Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Going Up, Going Down

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambr...Image via WikipediaThe annual QS University rankings have been released; a time when most tertiary institutions prepare their PR releases in advance and hope for the best.

This year as in previous years no university from Asia or Oceania ranked in the top twenty.  The first Asian institution to score is the University of Hong Kong at #22, followed by its Tokyo equivalent at #25.

The first entry for Oceania is the Australia National University which follows on from Tokyo at #26.

Congratulations to my former employer NUS which has jumped up to 28th. They must be very pleased that their investment in research and quality staff is paying off.

By comparison New Zealand's top university, the  University of Auckland, has fallen14 places to 82. Not exactly a trend to crow about.

The rankings are based on research, teaching, employability and internationalisation.
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Monday, 5 September 2011

The Times They Have Changed

With the Rugby World Cup starting this week in New Zealand it is easy to forget just how ingrained the sport is in New Zealand culture.

Here is an image of an early rugby team in the 1890's.  These come from the area that I now live in, although the playing jerseys have changed somewhat from what they were more than a century ago.

Howick Rugby Team circa 1890's
The playing fields have also improved vastly, judging by the foliage in this picture.

And Botany Road which fronts our mews development once looked like this:

The Hattaway family outside Hawthorn Dene, Botany Road, south of Howick, ca 1880

By 1988 the gardens of this historic cottage were overgrown (below) but the site and house has since been renovated and is now a restaurant run by a Mr Song.

Overgrown gardens in 1988
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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Today's Print - Crabs Flying

Crabs Flying
Roger Smith 2011
Click on image to see larger version
See more digital art and photography at worldlense.com
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Saturday, 3 September 2011

New Digital Art Portfolio

Book Worms

Wheelock-backImage via Wikipedia
Two things that Singaporeans love used to be a sale and good book.  While the first remains true the second is now a matter of some debate.

The large book selling chain Borders closed its Wheelock Place outlet in Singapore and the sale attracted thousands, looking for 50% off bargains. People stood in the pay queue for up to  two hours.

Wheelock Place is a strangely designed building on Orchard Road, largely overshadowed by its newer and flashier neighbour, the Ion Mall.

Wheelock is one of those places with confusing levels of escalators so a visitor finds it difficult to navigate to the lower levels but once there you can enjoy the subterranean walkways under the main thoroughfare, escaping the fierce midday sun.

Border's closure in Orchard Road leaves it with one remaining outlet in Parkway Parade but it too is reportedly up for sale.  Its demise is symptomatic of the decline of print with the modern generation choosing to read from their digital tablets.

Wheelock is named after the Hong Kong development company that bought over the property from the original failed owner.

Also buying up property are the Chinese but they are doing so globally. A Mr. Huang Nubo is hoping to purchase a large chunk of Iceland and transform it into a high-end resort. Losing 300 square kilometers of their small country to an overseas developer is not going down too well with Icelanders but given the parlous state of that country's finances they may have few options left.

At least in Iceland they will have built in spa possibilities with the odd volcanic eruption doing away with the need for imported theme parks.  The spa business in Singapore by comparison is going through a rough patch with creditors lining up to get their money back from the failed True Spa enterprise.

Meanwhile the new president of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan has been sworn in and apart form being "deeply honoured, humbled", has pledged to protect the country's financial reserves.

One would sincerely hope that this is so, although there remains disquiet in some quarters about the President's former role as Chair of the GIC and the corporation's bad choices of investment in 2006 & 2007 under his stewardship which wiped millions from the fund.

This observation needs to be balanced by the GIC's fund management over a wider period of time.  According to an entry in Wikipedia, over a period of 25 years to March 2006, the annual rate of return on the foreign reserves managed by GIC averaged 9.5 percent in US dollar terms, and 8.2 percent in Singapore dollar terms. The average rate of return over global inflation was 5.3 per cent per annum.

To the new President's credit he was one of the few in power at the time who vehemently opposed the building of casinos in Singapore.

Commerce in Singapore is always in a state of flux and as Borders closes its doors a new chain, Swedish retail fashion giant H&M, are opening theirs. Needless to say there is a queue forming some 20 hours before opening.

