 after four months.

But suppose sales really sky-rocket. Hundreds of thousands buy my SL guitars after learning about the fund raising efforts. What's to guarantee I'd be truthful when declaring my revenue figures? Other than myself, no one can look at the actual data. I might be hording 80% of the revenue, donating only 20% but yet declaring the opposite.

In truth, there's no way of knowing (short of me giving you access to the reports). All I can say is -- to paraphrase what Siva said to me -- in the online world, all you have is your credibility.

Same concerns apply to me as well, if I were to give my L$ to Alvin. How would I know he won't pocket the extra?

It's down to trust. This may not be much to go by, especially after the NKF Scandal. But I guess so long we do things with our eyes-open (i.e. fully aware of the risks), then it's our choice that matters.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Post-course reflections - Session 1: The "W" & "H" of Blogging

Training is not my full-time job. It's about 10% to 15% of my time in a given year, but I derive more than 50% of my job satisfaction from such opportunities.

Stayed up till 3am to finish my slides for the talk. With a 3.30pm slot and a predominantly lecture-style session, I anticipated that participants would have a tendency to fall asleep. Hence, I redid the slides with the famed "Lessig Method". Total slides came up to about 250. One participant told me later that it worked out very well (although I wonder if the effectiveness of this presentation style would be diminished if every trainer or speaker started adopting it).

The talk covered the usual things like "Definition of a blog", "Difference between a Blog, Website and Discussion Forum" and "How to create a blog" (this was done with screenshots of; the Internet connection was slow so I couldn't do a 'live' demo).

On the part on "Related Technologies", I showed how one could subscribe to RSS feeds. I also showed the "Add Notes" feature (using this example) in, which was well received as usual. From the positive-sounding murmurs, I think the teachers in the audience could appreciate how they could use something like in a classroom setting.

Bearing in mind the profiles of the audience for this talk, I emphasised less on "What's a Blog" and more on areas like "Why do people blog", "Why is blogging" and "How are the resultant conversations relevant".

For today's participants, I felt it was more relevant for them to have more insights to the mindsets and intents of bloggers. Then they might be better informed on why their students, children, and colleagues blog.

I specially quoted Minister George Yeo, from his interview on (Jan '07), where he shared that:
"The emotions connected with blogging are very different from that in giving a speech... For some reason there is an intimacy you associate with going into the Blogosphere, which you don't associate with a public meeting."
I didn't share my blog URL with the participants because the course was not about my blog or my blogging efforts. One participant did ask for my blog URL after the session. He said he was from the Singapore Police Force! Gee, did I say anything that I shouldn't have? LOL.

Nah, he was just sharing his thoughts that government employees should not feel they were discouraged from blogging, so long they were aware of organisational boundaries (e.g. not to blog publicly about things that they should not).

Which reminded me of an excellent discussion at one point during the talk, on "Blogging Guidelines" and "government employees blogging". A lady in the front row felt that more government agency employees should be allowed to share details about their work, e.g. how certain policies were formulated. She said something like "sometimes we feel like responding to some errors in public perception, but because we're not allowed to make public statements on policy, we can only sit back in frustration".

I ended the talk by highlighting comments generously contributed by David, Victor, Chun See, Melissa, and Walter. Thanks so much, all. Couldn't have used a better example to illustrate the point about the camaraderie, sharing and constructiveness in the Blogosphere.

Self-assessment of my overall performance today -- including content work --
on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being "poorest"): 6.5. Maybe a '7', but I don't want to be cocky. Wished I'd taken a video recording of the session, so that I can watch where I could have done better.

The good folks at CSC said they prepared 110 seats, and it seemed like a full-house where I was standing. I'm fully aware that the 100 plus participants might not rate it as high. The best reality-check is to compare my self-rating against their perceptions. I more than welcome comments on areas that could be improved (content & speaker's effectiveness), if they manage to find their way to this blog.

I didn't have my camera with me, so no pictures of the session. I'll post some of the pictures when my colleague sends them to me. Oh, did I tell you that on the third day of my Beijing trip, my camera conked out? It's still in the repair shop : )

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Upcoming blog course: "The "W" & "H" of Blogging - Understanding Blogging"

Is this another sign of "new media awakenings" in Singapore, particularly among the government service? I've been asked to give a talk (two talks, actually) at the Civil Service College, titled "The "W" & "H" of Blogging - Understanding Blogging". Course details here.

