Today marks the last day that the library@orchard will be opened to the public. After tonight’s closing ceremony, the library will be relocated to 2 different places in 2010. In the meantime, books will be transferred to either the Central Lending, the library@esplanade or other libraries in Central Singapore.

To this, I made a music video, with original composition from Lenniez, who just came back from Brisbane, Australia. Special thanks to Lenniez for letting me use her song for this music video.

Special thanks also go out to Alice, Edmund, Ridzuan, Tian Hong, Xinhui and Yip Leng for helping out in the music video and video production. To you guys, I owe you a big one.

Do sit back and enjoy this music video.

It’s been a long and memorable journey since the library@orchard opened in 1999. For the past 8 years, I grew up with the library, and I am really sad to see it go today.

There is a closing ceremony for the library@orchard today and I made a special video for it. As with Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and that includes the music video not playing, or the screen going blank, or out-of-sync movements in the video. You know? Anything really can go wrong.

3:00pm Managed to reach the library in time to check out the music video with Jillian. Made some last minute changes to the music video so that people will not have seasickness while watching the music video. =P

I basically reduced the number of frames and have lengthened each frame so that there will be less transitions. The result? You won’t go giddy after staring at the screen for too long. =P

3:30pm Woohoo! Final touch up is done. Time to save it… erm… 11 minutes? Ok…

3:45pm Yes! It’s done! Eh? How come credits out of screen? Hmm…. cham… but looks very artistic! Haha… Hmmm… let me try to figure this out…

4:00pm Aiyah! Silly me! I saved it with 16:9 aspect ratio. See lah! Too greedy for HD quality video. =P Must watch out to save it with the correct aspect ratio. Well, at least now I have something for wide-screens! Heh heh… Ok better save video.

4:30pm Hmm… looks good! Woohoo! Done! 😉 Heh heh…

4:45pm Going out to look at the playback on the big screen. Keeping my fingers crossed. Heh heh… argh. ldkgvdhnile4/535$^%^G#$BBtynrstvyrt …. Sorry, fingers entangled. =S

5:00pm Yes! Success! Woohoo! Heh heh… time to eat something light. Hmm… had been feeling rather hungry quite easily these days. Hmm. Did I mention that there is food? Heh heh. Had some samosa, sotong rings, fish, tempura… yup yup. More pictures later, ok? =)

5:30pm Argh again! Forgot to upload to youtube! What was I thinking of? Auto upload? Hmm…

5:32pm Seems like it’s going to take ages. =( Got express ways of uploading videos? Hmm…

5:45pm Yes! The video is uploaded here!

6:00pm Overhead… the PM’s here? huh? Okay… better go out and see what the commotion is all about. =P

6:23pm Heh… no PMs around. If he were here, I bet security would have been tighter! Haha… I was entertained by a magician just now. He’s Jeremy, who is with RiTZ Events Asia and he had been performing magic professionally for the past 10 years. He got his skills from his father, who also performed magic professionally. I will upload some videos here soon. =)

Photos anyone? Yup… later too! Haha.. sorry la, one woman show here.

6:36pm Computer trojan/virus/malware detected! Oops! Hope the presentation laptop guy didn’t install the trojan =(

6:50pm Xinhui is here! Whoopie! Okie… more fruit dessert helpings. Yum yum! Hmm… they are also having a jazz band outside. Ridzuan just asked me for the lyrics for the music video. I guess Lenniez just got a new fan! Haha… her music is really good. I hope she will go far with her songs. 😉

7:00pm Guess what? Chin and SO and Yuhui are here too! Haha… big crowd today. Come’on down if you are somewhere near? It’s at the 5th floor of Ngee Ann City. 😉 Nice crowd, good food, good music 😉

8:15pm Oh! They played my video! Sigh… so sad to see the music video. =( hmm… going to cry le.

