Saturday, November 10, 2012

Post-workshop notes: Creating Digital Music 101: GarageBand

[Sat, 10 Nov 2012]

Nine people turned up (there was a cap of 12; heard it rained heavily so maybe some opted to stay home?)

Nine was a nice number. I sensed the average age was around late 20s to early thirties. Heh, it's nice to know as an 'uncle' in my 40s, I'm teaching the young'uns something.

What the session covered:

  • Hour 1: Getting to know GB; learning the basics
  • Hour 2: Composing your own track/ Some ‘audio production’ tips
  • Hour 3: Continue + Showcase

Demo of a track composed in GB.

Musical concepts - “Bars”, “patterns”, “Even counts”
Layering concept - like photoshop

Pair up - check with a “musical buddy for the day”

Opening a new GB project (file names, tempo)

The GB environment and controls
File menu, add tracks, LCD, Loops, Instruments
Shortcut Keys - Copy, Paste, Undo, Redo, Zoom in/ Out

Preferences panel

Using loops to create music - 20mins
Change tempo
Drag loops into workspace
Extend loops
Edit - Split/ cut/ copy

Instruments - 20mins
Experiment with different instruments
Musical Typing
Changing MIDI notes

Individual Track controls

Effects (“i” Edit)

Audio Production tweaks



Before we started, I asked what were they wanted to take away from this session. Most had their Macs for a while but never quite learned how to use GarageBand.

About a third played some form of instruments. Most were piano players (interesting!)

Going round I saw everyone actively building their tracks.

What I tried not to do was overwhelm them by whacking all I knew from the past seven years and seven albums, since I picked up a Mac (woah, seven already?)

I let each participant copy a GarageBand sampler (composed the day earlier) and let them attempt a remix. The sampler (aptly titled TenElevenTwelve) sounds like this:

They didn't seem overwhelmed. Plenty of time to play around. Nice arranges tracks too; these folks have good musical timing.

Three hours was a good duration. Class size of ten was excellent; probably 20 would be fine with an assistant.

One tech problems: The rental MacBook didnt have the latest GarageBand version. Wasnt able to drag and drop loops. Luckily while the software update was in progress, one participant readily volunteered his Mac until the update was completed.

Planned for everything (extra power extensions, making sure we nailed down the screen resolution; a 'live' dry run with my colleagues before this public session) except that one. Must make mental note.

When I was mulling over the session on the train, I asked myself why I liked to share and teach.

On one hand, it means putting myself in the firing line, where participants have a range of expectations. Even of the session is a free one, I don't believe it's an excuse to waste people's time.

On the other, there's something immensely satisfying in seeing people give that nod of understanding, or outwardly thanking for having gained insights.

I wonder if it's an affirmation of my own self worth. Maybe, though I can find other ways to satisfy my ego.

Oh, I ended up conducting this workshop because the Public Library was running a series of Arts related programmes. Mooted the idea of a digital music workshop to a colleague, she liked it, and I volunteered to run it.

Coincidentally it was held on a 10.11.12

Hmm, if nine people turned up, that meant


Creating digital music 101 - using GarageBand

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Soon-to-be-released: My 2012 Creative Commons project: post-rock themed digital music album

My band mates, with a guest collaborator, started working on a few tracks around Jan this year. Through the usual (for us) way of passing ideas and MP3 files over email.

Last month, when it sunk in that 2012 would be the 10th global birthday celebrations for Creative Commons, we wanted our album to be a gift to the movement.

Our DIY digital album will be published over this weekend.

This evening, we completed the final piece of the musical project: the album cover.

Here are the designs I developed over two evenings:

1. "deca"

2. "TEN"

3. "DEKA"

A few hours ago, the band -- with our guest collaborator, urmymuse, who is from halfway around the globe -- have agreed on a majority vote on design No. 3, "DEKA".

The album has 10 tracks, for CC's 10th birthday this year, slated for October.

A 10-10-10 combo.

So what's with the title and "tens"?

The Backstory
My first album design looked like this (created two nights ago):
My amateur attempt at a #CreativeCommons 10th Birthday logo

It was passable as a symbol or logo. But somehow it didn't quite cut it as an album cover. Looked too cold; too detached. The opposite of what our music represented.

So I wondered about the etymology for "decade". That led to my discovering the term "deca", which was Latin for "the combining form for 'Ten'": "decapod", "decasyllabic", "decathlon", "decametre"...

Multiples of ten.


But I wondered if it might be too subtle or indirect for people to catch on.

No harm in posting the question in Facebook. Kind of expecting zero comments, so I was really surprised to get plenty of good ideas and useful comments from my Facebook contacts. Thanks folks!

All things considered, "deca" was quite appropriate.

I used Keynote on my iPad to piece together a few ideas. Ended up using Keynote as my "photoshop"!

Within hours of the Facebook comments and doodling in the iPad, I managed to churn out design No. 1.

Emailed that off to Adrian, I-Ling and urmymuse. Explained the concept to them. And hoped they would agree. Or at least, no violent objections from them.

Adrian was first to give "deca" his approval. Next was urmymuse, who added that the Greek spelling (deka) was preferred but it wouldn't be something to "die in a ditch" for (LOL).

By that time, I also preferred DEKA over DECA. Particularly after considering the Facebook comments. For one, "deca" might lead to some people subconsciously associating it with "decay" or "decadence" -- unrelated words, no doubt but still might prove distracting rather than adding to the album's intrigued.

I churned out designs no.s 2 and 3, and emailed to the band. Promised this would be the last iteration (any more options and it would be counterproductive).

Our vocalist, I-Ling, liked DEKA too.

So that was that.

All ten tracks have been mastered, bounced; the uncompressed files sitting in my hard disk (backed up, for sure) waiting to be prepped with metadata (I use iTunes for that).

It'll be a public holiday this Friday. That would give me time to publish the album this weekend.

Musical Musings
The album will be pretty niche. Limited audience etc.

It's perhaps best described as "almost progressive meditative pop post-rock".

Whatever it might be called, it's our labour of love.

A musician friend once asked me if I composed music for others or for myself. I guessed as much that it was his polite way of saying my musical compositions didn't quite fit a certain accepted standard or norm.

It was an excellent question that he'd asked.

Made me reflect.

It reinforced in my mind that I choose to create music for myself.

That's not to say I'll refuse to learn and improve or accept constructive criticisms. For sure I'd like to perfect this particular craft.

But I don't have to set undue pressure for myself, on when I should "reach perfection". When much younger, I used to think that. For instance, I felt I needed to be able to reach a certain level of technical prowess on the guitar.

Decades later, my views have shifted. It's less about what I can make the guitar do.

It's not about one particular instrument anymore.

I'm interested in making music, using whatever skills and abilities (and equipment) that I have incrementally gained from each musical project; from creating each musical track.

If the world cares to listen to what I share, that's a bonus.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What would be the 50 objects that represent Singapore to you?

Back in September, a friend pointed me to this NYT article about a project in New York City that asked historians and museum curators to name 50 objects that could "embody the narrative of New York".

A History of New York in 50 Objects -

Top of the New York list was a Mastodon tusk. The 50th item was something called a "Meng Political Sign, 2012".

The former referred to the first recorded discovery of mastodon remains in 1858, in a borough in New York city.

The latter turned out to be a political campaign poster of a Ms Grace Meng. She won the Democratic Congressional nomination in Queens borough. That tidbit was a segway to how the city's residents of Asian origin exceeded one million for the first time, as recorded in the 2010 Census.

Inspired by the British Museum's 100 Objects
That project in New York was inspired by the British Museum’s BBC radio series and book, “A History of the World in 100 Objects".

Item One on the British Museum's list was the Mummy of Hornedjitef. The 100th item was a Solar Powered Lamp and Charger.

