Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Words of Wisdom

Cowboy Caleb is on my blogroll, as a very interesting read. Sometimes irreverent, sometimes adoring (ahem, not adorable).

And sometimes wise.

Excerpts from "Guide To What You Should Not Be Doing With Your Life"

[2] Do Not Study That Which Your Mother Told You Not To
Instead listen to your mother. Your mother is always right. Why? Because 10 years from now when you’re a bitter and frustrated IT Consultant who could have been a doctor/lawyer/accountant, your mother will tell you “I TOLD YOU SO”.

[4] Do Not Buy A Car Unless You Have A House
Instead of buying that sweet ride, why not use the deposit as a downpayment on a 4-bedroom flat or apartment instead? Property appreciates in (in most cases) value but a car will always be a losing deal.

[7] Do Not Stop Learning
Just because you’re no longer in school doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Read wikipedia. Visit the library. There is nothing worse then a boring person at lunch who doesn’t know anything about what’s going on in the world today and cannot hold a conversation about multiple topics. Grow as a person.


I've been updating my other blog

I got bored of cataloguing the insignificant events in my meaningless life, so I got back to updating my other blog (which I stopped in March this year).

Expect fewer postings here and more there.


Ok ok, don't panic, I'm not in the midst of depression or anything like that; life is good, but damn sian, leh!.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Nothin's fer free.

Over the past couple of months, I've had a few missed calls on my mobile phone, from a strange number that I deduced was in China. I didn't know anyone there, so it was even more puzzling. Like most people, I called back the number, only to be greeted by a recorded message in Chinese, which I didn't understand. I guessed the message said something to the effect of: "This numberis not in use", so it was all the more intriguing.

But last week I got an SMS message in Chinese from another China number. This was the message:

I ran this through babelfish (oh the hack I had to do to get this from my phone to my laptop in ASCII and to convert that to unicode!), and it came out as:
Hello! Here was the Hong Kong resurgence group Shenzhen general agent your handset has hit resurgence group second prize 168,000 US dollars please by +861348953124 Mr. Chen


Then I asked a couple of my colleagues at work to translate it for me, and they told me that I had apparently won some money (probably $168,000) and I was to call the number given to collect it. The word "SCAM" ran through my mind, and I quickly forgot it.

Then yesterday's newspaper carried this story. To quote:
Departing from the initial trick of sending text messages to inform mobile phone users that they had won a lottery prize, the fraudsters have also spawned novel ways to perpetrate their scams. Now, they also use missed calls to trick the victims into calling back, and a pre-recorded message — similar to the ones in the SMS scams — greets those who do.

To claim the lottery prize, the conmen would say, winners have to first pay a "government tax" of a few thousand dollars.

Behold: the new Nigerian scam.

Mumbai reloaded

Continuing from my last post on Mumbai.

I had made a date with one of my ex-colleagues from SIA. That's a story by itself. I first met Ninaz almost 14 years ago, when I was signing up to my scholarship bond at the Singapore Airlines office in Mumbai. She was the witness to the contract when my dad and I signed it, together with the then GM of SIA India. We didn't keep in touch (had no reason to really), but for some reason, the name stuck in my head. I reconnected with her a few years after I joined the airline. At that time I was working on a project to re-vamp the entire IT infrastructure of the airline outside Singapore. Ninaz was my designated contact at Mumbai and over a year, I worked with her off and on, and spoke to her perhaps a hundred times over the phone.

We finally met again (after 14 years!) this time I was in Mumbai, when I walked into her office and introduced myself. We had a great time chatting for over an hour and catching up. She offered to help me with my shopping for the bhel puri, and we made this appointment.

So we had some coffee and some chaat at the hotel, and she took me around the back streets of Colaba to one of her favourite snack shops, where I picked up the dry bhel and some chaklis for snacking. We chatted some more, and then she left for home. I walked back to the hotel, stopping briefly to pick up a shimmery party top for Sa. Clothes are expensive in India these days.