8:20pm Oops! technical glitch for the tribute to bloggers =P hmm… guess what? I got called in to be interviewed on stage on the spot!!! Argh! So unprepared. Oh well, thankfully I was a little composed =P They asked about what inspired me to do the music video, the people involved, the challenges of interviewing people in the library and all… hmm… and there were cameras! so many of them! *faint faint*

8:55pm oh, the library will be closing in 5 minutes’ time! and everyone was ushered out! oh… out out out…

9:00pm my bag!!!! my stuffs! they are still inside the library! argh…

9:15pm oh.. thank goodness there is backdoor =P hehe… okie. knocking off le. more updates later 😉

Going up: Fuel surcharge

Singapore November 30th, 2007

Barely after 1 month, the fuel surcharges for Singapore Airlines and SilkAir are going up again. This increase is between US$4 and US$38 for return flights issued on or after last Tuesday. This hit is greatly felt on the US/Canada – Singapore routes, which now costs US$246.

However, people are expected to continue flying despite this raise because it is undeniably the most convenient means of flying between continents. In addition, these are routes that are not covered by the budget airlines yet, so people will have no choice but to suck thumb and bear with the rising costs.

WITH fuel prices on the increase, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and its subsidiary, SilkAir, are increasing their fuel surcharges again.

They last went up on Oct 24.

The recent increase of between US$4 (S$5.80) and US$38 for return flights will take effect for tickets issued on or after Tuesday, the airline said in a statement yesterday.

Hardest hit will be travellers flying long-haul between Singapore and the United States or Canada. Instead of US$208, the fuel surcharge will go up to US$246 for a round trip.

Passengers on flights to regional points such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Manila will pay US$52, up from US$48.

All other travellers, including those bound for India, China and Europe, will have to add US$150 to their total fare, instead of US$134.

SIA said in its statement that with the price of jet fuel hovering at around US$115 a barrel, the adjustment will ‘offer only partial relief of higher operating costs’.

Industry observers say, however, that the increase in surcharges is not expected to discourage people from flying.

SIA, for example, has seen such good demand for its Singapore-Milan-Barcelona flights that it has decided to increase the frequency from the current four times a week to daily from Jan 14, the airline said in a separate statement.

The Singapore carrier started plying the route in July last year, using its new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft which comes with wider seats and better on-board facilities.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 30th November 2007

Going up: Canned pork

Singapore November 30th, 2007

Due to the recent destruction of all tainted canned pork, the lack of supply has caused an increase in prices of canned pork luncheon meat. Hmm… this explains why I had been getting ham instead of luncheon meat in my bread recently.

THE prices of China-made pork products have soared following the now severe shortage in supplies.

Retailing at about $2.90 just last week, a can of Shanghai Maling B2 pork luncheon meat now sells for up to $3.50.

The current shortage began in August, when the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) rejected and destroyed a consignment of canned pork products from two food processing plants in China.

In these products, the AVA had found traces of nitrofurans, a banned antibiotic fed to pigs to treat illnesses.

It suspended all canned pork imports from the factories, which produce the two most popular brands here, Maling and Gulong.

The other six Chinese factories still on the AVA’s approved list have played it safe by not selling to Singapore at all, in case their canned pork also gets the boot.

As the shortage continues, provision shop owners in the heartland have reported a small rush as customers try to stock up.

One of them was contractor Teo Yew Lam, 42. He was spotted buying nine cans of various pork products at a single go in a Toa Payoh provision shop yesterday.

He said: ‘I have been looking for these products for a month now, but many places tell me they’ve run out. My son and nieces enjoy having it (stewed pork) for lunch with rice. I came to check on impulse and luckily they did have some.’

Some shop owners resort to hiding the stuff for their regular customers. ‘If we display it all, buyers will take as many as they can,’ said shop owner Desmond Lim, 34.

Last year, about 7,000 tonnes of Chinese pork products were imported here. The China-made products also have the lion’s share of the market.

Supermarkets and retailers say they are trying to get more of Denmark’s Tulip brand of pork luncheon meat, now going for $2.45.

Distributors say there is no end in sight to the current impasse with the Chinese goods.

Mr Ted Ngo, the managing director of Yit Hong, which deals in Maling luncheon meat and Narcissus canned pork products, said it was ‘up to the authorities to decide’ on standards to which both sides can agree.

Meanwhile, hawkers like Madam Ang Wen Xie said they had run out of luncheon meat about three weeks ago. ‘When my customers ask for luncheon meat, I have no choice, I offer them a chicken hotdog instead.’

