Saturday, February 27, 2010

Genus 2010

NUS Guitar Ensemble (GENUS) is proud to present GENUS 2010: Asian Folktales and Legends, a part of Asia Alive, NUS Arts Festival 2010.

This year, GENUS and collaborating artists, NUS Choir and NUS Wind Symphony, go on a journey to explore the different facets of Asia with a potpourri of songs representing Asia’s musical diversity and cultural fusion. New arrangements of traditional songs, like Loy Krathong and Bengawan Solo, will be heard alongside modern tunes from Asia's popular culture, such as Spirited Away Medley and Giant Robo Selection.

Date: 7 Mar 2010 (Sun)
Time: 8pm
Cost: $13 (Free Seating) @ SISTIC (Includes SISTIC Fee)
Venue: University Cultural Centre Hall, NUS

General Sales Discounts:
  1. NUS Students - 15% Discount
  2. NUS Staff and AlumNUS Member = 10% Discount
  3. Group Bookings - 20% Discount for every 20 tickets purchased
  4. School Bookings - 1 free ticket for every 10 tickets purchased
School Bookings are available only through NUS Centre For the Arts
Contact Betty Lee at 6 5 1 6 5 2 7 8 , or b e t t y l e e @ n u s.e d u.s g

For more information, please contact n u s a r t s f e s t i v a l @ n u s . e d u . s g or call 6 5 1 6 2 4 9 2

Visit Rhinestic's Knick Knacks @ Etsy for handmade goods and supplies!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Analysts just do not get it why AppStore is so popular

Sometimes I do really wonder if the analysts know exactly what they are commenting about. As someone who has coded iPhone apps before, I understand why the iPhone is so popular despite so many other new phones in the market.

It's actually all about the apps. Apple has made it quite simple to code an iPhone app. Not only that, they have also made the screen size consistent for all their iPhones. This is a very big plus point that others do not seem to understand. Mobile Apps are always optimize for a certain screen size, especially if you are talking about games and animation that needs to know the exact screen position in order to trigger a certain event in a touch enabled phone. Apple has made it simple as they have consistently maintained the same size across all models, including the iPod touch. Not only that, if you look at the size of iPad, the dimensions are also proportionate to the iPhone. That is why the apps in the AppStore are able to work on the iPad. That's also the main reason why the AppStore is so popular.

Add to the fact that it is fairly simple to create a simple iPhone app, you have a winning formula for developers to continue developing for the platform. Users going into the AppStore need not worry if their phone is compatible with the app or if the app supports their model. Apple has also ensured that with every major version change, they have vendors that take full advantage of the new features built in. That is why people are always excited when it's coming June.

The fact that every iPhone OS upgrade works for every model of the iPhone so far is also fairly important. Even those with the first generation iPhone are able to upgrade to the latest OS. Try telling that to the first generation Android users.

Seeing the confusing array of android devices that are coming out with different screen sizes, I can almost hear the developers cursing and swearing in the background. To those who has coded mobile apps before, you know that it's almost impossible to code a graphical mobile app that works in all types of mobile phones, regardless of the screen size. I guess mobile app developers are getting rare. Someone has forgotten to tell the marketing guys.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Inflation is up 0.2%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2010:
January: 0.2%

Transport and Education & Stationary is leading the charge, rising by 7.1% and 1.3% respectively year on year. Housing costs surprisingly decreased 2.4% even with the increase in property tax. As they have split the calculation for Transport and Communication, you could actually see that the transport inflation is quite substantial while Communication actually decreased the most (-4.4%) in the basket. I believe the iPhone and cable wars here did contribute to this downward trend for Communication.

The new way of calculating the CPI basket does bring about interesting insights to the inflation rate for the different group items in Singapore. Anyway, for more information on the CPI basket changes, refer to my previous post here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New CPI Basket for 2010

From this year onwards, the 2009-based CPI basket will be used to calculate the CPI rate. There were some minor adjustments to the weightage pattern between the 2004-based and the 2009-based CPI basket.

Main Group2004-based2009-based
Clothing & Footwear43
Education & Stationary87
Health Care56
Recreation & Others1716

Two things of note are that they have included the one-person household in the calculation of the CPI and they are getting the monthly rental value from IRAS instead of using the Annual Value of the house.This would make the housing CPI changes more timely than previously.

