Friday, June 27, 2008

Inaugural GarageBand Meetup Singapore: Thurs, 17th July 2008

Back in April, I started a GarageBand Meetup Singapore group.

After two unsuccessful attempts to organise a meetup (admittedly it was due to my procrastination and general beating-around-the-bush thingy) I'm pleased to announce that our first meetup will be held on:
Thursday, 17th July 2008
Time: 7pm
Venue: McDonald’s (McCafe)

3 Temasek Boulevard #B1-026, Suntec City Mall, S(038983)

I have Siva to thank, 'cos he sent this alert out. So I thought it'll be apt to have our GarageBand Singapore Meetup there as well. I won't have to worry about a no-show from the GBS, heh.

Apart from blogging it and mailing the Googlegroup (and some others), I've also sent a Twitter message, and a Facebook email blast too.

About « GarageBand Meetup Singapore

Oh, if anyone wants a copy of the SeaStars 2007 album, bring along your thumbdrive or laptop.

Who knows, we might even compose a tune or two, or do a music mashup on the spot.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

CC Singapore License Draft in Public Discussion

Received an alert from the Creative Commons Singapore Facebook group, which led me to this:
On behalf of CC Singapore, we are pleased to announce that the draft of CC BY-NC-SA adapted to Singaporean law (PDF) is now in public discussion. The CC Singapore team, lead by Anil Samtani and Giorgos Cheliotis and hosted at the Centre for Asia Pacific Technology Law & Policy (CAPTEL), has been working with Creative Commons International to port the licenses to local copyright legislation. A launch event to celebrate Singapore’s completed licensing suite is scheduled in for July 27th.
CC Singapore License Draft in Public Discussion - Creative Commons

Why Creative Commons?
About a year back, Bernard blogged his three reasons why he feels Singapore should consider the Creative Commons (incidentally, the topic came up at this talk):
  1. Encourages More Innovation and Creativity:
  2. It's a win-win situation with the establishment
  3. Moving towards a Web 2.0 mindset
I agree with Bernard's analysis. Though I'd say the main reason is really the first one. The other two are its supporting arguments.

I first learned about Creative Commons (CC) right about the time when I experimented with blogs (i.e. about four years ago, amidst the proliferation of community collaboration and sharing through the Web 2.0 movement).

The concept blew me away, really. A paradigm shift in what copyright was about.

What is Creative Commons?
My understanding of CC is this:
  • It's not about losing your copyright, but reinforcing it
  • Traditional copyright works where permission is presumed not given, and has to be sought from the owner
  • CC is merely stating the terms of use upfront. You don't give away your rights but merely give permission first, along with the terms of use
It's so simple, but yet it requires a change in mindset that it's mind boggling at first. At least it was for me.

There are several videos that explains what Creative Commons is about and how it works.

What Creative Commons isn't
Of course one fact CC cannot do is ensure that people credit your work.

CC merely makes it clearer -- in uncomplicated terminologies -- how others can, and should, use your work.

The onus of compliance is still on the receiver and not you, the person providing the content.

But when you think about it, neither can current copyright law ensure compliance by people who download your work from the Internet.

And because the traditional notion of copyright is that permission must be sought, it isn't as efficient as CC.

Peace of mind for people interested in sharing
CC probably wouldn't give you peace of mind if you're the person who constantly worry about people "stealing" your work that you upload on the Internet. Or not giving you due credit. If you tend to think that way, you're better off not making your work available online in the first place.

For me, I'm already interested in sharing my work online.

Because it's the easiest way to get an audience for my songs (let's be realistic: who's gonna buy this?)

Being able to release my work using CC terminology gives me peace of mind.

It doesn't make my rights any more enforceable than it already is.

But I think it increases the chances for my work to be used and credited in the right way.

But has it?

Does CC encourage innovation and creativity?
It's a definitive YES, as far as I'm concerned.

I can personally attest to it.

It's happened to me.

Here's one example -- I shared this song and released it under this particular CC license. Someone came along and added his vocals to it, and he was free to release it as a new work.

Does it benefit me?

For sure, 'cos not do I feel flattered that someone has deemed my work good enough for them to spend time on it, I'm also listening to my work in a new light and gaining ideas from it.

Attribution is a learned behaviour
I mentioned at this post how I've not received any emails or trackback links for all the hundreds of downloads recorded.

But in fairness, merely downloading it doesn't require people to email me, least of all "crediting" me.

Perhaps out of the 100 downloads (125 now, as of this post) someone has used that song in a school project but didn't attribute the work to me.