BBC - A History of the World - About - British Museum - 100 Objects

Detractors might say that was rather presumptuous of any institution to claim that their collections definitively represented "The World's" history. Equally arguable would be that the 100th item should have been a MP3 player or Xbox (dare I say, iPhone?) rather than a solar-powered lamp and charger.


I found the concept of a "100 objects" listing -- one that symbolically represent a certain perspective of the world -- a refreshing one. Got to give it to the Brits for such a simple and innovative way to curate and present items from their Museum's collection (notwithstanding the joke about Colonial British plundering and shipping back treasures from all around the globe).

The British Museum has also created an interactive visual browse page (Flash-based), based on time and filtering by other facets.

BBC - A History of the World - Contributor - The British Museum

People's History
The New York example wanted to make their's "a people’s history", to allow for individual perspectives rather than form a definitive list (as implied by the British example):
The “History of the World” was limited to objects in the British Museum’s collection. Like that list, ours “can only be a history” and “not the history.” And because it is a people’s history, we are inviting participation. Tell us what objects represent New York City to you in the comments section.

The New Yorkers invited public comments after an initial list from historians and museum curators. The British Museum didn't solicit public contributions it seemed.

I think to truly make it a "people's list", everyone should be given a chance to create their own right from the start.

A Singapore "100 objects" list?
The article instantly captured my imagination, since the Singapore Memory Project occupied a large part of my work time (and maybe off work too).

I wondered what a "50 objects that represent Singapore's History" would look like. I posted this on Facebook, inviting FB contacts to also name 50 objects they consider to be representative of Singapore's history.

What "A history of Singapore in 50 objects" might look like

Didn't get very far with that. For what it's worth here's the list, thanks to the contributions from some FB friends (objects are not in any order of importance):
  1. Ivan Chew - Rubber seed (I'm thinking of Sir Henry Nicholas Ridley)
  2. Walter Lim - A pair of spectacles since we're the most bespectacled nation in the world.
  3. Chon Hsing Ng - Air conditioner to symbolise how SG has had to artificially creates my things eg beach, jungle, water, etc
  4. Low Hei Chin - Four stones.
  5. Hikaru Teo - the rediffusion tabletop radio
  6. Dex Khor - A rotan.
  7. Bernadette Daly-Swanson - Definitely Pierre Balmain's iconic kebaya and sarong for SIA... Had one made when I was there in 2009. I need to come back for IFLA!
  8. Ivan Chew - Adrian Tan's Teenage Textbook
  9. Adrian Tan - Chicken rice
  10. Dex Khor - The Ultimax 100 SAW. Sold to Bosnia with pride!
  11. Alec Ng - Add the merlion...
  12. (Alec Ng)... newater
  13. (Alec Ng)... and the document on the proclamation of independence for Singapore.
  14. Bernadette Daly-Swanson - National Library Board Singapore
  15. Ivan Chew - Sintercom
  16. Low Hei Chin - ... Stamps and coins from that represent significant events / moments in our history? First day covers? I can only think of dinky toys or toy soldiers (Deetail) that depict WWII.
  17. Hikaru Teo - Well the banana note would be a notable representation of life during the Japanese Occupation.
  18. Ivan Chew - The POSB logo!
  19. Regina De Rozario - I've just gotten into reading excerpts and commentaries on the correspondence between Raffles and Farquhar and I would add the letter written by Farquhar after he was dismissed by Raffles (for not following the latter's town plan and vision to a T).
  20. Low Hei Chin - Our national flower!
  21. Ivan Chew - The Tembusu tree. Cos it appears on our $5 note.
  22. Ivan Chew - Teamy the Productivity Bee.
  23. Ivan Chew - Singa the Courtesy Lion.
  24. Ivan Chew - The SAF Reservist Booklet (now defunct).
  25. Low Hei Chin - Singapore Sling

Ok, 25 items isn't bad. Some items were totally off my consciousness until others mentioned it. Like the Singapore-made Ultimax 100 Section Assault Weapon (SAW).

Some objects -- like the 'rotan' (i.e. cane) -- encapsulates so many things past and present: parental methods in bringing up children, school discipline, criminal code and the penal system, a national event (remember Michael Fay?).

I'm sure each of us can come up with our own list of 50 items. Or at least 20 items easily.

New items would make it to the list, as per recent events. I can think of Amy Cheong. Ok, technically not an "object" (I'm sure you know I didn't mean to say she's an object) but what the heck, it's a 'people's list'. We could flexibly cover Events, People, Places in the same list or separately if we choose.

If there's a representative number of people creating such a list, what I'm really, really interested is to analyse the choice of items on the combined list. The list could reflect the success of certain national brands or campaigns. Missing items might shed light on what else we might need to do (e.g. what if no artwork or artist make it to anyone's list?)

Analysing an aggregation of lists might reveal the psyche of individual citizens. And quite likely our psyche as a nation.

Update - New items to the list:

[18 Oct 2012, items 26-29]
26. Low Hei Chin - Meant to write this earlier but did not get around to doing it. How about those khong Guan biscuits with a colorful icing sugar on top?

27. Adrian Tan - I wanted to say, "Kelong!" I think it is unique to Singapore.

28. Peter Pak - Interesting read- can I add Singapore Chinese girls school as an one. It was the first girl school at a time when more forward looking men wanted to reform the social education of girls beyond being home bound

29. @JustinZhuang - Anti-Littering man!

[19 Oct 2012, items 30-32]
30. Dave Chua - I think it's also important to pick out items that show key moments of Singapore in transition. The last copy of the original New Nation newspaper...

31. ...A citizen pass for the casinos.

32. ... WP 2012 flag.

(Folks, feel free to add to the list by commenting. Even if it exceeds 50)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book review: "Praying to the goddess of mercy: A memoir of mood swings"

There is power in knowing a name.

When it comes to an illness, knowing what it is called allows for some measure of rationality. We can start making sense of it and adopt ways to cope.

Praying to the goddess of mercy: A memoir of mood swings/
Mahita Vas

ISBN: 9789814358910
Book cover: Praying to the goddess of mercy: A memoir of mood swings/ Mahita Vas
Cover image - All Rights Reserved: Monsoon Books

The term "Bipolar Disorder" (or the cruder term, "Manic Depressive Psychosis") has always been merely words to me. I mean, I understand what it is from reading definitions and articles. But I think nothing becomes real until we associate it with someone or something that we can relate.

If I come across the term again, I would think of this 200-plus page story, and a woman named Mahita Vas.

About a month ago, a representative of Monsoon Books Publishing emailed me to ask if I would like to review a copy of "Praying To The Goddess Of Mercy". The mail briefly described what the book was about:
"Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of forty-two, Mahita survived suicidal mood swings, flourished in her career and raised a family while battling the mental disorder.

Throughout her career as a flight attendant with SIA, then as a high-flying advertising industry executive with companies such as BMW, Ogilvy, Four Seasons and L’Oreal, the author led a volatile life: sometimes blissfully and enviably contented, at other times screaming like a lunatic.

Set in Singapore, Praying To The Goddess Of Mercy charts Mahita’s journey from chaos to stability. Ultimately, the memoir is about being true to oneself and having the courage to take charge in the pursuit of happiness."

I was intrigued and said OK to the book review request. The book came in the mail. I took about three days to read it from cover to cover.

Book cover: Praying to the goddess of mercy: A memoir of mood swings/ Mahita Vas

The short-take: It's pretty good stuff. As a memoir, the author came across as credible and honest, without being self-indulgent. As a book about Bipolar Disorder, it's insightful with specific and personal examples of discovering and coping (or at times, not being able to) with the illness. The writing is crisp. The flow was good, such that I was easily led from page to page all the way till the end.

Here's a longer take:

From reading similar works about people living with mental illness (biographical or otherwise), there seems a rough pattern to their experiences: Normalcy, Uncertainty (of what is plaguing them), Diagnosis/ Discovery, Rejection/ Fear, Acceptance.