The course is jointly organised by the Civil Service College (CSC) and the NLB Academy. I don't gain any monetary benefit from this. The satisfaction comes from sharing what I feel passionate about -- not blogging per se, but how a tool like blogging can be utilised to engage your customers (even if you don't eventually apply it, at least know what it is or what it isn't).

The participants are likely to come from various sectors of the government -- statutory boards, civil service; of various backgrounds -- teachers, management, executives, PR & Comms etc.

Here's a question for anyone who cares to respond (as a comment): If you have one thing (or max. three) to tell the above audience about blogging, what would it be?

You could share from your work/ business/ personal perspectives. I'll collate your responses (subject to vetting) with due credits, and share them as part of my presentation with the audience. It'll be a neat way to demonstrate the use of a blog. Even if there are no comments, that's something to share as well, heh.

OK, shoot.

More thoughts on MPs blogging

Thanks to Vanessa for the heads-up on this blog by one of Singapore's Member of Parliament -- or specifically, a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP).

The blog belongs to Mr. Siew Kum Hong. For his first post, he shares an essay he submitted as part of the NMP selection process. I didn't know they had to submit an essay, and I wonder how many did (just try to measure this as an outcome of blogging, heh).

From that essay, I also learned that Mr. Siew is a lawyer by training. That explains the comprehensive manner (bordering on the obsessive*, LOL) of the various disclaimers and statements of transparency:
  • The concise "About Me" that quickly points out his comment and contact policy;
  • His statement that inclusion of links in his blogroll doesn't consitute endorsement ("I don't endorse or agree with everything on the above links. In fact, for some of them, I strongly disagree with most things said. But it's important to know what people are saying. So use or visit these sites with an open and critical mind.");
  • The disclosure statement after that statement, on the use of a site statistic tool;
  • The legalese at the end of this post, explaining his right to reproduce a Straits Times article in full
* In case Mr. Siew finds his way to this post, I'd like to assure him I'm not making a dig at him. My apologies if otherwise misconstrued. In fact, I think he's setting an excellent example of what it means to respect intellectual property laws and transparency (most people might not need to go to that extent, but that's a different matter).

To paraphrase my own words in this previous post, whether these MPs will be successful in connecting with their constituents -- their voters -- is entirely a separate issue.

Mr. Siew wrote, in his blog header, that his blog was his attempt to demystify his NMP experience for the public. I think that aim will be solidly achieved. One other resulting effort, which Mr. Siew did not state but I felt was obvious, was that his thoughts would potentially reach a wider audience than attendees in the Parliamentary session. As a representative of a constituency (voted or nominated), letting your constituents know your thoughts is just as important as knowing their needs and concerns.

Take for instance his essay, he doesn't hide or shy away from his background:
"... even though I do not claim to represent anyone, my views will inevitably be representative of what a young, single, 30-something Internet-savvy professional of an archetypal “elite” background (Gifted Education Programme, Raffles Institution, Raffles Junior College, National University of Singapore law school) might think. After all, that is exactly what I am."

He is quick to add this:
"But at the same time, my views are tempered by my upbringing. I lived in a 3-room HDB flat until I was 21, sharing a bedroom with my brother and sister. My dad had a business that failed in the aftermath of the 1985 recession, after which he worked in a SME. My mum held various blue-collar jobs, including being a factory worker and hawker."

So now we have a NMP blogging... in a way, he (and the rest that might follow soon) are benefiting from the efforts set by the MPs who started The "benefit" isn't about who started blogging, or political mind-share. It's that the voters are getting used to the idea that politicians have another voice.

If more politicians or organisations leverage on blogs as one more platform (certainly not the only one) to allow others to post respond via comments or trackbacks, then overall it's likely to bode well for social and political discourse in Singapore.

