Monday, 16 January 2012

Red Sky At Night, Shepherd's Delight

Sunset South Auckland
Roger Smith
Given that our television forecasters fail so miserably to predict the weather I found this infographic of interest.  It is based on old saying and observations from time when people could discern weather patterns and decipher the behaviour of animals for themselves.

The original illustration can be found here.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Greening of Singapore

Photo: National Parks Board
Friends visiting me in Singapore always remarked on how green the city was; in direct contrast to their preconceptions.

Of course this wasn't always so and in the earlier days of the Republic there were large expanses of concrete and tall buildings.  The tall buildings remain but now they are more likely to have been designed with the environment in mind - green roof tops, solar and Eco-friendly.

With a population of 5 million people occupying a small land mass of 268 square miles it is not surprising that land use, water use, energy efficiency, green building and waste management are major preoccupations of government. Bare roof tops and concrete surfaces act as heat sinks, making Singapore’ surban areas 3% hotter than the rural ones.

To the country's credit they have set very ambitious goals.  Those who live in Singapore are well aware of the seasonal flooding that continue to plague the city.  It might result in some great post-flood bargains in Lucky Plaza but it is soul destroying for the shop owners.

A Government appointed panel who have been studying Singapore's flooding woes has recommended that building owners be required by law to build green roofs.  These will soak up large amounts of water which otherwise find their way into the over worked storm water drains.

Porous pavements and local storage tanks are two more of the proposed solutions.

Singapore never does anything by halves.  When it sets out to do things it set high goals and aims to achieve them.  The greening of Singapore's buildings is no exception. The goal set by the Building and Construction Authority is to green 80% of  buildings by 2030.  As only 12% of its buildings have been greened to date htis will be quite a challenge but I am sure they will reach their target.  Government continues to fund research into green technologies though its $22 million incentive programme, GREET (Grant for Energy Efficiency Technologies).

Photo: National Parks Board
There is also an initiative suggested by the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology and its partner, the National Parks Board that these roof top spaces could be used by the high-rise residents to grown vegetables for the table.

Presumably root crops will be discouraged as the thought of a carrot growing downwards through one's ceiling would be rather off-putting, but nevertheless a conversation starter.

But it is not just the government and buildings that are taking up the green challenge.  The local shipping industry has a Maritime Singapore Green Pledge which shows commitment to clean and green shipping. Singapore ships that exceed the International Maritime Organisation's Energy Efficiency Design Index are rewarded with tax deductions so there is a real financial incentive for doing so.

Electric cars and green mobile apps. are also under development, so it is literally 'Green for Go' in Singapore in the year ahead.
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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What The Year Of The Dragon Holds...For Dragons

Definitely a year to watch your money if you are a a dragon. The year ahead includes absconding business partners!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Stepping Forward with 'Fin'esse

One of the things that impresses me most is Singapore's commitment to research. Given the lack of mineral resources the Republic's emphasis has always been on developing and using people's skills and abilities. The economic success of Singapore bears witness to the success of this strategy.

One of the most recent scientific breakthroughs has been the discovery of a gene responsible for lung cancer. A collaborative team from the Genome Institute of Singapore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital and National Cancer Center made the breakthrough.

Make no mistake this promises to be a huge breakthrough in the fight against cancer and repays the country's faith in R&D.

Another piece of pleasing news is that Carrefour has followed the lead of NTUC and will no longer be selling Sharks Fin or its soup derivative in its supermarkets. It is to their discredit that Sheng Siong, Giant and Shop N Save have not followed suit and will continue to do so.

The reason behind pulling shark fins off the supermarket shelves is in itself interesting, as it is not a direct conservation effort on behalf of either chain. Rather it is a response to consumer pressure. According to the Straits Times:

Following calls for it to stop selling shark's fin products after one of its suppliers, Thern Da Seafood, put up an online post that said 'Screw the divers' in an announcement of a shark's fin product launch at FairPrice outlets.

The Facebook post drew much criticism and went viral on the social networking site and also microblog Twitter. Many who commented called for a boycott of both the supplier and FairPrice.

The offensive post from the supplier that drew consumer ire
Such is the power of the consumer in this age of social media!

I for one have enjoyed many a meal of sharks fin soup in the past put the realisation of how this practice is decimating the world's shark population means that I will happily forgo the pleasure from now on.

With Chinese New Year almost upon us (in a couple of week's time) I was delighted to read that the spirit of giving and caring remains alive and well in Singapore. A Singapore Buddhist Lodge is distributing more than $675,000 in hongbaos to 11,697 needy old folk and the disabled ahead of the Lunar New Year. What a wonderful gesture.

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Sunday, 8 January 2012

Great Singapore Signs #3

Especially, one would expect, in a public place.

Sakura - A Blast from the Past

When yodeling was Queen.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The First Cut Is The Deepest?

The Singapore Government has clearly been taking note of the 2011 Election results and the voters dissatisfaction with the high level of remuneration that local politicians receive in the Republic.