In a way, I expected this book to be no different. So what could be new or insightful, I wondered.

After the first few pages, it was clear there is always something new, something different and insightful when it comes to reading about another person's journey in living with an illness.

It also occurred to me that most of us would ONLY bother to find out more about a medical condition when it directly affects us, or a close family member or friend.

In a way, this book has personified Bipolar Disorder for me.

It came across as a coming-of-age personal story about discovering and living with that medical condition.

As the author writes: “It was a life changing revelation to learn there was an explanation and a name for my unusual behaviour.” (Chapter 13, p232)

In some ways, I thought her story was also of how others in her life -- particularly her husband and her children -- have had to deal with her illness, before she was diagnosed.

By the end of the book, I had the impression this was someone who had come to terms with her situation and herself. Bipolar Disorder, as explained in the book, is not something that can be cured. It cannot be prevented but it can be treated.

Back in the 1980s, when the author was in her teens, mental illness was something that was even less discussed or publicly acknowledged. The stigma of having a mental disorder was a much stronger one.

Her symptoms of Bipolar Disorder included extreme mood swings -- periods of energy, happiness and invincibility and then inexplicably of sadness, over-reactive outbursts and rages. Even feelings of being unconcerned about death.

She described several specific incidents where she raged out of control, for situations that did not seem to warrant the severity of the anger. After the violent outburst, she would feel a sense of guilt and remorse. She described episodes of self-loathing for not being able to control how she has acted.

Those episodes were initially accepted as part of her personality (bad temper and unpredictable nature) and a normal life cycle.

A breakthrough came when she decided to consult a psychiatrist. Things did not go smoothly for her. The demands of work, family and managing an illness took its toil. It did not help that she decided to adjust the dosage of medication on her own.

Chapter 9 talked about her suicide attempt. Her husband got to her in time. Reading about his response was a poignant and touching moment (hat-tip to Bob there). One of the best lines in the book was what her husband mildly reminded/ rebuked her of the consequences of taking one's own life: “The minute you become a parent, you revoke the right to think about yourself.”

There is frequent mention of the support from her husband and her children. Once again, this book testifies to the need and importance of support and understanding from family, friends and colleagues when one is coping with an illness.

I appreciated how Mahitas Vas did not make excuses for herself nor subject the reader to a self-indulgent confession. Even after a confirmed diagnosis, she wondered just how much of her outbursts were due to her illness and how much was a lack of self-discipline. The last chapter of the book scratched just a little of the surface of this question.

The book would be great for a book discussion. In reading this memoir, I had vague echos of Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" going on in my head. In dealing with an illness, there seems to be natural themes of Consciousness and Choice. Something that I thought Finding Ben also dealt with.

I thought this book was a good read.

We read life stories like this, to remind ourselves that there is always some measure of choice over one’s ‘fate’.

Monsoon Books is officially launching the book on 24 Sept, Oct 2012. The e-book is already out on

The author has a website and Facebook page.

Monsoon Books - New title: Praying to the Goddess of Mercy

[Note: this is an unpaid review.]

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Remixing Romeo & Juliet

Came across this graphic-novel adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play.

Romeo & Juliet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels), by Matt Wiegle.
ISBN: 9781411498747

I’ve never read Romeo & Juliet because it was not one of my literature text in school. Well... how many of us would voluntarily read Shakespeare?

What I knew about Romeo and Juliet (other than them being the most famous couple in human lore) was that both lovers killed themselves in the end. One tends to get bits and pieces -- most likely the death scene -- from movie adaptions and mentions.

This adaption was a fun read. Part of the fun was discovering different interpretative layers to this Shakespearean play. This play seem ripe for re-makes, remixes and adaptions (as Shakespeare no doubt did the same).

The popular mental model of Romeo and Juliet is that they are star-crossed lovers, innocent in their affections and simply caught up in a family feud.

However, a 'dark' version might go like this:
Romeo could have been a fickle knave and not that innocent a guy. He was simply fooling around with Juliet. His suicide was more of a self-inflicted accident, due to misinformation and bad timing. In a similar vein, Juliet might could have been a manipulative girl who hooked up with Romeo as a way to get back at her father, for forcing her on whom she could marry. Let's not forget Friar Lawrence, who are the lover's go-between in the play. Maybe he was being blackmailed into helping them. Romeo has a hold on him because of a certain scandalous matter, perhaps.

Here's my slightly unorthodox look at the Romeo and Juliet story, with possible variations of a possible 'dark' backstory thrown in:


The Montagues (Romeo’s family) and the Capulets (Juliet’s) were two rich and powerful families in the city of Verona in Renaissance Italy. Basically, the two households cannot stand each other and fights would be started in the streets.

The first hint of Romeo possessing that wishy-washy fickleness was his pandering over an unrequited love -- a Rosaline, who never quite appeared in person. Romeo professed how his life was a misery since he wasn't able to obtain Rosaline's favour. But he dropped Rosalind like she never existed, after he saw Juliet.

Romeo and his friends had disguised themselves and gate-crashed a Capulet dinner party. That was how he met Juliet and she instantly became The One for him. Lust at first sight, or so it seemed to me.

Romeo then started to woo Juliet by sneaking into the Capulet family home grounds at night, making his way to under Juliet’s balcony.

What a charmer, that Romeo! Or perhaps Juliet was bored and sought a way to amuse herself. Just stringing Romeo along.

Oh yes, there seemed to be a lot of sneaking around thereafter.

Romeo and Juliet then got themselves married secretly, with the help of Romeo’s friend Friar Lawrence.

But on that same day when they got married in secret, Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) ends up being killed by Romeo in a revenge-fight. All because Tybalt picked a fight and sneakily killed Mercuto (Romeo’s friend).

That very day, Romeo was banished by the Prince of Verona. Punishment for the clan duel and murder. Juliet was heartbroken to learn of the death of her cousin and the banishment of her still-secret husband.

Prior to Romeo’s leaving his city, he managed to sneak into Juliet’s room and spent the night there. All with the help of Juliet’s nurse. After that, Romeo leaves for his place of banishment.

The plot thickens when Juliet’s father made hasty plans to marry his only daughter to a nobleman, Count Paris. The father does not know of Romeo (or one could imagine he'd heard rumours of his daughter's indiscretions and was trying to control further damage).

When he told Juliet about the marriage decision, Juliet gave him a seemingly smarmy response about non-marriage. She did not tell him about Romeo or of her secret marriage.

Her father launched into a rage furious (Juliet came across as rather snarky). He issued an ultimatum: marry Count Paris or be disowned.

That forced Juliet's hand. She sought Friar Lawrence’s help. The friar gave Juliet a concoction that would allow her to fake death. The dosage was timed such that by the time her corpse was interred into the family crypt, she would be revived. The friar would pass a message to Romeo, so that he could sneak Juliet away.

As Romeo was out of town (banished, remember?) the friar got someone to deliver Romeo a letter.

So, Juliet drank the mix (talk about guts) and appeared dead on her wedding day to Count Paris (poor man, the count). Her father spared no expense preparing for her wedding ceremony, only to find her dead (her poor parents!)

Up till that point, the plan seemed a solid one.

But then the first sign of a SNAFU -- the letter never made it to Romeo. Due to a quarantine from a suspected plague outbreak, the delivery person didn't pass the secret message to Romeo.

What Romeo received was news from his family servant that Juliet was dead. He rushed off to see his beloved, not knowing what Juliet and the friar had planned. He bought poison, planning to die at her side.

Unexpectedly Count Paris showed up at the tomb that night. He caught Romeo attempting a tomb break-in.

They dueled.

Romeo killed the Count. Wow, for a supposedly naive romantic dude, Romeo was quite the fighter!