Or maybe someone ripped me off by selling my work as their own.

Well, I tell people sharing one's work on the Internet is like investing in the stock market: You put up what you can afford to lose.

Besides, I think the habit of attributing, or even just simple courtesy emails, takes time to inculcate.

As the CC movement gains momentum, I'm hopeful that parents, teachers (and librarians!) will ingrain the habit into young people.

Digital Literacy
To me, the adoption of Creative Commons ultimately promotes Digital Literacy.

My own definition of Digital Literacy includes 'Content Production', where every individual is potentially a producer, in addition to being a consumer of content (this is wider than some current definitions of Digital Literacy, like this this one).

By today's standards, everyone's a content-producer. If you've taken a photo or video via your handphone, then you're one.

Whether your works are commercially viable is besides the point.

Copyright and IP rights are something everyone need to know.

Because everyone is a potential content producer, if they aren't already.

It's obvious to me that raising awareness about Creative Commons is raising awareness about IP and Copyright.

[update: see "What does it mean by "porting Creative Commons to Singapore"?"]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An email about Librarian jobs in Singapore

I get the occasional email from people (Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike) asking about job opportunities in librarianship in Singapore.

Here's a recent one (I didn't ask for permission to quote the letter, so I've blanked out some details from the original mail):

I saw your blog and wanted to ask you a question. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to get a job as a librarian in Singapore. I am [from country omitted] with a master's degree in library science and another master's in psychology. I am able to speak Chinese on an intermediate level.

[Name omitted]

My reply:

Yes it's always possible. Check out the job listings at the Library Association of Singapore website:

Speaking Chinese would help, but majority of Singaporeans speak English. It's our de facto working language. More info about Singapore, at:


In my reply, I forgot to add that anyone interested in library jobs in Singapore can also join the Librarians-In-Singapore mailing list. Questions about the Singapore library scene can be posted and answered there.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Urban Garden Story: Building community, one plant at a time

When I met Sarah and David in February, naturally I asked about their "garden".

In David's blog post (published in January), I'd assumed that they wanted to beautify the place.

The real story surprised me.

Turned out they were conducting an urban experiment of sorts.

Over pizza at Cafe Zoetrope, Sarah explained how they got started.

I was impressed. And inspired.

I could imagine the title: "Reclaiming one's turf".

Subtitle: "The dumping of shit and stuff will stop if one shows that this space is being cared for".

Then I asked why neither she nor David blogged about it in details. David's post certainly didn't do their experiment justice.

In her typical unruffled fashion, Sarah went "hmm".

I told Sarah -- insisted, really -- that she had to blog it.

Perhaps their experiment would take a life of its own. Spreading the word around, at least in the blogosphere.

So I was delighted that Sarah wrote this piece in March. She tells the Whys and Hows.

Thanks to RSS feeds, I've been able to keep up to date on the progress of their urban experiment.

I felt sad when their plants got stolen more than once.

And when their planter got vandalised.


Some incidents were a little strange.

Through it all, Sarah and David persevered with each unneighbourly act. Painting over the vandals' mark. Replacing a stolen plant.

I think their efforts are paying off.

Maybe one day soon, their local newspaper would feature their urban experiment as a story.

Spread it as a meme.

Sarah and David: I'm sitting halfway round the world.

And I'm rooting for ya.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Encyclopaedia Britannica goes "Wiki", but not quite

Practically every blog post I've read says Britannica (yes, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, i.e. EB) is going "wiki".

Although in Britannica's blog post dated 3 June 2008 (yeah, they have a blog too!) they have not used that term anywhere.

My reading of their post is that Britannica Online will remain as it is -- an online website. Embedded with "Web 2.0" tool, perhaps.

But not a "wiki" per se, IF we take the term to be closely associated with Wikipedia's publication model.

Their preferred terms are "participation" and "collaboration".

Quotes from their post (emphasis mine):
Encyclopaedia Britannica is about to launch a new initiative that we’re very enthusiastic about. The main thrust of this initiative is to promote greater participation by both our expert contributors and readers.

Both groups will be invited to play a larger role in expanding, improving, and maintaining the information we publish on the Web under the Encyclopaedia Britannica name as well as in sharing content they create with other Britannica visitors.

A complete redesign, editing tools, and incentive programs will give expert contributors and users the means to take part in the further improvement of Encyclopaedia Britannica and in the creation and publication of their own work.

Notice how EB has reinforced their position that credit is given to contributors and participants, and that it will be the user's "own work".

