Sunday, April 27, 2008

Getting Senior Citizens to talk about their experiences on camera

This post is in response to Lissle's question:
"I'm doing a short documentary on seniors' perspectives, trying to get seniors to talk about their experiences on camera. any advice?"
(BTW, Lissle is one of the Davis Forum - Spring 2008 - scholars, whom I had the privilege of meeting at the USF in February this year. She found her way to Victor's blog post about a Blogging talk that Chun See and I co-conducted for senior citizens, in 2006. Victor alerted me to that comment, by leaving -- you guessed it! -- a comment in a related post of mine, LOL. So I thought I'd post a response here instead).

Here are THREE main points I'd consider, if I were to embark on a similar project:


#1 - Approach senior citizens who already trust you
I'd start with seniors citizens whom I know personally, or recommended by my friends. That way, I'd already have that implicit trust. It will also be easier to explain what I intend to do with this project, and what it involves.

(I mentioned about establishing trust in my USF talk; see Part 3).

Incidentally, I managed to videotape an interview with my father a few weeks ago. About his basket ball career in his younger days. I was surprised that he readily agreed to being on video. He'd only asked me one question -- why I wanted to do the video. I said I might enter it for a video project but it was more out of an interest about his life when he played basketball for Singapore. He was happy with that explanation.

#2 - Tell them why their story is worth telling the world
I'm generalising here, but my sense is that most senior citizens (of this generation) are even more private about their thoughts and experiences. Something that the younger generation may not fully appreciate.

But I think if they are convinced of why their story (not yours) is worth sharing with the world, then they'd be more willing to be interviewed.

How you go about convincing them, I guess it's an art :)

It would also help if there's a theme or topic to your documentary. Something to help them decide if there's a story worth telling.

#3 - Create a sample video
Create that demo video. I'd use it to show other senior citizens whom I intend to approach. If this is done well, I'm sure it will reinforce #1 and #2.

They might even help connect you to other senior citizens.

Self-reinforcing loop.


There are more than these three points to consider, depending on the understanding and comfort level of individuals you approach. For instance, whether you'll be publishing your documentary on the Internet, and if so, do they understand the implications of sharing content on that medium. Also, in any research project, there's that ethical aspects that researchers have to adhere to.

But unless it's formal research that you intend to do, I'd say keep things simple as a start. I believe if you do #1, #2, and #3 as a first step, that will help you refine the subsequent process and determine how complex or formal you wish your project to be.

OK Lis, I hope this helps. Feel free to email me at, or post your questions here.

Good luck, and do let me know how your documentary turns out.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Theremin... it's an instrument!

If it wasn't for Kevin's post and video, I wouldn't have learned what a Theremin was.

Here's a picture of a miniature version that Kevin bought and assembled.

Initially I thought the word (pronounced "Ther-re-min") referred to some animal or drug name!

Then after watching Kevin's enthusiastic (but at times noisy) attempt at playing his miniatured version of a Theremin, my curiosity was stoked and ended up watching several videos of Theremin performances in YouTube.

This one blew me away!

And when I thought that was it, this one made my jaws drop:

Beautiful control.

I delved into more YouTube videos and found this one that explained how a Theremin is operated:

And then I learned more about the principles behind how a Theremin works, from this video:

Check out this post, that links to this:
In 1919 Leon Theremin made an interesting instrument called the Theremin, it works a bit like a metal detector, and was the first musical instrument designed to be played without using your hands - here's how to make one from "Popular Electronics November 1967"

Now I can appreciate Kevin's fascination with a Theremin. His mini-version wouldn't be able to generate the smooth tone of the professional models. But perhaps with practice, he'd be able to play just as good as this person, who uses a mini-version as well:

Searching the NLB Catalogue quickly, I couldn't find any books that might explain how a Theremin works. But the library does have some Audio/ Visual materials on the subject.

As of this post, the items are mostly at the library@esplanade, and are mostly reference items.

Incidentally, this post is a case in point how resources like YouTube and Wikipedia really does impact on the use of public libraries. But I'll elaborate on this is for another post.

[Related "unusual" musical instrument I've blogged previously: Chapman Sticks (Sept 06)]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We need alternative (and renewable) energy sources... yesterday!

