Monday, 27 August 2012

Song Birds, Spring and Haze

Roger Smith - August 2012
In recent days the Tui (a native New Zealand song bird) have been flying around the gum trees as they enjoy the first signs of Spring.  I see them as I walk the nearby tracks around Botany where I live. The air is clean, plums are blossoming and there are signs of renewal everywhere.

By comparison, the air in Singapore is once again predicted polluted by the seasonal haze; a recurring problem created by the thoughtless actions of Singapore's neighbours as they burn off large areas of jungle for oil palm plantations and farming.

The likelihood of a El Nino weather pattern isn't helping matters either.  The last significant one to hit Singapore, the first year of our arrival, and I remember looking up Oxley Road and not being bale to see the Gurkha soldiers standing guard outside Lee Kuan Yew's residence.  No doubt they could see me as I made my journey from Oxley Mansions to Lloyd Road but the air was so thick with pollutants that I felt sorry for them having to stand in the smog.

So while Singapore may have been named "healthiest country" by Bloomberg, I wonder if any of their media people ever visited country during the 'hazy days'?  They might have formed a slightly different opinion or at the very least, broadened their criteria.
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Sunday, 26 August 2012

He Made One Giant Step For Mankind

This portrait taken in July 1969 shows astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission
Those of us who had our youth in the Sixties will remember the decade for its manyfold achievements and for the other momentous events that took place at the time.

The music from Merseyside that rang in our ears, the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas and perhaps above all, the first footsteps on a planet other than our own.

So it is sad to hear the news today that the man who stepped on to the Moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong, has died at the age of eighty two, after belated complications from heart surgery.

It is also perhaps fitting to remember how relatively primitive the technology was at that time compared to the Mars Curiosity Rover which is currently traversing the terrain of that planet.

Armstrong had to manually take over the controls to land the lunar vehicle Eagle on the Moon, demonstrating what a superb test pilot he was.  The world then waited with bated breath as he descended the steps onto the surface of the moon, stirring up lunar dust as he did so.

He was a modest man who did not seek publicity which in my mind is also an endearing attribute.  Perhaps the great tribute that can be paid to him are the words that he used himslef on that momentous day in 1969:

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"

Thank you Neil Armstrong for being the pioneer that you were and for helping define our generation.
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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Orchard Composition

Roger Smith - August 2012
A composition based on Singapore's Orchard Road and the sculpture fronting the Ion Mall.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Queenstown Compositions

Queenstown #1
Roger Smith - August 2012

These two compositions are based on the sights, colour and textures of the old Queenstown Bowl building in Singapore.  I use to walk past it regularly and the patterns of decay always fascinated me.
Queenstown #3
Roger Smith - August, 2012
Copies of the above for sale here and here.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Asian Compositions - August

Taipei #1
Roger Smith - August 2012
I have spent a productive day developing a few surrealist interpretations of Asia, in particular the area around Taipei.  The above is one example and a few more can be seen in the video below.

I have placed larger versions of the video images on my photographic / digital art site - worldlense.
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Crowdsourced Veggies And Laundry Poles

Lee Yi Shyan - Cool Ideas for Better HDB Living
I like the idea of crowdsourcing; to use the parlance of the Tech world.  The collective wisdom of the masses is harnessed to reach a satisfactory solution through the suggestion of creative ideas that will be of benefit to all.

"Cool Ideas for Better HDB Living" should be seen in this context.  If you ask the residents of these estates what it is they need and want to make their living more pleasurable you will get some good ideas thrown into the cerebral arena.

Far better to adopt this approach than attempt to impose a solution or set of solutions from afar.  Singapore HDB's (Housing Development Board estates) are a model for many other countries, as they too grapple with the problem of housing  a large population within a small landmass.

The HDB concept from the beginning is one of ownership rather than renting accommodation from the government.  This engenders a greater pride and encourages self-sufficiency rather than relying on government handouts, as often happens in countries such as New Zealand with its State Houses.

But the HDB's, especially the earlier ones, are not perfect as they were primarily designed for the able-bodied. For those suffering a disability, mobility in the older blocks has been a problem.  With a rapidly aging population these challenges are multiplied.

I was particularly impressed with one of the innovations suggested in the Cool Ideas competition. The "iStepup" is a retractable three-step stairs which flatten into a ramp to make it easier for those in a wheelchair to move around, according to the reports.  It was designed by three polytechnic students which clearly shows their design education is already paying dividends to society.

Domestic servants falling out of windows has been problematic over the years.  Washing hanging our from the windows of HDB's on long bamboo poles is a a very practical solution, as they capture the sultry breezes of Singapore.  However leaning too far out to retrieve the load has proved fatal for many.

Therefore another competition winner; a retractable laundry pole invention which promises to make hanging clothes out to dry easier should prove a winner.  It is already being user-tested in four households.

I should point out that washing on bamboo poles is a feature throughout Asia, not just Singapore. Flying into the old Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong entailed running the gauntlet of public housing with its flapping washing, on the final approach to landing.

Another idea submitted involves the use of multiple plant containers to water and grown one's own vegetables on the tiny HDB balcony.  Not sure of the dengue fever implications with this one as we were always actively discouraged from keeping pots with sitting water for fear of encouraging the mosquitoes.