[See also: "Thoughts on Singapore Members of Parliament (MPs) blogging", 4 Oct '06)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

This is one cat that will never be in the Chinese Zodiac

If you know your Chinese Zodiac, you'll know there is no cat among the 12 animals. Apparently, the Cat was outwitted by the Rat in the race to appear on the Celestial Calendar.

I think Siva's cat, Xylo, must have heard the story to react like this (notice the teeth):

Monday, February 19, 2007

What's RNAi? (and, "What would the Pessimistic and Optimistic Librarians make it it?"

You probably know what DNA stands for, or at least heard of it. But do you know what's RNAi (yeah, with a lower-case "i")?

Thanks to this 15 min video from (via lekowala), now I know. Subsequently, diagrams like this one made more sense.

OK, I can hear my alter-ego -- the Pessimistic Librarian -- say, "Yet another point won for the Internet; one more point lost for the library". He's saying that because information was first gained from the Internet and not the library.

However, my other alter-ego -- the Optimistic Librarian (he tends to see the donut and not the hole) -- says, "Nope, it's actually points won by the Internet AND the library". This guy feels that some people will visit the library to read up more about RNAi after watching the video.

The Pessimistic Librarian would lament that its harder for the library to be the First-stop and/ or One-stop place for information. The Optimistic Librarian, on the other hand, accepts that the Internet is already the First-stop for many people (in Singapore at least). Rather than try and fight against the rising tide, the library might as well go with the flow. Being a "Last-stop" or "One-of-the-stops" was infinitely better than a "No-stop" for libraries.

The Optimistic Librarian wants to establish a greater online presence for the library. For instance, publish a webpage to talk about RNAi (so that it's Google-able), throw in a link to the video, and include a list of related books available in the library. Since we're on webpages, we might as well throw in a comment feature or an email link -- better yet, an online chat function -- in case users have further questions they'd like to ask the Optimistic Librarian.

Hmm... sounds like we just described a Blog there.

The Optimistic Librarian is also thinking of mounting a flat-screen computer monitor at one of the shelf in the library, where books on RNAi were located. The video of the video would be playing on the screen. The Optimistic Librarian hopes that watching the video would interest the casual browser to look up or borrow related books.

I asked when the Optimistic Librarian would do all that.

He says as soon as he finishes his meeting with the Procrastinating Librarian and the Rambling Librarian (the Optimistic Librarian wishes the latter would talk less and get to the point quickly, so that he can get back to real work!)

Friday, February 16, 2007

ACM's Mystery Men publicity exhibit at Jurong Regional Library

I was at Jurong Regional Library (JRL) today and saw this huge box-like contraption.

Turned out to be a maze-like structure. It's a very cool idea from the Asian Civilisations Museum for their "Mystery Men: Finds from China's Lost Age" exhibition.

First thing you see when you enter is a panel, displaying this question:

You choose a door (a screen, rather) to enter, and you'll see the answer on the panel behind the screen. If you choose a "wrong" answer, you hit a dead-end. You back out and try the other door. There are a few more of such questions in the maze, contained within the square box.
ACM at JRL160207 006

A very innovative way to publicise an event and educate the public at the same time. Subtly, it's promoting the idea that "Heritage is Learning" (at least to me). Maybe next time, ACM might want to install a counting device (light-sensor activated) to gauge how many people have entered the maze. It was a typical weekday afternoon when I took the pictures. Relatively less human traffic, yet at certain times there'd be bursts of library customers checking out the exhibit.
ACM at JRL160207 007

A success collaboration between a NHB Museum and the library, in my opinion. More important, I'm sure the customers found this interesting.

[Update: Check out this blog post by PY on the Mystery Men exhibit at the ACM]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Real Life companies/brands that have done business inside Second Life

This link was from a discussion thread in the "Educators Working With Teens" list.
From that page, scroll down to the header "What other Real Life companies/ brands have done business inside Second Life?".

Company/ brand names that I'm familiar with includes:
  • Adidas
  • BBC Radio 1
  • Channel 10 (M*
  • CNET
  • Dell
  • Duran Duran (the pop group!)
  • IBM
  • Reebok
  • Reuters
  • Sun Microsystems
  • Warner Bros Music
  • Wired Magazine
* The microsoft blog is called Channel 9, so I guess it's only logical that their presence in SL would be called Channel 10!