Read that crude oil prices have hit a new high -- like this article from Forbes (22 Apr 08, "Supply Scare Sends Oil Toward $120").
Supply Scare Sends Oil Toward $120 -

Coincidentally, I watched a documentary tonight on the History Channel, about Alternative Energy (this page gives a summary of what was covered in the programme; apparently there's a DVD too).

The Forbes article mentioned that the rise in oil price wasn't the result of oil alone; it was also a result of negative market sentiments due to a weakening US dollar and the drop in US home sales and prices.

But what's clear is how we're all affected by Energy issues.

I mean, most of us are dependent on crude oil related energy sources (the powerplant that runs on oil, that generates the electricity that powers the computer, that connects us to the Internet; the vehicles which we use to bring us to places, and brings food, goods and services to us).

So, are we going to just wait for another oil crisis like that in 1973 and 1979?

Nevermind what are the reasons for raising oil prices. It's a crisis when our lives are held hostage to one main energy source.

Thinking about all that made me dug up this link from I first learned of it in March 2007 (slightly more than a year ago):
Architectural Wind: Clean Energy, Birds Like It, Too
"... small 6.5-foot, 60-pound turbine... It's designed to mount on the top edge of a building, taking advantage of the unique aerodynamics of tall buildings, catching the wind after it's been funneled up the facade."

So, how about installing these on the roofs of buildings in our HBD blocks?

Power the lights. At least power the computers (store unused power in batteries). And how about the canopy being a solar panel?

Or maybe the rods could be concealed coolant hoses, to cool the air in the building. Used in conjunction with air-conditioning units, it might reduce the energy bills.

A few watts saved here and there. Multiply that by a million households, over a sustained period of time. Makes a heck of a lot of difference.

I'm no engineer. I don't know if the above ideas will work, let alone be economically viable.

Maybe schools should get their students to build and improve on Alternative Energy prototypes. Each new cohort will build or rebuild based on the versions and learning points from previous years. Some students may even bring these projects to the university education.

I see the Energy issue as one about investment for our futures, and generations that follow.

And of the planet.

Of which there's only one.

Even if "Saving the World" seems too airy-fairy for your taste, then think about what they advise about financial investments -- we should spread the risks by diversifying in more than one type of financial products/ market (or the English idiom that we're familiar with: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket").

More than twenty years ago, I read in my school textbooks about alternative energy. When I started working as a librarian more than ten years ago, students regularly came to the reference desk seeking resources for their school projects on "Alternative Energy".

Maybe for the next ten years or more, you and I will still be talking about the need for alternative energy sources.

We'll continue to say "We need alternative energy sources, tomorrow."

But what if one day, we come to the inevitable state where "tomorrow" was "yesterday". We can't travel back in time to make things right.

Even if Time Travel is possible, it'll probably take a whole lot of energy to power the device.

The irony would be that we can't get enough power to run the damn thing.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Songcraft celebrates its First Year Anniversary

Congratulations to Songcraft on its First Year Anniversary.
Songcraft 1st Year Anniversary

Actually it's about a week short of a full year since the first meetup (not that it mattered).

Jeremy and Kah Loong decided to spice things up a little by holding the session "under the stars", at Fort Canning Park. The place was humid, given the exceptionally warm weather for the past few weeks. But Jeremy ensured we were as comfortable as possible by buying straw mats, mosquito coils, florescent lamps.

Songcraft 1st Year Anniversary Songcraft 1st Year Anniversary
Songcraft 1st Year Anniversary Songcraft 1st Year Anniversary
Songcraft 1st Year Anniversary

I could peek at the moon above the tree canopy; tendrils of smoke from the mosquito coils fanned by the occasional breeze; the croaking of the bull frogs as musical accompaniment to performances of original compositions: there were instances when I thought we'd retreated to some magical realm.

Ended with a birthday song, with a delicious birthday cake.
Songcraft 1st Year Anniversary

Congrats, Songcraft.

And well done, Jeremy.

[Afterthoughts: As I commented at this post, what’s significant was how some members have gone from no practical knowledge of how to 'record/ edit/ arrange/ share their songs digitally' to being able to do all that AND complete several collaborative songs with one another, mostly done digitally also. It's a very real, tangible and measurable progress of how far the group has come.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Three new NLB websites

Just launched today.