Then back to the hotel, packed up, and left for the airport and its dingy executive lounge. It was back to Singapore for me, and for once, apart from the fact that my wife was there, I didn't feel like returning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I don't know how I missed this news release from last weekend, but when I saw it today, I just had to blog it. Reuters says:

"[The BBC,] the publicly-funded broadcaster is testing software called MyBBCPlayer to let users download its TV and radio programing, and plans to use its powerful presence to take its place among Internet media giants like Google and Yahoo."

According to this article and others, the BBC will launch the service to allow subscribers to download current audio and video broadcasts to their computers, PDAs, PMPs and mobile phones. Presumably this will be a free service (at least for UK residents). There is evidence to show that there is a significant amount of demand that the BBC website has experienced with regard to downloading media. There was their experiment with offering 9 of Beethoven's symphonies for a period of a week. During that time there were 1.4 million downloads. Similarly, following the London bombings, there were a whopping 60 million requests for their archived video footage.

This is an organisation that really understands how to meld together old and new media. They were among the first to offer RSS feeds of their news articles, among the first mainstream media to offer podcasts of selected programming. As a highly respected news outlet, they will be ideally placed to satisfy the great demand for fresh programming, news or otherwise, with their renowned selection of news programmes, documentaries, sitcoms and comedies.

It's not hard to envision a point a few months from now, when you can wake up in the morning, sync your video iPod (coming soon!) or your Zen Vision with all the audio and video feeds that your PC has been collecting overnight, run for your train and watch the hour old news on your handheld. Or catch the latest episode of 'Doctor Who' or 'Titty Bang Bang' (ahem!).

What's more interesting is that they also plan to start offering paid downloads of popular music via the BBC site, a la Yahoo! Music and iTMS. UK media companies have cried foul over this aspect of the strategy, claiming that the BBC with its immense 3 billion pound public funding and reach will unfairly encroach on the private sector. This is certainly a fair point. But it may only be valid until 2012.

The BBC's loss of market share to multi-channel television and new digital radio stations has provided fuel to those who want its public funding to be cut or shared with other broadcasters. It has to cope with the real possibility that its public funding (from "TV Licenses") will be trimmed or removed entirely following a review in 2012, and that it will have to rely on money from (horrors!) commercial advertising and other sources.

It's against this backdrop that this move from the Beeb makes sense. Paid downloads of content licensed from other providers as well as a combination of free and paid downloads of its own content will represent a new source of revenue that it can use to offset any loss in income from licensing, thus transforming it to a rather strange creature, answering both to its political masters and the paying public. It could also silence the segments of the British public that resent subsidising the cost of providing news to the rest of the world.

It can be argued that the BBC may eventually restrict its content from those outside the UK by a payment model, a move that will undeniably upset many and eventually diminish the international reach of the respected broadcaster. The effect on the quality and political tilt of its programming, given its changed priorities, will be tougher to predict.

But for heaven's sake, "myBBCplayer"? Couldn't they have picked a better name? The "my" prefix is so 1999...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Back from Mumbai

Mumbai is an amazing city, and I'm ashamed I haven't known it better. For 15 years, I stayed not 200 kilometres away, and over the 29 years of my life I must have visited it 20-30 times. But this trip was the first time I felt the pulse of the city. A pulse that races along at double-speed, threatening to leave behind anyone who can't keep up with its pace.

So many interesting experiences this time.

Mumbai suffered the brunt of the devastating floods that hit Maharashtra state in July this year. Over 3 to 4 days, hundreds of people died, there was millions of rupees worth of damage to property, and people's lives and livelihoods were affected. And all this happened 3 weeks prior to my trip there (and inspired much 'mirth' in the office).

But stepping into Mumbai in August 2005 is like stepping into Mumbai in August 2004. There is no evidence of the floods: the same sights, the same smells, the same sounds and the same feeling of being back in the most exciting city in the world. Streets were crowded, road side vendors selling 'paan' (betel leaf based mouth freshener) and pav vadas (something like a potato burger) and ganna (sugar cane juice), kids playing cricket, the innumerable cars and buses and people filling the streets and coalescing into one being.

This time around I managed to re-connect with a few people I knew, and I got from each of them their stories of how they coped in the floods.