Definitely in the spirit of Web 2.0, where user participation is welcome and practically a given.

My question at this point: Wikipedia doesn't charge a fee for its use, whereas EB has a pricing model. So how would they handle this without being seen as being exploitative?

EB probably anticipates this point and mentions about incentives, but stops short of specifying what it will be, other than implying the non-financial aspects of collaborative work:
"... we will provide our contributors with a reward system ... that will enable them to promote themselves, their work, and their services; allow them to showcase and publish their various works-in-progress in front of the Britannica audience; and help them find and interact with colleagues around the world."

Here's more:
"Readers and users will also be invited into an online community where they can work and publish at Britannica’s site under their own names.

Interested users will be able to prepare articles, essays, and multimedia presentations on subjects in which they’re interested. Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work.

We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain control of his or her own work."

Seems to me EB is deliberately shifting the focus away from saying they will pay contributors, but appealing to other factors like establishing contributors as recognised experts, and access to EB's resources.

It seems that not everyone will get to be contributors to EB. Ultimately, EB will decide who gets to contribute, or at least those who eventually gets published under the EB branding:
"As part of our longstanding tradition, engaging a prominent community of scholars will continue to be a key requirement. With this new site and initiatives we will be able to recruit new members beyond our current contributor base, through recommendations from existing contributors, applications from expert communities, and by inviting select members of our user community."

If you follow their post, you'll get to the part where they mention the distinguishing factors from "other projects of online collaboration":
(1) the active involvement of the expert contributors with whom we already have relationships
(2) the fact that all contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s core content will continue to be checked and vetted by our expert editorial staff before they’re published.

So, it's clear to me the new Britannica website will not be another Wikipedia.

It confirms what I've mentioned at the start of this post: Britannica Online essentially remains as an online resource rather than a collaborative platform per se.

They intend to deploy "Web 2.0" tools, which may involve "wiki" features. But they won't adopt Wikipedia's publication model.

This much is also clarified at this comment, where EB clarifies:
"Though a number of people see this as an effort to compete with Wikipedia, in many ways it’s the opposite of the wiki model in that everyone gets personal credit for his or her own contributions, and you control the future of the work you publish on the site."

My final thoughts:
I look forward to EB's new site. But I don't see it as being radically different from what it's doing.

Of course, EB didn't claim that they will be radically different. They emphasise on how there will be greater participation and collaboration (i.e. from their current model).

I'm not doubting their intents. From a business point of view, I'd say "about time"!

As a student or amateur researcher, I'd welcome it too (retaining exclusivity into the "EB club" is a form of incentive).

But all that being said, I'm not sure is how EB intends to implement the "participation" and "collaboration" part. I went to their Beta site and first impression was that it's still very "EB online" and not "Web 2.0".
Britannica Online Encyclopedia - beta

If "participation" and "collaboration" was the emphasis, then EB needs to make that apparent on the front page.

I'd put a big "Join as a EB contributor" link. And explain more how it works.

I didn't go beyond the main page, so I can only speculate that there are essentially two main "spaces" -- (1) the actual EB website,and (2) the collaborative space for researchers and users to interact. Whatever comes out of Space #2 is filtered back to #1 by the EB staff.

The other thing I'd do is to send out invites to people -- students, academics, bloggers, professionals, teachers, librarians! -- who might want to take part in the Beta. These are your potential users, if not contributors.

EB is a business, and needs a viable business model. So any remarks about it not going the "Wikiepdia Way" is unfair and unrealistic.

But inevitably, EB does have to constantly deal with the fact that it's a reference resource, and there are plenty of alternatives on the Internet whose quality is improving all the time (we librarians should know!)

So I think EB's new site holds some promise.

But seems to me it's not an issue about it's adoption of "Web 2.0" tools, but how well it can integrate the "Web 2.0 Culture" into its business model.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Podcast: One World (2008)

This is my theme song for 2008.


powered by ODEO
Listen/ Download at ARCHIVE.ORG

Recorded, mixed and sound engineered in GarageBand. More details of how it's done, here.

And here's the cool thing -- Firdaus listened to it, liked it enough to try adding vocals to it. And did a mashup: Listen here.

I love the social web. :)

Interestingly, the tracks have been downloaded 100 times.
Internet Archive: Details: One World (2008)

Knowing the music has an audience is one important motivator to carry on indulging in this hobby.

I don't mind people downloading it.

I welcome it, actually.

That's the whole point of sharing it on the Internet.