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 30th November 2007

Some people do it for the money, some people do it for a glimpse of hope for a cure while others do it just to volunteer. For whichever reason you do it, do find out more about the consequences of going for it.

Clinical trial programs are where new drugs or treatment are tested out on actual people before the drug or treatment is released commercially into the market. The purpose of the trial is to note and monitor the possible side effects that it can have on a random sample. These drugs are usually quite safe, but may at times be deadly, just like a previous incident involving a clinical trial in London, where a few people had adverse reactions to the extent that some lost their limbs.

In New York, where a clinical trial for HIV vaccination was carried out, many volunteers reported social stigma from friends and relatives who knew about their participation. In some cases, their HIV results came out positive, probably because of a false-positive results.

It was also reported that some contracted full-blown HIV, but it was not mentioned if it was a result of their participation. However, the PI chided that the test providers should always confirm if the patients had participated in any HIV-related trials, which I thought was rather irresponsible if he had not briefed the volunteers first.

He, and the volunteers, should realise that in the real world, people just by what your test results say, not by any other facts that may be present.

NEW YORK – MANY volunteers who take part in clinical trials of experimental HIV vaccines report negative social consequences because of their participation in the studies, according to a new report.

‘Since a majority of the negative social impact events were due to negative reactions from friends and family who misinterpreted what a preventive HIV vaccine trial entails, trial sites need to continue their educational efforts with both study participants and with local communities emphasizing that you cannot become HIV-infected from the vaccine itself and that these trials seek HIV-negative individuals to participate,’ Dr Jonathan Fuchs said.

Dr Fuchs, from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and his associates evaluated the negative social impacts reported by 5417 mostly male volunteers in an HIV vaccine efficacy trial.

Just under 1000 volunteers reported negative social events during 36 months of follow-up.

Most such events were negative reactions from friends, family, and partners, the authors report in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. These reactions were primarily attributed to a misunderstanding of the volunteer’s HIV status or risk of infection.

Less than 1 per cent of the group reported problems with disability or life insurance, employment, medical or dental care, health insurance, government agencies, or housing.

Among the 368 participants who became infected with HIV after enrolment in the trial, only 12 reported a negative social incident, the investigators say. Most involved personal relationships, such as friends or family members asserting that the vaccine caused the individual to become HIV-infected or more susceptible to infection.

Although the vaccine could affect HIV test results, none of the HIV antibody-related negative social events reported by 29 volunteers were attributed to vaccine-induced antibody results, the researchers note.

‘A substantial proportion of vaccinees may test ‘false-positive’ on a standard HIV antibody screening test,’ Dr Fuchs explained. ‘Providers should remember to first ask whether their patients have participated in an HIV vaccine trial before they perform HIV testing, to avoid potential misinterpretation of antibody results and possible social harm.’ — REUTERS

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 30th November 2007

A gene that is able to aid in the reversal of ageing had been found. This gene therapy was first tested on mice after they have aged on some parts of their bodies, creating a case-control model on the same subject.

The special thing about this gene is the reversal as opposed to inhibition. What this means is that even when if a tissue is aged, it can also be rejuvenated. On the other hand, if it were inhibition, then this must be applied an an early stage, i.e. pre-aged, before it can be effective.

Another good news is that this gene therapy can be applied through epidermal absorption, meaning, this can be used as a cream. I had been very skeptical about surface applied therapy, so I’d probably be finding out more on this.

This may literally give rise to a rejuvenation spa, where the person takes a spa and comes out literally rejuvenated. However, it may still take a while before this becomes a reality because the same gene that is intervened is also involved in the immunity system in the body.

Anyway, something like SK-II may one day be a reality. However, one more important usage of this is probably in the rejuvenation of aged organs. This might be a good alternative to cloning.

CHICAGO – SCIENTISTS have managed to make old skin in mice young again after just two weeks of treatment by blocking a single gene, according to a study released on Thursday.

They did this by creating genetically-modified mice with a defective gene that can be switched off so that their cells ceased to age when a cream was applied to the skin.

While still years from being determined safe for use in humans, the discovery offers hope of one day reversing many age-related illnesses and injuries as the technique may work on any kind of organ or tissue.

