Friday, 10 June 2011

Leaving Work Early

A study published in the Psychological Review suggests that to be successful you need to leave work early. The paper - The Role Of Deliberate Practice - with its focus on learning music, reminded me of the hours of slow torture being taught pianoforte at a tender age, by autocratic nuns.

The trick evidently is to stay focussed and work at a task for short bursts of time.  Violinists who practised in the manner for 4 hours achieved more than those who slaved away for 7 hours.

This information will provide some relief to those of us who live or used to live in highrise apartments and HDB's in Singapore and elsewhere.

The strains of music practise are quite common, although in our case we were fortunate having a  piano virtuoso within earshot.

I shudder to think what might have happened if an intinerant Scotsman with a set of pipes had set up residence.

Working at a task for short bursts of time comes naturally to some people.  In Singapore I noted that the routine of many of my colleagues was:
  • to arrive early
  • fire up their computers and check Facebook was operative
  • have a break for breakfast (or eat a curry puff at desk)
  • work for a couple of hours
  • have coffee and discussion on where to go for lunch
  • two more hours of work
  • taxi ride to the 'best foodcourt for....'
  • lunch with friends
  • a couple more hours of work
  • quick trip to the staff room to see who had left kueh kueh to be shared around
  • two or three more hours of work, checking the approaching rain clouds out of the window from time to time
  • rush to catch the bus that connected to the MRT, that connected to another bus etc.
Author Timothy Ferriss stresses the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 law, which is that 80 percent of outputs come from 20 percent of inputs so I think my Singaporean colleagues are on to something.

But this is not to suggest that Singaporean are happy workers.  A recent Lumesse survey published in the Straits Times shows that "a poll of employee attitudes in 14 countries has ranked Singapore last in workplace happiness. Unsurprisingly, this correlates to loyalty to employers, where Singapore is again ranked at the rear."

While job hopping may be the norm in Singapore it is by no means universal.   Some places of work have emnployees who have spent most of their working lives with one company or institution.  The 'post bonus migration' though is set to continue for some time with the scarcity of talent in several sectors.
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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Napier Road Awash

There's rain and then there's RAIN.  This photograph was taken by a friend and former colleague of mine at the British Council in Singapore.

Napier Road - Photo Robert Morales
It is the view out of what was my office window overlooking the two lane Napier Road, near the junction with Tanglin Mall.

The tropical deluge that created this flood is not uncommon and the coming of the rains brings welcome respite from the June heat.  It is also a time of danger as people have been knwon to get washed into culverts, so one has to be very careful when crossing flooded areas.

As I discovered, even the strongest umbrella couldn't stop you getting soaked when the heavens opened in this manner.  It is best to site it out and wait for the storm to pass, which they usually do within an hour.

Click this link for the sound of a tropical deluge that I recorded on my mobile phone in late 2006.

Shoes in Singapore do not last as the soles often separate from the uppers due to the constant wetness. A change of shoes in the office is also a wise move.

The above video is Tanglin Mall which is just down the road from the British Council and where my colleagues and I often took our lunch, in the foodcourt on the lower level.
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Saturday, 4 June 2011

Tanjong Pagar Station

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station from ChengChan.

The historic Tanjong Pagar station is being returned to Singapore as part of a land swap deal. At the end of this month it will cease its train operations.

Built in 1932, it has been the terminus for the West Coast line of the KTM (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) Railway line. The station will continue to be owned and operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), Malaysia's main railway operator until July 1st.

The sculptures that adorn the structure are works by Rudolfo Nolli, a sculptor and architect from Lombardy, who during the first half of the 20th century worked mainly in the Siam region.

Singapore has agreed to keep the old station building preserved by the National Heritage Board in any future development of the area. One hope that this will mean 'kept intact without additional add-on embellishments'.

It's combination of neo-classical and art deco architecture makes it a striking building.
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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Wonders Never Cease

'On The Tiles'
I entered this online promotion run by KLM just for the hell of it. Today I received news that mine was one of nearly 4,000 tiles selected to decorate the cabin of one of their triple 7's.

A 'delft touch' if you'll excuse the pun!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Presidential Ambitions

Tomorrow is the first day of winter; a season I was delighted to escape during my time in Singapore, although it has to be said that many of my Singaporean friends would just as gladly swap their June/July heat for a good New Zealand frost.

But it promises not to be a 'winter of discontent' for aspiring Presidents. FIFA's Sepp Blatter has neatly sidestepped any reference to corruption at the sport's highest table, although the rest of the world views matters differently. He is no doubt keen to keep his $900,000 plus salary intact.

In a more positive vein, Singapore is once again going to the polls, this time to choose a replacement for incumbent President Nathan.

Eugene Tan writing in the Today Online believes that unlike the previous elections there will be a contest this time.

"And it is probable the strong ground sentiments, polarised political mood and emotions that characterised this year's May GE will also manifest themselves in the presidential polls. This is despite the Presidential Election not being a political contest in which candidates debate and challenge each other on political platforms and policies".

Even though candidates for this high office have to be 'non-partisan' by nomination day, this prerequisite fools no one, as previous party affiliations are well known by the local populace.