Once these prototypes have passed the testing process then the government will facilitate the next step to commercialisation of the product or idea.  Of the eighty eight ideas submitted, fifteen have been selected for the prototype phase.  You can see some of the ideas and the participants on this Facebook site complied by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry & National Development, Lee Yi Shyan.

Speaking of urban development and HDB's, here is the photographic portfolio of Sam Kang Li, one of the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2012 nominees. His work neatly captures the atmosphere of the residents in his HDB block and the friendliness of Singaporeans in their multiracial environment.

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Friday, 17 August 2012

Ramen Romps

Who cares about the Olympics and gold medals when there are much more important feats to celebrate. Take the Singapore Ramen championship for instance which was won by Ikkousha Ramen who have sold 100,000 bowls of the stuff in the past twelve months

The gentle art of noodle pulling has apparently become a 'fine art' under their tutelage. Ramen might well be regarded in the West as student fodder but in Asia they take it very seriously.

 And on the subject of matters culinary spare a thought for the FEDEX workers in the States who redefined the meanin of "some like it hot". 

A 19 litre container of liquid capsaicin, a chili pepper component destined for hot sauce was accidentally punctured by a forklift. resulting in a sudden evacuation.  I wonder what the health authorities made of this mishap?

Speaking of health, Bloomberg has just ranked Singapore as having the healthiest population in the world. It nudged out Italy, Australia, Switzerland and Japan for this honour. The country has a very strong healthcare system which means that residents are living longer and death rate is lower than it has been in the past. Get rid of the endemic cigarette smoking by new migrants and the result will be even higher.

Mind you such healthcare doesn't come cheaply so it is essential to have some form of insurance. We found NTUC's policies were best value for money. The added advantage is that they can be paid for out of CPF contributions.
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Friday, 10 August 2012

I've Just Had A Mint Moment!

Apparently the post-coital cigarette has been replaced by the pre-coital mint in Singapore. A tongue in cheek (and I use this pun in the figurative sense, not the literal) has seen a mint confectionery company promote the idea of increasing one's family size on the night of National Day.

Appalled by the prospect of a plummeting birth rate the government has for many years been trying to coerce the population to breed; so far with little success.  Whether a sugar shot will add to the national libido has yet to be seen but it certainly added spice to National Day!

In honour of this innovative advertising promotion I felt  the very least I could was to come up with a range of congratulatory buttons, magnets and to top off the celebrations (an even worse pun!), a beer stein.

Click on any of the images below to go through to the products in question.




beer stein

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Happy Birthday Singapore

It's August 9th and that means National Day in Singapore;thisyear is the 47th anniversary as it turns out.
As per usual there is a patriotic song around the selected theme. The socially binding statement for 2012 is "Loving Singapore Our Home".

What has impressed me is how each year the country makes increasing use of online media to engage with its citizens.

As well as a photo competition (my favourite from the winners - by Teo Yong Kang - can be seen below) people can now create and download an e-flag as well as an e-pledge.

And Singapore being Singapore i.e. a shopping paradise, no celebration would be complete without a range of discounts, coupon and offers. As the coupon site says "What is a birthday without presents, goodies and all things nice?". I note I can get a fish and chip set from Botak Jones and even D24 durian puffs are on special!
Photo:  Teo Yong Kang
So happy birthday Singapore.  I won't be there in person to see the jest whizzing past my condo window, but I will be celebrating in spirit from afar.
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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Little Green Glowing Men

For the past few decades New Zealand has been "Nuclear Free'. A bit of a misnomer really as there is nuclear material in the country in small research labs, but never the less a political position that had its genesis in the destructive nuclear testing in the Pacific, most notably by France and US.

While am not a rabid anti-nuclear campaigner, I think most New Zealanders are supportive of the stance. There have been& political repercussions, most notably the downgrading of our status with the USA from 'ally' to 'friend'. Only in recent times and administrations has there been a thaw in the relationship with the NZ Navy (what's left of it) rejoining strategic military exercises with the US. But nuclear-fueled& vessels are still not allowed in new Zealand ports.

This has not stopped the Americans putting their nuclear fuel rods to other forms of propulsion. The latest is nuclear-driven vehicle which has just been dropped on to the surface of Mars. If there is any life on the planet I hope it is staying well away from the batteries. Little Green Men might run the risk of becoming Little Green Glowing Men if they don't.

One of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars early Monday, August 6.  The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. Photo: NASA.

Frivolity asides, this is a marvelous scientific and engineering accomplishment.. To travel for 9 months across billions of miles (without accruing any airpoints) and to land on the surface of the Red Planet takes some doing.

Given the form of propulsion for the Mars vehicle (nuclear rather than solar) the life expectancy of the craft could be several years, yielding a wealth of scientific results. One hopes that the fuel rods powering the vehicle are using the latest technological innovations. Traditionally a 'spent' nuclear rod has only used 5% of its potential power.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory now think they have found a way of utilising the remaining 95% of the uranium in the fuel rod. Their technique could produce hundreds to thousands of years worth of carbon free energy just by reusing the uranium that has already been mined, and is currently considered ‘spent’.

Mr Brown's Singapore version of the Mars Landing!
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