‘Previous work has shown you can reverse aging by really drastic measures’ such as a near-starvation diet or ‘connecting the circulation of a young animal to an old animal’, said lead researcher Howard Chang of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

‘Here we show that aging in mouse skin can be reversed by blocking a single gene,’ he said.

‘These findings suggest that aging is not just a result of wear and tear, but is also the consequence of a continually active genetic program that might be blocked for improving human health.’

Dr Chang’s team use a complex computer analysis to discover that a single protein is the ‘shared driving force for the genetic changing associated with aging in lots of different tissues’, he said in a telephone interview.

They then designed a genetically-modified mouse in which this gene would switch off only when the animal was quite old.

‘We even engineered it in such a way that we can actually turn off that defective version in some parts of the animal and not the rest,’ he explained.

‘We made this animal in such a way that it would respond to a cream that contained a specific chemical and we put the cream only on one half of the animal … so the rest of the animal was still old.’

Two weeks later, both the gene expression profile and the tissue characteristics of the treated skin had reverted to that of a young mouse.

While the idea of taking a full-body dip in the fountain of youth might sound like a fantastic idea, there are good reasons to target only specific areas of the body for treatment.

The same gene that stimulates aging, NF-eB, is also involved in the immune system and other cell functions so if it was blocked in the entire body it could cause death, Dr Chang warned.

The next step is to see if blocking the gene will also reverse aging in other tissues such as the heart and lungs.

There is also the question of whether the effect will last if the treatment is continued or if the tissues will rapidly revert back to their previous aged state if the treatment is stopped.

Other researchers are already looking at ways to block the gene in humans using drugs because of its role in the immune system, Dr Chang said.

Further experiments will show if one of those drugs can effectively be used to block the gene in targeted ways for anti-aging purposes.

‘What I hope won’t happen is a lot of people calling me up to make an appointment to have their face rejuvenated,’ Dr Chang added.

Even if researchers are able to develop a safe way to use the treatment on humans, there will always be serious risks involved in genetic intervention.

‘A lot of people in the field shy away from the fountain of youth and rejuvenation and focus on extracting quality of life,’ he said.

The study will be the cover story of the Dec 15 edition of the journal Genes and Development. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 30th November 2007

The only reason why I am blogging about this is because if you google “starhub sitex”, it comes up 2nd on page 1. So, not to disappoint everyone who is searching for it (it might no longer be 2nd after today), I thought I’d just write something about it.

MaxOnline Promotion

Promotion #1

You get a free HP Tablet tx1222AU (yes, the academic one that I am now using) + Robinson vouchers of S$40 + Sure-win prizes when you sign up for MaxOnline’s Ultimate Plan @ S$93.09 per month for a 30-month contract. You may also purchase a 100Mbps-ready cable modem at 50% off @ S$267.50.

Promotion #2

You may also opt for a compaq desktop or add S$299 to upgrade to a notebook if you take the MaxOnline Premium Plan @ S$65.06 per month. This is with a 28 month contract.

Promotion #3

MaxOnline SurfLite (1Mpbs) – S$26.96 per month for a 24 month contract with free cable modem.

Promotion #4

MaxOnline Express (8Mbps) – S$44.94 per month for a 24 month contract with free cable modem.

Promotion #5

MaxMobile Unlimited (7.2Mbps Unlimited) – S$36.38 per month for a 24 month contract with a free mobile broadband modem.

There are additional discounts if you are a Hubber.

Starhub Digital Cable (CableTV)

Promotion #1

Free Samsung 20″ LCD TV Monitor with a 24 month contract and minimum subscription plan of S$44.94 per month -OR- Free Samsung 21″ Ultra Slimfit TV (CRT, not LCD), also with a 24 month contract but the minimum subscription plan is S$34.24.

Promotion #2

Get a Hubstation with an instalment of S$25.41 per month for 12 months with a 24 month contract of a minimum of S$25.68.

There are further discounts to subscribe for STAR movies. Again, if you are a hubber, then you may get additional discounts.

All-in-one Promotion

If you renew all 3 services (Starhub Mobile, Starhub Digital Cable and Starhub MaxOnline) + 1 new service sign-up then you’ll get 1 20″ Samsung LCD TV, 1 Hubstation and 1 handset upgrade every 12 months.

