Monday, 20 June 2011

Changi Compost

It may be difficult to envisage compost heaps at a future Changi airport but the notion is not as far fetched as some make think.

No content with wrapping their sushi in nori, the Japanese are now working on plans with Europeans to use the green stuff to save more 'green stuff' - money.

According to those who follow developments in aviation, a seaweed-powered space-liner will be able to fly from London to Tokyo in two-and-a-half hours, at a cruising altitude of 20 miles and generating no significant pollution.  The time frame is by 2050.

The Zehst - or "Zero emission hypersonic transportation" pictured left will fly twice as fast and twice as high as Concorde if all goes to plan. The technology remains largely secret as one might expect with such a radical development but the two large blue tanks in the illustration suggest a bio-gas component.

I am not sure that this is so reassuring, given that the current gas tanks of the on board toilets always seem to fail or block on a long flight.

Meanwhile in a small apartment in Tanjong Pagar a Singaporean enthusiast is tackling history at the opposite end of the time continuum.

Calvin Chu collects fossils and has an abiding passion for dinosaurs.  According to the media article, Calvin also has a degree of secrecy around his pet project:

"Just like actual dinosaur remains, the study in Chu’s apartment where the fossils are kept is not easily found. It is hidden behind three large bookcases, and revealed only by pulling out the middle one, which acts like a door to the study"

Hopefully the 2014 opening of the new Natural History Museum at NUS will allow him to indulge in his passion more openly.

And, as most of the 335 kinds of dinosaurs ate plants its a sure fire bet that at least some were partial to seaweed. Given the gas that apparently produces maybe global warming isn't such a recent phenomenon after all.
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Sunday, 19 June 2011

Friday, 17 June 2011

Looking over the Fence

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  A young gi...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI have just been listening to a BBC programme "Growing Up In Poverty" detailing the sorry lives of Britain's urban poor; bright children going hungry in one of the world's most developed economies.

This comes hard on the heels of similar television programmes from the UK where poor families are sponsored by rich ones.

Meanwhile the newly wedded Windsor Royals are 'cutting back', by taking less servants on their first trip as a married couple to the USA.

Last week Britian announced that it would continue to send a billion dollars of aid support to India, a country that now has more billionaires than Britiain itself.

There has to be something fundamentally flawed and unjust about such decisions.  If the investment was channelled to the UK disadvantaged instead of overseas (or on royal visits) the country's disadvantaged would have a chance to rise within society, social problems would be alleviated and the country would progress.

This sort of approach is not restricted to Britain; it happens in New Zealand and other western countries where aid would be better spent internally than trying to curry favour in  areas of potential returns outside the country.

Its about time we looked on our own side of the fence rather than over it and fixed our own problems before trying to fix other peoples.
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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