From this one single website...
National Library Board, Singapore

... to these three dedicated websites:

The NLB corporate site -
National Library Board, Singapore

National Library website -
"The National Library website is the web presence of the National Library and its statutory, heritage, advocacy and service functions. It aims to be a trusted source of knowledge, particularly with regards to content relating to, or originating from Singapore."
National Library, Singapore

The Public Library Website -
"The Public Library website is the online presence of the network of public libraries in Singapore. It aims to provide, promote and enhance the use of public library resources and services."
PL dot SG mainpage

It may surprise (confuse?) many people that the "National Library" and the "Public Library" isn't the same.

Singapore is one of the few countries whose National Library and the Public Library system are managed by one entity. In most countries, these two systems are managed separately and serve different purposes.

I found this page from the "Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science" (published in 1978), where it sheds some light on how Singapore's National and Public Library system was setup:
Encyclopedia of Library and ... - Google Book Search

The new distinct sites serve to emphasise such a difference.

I'll blog more about the services and features in the new Public Library website, in another post.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Post-talk reflections: "Beyond Digital Literacy" - Catholic High School, 10 April 2008

There is an on-going need to educate students on the finer points of discerning information from Internet sources, as I observed from my talk to the entire cohort of Secondary Two level boys at Catholic High School, last Thursday (10 Apr 2008).

I was asked to give a talk to the students, as a follow-up to an eLearning course the school had signed-up for them.

Since I had 30 to 45 minutes with them, I decided against repeating what their eLearning course might already have covered. So I decided to emphasise on two main themes:
  • Being a smart user of information (by verifying information; how they can ask questions the smart way)
  • Being a smart Producer of information using New Media (another perspective on why they should verify information that they publish)

Right at the start, I asked if they thought this site was the real White House page (got the site idea from a colleague, btw).

There were murmurs of Yes and No.

I picked two students to comment.

First boy said it was a fake site (some of his peers exclaimed disbelief). I asked him why. Because the URL was a "ORG" and not "GOV", he said. OK, he's on the right track. Other than the URL, I asked him to point out other clues that led him to believe this was not the official White House website. He said no.

The second boy also said the same thing (he sounded more unsure, actually).

So I told them they had to look at more than the URL. For instance, the description and the contentious nature of the articles. And, they had to look at more than one source.

Next I showed them this Wikipedia entry about their school (some seemed surprised to see an entry of their school in Wikipedia).

I asked who didn't use Wikipedia. Only three boys in the back raised their hands. I asked if it was because their teacher didn't allow them to and they nodded yes. Heh.

I said there was nothing wrong in using Wikipedia (and that I found it a useful and accurate resource so far). But they should always make a point by verifying with other sources. I said the Smart Information User would crosscheck with their own school website.

That led to me speak for the next 20 minutes on attributes of Smart information users, why it was necessary to verify information, how they should act as smart Information Producers.

I covered some new media tools and emphasised on their responsibility as content producers as well.

When asked how many had their own blogs, about half of the room (150 out of 300?) feebly raised their hands (feebly, I guess because they were halfhearted about letting their teachers know?)

Here's an excerpt of the slides (including selected Web 2.0. tools that I thought would be relevant to the students):

Near the end I showed them this video - Think Before You Post:

The room fell silent. Not a peep.

They were TOTALLY absorbed in the video.

After the video I quickly added that it wasn't to scare them away from posting content online. The point was the THINK before they do anything.

My closing remarks to them was that they, as the generation who will grow up with these tools, will probably use these tools as a matter of fact. And they will take these tools and their ability to create and publish content (text, video, pictures, whatever) for granted.

But it's not whether they know about the tools. Or even if they are using it per se.

It's their ability to create meaningful content.

Their content may not always be entertaining.

But they must always strive to be credible.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kankakee Public Library asks "How Wiki should our Wiki be?"

I've mentioned before how the folks at Kankakee Public Library (Chicago, Illinois) have consistently impressed me with their Web 2.0. forays like blogs and podcasts.