Housing now occupies a much bigger percentage in the CPI basket. Translated, any changes to our homes' annual values or increase of utility bills will be quite apparent. I wonder if the changes to the property tax (announced in Budget 2010) is partially because of the changes in the CPI basket. By changing the property tax tier, the CPI will be lowered by quite a bit since 80% of Singaporeans are living in HDB flats. Transport & Communications seems to have also split up. Previously, it was always grouped together.

I guess only around the middle of the year will the impact of the changes to the inflation rate be more apparent.

Direct Benefits for Households in Budget 2010

I've only highlighted some of the more direct benefits (non-business related). It would seem however that some of the benefits are targeted at the revised CPI basket to lower the inflation rate. The majority of the benefits though are for businesses to "improve" their productivity through training, R&D or M&A.

Below are some of the more direct benefits to households:
  1. For property tax payable from January 2011, the existing 1994 property tax rebates will be replaced by the following progressive property tax schedule for owner-occupied residential properties:

    - 0% for the first $6,000 of AV;
    - 4% for the next $59,000 of AV;
    - 6% for the balance of AV in excess of $65,000.

    This will mean that all HDB flat owners and the large majority of private property owners will pay lower taxes.

  2. For Year of Assessment 2010, the parent relief will be increased to:

    - $7,000 (from $5,000 currently) for taxpayers who are staying with their dependants;
    - $4,500 (from $3,500 currently) for taxpayers who are not staying with their dependants;
    - $11,000 (from $8,000 currently) for taxpayers who are staying with their handicapped dependants;
    - and $8,000 (from $6,500 currently) for taxpayers who are not staying with their handicapped dependants.

  3. For Year of Assessment 2010, the Government will allow wives who are taxpayers to claim a spouse relief of $2,000, similar to the current scheme for husbands. Accordingly, wife relief will be renamed as “spouse relief.”

  4. For Year of Assessment 2010, the Government will increase the income threshold for dependant-related reliefs from $2,000 to $4,000, except for the CPF Cash Top-up Relief for top-ups to the CPF accounts of spouse and siblings (for which the changes to the income threshold will be effective from Year of Assessment 2011).

  5. For Year of Assessment 2011, the Government will increase the course fees relief from $3,500 to $5,500.

  6. The Government will extend the 250% tax deduction for donations to Institutions of Public Character (IPCs) and other approved institutions for 2010.

  7. The Government will provide a top-up to the CPF-Medisave Accounts of older Singaporeans. Details are given in the table below.

  8.  The Government will provide a top-up to the Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) accounts of young Singaporeans. Details of the top-up are given in the table below.

  9. The Government will enhance the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) as follows:

    - Higher payouts
    . Maximum payouts for the WIS will be increased by between $150 and $400, with more going to older workers to encourage them to remain in the workforce;

    - Extension to more workers
    . Those earning up to $1,700 per month will now be eligible for WIS, up from the current limit of $1,500 per month.

For more information on the budget 2010 for families, you can visit the budget website here.

In my opinion, productivity can only be improved through innovation and this cannot be resolved by throwing money at the problem. The question should be whether is there such an environment here that will encourage such innovation.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Roots of Violence

I quote from Mohandas K. Gandhi:

Wealth without work,
Pleasure without conscience,
Knowledge without character,
Commerce without morality,
Science without humanity,
Worship without sacrifice,
Politics without principles.

I guess the bottom line is that no matter how much access you have, if you heart is not in the right place, good things can also lead to something bad. These are the roots of violence.

Knowledge is powerful. Use it wisely.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Singapore GDP shrank 2.0% in 2009

Singapore has announced that the economy has shrunk 2.0% for 2009, a much better number than the -10% which was thrown around in April last year. I've written briefly about it in this post.

According to MTI's figures for y-o-y:


Overall GDP

The figures seem to point to a strong recovery in 4Q09 but if you look carefully at the figures, the reason is because the 4Q started off with a very low base. If you look at the quarter to quarter figures, the economy actually shrank 2.8% compared to the 3Q.