There is a reason for these salaries which are the highest in the world; they are currently pegged to the salaries of the top 48 from six industry sectors.

The new proposal (and it is just a proposal at this stage, not law) is to extend this benchmark to the top 1,000 across all industries. i.e. the median income of the top 1,000 Singaporean earners.  Mind you, there is also a ' 40-per-cent discount to "signify the sacrifice that comes with the ethos of political service" clause' which rather dissipates the political or real effect of any pay cut.

The President will be hit hardest with a 51% decrease but I am sure will live quite comfortably on the remaining S$1.5 million.

Even with a 36% cut, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will remain one of the highest paid politicians in the world at S$2.2million ($US1.7 million). By comparison, US President Barack Obama earns about $400,000 and the British PM about $US 270,000.

Post-pay cut, the PM's new salary will still be three times that of the Hong Kong chief executive, Donald Tsang, the world's next highest paid political leader, who earns about $550,000.
How the salaries will compare after the pay-cuts
The least a Minister at the lowest entry level grade would expect to get is $S935,000.  According to TodayOnline their salary will now comprise a fixed component of 12 months' pay and a traditional 13th-month Annual Wage Supplement (bonus).

The individual bonus is based on the minister's performance as determined by the Prime Minister while the National Bonus will be linked to "the socio-economic progress of average and lower income Singapore citizens".

Source - Report on Salaries for a capable and committed Government (TodayOnline)
While the international press is is offering scant praise ito news of the pay cuts, it needs to be remembered that the rational behind the high salaries in the first place was to entice the best professional candidates into politics.

This might be a fine idea in times of economic bliss but when recession bites, as it has in Singapore these past two quarters, the voters find such largesse difficult to stomach. This in combination with MRT problems, housing price rises and taxi woes points to challenging times ahead.  The income of Singaporeans in the bottom fifth has been flat or negative in the 10 years to June 2010 while politicians salaries have soared since the 1990's.

But I wonder if all the above truly reflects the cost of a politician?  Making judgments on salary alone is insufficient.  A 'total cost of office' should include salary, entertainment, total travel, pensions and personal security costs, to name but a few.

If such an equation was in place then the true comparison between US President's cost and those of the Singapore PM would be dramatically different.  Having seen the US President's advance security sweep in action before a planned visit, I can vouch that these are thorough and the costs considerable.

Bottom line which only the voters can answer -  are you getting value for your money?
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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Mince PieImage via WikipediaAt the risk of sounding like Scrooge I have to say that the bargains come to those who wait.  It is a week after Xmas and the supermarkets are now putting their surplus Xmas cakes and mince pies on special.

I am 'mince-pie'd out' and now somewhat of an expert on the various brands although last night's fare proved anything but pleasant.

A packet of Ernest Adams Xmas tarts smelt and tasted rancid so these were returned this morning.  We were apparently the second customer to do so, but I noted that the supermarket concerned still had not removed the stock from display.

People who are really experienced in such matters will no doubt be consulting the Daily Telegraph who went to the trouble of publishing glowing tributes to the 'best of the bake'. Marks and Sparks came highly recommended.

While on the subject of the baked, and in this case the half-baked, today marks the 10th year anniversary of the foiled terrorist plot to hijack a plane and fly it into Singapore's Changi International Airport.  The perpetrators were a Singapore cell of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a pan-South-east Asian terrorist group and Al Qaeda affiliate.

The plan was thankfully thwarted by Singapore's domestic intelligence service, the Internal Security Department (ISD) and the plotters were clearly not as clever as they thought they were.

The other piece of news that caught my eye was a series of  DNA errors due to inaccurate reading of the instructions on a chemical bottle.  While this might seem a trivial misdemeanor, it adversely affected 412 criminal cases or which 87 required re-testing.
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Monday, 2 January 2012

Too Much Of A 'Good Thing'

The standard cost of throwing up in a taxi in Singapore is apparently twenty Singapore dollars.  This is the maximum a driver can charge his drunken passenger although they (the driver) also stand to lose about $30 of cab fares as they go about cleaning up their taxi.

According to a newspaper report in the Jakarta PostComfortDelGro, Singapore's biggest cab operator with a fleet of about 15,000 taxis, does not have a policy on compensation but offers its cabbies free cleanups at its workshops.

And before anyone jumps to a conclusion, it is not just the men of Singapore who have this habit of 'hurling' in cabs.  The same newspaper report gives the example of a 34 year old female professional who, after a night out drinking at Clarke Quay, threw up.

She is reported as saying " "I felt very bad seeing the taxi uncle's face fall after I threw up".  I bet you it did!

Surely the bigger question is why is it necessary to binge drink in the first place? There is nothing less edifying than a drunk and I am sure most cab drivers world wide would agree.