He then carried the Count’s body into the tomb, said his final words to Juliet, and drank the poison.

“Thus with a kiss I die.”

And so he died, that Romeo.

The friar arrived and discovered the carnage. Juliet woke at that time as well (amazingly no ill-effects from drinking the pseudo-poison). The friar was unable to persuade Juliet to leave. He fled instead.

Juliet famously plunged the dagger into herself: “Oh happy knife, this is your sheath! Rust there and let me die.”

The friar didn't get very far. He was caught fleeing the scene. He spilled everything and revealed all in front of the Prince of Verona and both fathers of the two dead lovers.

The two heartbroken old men, rebuked by the prince, made up on the spot. They swore their families would never fight again.

A seemingly happy ending to a tragic sequence of events.

Though, in the 'dark' version, I think there wouldn't really be a real reconciliation. Before the Prince of Verona intervened, there would be an all-out war between the Montagues and the Capulets (ala Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather). Total blood bath.


Might as well be consistent with a 'dark' theme, right? Oh, Hollywood what have you done to me? Heh.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Have you ever had the office go silent on you?

It happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was in meeting at an open area within the office floor. At first there was ambient noise with other colleagues in their cubicles speaking, typing.

My meeting got heated. A few colleagues, including myself, got pretty loud in saying how a recent internal work process was making things less productive rather than more (details aren't important; I can't share them anyway).

Moments later, I realised the office went quiet.

I had mixed feelings of righteous anger and embarrassment. I guess it was the realisation that we had called attention to ourselves.

The problem with verbal outbursts is that people around me won't grasp the full context. They are likely to remember that I was the one who got angry. Not good for my image, I thought.

I once read that only passionate workers get angry. If they don't it means they don't care.

When other colleagues have been rather exuberant in expressing their resentment (either at me or not) I take it in stride. In some case, I assure them it's OK to have that outburst, in private was preferred. The rationale is that it's a privilege, generally speaking, that co-workers are comfortable with me to speak or express emotions truthfully.

But personally I try not to show outbursts at work (btw, I fail miserably at home as my wife would point out). Some colleagues thankfully remind me on those occasions, diplomatically. Justified or not, I prefer to play the 'emotion-less' administrator.

Still, sometimes I forget.

Have you ever been in this situation?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Crowd-funding to buy a Creative Commons license for a book:

You might be thinking what a chockfull of concepts behind this statement: "Crowd-funding to buy a Creative Commons license for an ebook".

Let me break it down for you:

  1. Crowd-funding: "Funding a project by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people" (source:
  2. Purchase, i.e. owner is paid in return for granting a perpetual license for others to use the work
  3. Creative Commons as the licensing model
  4. The work is subsequently released in a digital form (the source just needs to be 'already published' and may not be an ebook, if I understood it correctly)

Sounds really innovative.

From the FAQ section:
What is is a a place for individuals and institutions to join together to give their favorite ebooks to the world. We work with rights holders to decide on fair compensation for releasing a free, legal edition of their already-published books, under Creative Commons licensing. Then everyone pledges toward that sum. When the threshold is reached (and not before), we collect the pledged funds and we pay the rights holders. They issue an unglued digital edition; you're free to read and share it, with everyone, on the device of your choice, worldwide.

As explained at Library Journal (17 May 2012):
" works by allowing the rights holders of an already-published book to set a funding threshold—generally between $5,000 to $25,000—and a deadline for a funding campaign. If supporters pledge sufficient funding prior to the campaign deadline, the book will be released as an “unglued” ebook edition, free of digital rights management (DRM) software, and free to copy and share under a Creative Commons license.

Gluejar Inc., the company that developed, explained the motivation behind the concept in a release today, noting that “proprietary formats and [DRM] technology lock ebooks to specific devices and make it hard for people to keep reading their books as technology changes. Many ebooks cannot even be lent by libraries. Unglued ebooks solve these problems.”

I found this YouTube video, where the president of Gluejar (the company behind was interviewed about its platform and business model for eBook distribution:

Why Creative Commons rather than Public Domain?
With CC, the owner retains copyright while still giving a "free-to-use" license. This means the owner still has the ability to set other conditions, which could involve payment to the owner.

Here's an example:

Suppose I license my eBook under a "CC Attribution Non-Commercial" license. A movie producer wants to turn my work into a for-profit movie. He has to seek permission from me (or pay me) because I've only given permission for non-commercial use. Separately, I'm able to enter a contract with this movie producer (because he's commercialising it, I also ask for a fee) At the same time, this contract does not affect my earlier CC licensed work, even if it's the same work.

Or, at the very least, I allow the movie producer to use my work without a fee but with very specific conditions on how I should be credited (hmm... I want my name to be at the start of the movie, and as a stand-alone mention at the end. Plus, it has to be on all publicity materials etc.)

See how I would have retained control of my choice of licensing model in that sense? (Nothing in the world can prevent copyrights abuse, but that's another issue).

Whereas if my work is in the Public Domain, the movie producer can legally use it without even mentioning my name. Btw, it's not quite as straight-forward in releasing one's work as Public Domain while one is still alive, i.e. before the Copyright term expires. Which is where CC also has a solution with CC0).

Personally, I think adopting CC makes a lot of sense. For one, CC has been around for 10 years and the framework (currently at version 3) has withstood the test of time and in a few cases, in courts as well. CC allows the owner to retain copyright, unlike a Public Domain work where rights are given up absolutely.

CC is seen as a fairly robust and flexible framework. It provides clarity (to lawyers and non-lawyers alike).

An example of flexibility is where a CC-licensed work allows for subsequent format conversions, unless the author opts for a "No-Derivatives" license. Which is also another instance of flexibility of licensing-choice being provided for the owner. The owner can opt for the various combinations of CC options.

Does it mean the content owner's ability to make money is diminished?

The FAQ anticipates this very important question:
"If I'm a rights holder and I unglue my book, does that mean I can never make money from it again?"
No! You are free to enter into additional licensing agreements for other, non-unglued, editions of the work, including translation and film rights. You may continue to sell both print and ebook editions. You may use your unglued books as free samples to market your other works -- for instance, later works in the same series. You can use them to attract fans who may be interested in your speaking engagements, merchandise, or other materials. You absolutely may continue to profit from ungluing books -- and we hope you do!

The 'control' is also put in the hands of the rights-holders. Only rights-holders (authors or publishers) can start campaigns:
Who is eligible to start a campaign on
To start a campaign, you need to be a verified rights holder who has signed a Platform Services Agreement with us. If you hold the commercial rights for one or more works, please contact to start the process.

One of the things I picked up from the video: the business model targets eBooks that aren't bestsellers.

The FAQ also lists a few reasons on "Why do rights holders want to unglue their books?":

  • To publicize their other books, gain new fans, or otherwise increase the value of an author's brand.
  • To get income from books that are no longer in print.
  • To have a digital strategy that pays for itself, even if they don't have expertise in producing ebooks.
  • To advance a cause, add to the public conversation, or increase human knowledge.
  • To leave a legacy that enriches everyone, now and in the future.

A possible downside for authors?
There's the difficulty in deciding a fair value for the book to be crowd-funded. I can imagine the tussle between what authors think they can reasonably get in terms of longer-term sales Vs what's essentially an upfront fee to release the work under CC.

In short: if they set a sum now and their book proves to be super-popular later, they can't recall the CC license and charge more.

It forces independent authors, who may be inexperienced in price negotiations, to assume even more entrepreneurial risk. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. And the reality may be that many of such authors have no recourse to obtaining an upfront fee from traditional publishing models anyway. Is it a viable business model?

Paul Biba asked, in this post, why would anyone pledge money to an Unglue campaign. Even Eric Hellman acknowledges in the video interview that "everyone wants to see others go first".