Based on the 1H09 figures, it will point to a strong 1H10 growth due to the low base in the previous year. Economic growth for 2010 should at least be more than 2009, but I'm not that optimistic on the revised figures given by MTI. The domestic demand doesn't seem to be there globally and stimulus measures are also now in the process of being withdrawn. 2H10 will be anyone's guess for now. I think that the 6.5% growth given for 2010 is quite optimistic though. I guess we'll know in 1 year's time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reducing Foreign Workers to Increase Productivity?

I find it very interesting that now the government is saying that we should reduce the reliance on foreign workers to increase productivity. I remember some time back, someone commented on my blog that if I want to quit, he/she can find 3 foreign workers to replace my position. With this type of bosses having this kind of mindset, how can we improve productivity? I guess people have to understand that things are usually cheap for a reason. Once in a long while, you may get a gem but how often do you strike Toto anyway? There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

To improve productivity, we have to first understand the meaning of productivity. Does it mean that a person holding many different portfolios is productive? One problem in measurement of productivity is that you only measure things that are quantifiable. How do you measure intangible benefits that a worker brings to the company? How do you measure a return customer who is very satisfied with your service and is willing to come back even if they need to pay a little bit more, but will leave if you're no longer there? How do you measure decisiveness in resolving problems that results in low incident rates? Does it matter if one is very "productive" but the quality of the output is low, resulting in increase in support calls?

I do not think productivity is able to measure such intangible benefits and that's the problem with just focusing on it. By just blindly focusing on productivity, you'll have to break something else, and the most likely candidate is turnover. Have companies measured the amount of money needed to hire and train a person to replace a person that has resigned due to the "productivity drive"? How about the loss of productivity when a new person comes in to take over the portfolio of the person who resigned?

All things are interlinked and it is always a give and take situation. You take something from the worker, somehow you'll have to give something up to him/her. That's the basis of maths. Both sides must equate. That's also the basis of life. What goes around, comes around. Even then, you'll have to look at the equation carefully. Remember... We're also suppose to be productive in other areas too (e.g. birth rate).

To me, it's just one big complex equation that does not seem to equate at all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Windows 7 mobile coming at the end of the year?

Seems like Microsoft has finally announced their Windows 7 mobile series. They have renamed it though to Windows Phone 7 Series. I'm not sure why because personally, I think Mobile sounds better than Phone. :) They build the phone based on the concept of hubs. They have things such as the People Hub, Games Hub, Music+Video Hub, Internet Hub, etc.

It looks kinda cluttered though. The OS will be available at the end of the year and contrary to early rumours, Microsoft is not building their own phone. I believe HTC will be one of the first debuting the Windows 7 Phone at the end of the year. Found a Youtube video of a demo of an early build of a Windows Phone 7 series. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Veoh is Bankrupt!

Veoh according to various sources has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last week (Feb 12). It seems though that few people know about this. In layman terms, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is where Veoh will sell its assets to repay it's creditors. In another words, Veoh will cease to exist.

Although the founders of Veoh has indicated that something might be brewing, I could not think of a business model that Veoh could transform into that would rival YouTube. The amount of infrastructure in place to enable video streaming is quite a significant investment and till now, even YouTube has not found a business model that would enable it to be self-sustainable.

I believe that a business is not sustainable if it's just purely dependent on providing advertisements for its revenue. The Internet is a good platform to reach a global audience but in the end, the business plan must indicate how revenue is coming in and how the figures are derived.

IT has always been a difficult line to be in. R.I.P Veoh.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Focus on the journey, not the destination

I quote from Greg Anderson:

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.

How often have we become fixated with the end goal, but fail to understand the initial reasons behind achieving it? For example, if you have a goal of earning $x million in y years time so that you can enjoy life in the future, does that mean you should have a horrible life until you reach your goal?

We should always enjoy the journey of life because all the journeys that we take are unique. It's being carved out depending on the choices we make. Reaching your goals bring purpose to your life, but it shouldn't result in you ignoring what's happening around you. Who knows... You might have reached your goals in ways that you've never expected if you notice what's happening around you.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is it possible to increase both fertility and labour productivity at the same time?

I find it pretty amusing that fertility and labour productivity have been mentioned at the same time because in my personal opinion, they are in conflict with each other.

Increasing labour productivity usually results in 2 outcomes. Either we get bogged down by more work to "increase" our productivity or we get more stressed as we undergo changes in the way we work, be it in business process re-engineering or training. It is however quite likely that bosses will send employees to subsidized courses and pile them with more work since they are "trained". As a result, you will have more work to be done and at the same get added stress.