Meanwhile drivers such as Tan Pin Lin comes prepared for his shift with "10 plastic bags, boxes of tissue paper and a prayer that no one would puke in his cab after a night of partying."
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Monday, 26 December 2011

Chinatown in 1982

Chinatown - Singapore 1982
Roger Smith

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Quakes and Rage

Hamilton Gardens
I don't know what it is in the human psyche that prompts spur of the moment decisions but what ever it is sees us spending three  nights in Hamilton over the Xmas period.

The city does not endear itself to me, as a 1996 Council decision saw my museum directorship made redundant as with that of the Chief Librarian, the Head of the City Zoo, amongst others.

It was of course a cost cutting exercise that was doomed to fail, as was proved a decade later when the  Museum and Library once again came under the stewardship of their own directors.  But that as they say, is another story.

What is of interest is that the CEO at the time, he who devised the 'brilliant' Hamilton City restructuring plan, is now the CEO of Christchurch City Council; a city still experiencing devastating earthquakes (three more significant quakes over the last 24 hours).

This gentleman has just been given a $70,000 pay increase which naturally is drawing howls of outrage from the ratepayers who are faced with a ravaged city and personal prospects that are not much better.

Has he publicly declined to accept this raise - me thinks not!

But back in Hamilton as I write the weather is as humid as Singapore's with rain threatening.  For the first time since our return from the Republic we are using the air-conditioning to beat the humidity.

The afternoon was spent visiting supermarkets, fighting for parking spaces and shopping trolleys and looking at prices of items that have been raised in the past week.  Why one want to scramble for mince pies and Xmas hams defies belief.  The same items will be discounted the following week.


Today is Christmas Day and there is a deathly hush over the city - most of Hamilton seems to have either deserted the ship or slept in, or both.

Our motel proprietor wished us a merry Xmas as he handed me a replacement rubbish bag and coffee sachets. Ours will be a quiet one as we don't celebrate the festival; perhaps a trip to the renowned Hamilton Gardens if the weather holds and they are open.

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Thursday, 22 December 2011

History Never Repeats

Click on image for larger version

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Panda Envy and Braveheart Butter Bombs

Pandas are big business as everyone who has ever had one in their zoo knows. So it is in Edinburgh, the latest city to receive this diplomatic loan from China.

But the Rockhopper Penguins are not happy with all the fuss, they are not happy at all. By all accounts they vent their anger (both literally and figuratively) on the heads of zoo patrons who are queuing up at the cage nearby to see the two pandas.

The BBC reports the Zoo's director of business operations as saying: "Our rockhopper penguins in particular have been watching the events at the panda enclosure below with great interest, ever since work started on the enclosure.

"Extremely curious birds, they often gather next to the wall to see what's happening below.

"We're hoping it's not a case of monochrome jealousy, but one or two of our rockhoppers seem to have had surprisingly good aim."

Such a show of public disdain would be unlikely to occur at Singapore's Nigh Safari.

It could however be a question of diet as Edinburgh is also the city that has recently put deep fried butter on its menu, much to the consternation of health officials there. The Braveheart Butter Bombs as they are known are described as a "coronary on a plate"

Scotland's offerings to the world's culinary heritage thus far have included haggis, oatcakes, porridge (from the same cereal as the oatcakes) and whisky. The aptly named Braveheart Butter Bombs are not quite in the same rank as these more traditional foods but will no doubt ward off the winter chills in a similar fashion.

So my theory is that some kind zoo visitor fed their Butter Bombs left-overs to the penguins which upset their delicate constitution. Seeing a queue outside the panda enclosure the penguins saw an opportunity to get their own back.

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Monday, 19 December 2011

Walk To Meadowlands

Roger Smith 12/2011
I went for a walk this morning with the camera along a path that leads from Botany to Meadowlands.  The results can be seen in the last four images on my gallery site.
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Off The Rails

By all accounts its has not been a good couple of weeks for public transport in Singapore. Some 127,000 commuters were affected by a major 'glitch' in the MRT system which left them hot, tired and frustrated.

The SMRT CEO, Saw Phaik Hwa, even offered to consider stepping down over the incident, which regrettably were followed by more minor disruptions in the days following.

Being on a packed MRT train during the heat of Singapore can be uncomfortable but being stranded for five hours in a carriage without air conditioning must have been akin to hell.

In New Zealand, people have been known to force open carriage doors and spill out on to the tracks in the event of similar incidents, as they did on the opening night of the recent Rugby World Cup.

Singaporeans are a little more controlled in such circumstances but they must have been sorely tested. There are also reports that the local taxi drivers, who did very well out of the MRT's misfortune, saw this incident as an "income opportunity" - of course they did.

The Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew has also weighed into the fray saying that he too was disappointed by how SMRT handled the MRT disruption and would be holding them accountable. Heads will no doubt roll at some time in the future.

In a country that is so reliant on public transport a series of events such as the above make the population lose faith in the reliability of a service. We in New Zealand know this as we lost faith in NZ Rail decades ago. It is a very hard task for the company to win back custom and confidence once it is lost.

So it is also a question of context; in the main Singapore's MRT system is efficient, clean and reliable, a lot more so than many other countries including my own.

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