[Update 14 Feb '07: Wikipedia entry on "Businesses and Organizations in Second Life"; thanks to Vanessa for the alert]

Monday, February 12, 2007

Singapore Second Lifers meetup in Real Life @ Idea Factory

The folks at Idea Factory hosted a few Singaporean Second Lifers (SG SLifers) tonight, at their premises at Goldhill Plaza. During the session, they shared that Linden Labs was interested in setting up a Singapore office, as well as recruiting developers from Singapore. Idea Factory brought in Cory Ondrejka (CTO Linden Labs) previously, so they should know. Btw they said it's not confidential information but should be noted that things are subject to change.

The SG SLifers in RL
I'd missed the last SL Singapore meetup (in SL) so decided to attend tonight's one in Real Life. Vanessa's post mentioned some of the attendees -- Rinaz ("where did you learn about my video?", Benjamin, and Alvin (the guy who started SL Singapore). Other attendees included Preetam, Coleman, Andy (creative director of thinc, who's started a cafe in SL), Jason (NUS student doing a research project on motivations in virtual worlds), Kayoko, Biaogang, and Jacky.

BTW, my SL avatar is "Ivanchew Link". Feel free to look me in up SL.

And surprise surprise, my colleagues from NLB's Corporate Communications department turned up for the meeting as well! Does that mean NLB is going in to Second Life? Your guess is as good as mine, heh. (Actually, it just means they are interested and are trying to understand more about it).

Structured or unstructured approach to promote SL?
The things we discussed included whether there should be a structured attempt to promote and publicise Second Life to Singaporeans, or to leave it to natural demand/ Supply forces. Most agreed the latter approach was

I feel there's no harm in publicising more about Second Life, though i was quick to point out that if Linden Labs does hold a talk or workshop, it should be pitched at a more pragmatic level, using examples (about SecondLife) that participants can relate to (in Real Life).

I gave the analogy of the library conducting a talk on using the online catalogue (OPAC). If we only talked about the features of OPAC and the search syntax etc, some users might get it but most users (from my experience) would not know how to apply it in real life -- unless you provide the context and/ or an example they can relate to. A better way would be to talk about OPAC features using a real-life example, e.g. "Using OPAC to search for library materials for your vacation in China". The session would still cover OPAC features and search syntax, but people are more likely to be able to relate -- and hence apply -- what you're trying to explain.

A Singapore Island in SL?
On a whim, I posed this question to the group: "If we want to accelerate the exploration of SL by Singaporeans, should we start a Singapore Island?" (I think some agreed, while there were some who weren't quite sure about it).

My view was that if you want accelerate the exploration (and indirectly the adoption) by Singaporeans to SL, then it's useful to let them start at a place where they have some sense of familiarity. Singapore is an Island Nation, so an SL Island couldn't be more appropriate (BTW, think of an "island" in SL as a "server").

This "Singapore Island" would be funded, perhaps in part by corporate and government agencies (some costs can be recovered by renting out parcels of Singapore Island). Currently, the startup and recurrent costs for maintaining the island is not something than any individual or informal group can afford.

But apart from corporate and government seed funding, there should not be any rules or restrictions other than those already imposed in Second Life. Andy reinforced the point by saying, "We should not start painting yellow boxes and demarcating 'No Smoking Zones'". Well, I think some rules and demarcation is important, but what's more important is that those rules will be drawn up and enforced by the SL Residents, and not some regulatory body or agency. If the principle of community-policing works for Wikipedia, then it will work (and has worked) for SL.

This Singapore Island in SL would serve as a virtual meeting place, like a 3D nation-wide Bulletin Board/ Meeting Place. It will also be a logical place for non-Singaporean SLifers to drop by, if they hope to meet more Singaporeans or Singapore residents.

The Singapore Island could also be a Singapore Sandbox (either Preetam or Coleman who said this). A "Sand Box" in SL is where people can learn how to build objects and scripts; like a virtual playground. Sure, there are other sandboxes but they are owned by others and somehow it seemed more apt to have a Singapore Island showcasing works by Singaporeans or Singapore residents.