And last but not least; Singapore's own answer to the Yeti has been spotted once again. The "Naked Man of Sengkang" has reappeared in a lift lobby much to the consternation of the residents of Block 124. The citizen journalist who captured this rare sighting is on record as saying "Not sure if there was something wrong with him or if he was an exhibitionist".

My theory is that he was in such a hurry to join the  H&M queue in town that he forgot to dress.
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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Today's Print - Eclipse

Roger Smith - 8/2011
Click on the image to see larger version

The New President of Jurong

Mr Christopher Pereira has
created a new model of
the outgoing president
 - Straits Times - 
So now we have it, the result of the recount which shows that the new president Dr Tony Tan won by just 0.34% more of the vote than the second place-getter.

Considering that 2,153,014 votes were cast and the winning margin between the two leading candidates was a measly 7,269, both sides must be ruing the fact that 37,826 votes were spoiled.

To the victor the spoils as the old saying goes, so congratulations to President Tony Tan who can now look forward to a salary that is the highest paid for any elected official in the world - S$4,267,500.

It is also a victory for PAP party organisation who rallied their troops behind Tony Tan.

The government will be delighted with the outcome as they have 'their man' in the Presidential chair who can be counted upon to support their every move.

One has to feel sorry for the candidate who came second, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who has been the most popular choice but lacked the party infrastructure to get him past the finishing line.

No doubt he will remain the "President of Jurong" in the minds of many, irrespective of this election result. As he said in his final speech of the early morning "I hope this election will set Singaporeans thinking…".

I am sure that they already thinking; about the outcome of the next election in four years time.
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Saturday, 27 August 2011

Election Mark II

Today Singaporeans choose their next President and much has been made of the virtues (and a few political  'vices') of the protagonists.

One result is certain, by end of day we will have a 'President Tan' in office but which one will it be?  As it is is the first contested presidential election in18 years it will be interesting to see which way the voters swing.

Will they continue their 2011 swing towards a candidate less closely affiliated with the ruling PAP party? Or has this negative energy dissipated?

Whoever is the winner, they will be casting a fatherly eye over the reserves piggy bank and it will be a "fatherly" eye, as all of the candidates are male.

Hopefully in future contests this gender imbalance will be rectified as it was the women MP's who impressed me most in the previous government. Madam Halimah Yacob would have been my pick but perhaps we will see someone of her calibre put their name forward next time around.

In a less serious vein, the title 'President Nicole Seah' also has a  certain ring to it, but one suspects she will need to 'age gracefully' before being able to take on the mantle of office!

To lighten the presidential decision making load,  readers may care to cast their eyes on the soothing waters of the Pacific, as captured in my latest print below.

Pacific Montage II
Roger Smith, 2011
(Click on print to view a larger image)
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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Today's Print - Plateau

Plateau ........................................................... Roger Smith 2011
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

An Expensive Place To Live

The world's 20 most expensive cities according to a survey by Swiss bank UBS:

1: Oslo
2: Zurich
3: Geneva
4: Copenhagen
5: Stockholm
6: Tokyo
7: Sydney
8: Helsinki
9: Toronto
10: Singapore
11: Vienna
12: Paris
13: Luxembourg
14: New York
15: London
16: Munich
17: Montreal
18: Frankfurt
19: Sao Paulo
20: Dublin

Auckland is 24th but two years ago it ranked only 43rd.
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Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Rugby Heartland

The 2011 Rugby World Cup is almost upon us in New Zealand and the hype has already reached fever pitch in the local media.

Those of us who last played the game some forty plus years ago have fond memories of the then amateur code.  No doubt they too have, from time to time, rummaged in their stored possessions chancing upon memories of teams past.

Coming from a strong rugby secondary school (New Plymouth Boys High) where I played well enough to make some of the top junior school teams in Taranaki, I was keen to continue this sporting passion during my Teachers College days in Palmerston North.
Two us, Dave Bullot and myself, represented the province of Manawatu as rugby reps in our first year at the college which was quite an honour.  I played prop and Dave, who also happened to be my childhood neighbour for Waitara, was fullback and had a prodigious 'boot'.  The thrill of running from under the stands in Palmerston North, wearing the green and white striped Manawatu jersey is with me still.