My own view is that a crowd-funding model, if pitched successfully (either in planned or unplanned ways), is likely to work for books whose:
  • author or content have some appeal in some way
  • readers understand, and are willing to participate in, a crowd-funding model
  • supporters have a sense of altruism at some level

Let's say I'm the sort of reader who buys books:
  • There's a title that interests me and I don't mind paying $4 for it (let's presume it costs $4).
  • After reading it, I think it's great and that it's something the rest of the world should benefit.
  • I decide to support the book's campaign by contributing an amount that I'm comfortable donating. Say, $8. It's like I'm paying it forward for two other people.
  • According to the FAQ, I'm only charged if the campaign (which has a time duration) succeeds.

Here's another possible scenario:
  • I'm the sort of person who doesn't buy eBooks. Or a book for that matter.
  • A friend tells me about this book. I may or may not have gotten hold of the book thus far.
  • I support the campaign and maybe put in $2. It's what I'm willing to pay if I buy the eBook. Only, in this case I'm buying for a perpetual CC licensed copy. Or I hope I do.
  • If the campaign succeeds, I'm charged for what I've pledged.

The left-brained eBook bargain-seekers (nothing wrong with that, BTW) may also see the model as a way to crowdsource for discounts. If they are willing to wait.

The business model makes participation almost barrier free by not imposing any upfront costs (again, from their FAQ):
... If you choose to support a campaign, you may pledge whatever amount you're comfortable with. Your credit card will only be charged if the campaign reaches its goal price.
If you're a rights holder, starting campaigns is free, too. You only pay if your campaign succeeds. For the basics on campaigns, see the FAQ on Campaigns; for more details, see the FAQ for Rights Holders.

I think the service might be very useful for small print presses. Or tie-ups with independent self-publishing/ distribution platforms like Smashworlds.

Maybe even libraries as business partners, where libraries help persuade authors to Unglue their work in some ways. The model could also be a model for libraries to be 'publishing' intermediaries in a sense.

Altruism may be the key
I thought Gluejar's president, Eric Hellman, explained it well (see the video's 2:16min segment) about the "heart's" perspective. I think it's this aspect of "giving from the heart" that might be how model will ultimately succeed.

Their FAQ has clearly anticipated the question:
"Why should I fund a book at when I can just buy it somewhere else?"When you buy a book, you get a copy for yourself. When you unglue it, you give a copy to yourself and everyone on earth.
How or when will be successful is anyone's guess. But the potential is definitely there, in my view.

My sense is there's a definite trend towards self-publishing and self-distribution. Which means additional distribution and publicity platforms like, backed with a reliable and known rights-model like Creative Commons, will be given a second look by authors. Particularly authors whose works have inherent potential and appeal.

A model like seems to provide an indirect incentive for readers to make some books cheaper and available in a digital forms.

Plus, I believe the world can only become more altruistic rather than less.

I don't think will take the book world by storm. But it's definitely welcome news.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Mental preparedness: Towards Bicycling Zen

Note: I'm an amateur sharing my own perspectives on leisure cycling. I'm learning as I go (you know what they say about the 'blind leading the blind'). Feel free to join in the conversation.

As mentioned in the previous post, my preparation and learning could be explained via this Framework for Cycling Zen:
  • Equipment readiness (including road safety gear, cycling gear)
  • Physical conditioning (fitness and balance)
  • Mental conditioning (including road safety)

Relatively speaking, the'Equipment' part was the easiest to find information and to achieve it (one's purchasing power was a huge determinant).

Mental conditioning was the most crucial for me. Something money couldn't quite buy. This post covers the mental part.

For me, it's to reach a state of mind such that when I take to the roads, I am conscious and confident in my actions. That consciousness and confidence also means I have a reasonable expectation of how other road users may react. BTW, it's PCNs for me as first choice and roads as a necessary last resort. And even then I'm sticking to my "ride on roads only on Sunday early morning hours" rule.

I readily acknowledge to myself that I fear scenarios like these:

Credit: lobstar28, CC BY-NC-ND.

I have some experience riding on the roads from years back (e.g. including turn/ filtering lanes). So my initial search was not on traffic rules*, but on "riding safety" and more directly "how not to get hit by cars".

[* Upon hindsight, I should have first looked up the Singapore Highway Code anyway. Reading it now, I'm glad I was already practicing most of what the code stated. BTW, the Highway Code is part of the Singapore Statues, available at]

Traffic rules and the Highway Code only told me what was ideal. But accidents often happen because rules weren't fully adhered to. I needed to know HOW accidents happened, so that I could anticipate and avoid them.

One very good find was the website by Michael Bluejay. Here's a PDF version adapted for Singapore's right-hand drive, i.e. driven on the left side of the road (hat-tip to my friend Siva for tweeting about the adapted resource).

If you're relatively inexperienced in tackling the roads like me, you MUST read Michael Bluejay's website or the PDF adapted version.

His information helped (a) validate what I knew but was never quite sure, and (b) made me aware of more potential accident-situations. His concise explanation and no-frills illustrations allowed me to visualise each scenario. It was as good as a mental rehearsal before the actual game.

THANK YOU, Michael Bluejay!

My take-away, reinforced with actual riding, is this: I should anticipate that each traffic situation (crossings; filtering; passing stationary cars; vehicles passing me) has a potential accident waiting to happen. Assume almost every situation is unsafe. So that I remain cautious.

It's not to be fearful every second of the way. It is about keeping my guard up all times; not taking safety for granted.

I found and went through more online readings/ viewings, so that key safety and riding concepts was drilled into my head.

The recurrent themes were:
  • Obey traffic rules
  • Ride in a predictable manner
  • Make yourself visible to other road users
  • Know yourself on the bike

Check these out:

Here's a YouTube video NHTSA Bicycle Safety Tips For Adults

As I was drafting this post, I discovered this Singapore-based website Good stuff and definitely worth subscribing to their feeds. Here's a very relevant post on cycling safety:
Safe Cycling Clinic for LoveCycling.SG
Steven Lim, the President of Safe Cycling Task Force, he conducted a “Safe Cycling Clinic” at the Road Safety Park in East Coast Park last Sunday for the LoveCyclingSG group. The presentation material was jointly prepared with the Traffic Police. Steven gave an hour long talk on the basic principles of Safe Cycling and later gave demos on lane positioning in the Road Safety park.

The following is a summary of the points covered:

1. Bicycle is considered a vehicle, you drive a bicycle.
2. Observe all traffic rules like any other road users on the roads.
3. Be competent and confident before hitting the road.
4. Know all traffic rules and road signs. Get a Basic Theory Book.
5. Know your skills, your ability, your health. Do not over estimate yourself.
6. Know your bike, it’s performance, it’s ability, it’s wear and tear.
7. Know your equipments, clothing, helmet, gloves, etc. their functions, performances, their life span, when to replace.
8. Know your route. Plan your route before you ride, know it’s traffic conditions.
9. Know your right of way but NEVER INSIST on it.
10.Be courteous and patience with other road users, share the roads.

I'm sure books would have similar information; no I did not look at the library catalogue... yet.

Nothing can beat actual experience, I feel.

My tip is that you should try and find a group who are comfortable with you, as you are with them. For me, it's friends who also ride as ZenDogs 2.0.

In my initiation ride, it became very clear to me there was greater safety in numbers. In a way, riding as a pack means you are more visible on the road. Of course, the group must ride responsibly and practice good road habits at all time.

Which brings to the point about having an experienced mentor/ pack leader. In ZenDogs 2.0, it's unanimously our friend Siva. He's a natural instructor, pointing out good road-riding practices and dishing out just-in-time instructions. Even reinforcing them at the appropriate situations. Or simply pointing out what I did wrong or could have done better. And the Whys.