Rinaz cited how she learned more about Amsterdam, and met people who actually lived in Amsterdam, by visiting a place called Amsterdam Island in SL (basically a virtual island that replicates some aspects of Amsterdam). That's a great idea -- imagine Singaporeans building the landmarks of Singapore, in a collaborative fashion, in SL. And this is NOT something STB (a government agency) can drive. They probably can support it, but it will have to be initiated by Singaporeans. I'm confident there will be people willing and able to do so.

This is not to say Singapore Island is only for, and by, Singaporeans. Just like how Singapore operates in Real Life (and pretty much how SL currently works), Singapore Island in SL will openly welcome the contributions of anyone who has the time, intent, skills and passion.

[For another supporting reason for Singapore Island, scroll to the last paragraph of this earlier post.]

To build or not to build a library in SL?
Incidentally, Ben asked me if I was contradicting myself when earlier in the conversation, I remarked that "the NLB should not build a library in SL" but later I advocated a Singapore Island. I'm not sure if I clarified enough, so here's a more detailed explanation (for Ben, if you're reading this):

It all depends on the objective we're trying to achieve.

If the library were to build a library in SL for the purpose of providing library services like in Real Life, then it should not build virtual structures that resemble real life physical structures. E.g. Don't build a bookshelf in SL, where users have to virtually open a book to access the content. If you've tried this in SL, you'll know it's rather cumbersome. We should allow people to checkout Heads-Up-Displays (HUDs) and download content instead.

If the library were to build a SL Library for the purpose of orientating users, then it makes sense to duplicate your SL library like how the Real Life library looks like in form and structure.

Maybe that's another reason why we should have a Singapore Island in SL -- because it's a good excuse for libraries in Singapore to establish their presence and provide services.

Or is it the other way round? :)

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Why do we use water to bathe? (or, "The Librarian & the Advisory & Enquiry Service")

Some people might think this is a silly question.

I think not.

You might or might not have sought help from a librarian for a question. I don't know about other libraries in Singapore or overseas. At the NLB public libraries, we actively encourage people to ask anything.

Some people (librarians included) question the logic in encouraging people to "ask anything". What if they ask "stupid questions"?

I'd say the REAL question is, "What is a Stupid Question?"

It's my sincere belief that there is no silly question; not if your intent is sincere. Granted there are people who make statements disguised as a question, or that their intent in asking the question is suspect. Nevertheless, I believe a truly competent librarian can take on any question and use it as an opportunity to advise, educate, and promote the library's service and collection.

Librarians need to tell their customers, "It's OK to ask anything".

Questions are sometimes not asked the right way, but I don't think it's right for librarians to consider any question stupid or silly.

The worse thing that can happen is when the library customer (particularly a child or young person) asks a question with sincere intent, only to be met with scorn (in words or subtle action) by the librarian who thinks it's a "silly question". That's akin to professional suicide. It's likely that the child or young person would never ask a question to any librarian, ever. Then libraries would wonder why enquiries aren't forthcoming. Library administrators would start asking if hours or staffing headcount ought to be reduced since the enquiry service isn't in demand.

Here's another way of looking at the "silly question" issue: if it's true that "one person's poison is another person's food", then I say one person's silly question is another person's enlightenment.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

HBO acquires rights to George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Fire & Ice Ice & Fire" series

[Update 22/3/2007: Header corrected; series title should be "Song of Ice & Fire" and not the other way round. Hat-tip to "The Stark in Winterfell", who left this comment.]

The moment I read this news from none other than George R. R. Martin's blog, I decided to post it at High Browse Online myself, rather than wait till Monday for my colleague to blog it. Yeah, I was that excited!