Stories like how families on upper floors of buildings graciously welcomed strangers into their homes, fed them and cared for them for 2 nights, or how young poverty-ridden boys took it upon themselves to help the rich car owners back home by stopping them in the middle of the road to give them directions on the best (least flooded) route home, or how random people walked around giving food packets (prepared at home) to the cold, wet and stranded.

I heard how my cousin (and countless others), stranded miles away from home, had to walk through chest high water for hours on end to reach home. Water that literally had unmentionable things floating in them. And how my grandma, stranded alone at home with no running water and no electricity, decided to spend that evening and the next day gossiping with the neighbours, trying not to worry about her daughter, grand-daughter, grand-daughter-in-law and great grandson.

Mumbai 2005 gave us no shortage of stories to bandy about, each of them simultaneously heart warming, enthralling and inspiring. I raise my hat to all of you.

This time in Mumbai, we finished our work fairly quickly - what was originally planned to be 3 days got reduced to a day and a half. Not due to any efficiency on our part - it was more due to us getting to exasperated with the proceedings that we strangled all the decisions we needed out of our bosses there. That's a pretty good way to work I think.

So on Tuesday afternoon, I returned to the hotel at 2 pm, and after a quick visit to my airline office to change my ticket, found myself back on the mean streets, armed with a small amount of cash I had had the presence of mind to change, and a shopping list from the wife.

The shopping list:
1. Real Paan
2. Dry Bhel Puri and other snacks
3. Amitabh Bachchan DVDs (3 in 1)

Having already made discreet enquiries, I knew where to get the DVDs. Well roughly where. Walking around the Fountain area, I came across tens of vendors selling brand new bestsellers (and not so new potboilers) on the pavement. With prices ranging from Rs. 10 (S$ 0.40) to Rs. 200 (S$ 8.00), it was a fraction of the prices back here. However, my objective was still the DVDs. I asked around, and was finally directed to a by lane at the back, where there were a couple of vendors selling "Visual Basic 5" and "1001 Free Fonts". With not much hope left, I asked one of these guys (whom I will call Ram), and he looked around discreetly and pulled me along to a tiny shop about 20m further down. Ram then pulled down a black plastic bag and showed me at least 100 DVDs, each loaded with between 2 and 4 bollywood films. 10 minutes of browsing yielded good results (4 DVDs with 12 movies), and after a spot of bargaining (I reduced the total price from Rs. 720 to Rs. 600) I was done.

It was then that Ram pulled me towards him and whispered in my ear, "Aapko triple chahiye?". I gently disengaged myself from his clutch, smiled back at him, said "Nahi!", and walked back with a slightly more than gentle pace.

A safe distance away, and clutching my own tiny black plastic bag, I chanced upon an ancient looking man sitting on the pavement with his magic 'paan' kit arrayed before him. I have this theory that for good 'paan', one must always buy from old Muslims, and this gentleman (Iqbal) met both criteria. The only problem in communicating with him was that he was hard of hearing (and a little senile), he only spoke Urdu, and my realisation that there is a lot of 'paan' jargon. Still, with the help of one of his side kicks, I managed to convey that I wanted 10 sweet paans to take overseas. I chose Banarasi 'paans' over Calcutta 'paans' after some careful consideration. My only reason for that was that B comes before C.

Watching him make the paans was an exercise in patience, and watching him gave me a strange sense of peace. It was obvious that this old man enjoyed his art and the amount of care and love (yes, love) that he put into it was charming. Ten minutes later, and Rs 50 lighter, I carried a small bag of 10 'paans' back to the hotel and straight into the fridge.

Part 2 soon.

A Long Hiatus

I have some faithful readers, one of whom checks my blog everyday. It's indeed very flattering to have anyone visit your blog out of anything less than familial obligations or out of compulsion by me; so when I come across ardent followers, I take their feedback seriously.

And thus spake they last night:
"K, you haven't blogged since you left for your India trip. What's up with that? Don't you know we check your blog everyday hoping for a new pearl of wisdom, a new perspective, a new slice of the lemon that life is handing you?"

It touched a chord within my heart. I felt I had let them down.

Dear readers, I thank you for your patronage. Regular service will be resumed shortly.