Limited to first 1000 customers who sign up.

Sure-win prizes

There are many sure win prizes ranging from digital cameras, video cameras to MP3 players. Each plan sign up may entitle you to 1 dip. You may enquire for more details there.

Live blogging from Sitex?

Personal November 29th, 2007

Hehe.. heading to Sitex now. I quite dread going for shows that are all the way to the east in that… it favours only to the Easterners (while some may prefer it, for various other reasons); and it’s so far (I am a Westerner now).

Target for this show would be the Nikon D40/D40x, depending on which will burn less of my pocket, and which is better. I am hoping for the D40x to be sub-1000, although I am quite sure that that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. So, if I have to get a D40, then it’d better be really cheap or be filled with freebies. Greedy? Not really, because if it’s the same price, I can get it any other day.

The next thing on the list is a decent Nokia handphone that can store more than 500 contacts. For some weird reasons, none of the Nokia phones that I have used can store more than 500 contacts. Alright, for the record, I have about 758 contacts now… and still counting. Do I keep in touch with all of them? Well… most of them, I’d say.

Yup. That’s all for now. I had been contemplating about getting a replacement colour laser, but since the prices had been quite stagnant since 2 years ago, I think I’d just wait out. I might get a decently fast monochrome laser though. For this, I prefer HP LaserJets. The reason being HP provides a full toner while most others provide half-filled toners, commonly marketed as “starter kits”. Most people do not know what “starter kit” for a laserjet really means, well, for the uninitiated, it means 1/2 fill toners – and they are usually, not always, but usually not cheap to get.

That’s about it for this visit. I have my recorders, monitors, a rather barely decent tablet that crashes everyday, a pretty good digital camera (that could be better, but I’d save up for that another time). All I need to do now is to wait to replace my tablet that crashes everyday. The Fujitsu U1010 seems rather good, but can only last for 85 minutes. Not much use, aye?

After consolidating all the various reasons that are conjured or from first hand accounts, Simply Jean presents to you… the top 10 reasons on why that taxi driver seemed to just zoom pass you, or is HIRED with no passengers, or is simply just sitting in the comfort of his cab (pun unintended) having a sparring session with your eyes as you wait in the coldness of the rain waiting for a cab in the queue.

Disclaimer: These accounts may be fictitious or conjured and may not represent the views of the entire fleet of taxi drivers.

On why taxis seem to disappear during peak hour in CBD
I’m outside CBD wat… if I go in, then who pay for ERP?

On why taxis are not picking up people from heartlands
No lah, if I go to town, then I can earn surcharge mah (Ed: so who pays the ERP?)

On why taxis seem to disappear on rainy days
Outside raining so badly, can’t find people and bad traffic… might as well enjoy my cup of hot kopi while waiting for people to call for taxi. Like that then can earn surcharge mah!

On why taxis are everywhere but not at the taxi stand
Like that then can earn surcharge mah… they wait, I wait lor. They call then I pick them up lor. Why pick them up when I can earn a few dollars more when they give up and call? Eh? Rhymes hor?

On why taxis seem to disappear before midnight
Aiyah, this kind of question who will ask one? Of course to earn midnight charge lah. 50% more, ok?

On why taxis tout for customers
Eh? You can’t see ah? Mercedes ok? Mercedes means higher rental, then of course must charge higher mah? People don’t know… they will pay more

On why taxis seem to disappear after 9:30am
Aiyah, those people so kiam siap (stingy), they don’t want to pay peak hour surcharge, then ok lor. After driving one whole morning, I also need rest mah. Of course go drink kopi

On why taxis seem to disappear before 5:00pm
Change shift mah… no lah… actually we are waiting for the evening peak hour surcharge

On why taxis don’t want to pick passengers up even when they are in a taxi stand
Eh, I tell you. You know where she want to go or not? Just a few blocks away. Siao ah, I queue here just to take her to a few blocks away? Waste me time only… so ask her to take the taxi behind lor

On why taxis don’t want to pick up passengers along the road
Just now that one ah? Don’t want lah. I want to pick someone who is going town, then I no need to pay ERP, then can get CBD surcharge from people taking my taxi inside CBD. Maybe lucky, can earn peak hour also. Like that then tan tio (hit jackpot)!