And now they (specifically Steve) have plans for a wiki:
Often, our reference and genealogy staff uncover some fascinating tidbit of information, only to have it sent off to the questioner, never to be seen again. I thought this an incredible waste of our talents: hence KanWiki. The question is how wiki should our wiki be. The coward's way would be to try to lock down and control every article, lest some online vandal write something unflattering in an alderman's article.
The main concern is about vandalism to the wiki entries. Read the rest of Steve's thoughts, here.

Steve may already be scouting for a wiki, or in the midst of creating one on their server. For while there may be skepticism about dealing with wiki-vandals effectively, Steve says their library is willing to try.

I left them this comment, citing my experience with the Singapore Social Media Directory.

I'll also add here that instead of worrying about vandalism to the wiki, libraries should assume there WILL be a minority who intends to do just that. And then prepare accordingly.

Perhaps recruit a pool of library volunteers who will help monitor updates to KanWiki. Provide the volunteers with tools and knowledge on how to monitor the wiki (e.g. RSS and/ or email notifications).

All that aside...

What's more important is that before starting any initiative (nevermind Web 2.0. or otherwise), its purpose and "Why" must be clear.

For the proposed KanWiki, it's crystal clear to me.

[Keyphrase: Kankakee Public Library]

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Announcement: The Garageband Meetup Group, Singapore

ANNOUNCEMENT: If you're in Singapore and you're interested in networking with fellow GarageBand/ Digital Music enthusiasts:

Join this group:
GarageBand Meetup Singapore | Google Groups

And/ or read updates at this blog:
About « Ga Meetup Singapore

Or if you're more active in Facebook, join the Facebook group (you have to be part of the Singapore Network though):
Facebook | GarageBand Meetup Singapore

I've had the idea for starting a GarageBand meetup group about a month ago. After sounding out the folks at Media Socialists about the idea, I received enough encouragement to go ahead.

Which I did.

Vanessa was the first to blog about it. A reader of her blog immediately started a discussion first at her blog post, and then at the group (details here).

The group has 17 members as of this post. Apart from four or five members, I don't know the rest personally. I'm hoping to organise a meetup soon, and meet some of the members in person.

In my mind, the GarageBand Singapore Meetups would be conducted like the meetups I've attended. Like Songcraft, the Ruby Brigade and WebSG, where participants gave informal presentations and just got to know each other better. Highly informal and informative stuff going on.

First thing was to start a mailing list.

Then the blog, as an additional publicity channel for people to find the group. Later, I started the Facebook group with a similar intent.

Starting the platforms was the easy part. Then not-so-easy part was in publicising and getting the relevant people interested.

Submitting to was one way to get the word out. And emailing to friends and selected mailing lists. When I spotted the right people in Gmail Chat, I'd invite them to join the group as well (see this and this).

I wasn't sure who would be interested in such meetups. But the beauty of using free online tools is that if the idea doesn't work out, the startup costs are negligible or almost nil (other than your own time).

I guess starting the GarageBand Meetup Group was a natural convergence of my professional/ personal interests in (1) creating social spaces in public libraries, (2) experimenting with digital and social mediums, and (3) making Digital Music as a hobby.

I've had my Macbook Pro since May 2006. I decided to get a Mac because I wanted to be proficient in using another computer that's not Windows-based. And I'd heard about GarageBand and thought it would be a practical way to continue with my music-making hobby.

I didn't start using GarageBand right away. I was learning how to find my way around a Mac. Then about a week later, I decided I was ready for GarageBand and started with the Apple online tutorials. And came up with this (entirely from GarageBand loops).

After slightly less than two years, and three music albums later, it occurred to me that I should seek out other GarageBand enthusiasts in Singapore.

I've not organised a meetup yet. Soon, I think, in a month or two. Most certainly in a library. One idea is that each session, perhaps 30 minutes would be devoted to trying out stuff (e.g. tutorials, features in GarageBand) from related books and magazines found in the library.

There must be a sociological explanation to this (my starting this new group).

Over time, I think I'm probably less contented with just my individual progress in creating music digitally. It's not about creating a larger audience base. It's about sustaining one's interest by seeking out more like-minded people.

A simplistic way to look at it would be to make more friends, though a self-selective process from members (i.e. similar interests).