One very good tip that's now drilled in my head: When pedaling across road intersections, where cars are giving you right of way and waiting for you to pass, one should speed up (watch for traffic as well; eye contact with the driver). It made sense to me because us pedaling slow may appear like we're not moving to the driver. The driver, not being able to judge our speed, may be tempted to make a move first and the cyclist risks slamming into the vehicle. I also think the faster we make it across the junction, the less time we make the drivers wait. Less likely that they get impatient.

I feel this is the most important. Meaning, I would tell my friends about my concerns and my limitations. For instance, I tell them I am just uncomfortable riding on the roads. I will and I'm prepared as I can be. But they have to know I still have reservations.

Some rides, I outrightly tell my friends I prefer to ride on pavements. According to the ordinance, it's illegal to ride on the pavement. But I play by ear and practice non-intrusive pavement riding.

As a newer rider to the pack, I can't always catch up in terms of speed. At first I tried to speed up but mistakes tend to happen when I'm tired and I speed. Either I fail to keep a proper lookout (thankfully drivers were watching and stopped; but I can't always rely on drivers to not make mistakes). Speeding means my reaction time is also reduced relatively.

With mobile phones and GPS-enabled cycling social apps, there's always a way to link up if we lose the pack.

I just have to gradually build up my skills and confidence on the bicycle and on the road. My friends understand that.

A good ride is one that I start and end home safely.

And where others do as well.

NEXT: Equipment and Physical preparations.

ASIDE: Are We Getting 'Soft'? If earlier generations could tackle the roads without such seemingly elaborate preparations (mental preparation, getting equipment like helmets and lights and whatnots), was it because we're a generation of softies? No, I do not think we are soft. For one, road conditions are a lot busier now (statistics on the number of vehicles will show that). Two, vehicles are faster and more powerful; their safety and crash devices have been upgraded but those for cyclists have remained almost stagnant. Three, who's to say earlier generations won't consider safety equipment if there were proper awareness created?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My journey towards bicycling zen (or, "How I am overcoming my fear of riding on the roads")

I've been hitting the roads and Park Connectors on a foldable bike the past four Sundays, thanks to the cycling friends at ZenDogs 2.0.

My initiation ride was 57km.

Prior to that, I had stopped cycling for about two years. After that 57km ride, I got such a kick I continued for another three straight weeks thereafter.

Recently I've even taken time off from work to cycle and explore my neighbourhood. Or just cycle down to visit my parents (they live about 10km away).

It's been a blast so far, to say the least. I'm seeing familiar places with new perspectives. And discovering new vistas of Singapore that I would not have seen on my own.

Heartland. Little Hill in my Backyard #sgmemory Heartland. Sunrise Ships #sgmemory Cityscape. Under The Bridge #sgmemory #archivingsg Lifescape. Jade Tree. #sgmemory #zd2

I get to meet people, new and old (talk about community-bonding). I see my aging parents a lot more often, as I make it a point to drop by their place on most rides. I'm not surprised that my recent blood pressure reading has gone down from borderline-high to normal.

Two years ago I rode on my neighbourhood PCN quite regularly. But quickly got bored of that. The PCN near my home wasn't (and still isn't) fully connected with other PCNs. After some months, each ride on my neighbourhood PCN felt like I was a hamster powering a wheel that turned but got nowhere. I could ride on pavements but pavements are for pedestrians after all.

In short, I craved to see outside my neighborhood.

Before I joined my cycling friends, I had to overcome my fear of riding on roads.

Even though I was assured that the Sunday morning traffic would be light and the group would avoid busy roads, I still had concerns. "Fear" might be too strong a word. I am not paralysed into inaction. Just that there was a nagging sense of self-doubt and uncertainty about riding on roads with traffic. I've ridden on roads when I was younger. But I was never properly educated on the Dos and Don'ts. Now that I'm much older, I'm less reckless or perhaps more risk adverse.

The root cause for me was not being 100% sure how I should behave as a cyclist on the road. That uncertainty translated into being a danger to myself and to others. It was that sense of 'danger' that made me hesitant.

One step towards joining my cycling friends (I knew their routes took them on roads) was when Kevin assured me they had road safety in mind at all times. That much I was convinced, as the core group of riders were my friends. It also helped that I knew them as friends first, rather than cyclists. They were a thoughtful and considered bunch.

I've also read their cycling adventures and escapades from time to time -- dutifully documented by Siva.

Actually, those two posts with the "thrills and spills" should have discouraged me from joining them! But they made me think of why cycling accidents might have happened. Probably because of:
  • Insufficient physical preparation and/ or fitness of the cyclist (fatigue)
  • Insufficient practice on handling the bicycle (the senses can't cope with too many new variables)

That helped me identify areas that I needed to work on.

From that first 57km initiation ride to the last one (fourth ride), I've distilled the learning points into what I'd pretentiously call a 'FRAMEWORK FOR CYCLING ZEN', roughly in accordance to the ease of preparing for them:

  1. Equipment readiness (including road safety gear, cycling gear)
  2. Physical conditioning (fitness and balance)
  3. Mental conditioning (including road safety)

In the next few posts, I'll blog about my preparation in tackling the roads, and to be able to join the ZenDogs for their 60-plus km rides.

p.s. If you've been following my blog regularly (I know there's maybe one or two of you), you'll be asking why I seem to have shifted from blogging about librarianship to cycling. Why not? There's much to read and learn about cycling. And this blog is about how I'm educating myself, and sharing in the process. :)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dear Tern Bicycles: I love your Link P9 but...

Bought a Tern Link P9 foldable bicycle about four weeks ago. Just posted to the Tern Bicycles forum:

[thread starts here]
Link P9 chain falls constantly
Same problem here. Got my P9 about 4 weeks ago. Rode it slow first week and never went on gear 9. Then second, third and fourth week, I rode with my friends on the roads and park connectors. Each ride, the chain would drop at the front. Each ride, at least once. What's consistent is the drop occurring when I engage 8th to 9th gear.

I took the P9 to the retailer for a check. The bike tech spent an hour trying to fix the problem. I have no reason to doubt his skills. In the end, it was a compromise. The chain tended to pop out but he lowered the top plastic piece near enough to make sure it guides the chain back. Is the P9 designed like this? I'm not sure.

I asked if I could trade the P9 back to offset and get a P18 (I'm still a Tern fan!) but was told not possible. Which disappointed me. A lot. I now ride with a sense of uncertainty with my P9, which I really adore if not for the chain drop problem. And frankly I don't feel safe riding on the roads now.

Tern Bicycles please do something about this. I wanted to sell my P9 even taking a loss but cannot do so without feeling guilty. Feel like I'm passing on a defective bike. And could you make my Christmas come early? Please convince my dealer to accept my P9 as a trade-in so that I can buy the P18. As I mentioned, I'm still your fan. But right now I'm also telling people not to get the P9 at all. Until Tern manages to address the problem.

I'm still a fan of Tern foldies. But less so of the P9 now. If they can help me with my P9 and/ or help me get a trade-in, I'd be their raving fan.

Friday, April 13, 2012

P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

Now that I'm with the National Library (office is at the NL building, Victoria Street), I get to see all the exhibitions that have been put up for the public. I also thought I should 'archive' them or at least have a simple pictorial record that they once existed. Hence this blog post.

Here's an exhibition that will end on 22 Apr, 2012: "P. Krishnan: His literary Journey".
P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

P. Krishnan is one of Singapore’s illustrious Literary Pioneers who writes under the pseudonym of Puthumaithasan. Focusing on social issues, his writings are peppered with a tinge of sarcasm and a dash of comedy. Visitors to this exhibition will have a chance to listen to excerpts of his famous radio play “Adukkuveetu Annasamy”, about life in the HDB heartlands as well as view excerpts from the Tamil adaptation of the TV drama, Macbeth. This showcase is an opportunity for the younger generation to know about this pioneer and appreciate his contributions to Singapore Tamil literature.