Increase the number of babies? Not very likely. Personally, I believe there will naturally be more babies if we work to live, and not live to work. Will anyone be interested in having more children if you go back everyday dead tired due to the "increased" productivity and still have to reply to emails at night? Some even work over the weekend due to the optimistic schedule that sort of reflect the "increased" productivity.

Sorry but to me, if there is a need to increase labour productivity, then fertility productivity will definitely go down. That's the only way to balance the equation.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Uses of iPad

The iPad is one of the few gadgets that attracts lots of attention even before it is launched. The hottest topic though is whether anyone will bite.

Having looked at the specifications, it does seem it has uses both in the consumer and corporate world.

Consumer wise, the iPad can attract a new breed of eBooks that are able to display images and videos. It is also possible to end a chapter with a quiz to test the reader's knowledge of the chapter and you may even be able to embed a YouTube like video that accepts comments from the people who has purchased the eBook. This is just some of the possibilities.

In the corporate world, I think this will also be a very useful tool for the hospitality sector. I can imagine going to a hotel, greeted by a staff holding an iPad, who is able to do an express check-in for the guest. I would think it will also be an important tool for salespeople. Instant access to product information and in time, you may even be able to do presentations with a special adapter that can connect to any projector.

The iPad possibilities can be endless, as long as you do not restrict your options. I can even imagine using the iPad to control the gadgets around the house locally or remotely.

The key point is not to force the product to do something it is not built for and instead, try to exploit it's features fully. For example, you will never think of using a Nokia 3310 to surf the Internet. It's strength is in other areas.

However, without playing with the actual set, it's difficult to assess it's possibilities. At least whatever Apple announces, it's not too far off from the actual product, unlike some companies. Oh well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hip Hop Lion Dance!

I was browsing around our visitsingapore website and I saw something quite interesting. Hip Hop Lion Dance! This is something quite unique which I've never seen before. Unfortunately, I'm unable to embed their videos here, but I think I found another video in youtube on the same performance.

It seems like there's a series of performances by this group, which you can find out from the visitsingapore website. Check it out... Looks quite cool.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Skip Tracks or Pause Music when iPhone is locked

Recently I have found an interesting function for the iPhone while listening to music. Apparently, you are able to skip to the previous/next track, or pause the music without unlocking your phone.

Just do the following:
  1. Tap once on the Home / Power button (assuming that your iPhone is blank - optional)
  2. Tap the Home button twice when you see the screen that allows you to unlock the iPhone.

That's it. You'll be able to control the music without unlocking your iPhone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Increasing productivity using technology is not straightforward

Recently there seems to be an overdose of articles talking about increasing productivity. The most common example given is: 8 people can do the work of 10 people.

This in my opinion is one of the worst examples you can ever give. Taking the sentence standalone, and taking the sentence as part of a paragraph describing processes to help you increase productivity can mean a world of difference. The default meaning which almost everyone will use is that the bosses should squeeze more work into the remaining workers.

One of the few ways where you can increase productivity is by harnessing technology. Technology however should not just strictly follow the current business process and it should assist or cut down some of the business processes.

The problem with technology is that most users insist on bringing their business processes to the system without recommending changes to shorten/improve the business process. Granted that not all business processes can be improved, but it is possible that certain long processes can be shortened if the policies behind it are adjusted accordingly. In fact, some systems fail because the manual processes were brought into the system without any attempt in re-engineering the process. Systems are always driven by business processes. That's the number one rule all should remember.

There are also cases where certain policies are enforced through technology, which may cause inconveniences to all the users. Reactions vary but I've seen cases where the users totally avoid the IT department because they felt that they are building obstacles, preventing them from reaching their ideal state. This is rather extreme and also dangerous. There are always certain policies which you must comply. Big companies are usually audited and when the time comes, will you be able to answer why the system did not have so and so policy built within?

Productivity may increase due to business process re-engineering but the efficiency gained may be offset by the security features in place. It's not easy increasing productivity and I felt that the articles written did not convey that meaning across.