I would not be surprised if an overtly PAP endorsed candidate would find such support a 'poison chalice'.  The recent General Election demonstrated an increasing desire for opposition voices to counterbalance the PAP majority.

Not that the President has any real power to countermand government policies.  His or her role is largely ceremonial; none of a Blatter- style autocratic overview would be expected nor tolerated.

So who will emerge from the woodwork to lay claim to the title? The pay and conditions will surely prove an attractive lure but not everyone can be sure of even standing. Candidates need to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility to run and this is available from tomorrow.

Last time around  only one of the four candidates was granted this elusive certificate and that was President Nathan.

The career history and experience of the other three candidates counted against them according to the selection committee. They did " not have the experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to effectively discharge the duties and responsibilities of the office of the President" was the verdict at the time.

The government appoints the three person Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) and in 2011 the composition of the committee consists of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Mr Eddie Teo, Ms Chan Lai Fung, chairman of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, and Mr Sat Pal Khattar, a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. Mr Teo will chair the PEC.

Former PAP MP Dr Tan Cheng Bock looks as if he will throw his hat into the ring and President Nathan could also seek another term.  It will be interesting to see who else passes the stringent, preliminary vetting process.

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Fish Head Soup

Fish Head Soup
Roger Smith - May 2011
Click on the image then click again to see the larger print

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Pizza Of Death

Would you like arachnid with that?
We may have some strange dietary habits in New Zealand but none stranger than what has been dubbed by the media, the Pizza of Death.

Rotten corn is a Maori delicacy and 'Mountain Oysters' are sheep's testicles in disguise, which are eaten with great gusto in the rural hinterlands of many countries including this one.

The aforementioned pizza is a different matter entirely when is comes to sustenance.  The newspaper report states that:

A Domino's customer dubbed his takeaway the "Pizza of Death" after finding a poisonous white-tailed spider hiding in the box.

The Palmerston North man said his brother found the spider under the fold of the box after eating a slice of Meatlovers

There are two varieties of white tail spiders in New Zealand and both are Australian imports and venomous.

Domino's New Zealand general manager gave the customer an apology, a refund and a free pizza.

The spider is be sent for testing to see if it had gone through the pizza oven.

Not only does Australia export it poisonous fauna it also has to deal with pig-eating mice. A South Australian pig farmer has spoken of a plague of mice so ravenous that they are eating his prize stock.

In desperation he has resorted to a home made remedy to rid his farm of the plague.

"I mix icing sugar and cement. The icing sugar attracts the mice, they eat it and then the cement clogs them up."

The answer to both of the above problems is quite simple; broaden the mice's diet to include spiders.  Once they get a taste for these they will forgo the pork and New Zealand pizzas will be once again fit to consume.
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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

All That Glitters - A Photographic Journey

Click on the book above then click again to see the larger images in the portfolio

A three day road trip to Tauranga is now complete and the above images cover some of the sights we saw enroute.

Revisiting old haunts such as Maketu was one of the highlights.  It is now famous for its meat pies but has a much earlier claim to fame; as the landing place of the Arawa canoe in 1340 which brought  Maori to these shores. Quite a sailing feat of some 2,000 miles, navigating by the stars and the waves.

It was the middle of the kiwifruit and mandarin season and Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty, is regarded as the heart of kiwifruit country.

The fish life under the wharves at the Port of Tauranga in Mount Maunganui was prolific and  local fishermen were getting some good catches on both rod and hand lines.

We were blessed with unseasonable warm weather but have returned to the promise of rain in Auckland over the next couple or days.
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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Tauranga Travels

The trip down to Tauranga was uneventful with the morning fog still clinging to the hills. Following State Highway 2 from the southern side of the Bombay Hills we skooted across the Hauraki Plains, stopping for a  break at Ngatea.

I remember the Plains well as I had an Uncle who owned a farm at Kerepehi, near Paeroa. He was not an "uncle" in the strict sense of being a relative, but was an old army POW friend of my father's.  Brian Wiggins and his wife Buster had three daughters and they treated me as a son during my holidays with them.

The second of these when I was 11 or 12 could be termed a "working Holiday", as I worked as a farm hand learning to milk, hay-make and take an active part in the day to day routine of dairy farming. Throwing hay bales and stacking them on a truck, or in the shed, was also a great muscle building activity,

Earlier holidays on the farm had seen me roaming the hedge rows looking for birds eggs to add to my collection. This I might add was well before the days of conservation so a Pied Stilt egg was highly prized as was the art of being able to 'blow' and egg to remove the yolk inside without damaging the shell.

Two other memories I have of these times were learning to ride a motorbike - a Norton 500CC - and doing a 'ton' (100 MPH) as a pillion passenger on the same bike; clinging on, literally, for dear life to the jacket of the farm labourer who was the proud owner of the machine. This was also without any form of crash helmet which in hindsight was foolish in the extreme.

Church - Waihi
Click on the image to see the larger version
This trip to Tauranga was much more sedate and we left the Hauraki Plains and went through the gorge that intersects the lower Coromandel Peninsila to Waihi, the site of New Zealand most intensive, open cast goldmining operation.