But from time to time, I really wonder who are those who have downloaded it. Are they using it for some school project? A mashup? Listening to it on their MP3 player?

So far, I've not had anyone email me to say they've downloaded it or used it.

I also wonder if they've attributed the music, if they've used it in say, a video.

Or the occasional comment, from those who've had a listen, would be welcome as well.

Would be neat to have, or any social sharing sites for that matter, could somehow automatically do this to the convenience of both the content creator and user.

I suspect many who put their stuff out under the Creative Commons license don't expect people to readily attribute.

I know I don't.

Still, I'm hopeful. I know if content creators know that their works are being attributed (or better yet, they get direct feedback like download stats or comments) it will greatly boost the quantity and quality of content published on the social web.

Creative Commons License

work by Ivan Chew is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. For permissions beyond the scope of this license , please contact via

RamblingLibrarian's Podcasts:
My Odeo Podcast

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Part 3: "Refute VueStar Patent Claims Website" - Official clarification from IPOS

[From Part 2]

This is a significant development concerning the Vuestar Patent Claim issue.

Read this.

Turned out someone by the nickname of "Upset Singaporean" wrote to his Member of Parliament (MP) about the Vuestar Claim. The MP, Dr. Ong Seh Hong, subsequently directed the enquiry to the Intellectual Property Office Singapore (IPOS). Which then lead to the IPOS Director-General, Ms Liew Woon Yin, responding with this reply.

"Upset Singapore" wrote that he/ she specifically sought permission from the IPOS Director-General to share the response at RefuteVueStarPatent.

When I read the post yesterday, I was elated.

Because not only did the IPOS response clarified alot of murkiness about the Patent Claim, it also raised doubts as to the validity of Vuestar's Claim.

Specifically, items 2, 4 and 6 from the IPOS reply (emphasis are my own):
2. According to IPOS’ records, the patent for “Method of locating web-pages by utilising visual images” (Singapore Patent No. 95940) stands in the name of Langford, Ronald, N. The patent was granted in Singapore, albeit not to VueStar...

4. As Singapore Patent No. 95940 was not granted to VueStar, the relationship between VueStar and the patentee would first have to be ascertained before the question of whether VueStar can actually demand payment arises. The basis on which VueStar is making their demand and their interest in the patent certainly requires examination.

6. Under the Patents Act and Rules, the validity of a patent may be challenged by way of defence in proceedings for patent infringements. There are also other relevant provisions...

At the same time, my librarian's training must have kicked in, 'cos I posed this question to Alice: "How do we know "Upset Singaporean" really obtained permission from IPOS?"

Alice had considered this point already. She decided to use Upset Singaporean's comment in good faith.

I suggested to her that she could do better. Just ask IPOS direct!

Which Alice did immediately. She emailed IPOS. And she received a call from IPOS the very next day confirming that everything was as stated.

The clarification from IPOS doesn't change the fact that companies who have received invoices from Vuestar must still go though due process to resolve the matter.

But in my opinion, the words from IPOS really tips the balance in favour of those being invoiced by Vuestar.

Yet another example that information is power.

[Update: FAQ compiled at, 8 Jun 08]

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Part 2: "Refute VueStar Patent Claims Website" - Why you might want to care

[From Part 1]

I asked some people (online) if they knew about the Vuestar Patent issue, and whether they felt it applied to them. These friends and contacts are generally IT-savvy people. A few of them own their websites.

I was mildly surprised to learn that most responses typically went along these lines:
  • "Yes, I've heard about the Vuestar patent case, but I don't think it applies to me" (note: have you actually read Vuestar's patent claims?)
  • "So sad that a Singaporean is doing this" (note: Vuestar is a company that chose to register in Singapore. That doesn't make it Singaporean)
  • "Oh, wait, you mean if I'm a website owner and I enable links via images, I have to pay them a license?" (that seems to be the case)
  • "Is it possible for them to sue every owner?" (Does it matter?)
  • "OMG, this is a worldwide license?" (It's a worldwide patent - My error. See this comment. I've also verified that patents apply to only to an individual country. No such thing as "worldwide patent". There is a "Patent Cooperation Treaty" of which Singapore is a signatory, but it doesn't make a patent registered in Singapore applicable outside of Singapore.)

In my view, Vuestar has done nothing illegal. The legal ramifications of Vuestar's patent claims is something to be settled through due legal process.

So why am I concerned about the case when I don't run a website of my own (Vs. using a blogging service)?