Our Manawatu 3rd grade team beat all comers that year.  I also recall a bus trip through the Manawatu Gorge to play a rep team from Hawke's Bay who were playing a grade higher than we were.  Their side was made up of rough-whiskered young farmers and the inside of the scrum smelt like a brewery.  No wonder we thrashed them.

It was in this cauldron that I learn the 'dark arts' of forward play.  Brought up on the idea of fair play I was somewhat surprised when our rep. coach instructed me to stand on the foot of the opposing jumper in the lineout.  It certainly worked but I can't say I enjoyed doing so; the referee never spotted my deviousness so I guess I performed up to the coach's expectation.

After the Teacher's College games we would adjoin to the Grand Hotel on the corner of the Square and Church Street in Palmerston North.  They served a nice pub meal and we shared a jug of beer.  Being under age on licensed premises made one rather nervous and eventually the police raided the hotel and caught several of us.

My first and last court appearance resulted in a fine on $19 for drinking under age, much to the chagrin of my parents, as my father happened to be a Judge of the Maori Land Court.

The magistrate who conducted my case had been dining with our family the week before and clearly wanted to make an example of me so that I never darkened the doors of the Grand again, which I never did.
The next year I made the 1st Xv which played in the Senior B competition.  I was probably a little too light in build to play against the older men who made up these sides but nevertheless we won the competition.

Players who I remember from this time were our fullback, John Brebner, who was studying art and got me interested in doing likewise. John Watson I had known from my school days in New Plymouth. He went on to become one of New Zealand's finest actors. Manasi Vaka was a Tongan studying in New Zealand and Peter Potaka was one of three brothers who went to Teachers College. His family came from a potato growing area called Rama.

This was the last team that I seriously played for. The following year I was transferred to the town of Turangi in the centre of the North Island to undertake my Probationary Assistant year. I played one social game in Turangi but was no longer fit enough to enjoy it.

So this year, as others squabble over the price of All Black replica jerseys, I shall be remembering a time when raking boot sprigs on one's back was a feeling set aside and the gladiatorial crunch of the front row engaging brought on a primeval sense of satisfaction.
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Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Presidential Check List

Choosing a President is never an easy task as many of my Singaporean friends will no doubt tell you.  Later this month they go to the polls once again; this time to choose President Nathan's replacement.

I confess to be living back in a country that doesn't have such an office.  We cling to the last vestiges of our colonial past with a Governor General as our Head of State and the Queen's representative.  There are those who would like to replace the G.G. with a President but I am not one of them.  This preference is based on my observations of the shenanigans that surround the presidential electoral process in other countries -  the States and Italy being amongst the worst examples.

Despite my reservations I couldn't help but wonder what my own checklist for picking a suitable President might be?  I have come up with the following:

  1. Pick someone who hasn't been born with a silver spoon on their mouth.
    A man of the people needs to have been fully immersed in the day to day life of the community through face-to-face service throughout their working life. Only then can they truly claim to be the people's president.
  2. Removed from Government machinations
    Even though the presidential role is largely ceremonial a President need to be perceived to be clearly aside from the ambitions of the government of the day, and to have been so for some considerable time.  Not out of touch nor diametrically opposed to those in power, but able to provide the necessary impartial political checks and balances as and when required.
  3.  Sound moral fibre
    A predilection to the demon drink and chasing hotel maids (or airline stewardesses) might be seen as an attribute in some European countries but it does not project the country in the best light and such a candidate should be discounted with alacrity. And don't be lulled by the false sense that the average age of most presidential hopefuls is at least seventy; many still have the libido to make themselves a nuisance if they are that way inclined.
  4. Gravitas
    Pomp without pomposity should be a defining attribute.  The ability to carry out Presidential ceremonial duties with the dignity of the office in tact I see as essential.  A mumbling moron with a slouch, one who doesn't know his knife from his fork simply will not do.
  5. Fiscal Prudence
    If your Presidential salary is in the millions and you banquet by candlelight most nights of the week it could be very easy to lose touch with reality.  Someone who has been able to manage a family budget in reduced circumstances would have the edge when it came to my pick.  If they knew where the best value for money chicken rice was in the Heartland, even better!
As to the Singaporean election we can be assured of one thing; the next President will be a President Tan.  The questions remains, which one?

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