It's apparent to me how social software is making all this person-to-person networking so easy. One hardly stops to ponder about it (just like how we don't think twice about how electricity works).

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Molly", the NLB Mobile Library Bus

Meet "Molly", NLB's Mobile Library Bus. Conceived about two years ago and launched today, on 3 Apr 2008.
Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly the Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus

Check out this time-lapse video of Molly's refurbishment (it's a 14-year old public transport bus from SBS, given a fresh lease of life):

Singapore had a mobile library service in the 1960s. At that time, there were only three library branches in the system (two public libraries and one National Library). The mobile library service of the 1960s was a means to bring library materials to more Singaporeans throughout the island. The mobile library service was retired around the late 1970s or early 1980s early 1990s, when more library branches were constructed in the HDB heartlands.

Today, the mobile library service is back again. Specifically, its aim is to reach the under-served (e.g. children's homes, orphanages, special needs schools), who for various reasons are unable to make their way to the 20 plus library branches that we have today.

Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus

Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus

Inside the bus:
  • Books (3,000 items)
  • One Borrowing Station
  • Two service counters
  • One e-Kiosk
Molly the Mobile Library Bus

Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus

Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus

Its wireless-enabled systems allow library transactions to be carried out where the bus goes. For most of Molly's outreach events, librarians would tag along to provide storytelling sessions, skits, arts and crafts activities, an onsite Advisory service etc.

The Pathlight School was chosen as the launch site for Molly.
Molly - Mobile Library Bus

The school is the "first autism-focused school in Singapore that offers the mainstream academic curriculum, together with life readiness skills". More about the school, here.

In conjunction with the Molly's launch, an art competition was held for Pathlight students:
Molly - Mobile Library Bus

Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus Molly - Mobile Library Bus

This was a winner for the Upper Primary category. My colleagues and I had a laugh when we took a closer look at the drawing. It says, "I like to draw on the books". Not library books, we hope! LOL
Molly - Mobile Library Bus

This piece proudly says, "I love Science Fiction".
Molly the Mobile Library Bus

Yeah, my kind of reader!

The NLB project team also produced a build-your-own Molly paper cut-out kit.
Molly the Mobile Library Bus

The completed paper kit:
Molly - Mobile Library Bus

Pretty good resemblance, I think :)
Molly - Mobile Library Bus

[UPDATE: More posts about Molly from OLKGAL, here and here]

Additional details about Molly, from the NLB Media Release:
NLB launches prototype mobile library service to offer a taste of what its libraries can offer to underserved groups. Public will be able to sample the library experience with targeted collections of over 3,000 books, electronic transaction facilities and library programmes.

SINGAPORE, 3 April 2008 – The National Library Board (NLB) today launched a prototype mobile library service that brings the library experience to the underserved to encourage them to become active users of the public libraries. The prototype mobile library comes in the form of a bus named “Molly, the Mobile Library”. Institutions and organisations such as children’s homes, orphanages, special education schools and selected primary schools are some of the places Molly will visit to promote reading and lifelong learning.

“With the support of our partners, The Enterprise Challenge, SBS Transit Ltd, NEC Asia Pte Ltd, Advance Interactive Technologies Pte Ltd and Wavex Technologies Pte Ltd, we hope that Singaporeans who have so far been unable to use our public libraries will now be able to develop a passion for reading through Molly,” said Dr N. Varaprasad, Chief Executive, National Library Board.

The service reaches out to underserved groups with over 3,000 customised books during each visit, based on the user profile of the target audience at the destination. While onboard, patrons can perform electronic transactions such as the borrowing of books, checking of personal loan information and payment of fees and charges via Ez-link. Where space is available on-site, a variety of programmes typically offered at public libraries will also be included in Molly’s visit to allow patrons to sample the library experience. These could consist of activity-based workshops such as art workshops and/or performance and edu-tainment such as magic shows and music performances.

In the sixties, mobile library services were introduced to help ease the overwhelming demand for the services at the main building in Stamford Road. Now, Molly, the Mobile Library, returns to deliver library books, facilities and programmes to entice potential users and attract underserved groups NLB’s network of 22 public libraries around the island for their lifelong learning needs.

Institutions or organisations interested for Molly to visit them can email their request to NLB at