Well I'm interested in whether the collective insights by knowledgeable individuals (bloggers and non-bloggers) would make a difference to the issue.

For most Singaporeans who've read the related newspaper articles or blog posts about this case, they'd assume only "IT people" will be affected.

But what if you're a student who runs a website using the so-called "technology to link to images" and you're suddenly faced with an invoice asking you to pay for the license?

Close down the site or blog?

Pay up?

Settle in court?

Whatever the choice, I believe in being prepared. To resolve some of the information-murkiness surrounding this whole affair.

Of course there's the saying that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing".

In this case, I think the issue for many of us is really the lack of specific knowledge, i.e. Intellectual Property and Patent laws.

The conundrum that I have is that I'm not that well informed about IP and Patent laws either.

I can only suggest that before we dismiss this Vuestar Patents issue as something that "doesn't apply to me", let's think about it further.

What are the implications for yourself, or for the website owners whom you reply on to obtain your news and information?

Or if you're a website owner, find out as much about the issues involved. See if Alice's efforts at RefuteVueStarPatent can help. Or contribute to what she's trying to do.

Surely, being informed through credible sources is a first line of defense.

[Part 3 - Official clarification from IPOS]

Part 1: Singaporean starts a "Refute VueStar Patent Claims Website"

I learned about the VueStar Patent Claim controversy today.

From ZDnet Asia:
Long story short, Singapore-based Vuestar Technologies has hit the town with a stern message that any company that uses photos and graphics to link to other Web sites or Web pages, must obtain a "license of use" from Vuestar. It has begun sending out notification letters to selected companies, urging them to sign a licensing agreement in order to continue using image linking, legally.
VueStar -- -- a Singapore-registered company (not Singaporean per se) has asked companies and individuals to pay up in order to use its technology for ‘locating Web pages by utilising visual images’.
Vuestar Website

As I understand it, VueStar is not bringing people to court. Yet.

They are telling individuals to pay them.

Because Vuestar holds the patent to what it says is the technology whereby websites "use visual images to hyperlink to parts of the worldwide web":
Claims to the "Vuestar System"

Meaning, if you access a webpage by clicking on any of the images in this blog, you're using their technology. Since Google owns, then VueStar has a case against Google.

Or so it seems.

My instant gut-reaction was that VueStar is using the threat of law, not the actual law itself, to scare individuals into compliance.

The Vuestar license

But my post isn't only about Vuestar's claims.

It's about a Singaporean who decided create a website for the purpose of refuting VueStar patent claims, aptly named "Refute VueStar Patent".

It's poetic that a Singaporean has initiated this against a Singapore-registered company.

Initially her site was named "" but I suggested to her that "Refute VueStar" might be a better term. Less acrimonious.

Alice explains why she set up the site, here.

Clearly, it's active citizenry in action.

Alice also tells me the matter is quite complicated. What she's found out is that it's hard to challenge a valid patent. The onus is also on the defendent to prove that there's no infringement (there are some legal precedents which I don't understand fully, so I won't attempt to cite it here).

She adds that in VueStar's case, there are 39 claims to the patent. The defendent has to refute all 39 claims.

It seems that patents rights will always be enforced until the patent is invalidated. Or at least till there is an application for re-examination.

Kevin points me to Lawrence Lessig's 1999 article on "The Problem with Patents", and now I can better appreciate why Lessig feels there's a problem. Here's a quote:
On average it takes $1.2 million to challenge the validity of a patent, which means it is often cheaper simply to pay the royalties than to establish that the patent isn't deserved.
That's USD $1.2 million, at 1999 dollars.

I can believe how some companies in the US can make it their business to just file patents and claim payments or damages.

To me, the sad part is that the whole issue is less about Intellectual Property rights, but more about attrition, i.e. whoever cannot afford the legal fees (and loss of time) may choose to pay up rather than go to court.

It reminds me of gangsters extorting money from commoners, who choose to pay "protection fees" rather than fight the gangsters.

I suppose every business has its risks.

And educated bullies.

I feel an impotent rage right now.

But I take comfort in knowing at least one Singaporean is doing what she can to be constructive about it.

[Update: I shared this case with some web developers I know, like Divya. I was interested in how the Singapore web developer community would react. At first, Divya was ambivalent towards it. But after further discussion, she thought it might be prudent to think further about the implications of this case.

I think we need to do that -- discuss and raise awareness. While we cannot directly effect a change in US patent law, the least we can do is to raise awareness among those who might be affected.]

Some related posts:

Next: Part 2 - "Why you might want to care"