PS: Guess the theme of these reasons

PPS: Do feel free to add more to it

There is an increased in quota for S-pass foreign workers as well as relaxation of rules for Personalised Employment Pass (PEP) – people who earn at least S$7000 by the Manpower Ministry.

This effectively means that companies are now about to hire more foreign talents if they are not able to hire any locals for the job. In turn, this means that if the ratio of foreign talents to locals in their company is less than 1:4, they have the option of looking overseas for potential job-seekers.

While this means they have to pay the foreigners at least S$1800 (because it’s an S-pass), they will not suffer a labour crunch then they (i) can’t find people here and (ii) meet the 1:4 ratio requirement.

However, because of the S$1800 minimum salary requirement, it is unclear how this will affect the dynamics of hiring a foreign talent, though it has always been considered cheaper to do so.

In addition, the rules for PEP has also been relaxed. This means that for anyone who earns at least S$7000, he can apply for a 6 months PEP to look for job here, as opposed to confirming a job offer here before applying for a pass. This system is somewhat similar to that of Australia, where you typically apply for PR before you can get employed.

The next question is – how this will affect the salary that a Singaporean gets nowadays.

COMPANIES hungry for workers cheered yesterday when the Government announced that they can soon hire more foreign workers.

They can do so at all levels but a bigger chunk of these extra workers looks set to be mid-level skilled workers, or S-pass holders, due to strong industry demand.

This is because these workers can form up to 25 per cent of a company’s total workforce, a jump from the current 15 per cent. An S-pass worker, who is a notch above a work permit holder, must earn at least $1,800 a month.

The changes in the various industries’ dependency ratios – which is the number of foreigners a company can employ relative to its local employees – will take effect in January.

They were announced by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen last night at the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year event, at which logistics firm YCH Group’s chairman and chief executive, Mr Robert Yap, won the title.

In applauding the changes, the Singapore National Employers Federation, said: ‘They are a very welcome, very timely and very significant response from the Government.’

Its executive director, Mr Koh Juan Kiat, also said that potentially, the 10 percentage point increase in S-pass holders may see between 50,000 and 100,000 workers coming in.

Employers have recently called for the foreign worker quota to be raised. Faced with a buoyant economy, many struggle to fill job vacancies.

It was a situation not lost on Dr Ng.

He said that to succeed as an ‘economy built on high innovation and value addedness’, relying on talent in Singapore is not enough.

There is a limit to the growth of Singapore’s resident labour force, he said, referring to a workforce that includes permanent residents as well. It eased off to just 2 per cent this year.

At the same time, unemployment is at a 10-year low – 1.7 per cent in September.

Dr Ng also noted a crucial condition that helped Singapore become the world’s most competitive labour market this year. This factor is that companies here have access to the manpower they need.

Hence, the introduction of the measures to ensure such access continues.

But with the higher proportion of S-pass holders being allowed in, the Manpower Ministry is hoping companies will use it to improve the quality of their foreign workforce.

Contractors look set to do so. Mr Simon Lee, executive director of the Singapore Contractors Association, said the new S-pass quota comes in handy because contractors would need more skilled supervisors to lead bigger groups of workers, as building activities at a few major projects are expected to intensify from mid-2008.

However, Mr Kellvin Ong, Rendezvous Hotel’s general manager, cautioned: ‘We also have to be mindful of the bottomline. S-pass workers have to be paid a minimum salary.’

Citigroup economist Chua Hak Bin said that in sectors like construction, allowing more foreign workers will mitigate labour costs and ‘more importantly, the greater risk of project delays due to a shortage of workers.’

Besides the quota changes, the Manpower Ministry is also removing the two-year requirement for higher-paid workers eyeing a personalised employment pass (PEP).

This pass, introduced this year, lets them remain here for up to six months in between jobs. Currently, those earning at least $7,000 a month must work here for at least two years before they can apply for a PEP.

But from March 1 next year, those whose last-drawn fixed salary abroad is $7,000 a month can apply straightaway for the PEP.

ghimlay@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 29th November 2007