From (16 Jan '07):
HBO has acquired the rights to turn George R.R. Martin's bestselling fantasy series "A Song of Fire & Ice" into a dramatic series to be written and exec produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss... ... The series will begin with the 1996 first book, "A Game of Thrones," and the intention is for each novel (they average 1,000 pages each) to fuel a season's worth of episodes. Martin has nearly finished the fifth installment, but won't complete the seven-book cycle until 2011.
[Read the rest of the post at High Browse Online]

Don't know who's George R. R. Martin?
[Image from; Wiki entry last accessed on 10th Feb 2007]

Check out his official website. I like reading his blog (called "Not A Blog") better. The frustrating thing is that I have to wait till 2011 for the entire series to be complete. Arrgh!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Back from Beijing (Part 6) - My misconceptions about the Great Wall

[From: Part 5 - Walking on the Chinese Wall]

As far as scenic views go, there isn't much to see at the top of the Juyong Guan wall. There wasn't meant to be. The wall was built for defense.
Made it

Terracotta Warrior on the WallPrior to visiting the Great Wall, I used to have this mental picture of Emperor Qin Shi Huang standing on top of a hill, looking down on the wall being built by slaves, who are falling to their deaths by the thousands.

Blame it on some ill-conceived illustration in a school text book in Primary School!

I now know (from the tour guide and the books I consulted after the trip) that:
(1) The wall was not always a continuous structure;
(2) Its construction started before Qin Shi Huang came into the picture;
(3) No sane ruler, especially one who could unite China, would depend entirely on slave labour to build something as important as a wall for defense.

OK, I'm not too sure about the last part. It might have been conscripted labour, or a mix of conscripted labour, soldiers, paid craftsmen. I'm sure there's some scholarly article about its construction in some library somewhere.

Cleaning the Steps on the Great Wall

In reality, the "Wall" was built in parts by earlier dynasties, throughout their rule. It dates back to the Warring States Period (453 - 221 B.C.), built as defensive measures against rival kingdoms. It was Qin Shi Huang who had all sections connected after he unified China (see this page for reference as well).

Patiently Waiting

There are different sections of the wall that is open to public. The one my wife and I visited was at "Juyong Guan". Other sections (at some distances away) are at locations like Ba Da Ling, Jin Shan Ling, Mutianyu, and Simatai -- all which I've not visited, in case you're wondering.
Looking back, from the topUp the tower

The Juyong Guan wall is also famous for a building called "Yun Tai" or "Cloud Platform", a base for a temple (see this reference). Unfortunately it was closed for restorations and I wasn't able to get a decent picture from the outside.

The Yun Tai's significance, as pointed out by our tour guide, was that it housed the (lost) script of the Xi Xia language.

Xi Xia was a relatively small state that was eventually conquered and whose written records were deliberately destroyed by Genghis Khan's armies during the 14th century. In essence, the Xi Xia race ceased to exist. Literally wiped off the face of this earth.

Genghis Khan's armies wasn't the first to deliberately destroy a people's recorded existence -- and they certainly weren't the last.

Aside: Imagine all of the human race's records and heritage stored on digital devices. Then we either run out of power, or the technological know-how to retrieve that information. Eventually the physical equipment deteriorates and all stored information is lost.

Hmm... Perhaps that might indirectly account for some of the words, symbols and names carved onto the Wall -- the equivalent of "Killroy was here". I noticed quite a bit of that. Some are obviously quite recent. Maybe deep within our subconscious, we humans are wet-wired to leave some physical mark just to prove that we exist.

Snaking Up the Mountain

Uh, no -- I didn't leave any mark on the wall.

[This is the last scheduled post regarding my Beijing vacation. I've more pictures and stories but I won't be blogging about them. My wife and I plan to visit Beijing again, and most certainly China. Wonder how much China will change by then.]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Back from Beijing (Part 5) - Walking on the Chinese Wall

[From: Part 4 - Up the Great Wall of China]

"Walking on the Chinese Wall
Watching for the coins to fall"

On the Wall 2Anyone recall Philip Bailey's "Walking On The Chinese Wall"?

Lyrics here; scroll down this page for the song preview.