Date: Saturday Mar 10, 2012 - Sunday Apr 22, 2012
Time: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Venue: Level 9 - Promenade in National Library Building
Lang: English

Source: (last accessed 13 Apr 2012)

P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

P. Krishnan: His literary Journey P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

P. Krishnan: His literary Journey

Sunday, April 01, 2012

iremember my childhood: Being caned by my father

For the Singapore Memory Project. I guess it's really for myself:

(Original Twitter sequence has been edited slightly)
"@ramblinglib: As a kid, being canned by pa almost every day. For slightest thing. Didn't know why but resolved not to show emotions #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: The caning was so bad I had obvious welt marks. One day in Pri Sch a nurse asked how I got it. I kept quiet #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: In pri sch, when pa came home I'd pretend to be asleep. So that he won't have any excuse to cane me #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: After some time, my strategy was to remain still & let pa cane me. I discovered in doing so, he relented faster #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: One time the caning got so bad I imagined myself going to the tallest block in AMK and jumping #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: Obviously I didn't jump. My left brain got the better of my right #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: I remember being scorned by pa as a kid. He said I was fat and lazy. That hurt. #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: As a teen, I refused to speak to my pa unless i had to. I started to defy & rebel in silent ways #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: Strangely my pa mellowed & took in all my teen defiance with stride. He took it in & gave me space #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: After NS I asked my pa if we had money to send me to study overseas. He asked how much. I told him. He said don't have that money #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: Pa asked if there was another way. I told him how much for local external degree. He wrote me the cheque immediately #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: In spite of being canned by pa & hating him then, one thing he never did was abandon his family responsibilities. Thanks pa #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: Decades later, after i got married, my pa said sorry. Said he also didn't know why he took out his anger on me #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: The day I saw my pa lying in the hospital bed, after a stroke, was the day I couldn't hate him anymore #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: My pa He's now 77 #sgMemory”

“@ramblinglib: My pa will probably never get to read these tweets. I'll never have courage to say it to him F2F. This is my catharsis #sgMemory”

Full story:
I suppose it was this tweet that made me remember a particular childhood episode, when I was around 10 years old. Remembering about my father and a period where he seemed to viciously cane me for the slightest reason.

My father used the thin rattan cane (the defacto tool of corporal discipline Asian parents used at that generation). It wasn't just "tough parental love", for the frequency of me being caned was almost daily. My younger brother and sister were spared mostly, I recalled.

I can't remember how long that caning went. I'm not sure when it stopped. I still recall pretending to be asleep when I heard my father come home. So that he won't find an excuse to cane me.

The caning was serious enough to break skin, result in bleeding and noticeable welts. Bad enough that my mum had to apply some ointment to cover up the broken skin. I would go to school with visible cane marks.

When I was 10, my father was in his 40s (he was considered to have married late, for his generation). My father was a strong man. And it didn't help that I was an emotionally sensitive child. At 10 years old, I once even thought of ending my life just to spite him.

My father seemed to have focused his anger on me. I was not naughty as a child at all. I attended school, came straight home, did my homework, never talked back to my elders (kids my generation were spoken of, but not spoken to). OK I cant say I was a perfect child, but I was far from being a bad one.

In truth, my father was not a cruel man. He was generous to his friends, our neighbours, and our relatives. Maybe that was why it hurt me, in more than the physical sense. The 10 year old me never understood why he couldn't be generous and forgiving to his own firstborn.

There were negative consequences, in that I deliberately became a very morose and serious child. I remember "experimenting" with not saying anything to my father for days. Days became weeks. And then it became natural.

In my teenage years, that refusal to talk to my father (other than functional statements) became little rebellious acts. Part of it was the teen angst and the onset of hormonal changes. One time, it occured to me why young lions were chased out of the pride. They would otherwise kill the top male lion, their sire, because there was no room to maneuvour.

My father and I didn't have a destructive relationship but we were never close. I knew he tried to be better towards me, and there was an episode where I was very gateful to him for supporting my contiuning education. But even so, my feelings towards him never quite swung completely towards the good. There was always that shadow of resentment.

It took decades before those childhood scars could truly start healing. One poignant point was when my father said something close to an apology for that childhood caning episode. A self-admission.

I was with my wife and my parents, at a hawker centre eating desserts. My parents were in their 60s by then. I had moved out of my parent's apartment after getting married. It was a home visit with my wife.

We talked about how some things had changed, or remained the same, in the neighbourhood. My father started sharing, with my wife, how I was as a child: that I liked to draw and read. He remembered that I was a good boy, even as a toddler.

Out of the blue, he said how at one point he would come home and cane me for any reason. He was not sure why he was that angry. A part of him knew he had been too harsh. And yet he could not stop himself and he continued to take his anger out on me. He recalled not caning me only when he saw me asleep (when I heard that, I had goosebumps -- and I also secretly congratulated myself for displaying some smarts as a 10 year old).

With his relevation, or confession even, there came an awkward pause.

There was my father, sounding apologetic. All my life, I've not seen that side of him. I looked at my wife. I looked anywhere except at my father. I said nothing then, or after.

I guess this is my way of saying it now.

P.S. Perhaps to you reading this, I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. Strange that I cannot speak of this with my father now. All I can say is that the resentment has been real for much of my life.

It's not so traumatic that I can't talk about it. I just can't talk to my father of it. Or won't. In truth, there is cowardice and irrational fear at work. I fear that I would cry, and he would cry. Or maybe it all doesn't matter now, and I'm merely post this to share a (good) story.

Whatever it is, it's been enough that I know my father knows. And vice versa. That's as good as I wish for things to be.

iremember my childhood #sgmemory

iremember my childhood #sgMemory

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Remembering ECP McDonald’s

This served as a draft for this blog post I wrote for work, i.e. for the Singapore Memory Project:

"Remembering a place like a fast food outlet is overdoing the whole nostalgia thing, isn’t it?"

No it isn't, IMO.

Not all places are equal in terms of hertiage value. But to think that it is merely about nostalgia is to miss the point.

My colleague, Yeong Chong, said it best in the Colourbars Media clip:
The danger in thinking that a place like McDonald’s is not worth remembering is that these are the places you spent your formative years in. They actually form a stronger foundation for your personhood than a religious or heritage site that you may have only known about through history textbooks.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to remember a McDonald’s outlet.

Nostalgia isn’t about objectivity. It is about us celebrating the personal experiences that make up who we are.

It struck me that in a world that we have less control over, it is some people’s attempt to create despite what is about to be lost, as more important.

So what if it romanticises? Don’t all myths, legends and stories do that?

And I think there is nothing wrong -- and everything right -- in remembering what has been good.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Blast from the Past: My presentation on "Web 2.0 & library services to young adults: An introduction"

Yikes. This is a really late post. Back in June 2011, I gave a presentation at the 5th National Library for Children & Young Adults Symposium, 2011, South Korea. The symposium was held at Duksan Resom Resort, South Korea.

OK, so this is a "blast from the past" post then.

Here's my presentation, which was an update and also an extension of this 2009 IFLA document of the same title. The organisers found that document and wanted me to present a condensed version.

It might have sounded easy. Just reduce the original 78-pages to 30mins and deliver what's in the paper, right?

Umm, that would bore the heck out of me if I were the audience. So while in the plane to Seoul, I was still thinking about how to deliver the 30min talk. I wanted to be able to "tell a story" in a practical way. So I delivered what one of the delegate described later as a "workshop-style" talk.

The essence of my talk was how a Web 2.0. approach and mindset could be applied to librarians serving teens. But the presentations I enjoy are those that "told a story". And in the end, after brainstorming with a colleague, I did just that. I shared what I thought was a possible "day in the life of" a Teens Services librarian, straddling between online and offline engagement efforts.

My ego received a little boost when I was told it was like a TED talk. Heh.