The Martha Mine started as an underground digging but later in its life open cast methods were used.  With the high price of gold it was reopened in recent times.

White Shed - Martha Mine
Click on the image then click again to see the larger version

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Test For New Water

One of the most interesting technological developments in Singapore in recent years has been that of 'new water', a process that recycles water so successfully it is once again fit for human consumption.

However the general drinking water has recently faced a more severe test with the discovery of a deceased Maid in one of the HDB roof water tanks.

According to the newspaper reports some residents of a block of Housing Board flats in Woodlands were greeted with an unusual sight when they turned on their taps yesterday morning.

"The water was slightly yellowish and appeared unnaturally foamy."

While most put it down to the water pipes malfunctioning other residents called the Sembawang Town Council to complain.

It wasn't until late morning that the water supply was cut off and only later were the residents informed  about the murder victim in their town supply.

A Bangladeshi cleaner has been charged with the murder of a 30-year-old Indonesian maid and if convicted will face the death penalty.
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Something Old, Something New

Although the two most senior men in the PAP recently announced their retirement from Cabinet, both as predicted remain very influential, albeit behind the scenes.

LKY is to be Senior Advisor to GIC which is Singapore's largest investment vehicle and the Goh Chok Tong has become Senior Advisor to MAS as well as being anointed as Emeritus Senior Minister, which has a distinctly academic ring to its title.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng as well as Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim have retired from the Cabinet.  In the case of Wong Kan Seng one presumes that he was retired, after a decent interval of time, following the debacle of the Mas Selamat escape which caused great embarrassment to the government.

I am not at all surprised by the rapid elevation of Tharman Shanmugaratnam in the PAP ranks.  His appointment as one of the two Deputy Prime Ministers is a reflection of his political presence and acumen.  I recall meeting at the launch of the ill fated UNSW Asia when he was Minister of Education.  He was eloquent, attentive and a man of considerable bearing.

Teo Chee Hean, the other Deputy Prime Minister could also be a future PM of Singapore as he too has the presence and political nous to succeed.

Someone else who impressed me in the past was Madame Halimah Yacob and I note she has been made a Minister of State for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

It will now be interesting to see how the Opposition responds as they have this term to bring their star players to the fore.  Sheer weight of numbers from the government benches will make this a difficult but not insurmountable task.

To succeed further they will need to stick to championing the issues that the people of Singapore want addressed, and not succumb to petty inter-party squabbling which has been a problem in the past.
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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Great Seducer

The Strauss-Kahn affair currently playing out in the US courts is an ugly chapter in power politics.

While no person should be presumed guilty in advance of a fair trial, this arrest appears once again to demonstrate that there is a global 'elite' who feel they can act with impunity.

It is not an uncommon occurrence for men in such positions of power or influence to behave in this manner nor to practice serial infidelity.

When this story first broke I did a quick Wikipedia search to find out more about the individual concerned.

Clearly Strauss-Kahn is no stranger to such allegations and has an entire section dedicated what are politely termed 'controversies'.

In 2002 a French writer accused him of attempted rape but dropped the charges.  In light of the New York happenings she is now contemplating resurrecting these.

The case has all the hallmarks of a serial sexual predator and the accused is known in his home country as 'The Great Seducer'.  I doubt that even France, with its more tolerant views of infidelity, will countenance the latest escapade.

I hope justice will prevail above politics and having bail refused is a good start.
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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Two Less Lions In Lion City

From Left - Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew
There will be two less lions at the Lion City's top political table from this moment forward. Both MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong has decide to retire from Cabinet and focus their efforts soley on their constituencies.

According to the Straits Times they described the very recent General Election as a 'watershed' one and that 'they have decided to leave the Cabinet and have a 'completely younger team of ministers connect to and engage with this young generation in shaping the future of Singapore.'

"We have studied the new political situation and thought how it can affect the future. We have made our contributions to the development of Singapore. The time has come for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation. The Prime Minister and his team of younger leaders should have a fresh clean slate. A younger generation, besides having a non-corrupt and meritocratic government and a high standard of living, wants to be more engaged in the decisions which affect them. After a watershed general election, we have decided to leave the cabinet and have a completely younger team of ministers to connect to and engage with this young generation in shaping the future of our Singapore.
But the younger team must always have in mind the interests of the older generation. This generation who has contributed to Singapore must be well-looked after."

While it is timely to pay tribute to both men for their stewardship of Singapore, the political tide has changed somewhat and their resignations reflect this new reality.

There is need for the PAP to reinvent itself after being re elected by the smallest margin since independence.

The younger people of Singapore do not respond to the pleas for 'nation building' in the same way as their parents once did.  They expect the government to be more responsive to their basic needs, such as housing and jobs and to listen to their criticisms.

MM Lee Kuan Yew is now 87 and SM Goh Chok Tong a sprightly 69.  Both have once again shown astute political judgement in their decision to resign from cabinet, although I very much suspect that behind the scenes their opinion will still be sought.

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