"Walking On The Chinese Wall"
Words & Music: Roxanne Seeman & Billie Hughes


Spread your painted wings
For an answer from the Ching

By the stream
Stretching in the rocks
Tiger on the mountaintop

Walking on the Chinese Wall
Watching for the coins to fall

Making it downLooking Back Down

Now the sun
Is rising in the East
Looking for my golden fleece

Ivory skin
Scarlet color deep
Lips that burn but do not speak

pavilions in the distance
Three misty nights
Waiting by the shore
Maybe that my lover comes no more

Red Chamber Dream
From the sky above
Ancient tale of hidden Chinese love

My shadow on the Great Wall
On the Chinese Wall
Watching for the coins to fall

Blue red silk
Burning on my chest
Go to sleep but not to rest

Stepping stones
On the Yellow Sea
Dreaming she’ll be there for me

Flags on the Wall
Walking on the Chinese Wall
Watching for the coins to fall

Junction on the Wall

Come down the clouds
To the sea of flames
From the mountain hear the cry of pain

On the Wall
Red Chamber Dream
From the sky above
Ancient tale of hidden Chinese love

On the Chinese Wall...

juyong guan

Next: Clearing my misconceptions about the Great Wall

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Back from Beijing (Part 4) - Up the Great Wall of China

[From: Part 3 - Inside the Forbidden City]

While approaching the Wall at Juyong Guan by car, it didn't appear all that impressive.
Approaching the Great Wall

The walk up the wall would be a piece of cake. It's gonna be a breeze to get to the top most guard tower, I thought. Ah, my city-bred cockiness knows no bounds, heh.
Starting the Climb

More stairs to climbAll sense of cockiness quickly vanished as took the stairs (it felt more like a climb). The thinner and colder air, along with the biting wind, soon had me panting and sniffling. Each step became slower and stiffer.

You're not supposed to suffer on a vacation! What was I thinking of, climbing the Great Wall? It seems my wife and I just like to subject ourselves to physical exertion while on vacation.

The guide later told us that each time he brought vacationers to the wall, 80% of them never make it past the first guard post (which was maybe 50 to 100 steps). They all chose to turn back and wait in the bus.

Thinking back, I can understand why. You're lulled into a sense of complacency as you start your walk up the wall. You see steps and handrails, and you wonder how hard it would be to walk up a flight of stairs. You tend to underestimate the effort required.

I think most overseas vacationers (like myself) fail to take take into account the wind, the cold and slightly thinner air. But what is first to go aren't our muscles but our mental strength.

About 50 steps up the wall, I haboured thoughts of turning back. I was making excuses why there's no point trying to make it up to the top. Where was the top anyway? There's nothing to see but dull coloured hills.
Wind Blown Shrubs

But my wife and I decided to continue. We walked and rested as much or as little as we wanted. Much of the walk up the wall, all I saw was this.
Worn Steps on the Great Wall

All I heard was my breathing, the wind against my windbreaker, my shoes on the stone steps (that were quite worn out on the side where there were railings, which made me wonder just how many feet it required to wear out the step like that).

At one point, I looked back and saw this.
Looking Back
Might as well just keep going up.

The walk became easier. I was able to moderate my exertion (reminding myself I'm not the 19 year old anymore). Winter was an off-peak tourist season so there weren't large crowds to contend with. I was able to take in and enjoy the sights.

It's not a contest.
More Stairs

Next: More pictures and learning points from Walking the Chinese Wall.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Back from Beijing (Part 3) - Inside the Forbidden City

[From: Part 2 - Entering the Forbidden City]

Water Urn - Palace/ Hall of Mental CultivationOur tour guide, a Beijing resident who has about 15 years of experience in the business, could easily rattle off the names of the halls and courts we were in. I certainly cannot. As I look through the photos, I have trouble remembering where is what.

This should be the "Hall of Mental Cultivation" (as verified from a picture found at this page; see also the map of the palace).

I took this shot as I wanted a picture of the huge bronze urn. Such urns could be found throughout the inner court. Apparently, in the old days, they were filled with water and were they functional equivalent of fire-hydrants. If fire broke out, the palace staff would obtain water from the urns to douse the flames.

According to this same page, this hall has a series of smaller rooms/ buildings where the emperor summoned individual officials to discuss state matters (like modern day conference rooms?)

This room was where the Empress Dowager Cixi "ruled behind the curtain". Her story is the stuff of soap operas and dramas (many Hong Kong serials have been produced over the years, btw). You'll notice two seats with yellow cushions. The seat nearer to the left was where the emperor sat as he discussed matters with court officials. Behind that was where Cixi sat, with the yellow veil/ curtain dropped down.
Cixi rules behind the veil - Forbidden City
In a nutshell -- as the child emperor was too young to rule over the state, Cixi (as queen mother) effectively directed state matters. However, for the purpose of keeping up with appearances, she had to do so behind the curtain.