It was also the first time I presented using an iPad. It was a calculated risk, as I've not delivered a talk using the iPad. I'd seen it used as a presentation tool but never actually used it. I rehearsed in the iPad, mentally went through backup plans. Arranged to test the iPad connection with their presentation equipment the day before my speaking slot. Phew, it worked beautifully.

So much so that I was confident enough, by then, to even take a "live" picture of the attendees. I directed my iPad camera towards them as the iPad was hooked up to the projector. The audience saw their "live" video capture on screen. Neat (it worked to start the 'show', as I could see the attendees smiling and being amazed -- and South Koreans were pretty IT-savvy folks!)

5th National Library for Children & Young Adults Symposium, 2011, South Korea

What was new for me as a presenter was having a simultaneous translation (in Korean) of my talk. Luckily, I chatted with the translators the day before. They advised me that I should just deliver my talk normally, as in I should not try to wait for them to catch up between words. It was easier for them if my pace of speaking was consistent (not too fast nor too slow). I did what they advised and it worked well. Trust the experts, I say!

In preparing for my talk, I had excellent help from Daryl Tay, who pointed to this excellent source of information on Digital Media stats in South Korea (I understand it was initiated by Prof Netzley).

I also got in touch with Creative Commons contacts in South Korea, who gave me a concise background on the social media and IP scene in South Korea. Not directly applicable in my talk in the end, but gave me that additional layer of verification and background information.

My Facebook post also drew several good suggestions from friends (rats, I can't seem to find that Facebook thread).

Here's a very nice quote from Shel, that I didn't get to use at the presentation:
Social media is like a hammer is a tool...

I had a fantastic time. The South Korean organisers were (famously) excellent hosts and the programme was also one of the better ones I've attended.

The 5th International Symposium-192158

Related post:
Your ideas on "Using social media as part of library services for Children or Teens", 1 June 2011.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Behind the scenes: Towards the launch of the Singapore Memory Project's flagship portal,

[Views expressed here are strictly my own. I am straddling between writing in my personal capacity, as well as my official role as the head for Digital Engagement for the project. Just so you know :)]

By tomorrow, all the intense efforts for the past six months (in developing the website) will come to fruition The flagship website for the Singapore Memory Project will finally be unveiled. Sneak Peeks

Before its official launch, there will be a pre-launch party. It's called a "party" for good reason. If you didn't sign up for the party, you'll probably have to read about it later :)

The publicity efforts for the party was two-prong: social media channels and the "traditional" way.

The traditional way was to write formal invites to specific people, such as e representatives of partner agencies and VIPs. The social media way, which my team was responsible for, had a more organic approach.

Our overall "framework" started off with a target in mind, as well as specific aims for inviting people. We set a target of 40 guests invited through social media circles (a check around suggested the average turnout for 'blogger events' was about 20 people).

We didn't want to limit to just "bloggers". I've probably mentioned it before (haven't I?) that in today's context, if you are active on Facebook, you're practically a 'blogger' in a general sense. We referred to our social media guests as 'social media users'.

The main criteria was that they were active in their respective social media circles. We had some guidelines, though not hard rules on what was 'active'. They certainly need not be Singaporeans only. The project was not limited to citizens.

We sought out active social media users, particularly those who were seen to be enthused about heritage and memory-like activities. We felt such guests would also be more likely to be comfortable with our portal. If all worked out well, we would like guests to be one of the first few people in Singapore (nay, the world!) to create a 'Memory Account' and publish a memory there.

There were a few key influencers and social media guests in mind. We had already been in touch with a few of them in the preceding months. Our team members intuitively understood that we had to cultivate relationships early on.

Invited guests included people like (what I call) the hardcore heritage bloggers. Then there were the active Hertiage groups on Facebook's, as well as enthusiasts on twitter. These specific people, we wrote personal emails/ messages to them.

They weren't a focus group as such. We'd already conducted a few runs for that purpose weeks earlier.

Then we issued an open call for registrants to the party.

This was also an experiment, where we tried both Evenbrite and Facebook event page. Pre-Launch Party - Eventbrite Pre-Launch Party!

Concurrently, a series of 'Sneak Peeks' were posted:

  • Sneak Peeks (Part 1)
  • Sneak Peeks (Part 2)
  • Sneak Peeks (Part 3)
Update: The posts have been consolidated into one post, with a refresh of the iRememberSG blog. Sneak Peeks Sneak Peeks Sneak Peeks

I would have liked to provide a set of "social media press kits", made available online. But details of the portal and the party was still pretty fluid at that time. Everyone was working on very, very tight deadlines. The Sneak Peeks was, I suppose, the next best thing we could offer.

The 'sneak peeks' was also our way of answering the question, "Why should I attend the pre-launch party?". I know I would ask that question if I were on the receiving end.

Rather than answer that question directly, I guess we presumed users could assess for themselves from the sneak peeks.

The posts also served to ease the regular iRemember.SG visitors into the upcoming portal. One obvious question to address was the difference between the portal and the iRemember.SG site. As explained from Sneak Peek, Part 3:
As many of your will remember, the irememberSG blog began as our placeholder for stories submitted from the public. It was indeed an honour to be featured during the National Day Rally speech on 14 Aug 2011, and PM Lee Hsien Loong shared memories from James Seah and Muhammad Raydza as captured here. Six months on, we have taken some of our users' feedback for a more readable site and the ability to submit memories and view them instantaneously.

As already mentioned last week, we will port the memory submission and display functions to the new Singapore memory portal, while irememberSG will evolve into a staff blog. Here's how it will look like: Sneak Peeks

From my own experience organising meetups for creative commons Singapore, theres always -- always -- a sense of trepidation and uncertainty when issuing open invites. The very human fear was that no one would give a hoot about your event.

But we were quickly assured that there was some positive response.

Within two hours of posting the open invite in twitter and Facebook, about ten people signed up on their own accord. About half were NLB staff, but they were not involved in the project. They signed up as guests, not as staff. It's nice when co-workers -- outside of the project -- show interest in it.

We didn't stop at that just posting the online invites. There was more work to be done.

My colleagues and I started issuing individual messages in ernest. I posted to several groups, and had help from a very active memory corp volunteer and a Hertiage influencer to get one foot into the group.

I can't really track when was the exact tipping point, if any. My colleague might have a day to day statistical report of the signups. We might analyse that a little more closely when we have time. I think we had very gradual steay daily build ups. The twitter community was fast and sort of peaked within two or three hours. Im not sure if there was a long tail. Seeing my RTs, I think it might have gotten three days worth of publicity before the tweets we overwhelmed.

The last count I was told was 150 219 unique individuals signed up. Just under 10 days after announcing the event via online channels. I must say part of the positive response is for the project itself. There's a certain draw to something like a national memory initiative.

Nonetheless, pretty good results for a fledging social media unit of the project.

Even if half don't show up, we would still have a very good crowd. I thought at least we reached our to those who had sign up, and they might have passed the message onwards indirectly.

This is just the start of a an ongoing relationship, for sure.

Facebook timline cover - Ivan Chew

The scale of the project is huge. For one, there's a hairy and audacious goal of five million memories to be collected by 2015.

Given its scale, the team behind the project is also a large one, where project teams go in the NLB. Just to give you a peek (and also my way of acknowledging the unsung heroes and heroines):

There's another team working on marketing, publicity, and partnerships.

My team of four are responsible for the web development for the portal as well as a mobile app. Even so, we're really cogs in the larger machine. We're not web developers or coders.

There's another inter-divisional team comprising of a Information Solutions Architect, a web project manager, a mobile app project manager, an IT project manager who in turns manages a team of about ten coders.

Then there are colleagues working on legal documentation, liaison with our funding ministry, interfacing with NLB senior management.

The Singapore Memory project is the most ambitious project I've been involved. Certainly a most meaningful one. Or else I wouldn't have volunteered for it.