In fact, I think the only meaning that got across is that the bosses are going to give us more work. Period. Productivity will decrease quite rapidly the more you multitask. You can refer to my post here on this topic. The articles would be better written if they have not tried to use the word productivity which is the end result, but instead concentrate on the processes that will lead to it. Pity... Singapore is going to get some pretty unhappy workers soon if the bosses are reading the articles in the wrong way.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Effective Listening

I quote from M. Scott Peck, MD:

An essential part of true listening is the discipline of bracketing, the temporary giving up or setting aside of one's own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker's world from the inside, step in inside his or her shoes. This unification of speaker and listener is actually and extension and enlargement of ourselves, and new knowledge is always gained from this. Moreover, since true listening involves bracketing, a setting aside of the self, it also temporarily involves a total acceptance of the other. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will fell less and less vulnerable and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener.

Effective listening means that you must first accept what is being said and not form your own opinions until the person has conveyed their intent.

Easy to say, difficult to execute. There's no easy way to do this other by making a significant conscious effort and trying to put yourself in the speaker's shoes. No other easy way I can think of.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Do not believe everything you read on the Internet at face value

I still can't believe that people actually believes everything that they read off the Internet. Even in a normal workplace environment, do you believe everything a person say or do you first determine if you know that person well enough to trust his/her words? Even in school, I believe this applies. There is no difference in the Internet.

Just because someone calls himself Eric Low doesn't mean that he is real guy. Therefore, just taking whatever is written on face value and act upon it is not advisable. You might be causing a poor person much distress for absolutely no reason at all.

Determine first if the author is someone whom you can trust, or some random person who suddenly appears and starts ranting about some particular topic. Be careful about the latter. I've seen several posts before commenting on a particular shop and I realised that the writing style is exactly the same, but the poster name is different. Coincidence?

Do not trust everything you read off the Internet and do your homework.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rather create a fund than to go for cap & trade??

I just read that Tony Abbott advocates a AUD1 billion fund to pay for cleaner power stations, tree-planting and trapping carbon pollution in agricultural soil instead of supporting the cap-and-trade programme proposed by Kevin Rudd.

I don't understand the logic behind it. To me as a layman, when you're in the cap-and-trade programme, people actually pay you for clean energy. Any clean energy initiatives that you have earns credits which polluters must buy under the cap system. You're indirectly getting a subsidy for all your clean energy initiatives. You're also providing an incentive for the current power plants to shift to clean energy because of this cap and trade system.

Therefore, I really do not understand why Tony Abbot wants to pay AUD1 billion instead of joining the cap-and-trade programme that may indirectly help subsidize all the clean initiatives such as cleaner power stations and tree-planting.

Doesn't make sense to me.

Reject calls while iPhone is on standby

I have just realised recently that other than the option of silencing the incoming call on the iPhone by pressing the volume key or power button once, there is actually a way to reject the incoming call.

To reject the incoming call, just press the power button twice. That's all to it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why compare Singapore to Japan?

I do not understand the obsession with comparing Singapore's productivity with Japan. There are always 2 sides to a coin. It's true that Japan is famous for its productivity, but one cannot discount that this rise in productivity do bring about other concerns which Singapore can ill afford to have.

Would you want Singapore to
  1. have one of the lowest birth rates in the world; or/and
  2. have one of the highest rates of suicides in the word 

I think you cannot deny the fact that the above 2 points are associated to productivity. So far, I've not seen many cases of companies raising productivity by investing in new ways of doing things or by upgrading the staff's knowledge. I guess that the reason is because all these efforts cost additional money.

In fact most of the reasons I heard are that so and so says that our productivity is low, so that proves that you guys/gals are not working hard enough. Therefore, I should assign more work to you to increase the productivity.

I believe the authorities should come out clearly that increasing productivity does not necessary equate to assigning more work to an individual. Personally, I also believe that the productivity measurement may also be skewed by the high income earners and should not be used as a gauge at all.

Moreover, productivity does not take into account the quality aspect. What's the use of having super high productivity if the quality of the product/service is not up to standard? Look at the recent problems faced by Toyota and Honda, leading to massive recalls. Is productivity that important? Or quality? I've seen this coming since they started outsourcing their manufacturing. I was just wondering how long it'll take before this happens.

To me, quality is one thing that I will not compromise. Do you think it's cheap to produce good quality work?
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