The imperial palace is marked by the 'Outer Court' and the 'Inner Court'. The former was where the emperor and the court officials held their official business. The latter was where the living quarters of the royal family (court officials, I was told, had their residences located outside the palace, within the city). Leading in and out of the inner and outer courts are corridors like this one.
Inner Corridors - Forbidden City
To get a sense of how wide the corridors are, try spotting the three tourists in the picture.

What was it like back then? Were corridors like this bustling with activity, with court and palace officials hurrying about? Did soldiers patrol the place? Or was it deserted, cold and forbidding?


Everything in the Imperial Garden looked brown, bare and grey to me (it's winter!)
Imperial Garden

We saw these old gnarly trees, some of which sported coloured metal tags. The different coloured tags denoted the age of the trees. I think they ranged from 100 to 300 years old, if I remember correctly.
Ancient Trees - Imperial Garden

We made our way out by passing through the "Gate of Divine Prowess/ Might":

I thought I'd see the streets after passing through the north gate but there's still a long stretch. There's a mountain in the distance.
Outside North Gate
I mentioned in the previous post how the design of the palace was based on geomancy principles. Generally, it was deemed as auspicious to have "mountains behind one's back", taken to mean "having strong support" or "strong backing". My own understanding is that with mountains at the back, it meant that the palace was protected from enemies' attacks from the rear. Whether it's science or superstition, something must be working right for the palace to still exist after 500 years.

To the left and right of where we walked was the moat.
Imperial Moat - North Gate

Walking out, my mind was still filled with a sense of the ancient. Meeting the first road upon exiting the Forbidden City, I tried to picture horses and carts instead of fuel-powered vehicles.
Jingshanqian jie

The road was not too congested on a Saturday afternoon. I'd expected more bicycles on the road. The tour guide said generally there were less cyclists because (1) it was winter, and (2) Beijing has grown so much over the years that it's become impractical to cycle long distances.

Next: Climbing the Great Wall at Juyong Guan

Monday, February 05, 2007

Back from Beijing (Part 2) - Entering the Forbidden City

[From: Back from Beijing (Part 1)]
Beijing - TollgateThe toll gates from the airport to the city gave a hint of the architectural designs one might get to see in Beijing, particularly the Forbidden City -- the imperial palace.

According to the Frommer's travel guide that I borrowed (2006; 4th edition; Call No. 915.155604 FB; under the Travel section in NLB libraries), "sourcing of materials for the original palace buildings started in 1406 and construction was completed in 1420".

What stood out for me was how the palace was constructed according to geomancy principles -- from the geographic location of the palace grounds, to the schematics of the buildings. Our tour guide did a wonderful job in explaining all that, at least enough for me to make some sense from what little I knew about geomancy. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes and can't adequately explain them here.

Anyway, you might make something out of these maps here, here and here (the last one is a satellite picture).

We started off at Tiananmen (天安門) or the "Gate of Heavenly Peace".
天 "Tian" = "Heavens/ Sky"
安 "An" = "Peace"
門 "Men" = "Gate/ door"

Tiananmen - Forbidden City

You step through the entrance (right under the portrait of Mao Zedong) and walk through...
Through Tiananmen - Forbidden City

... into this courtyard that's before the Duanmen (the "Upright Gate", which is in the distance).
Approaching Duanmen - Forbidden City

Then after the Duanmen, you reach the Wumen ("Meridian Gate").
Duanmen - Forbidden City

At this point, I lost track of what gate or location I'm at. I'm just following the guide absently, taking in the sights, wondering how it was like 500 years ago. The wind was biting. My hands turn numb as I kept taking and putting the gloves on and off to operate the camera. Basically, there's more walking and you have more gates to pass...
Before the Sea of Flagstones - Forbidden CitySea of Flagstones - Forbidden City

... before you reach where the emperor holds court.
Chamber - Hall of Celestial Purity

Whew... talk about 'Red Tape'. LOL.

Next: More pictures from the Forbidden City.