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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fire drill

Lesson on fire extinguishers
The office building had a fire drill today. Now, normally, I assume that while there would be some advance warning about such a drill, I didn't expect something as, erm, un-drill-like to happen.

Yesterday, we received an e-mail about the drill. That was to be expected, so that we could work around it, for instance, conducting meetings or meeting clients. The e-mail stated that the drill would be between 9:30am and 10:30am.

I arrived in the office just before 9am. At around 9, there was an announcement through the building-wide public address system that the drill would start in about five minutes.


I thought the point of a drill is that it happens unexpectedly. You know, like in the event of a real fire!

Anyway, I didn't relish the thought of walking down 26 floors, so I took the elevator down with a few colleagues. We hung around in the lift lobby and, when the alarm rang, took a slow stroll across the road to the designated assembly area. Slowly, more people from the building congregated there.

Fire drill assembly area
(Apparently, capturing panoramic views with Keta-i introduces a colour tinge to the final photo. Nuts.)

We were there for about an hour when someone started a lesson on using the fire extinguisher. He was speaking through a megaphone, so it was difficult to hear what he was saying. Anyway, it started to drizzle, so my colleagues and I started to leave. Someone remarked that we may have appeared rude because we were leaving in the middle of a demonstration that was attended by everyone else.

And that was my first fire drill at this place. Previously, at Fullmark, we would hold fire drills every quarter, and we were timed! I should know because I was designated as a fire warden, ha. We aimed to constantly reduce the time needed to evacuate the building. While everyone took it lightly too, I felt that there was more urgency there than here. Maybe it's because Fullmark is located in an industrial area, where the chances for an emergency are higher.

In the event of an emergency at my current workplace, we will all die!


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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

View from the restroom

Skyline on a clear day
Skyline on a clear day

This is what I see every day from the office restroom. From the 26th floor, I have a great view up to the north of Singapore, unblocked by any skyscraper, except for the National Library on the left.

A few more views:

Skyline on a rainy day
Skyline on a rainy day
Incidentally, the view looks similar to this when Singapore is terrorised by the haze from Indonesia, except that we also suffer from the choking smell and smoke.

Skyline after the rain
Skyline after the rain

Skyline at night
Skyline at night
This was taken on one of the few times when I actually worked late enough for it to become this dark. Usually, there's still some sunlight even at 7pm.

Finally, a panoramic view:
Skyline panoramic view
(Click to identify some buildings.)
(The colour tinge is due to the sunlight-reducing cellophane pasted onto this part of the window.)

Oh, and of course, all these are just to show off what Keta-i can do, ha.


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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sexpo 2006

Sexpo 2006
For the second consecutive year, I went to Sexpo after attending a wedding in the morning/afternoon. And this is the second year of Sexpo.

This year's adult-themed exhibition was held in the more central and sane location of Suntec City, instead of the Expo at the other end of the island. Floor area-wise, though, it was smaller. Even then, there was a lot of empty space, just like last year's. And I noticed that about one-third of the booths were operated by the organiser itself.

Also, the entire area was for adults only, so right at the door, I had to pay $10 for the entrance fee. With my yellow identification tag around my wrist, I entered the exhibition area.

The booths in front were more conservative, e.g. Mary Chia salon, herbal tea, National University Hospital, etc. And a big prominent booth for Zestra, a medicated oil that is supposedly the female version of Viagra. I didn't spend much time there since I'm of the wrong target market and don't have a significant other to splurge on.

But from the second row of booths onwards, adult stores were everywhere. There were at least five sex shops with the same range of goods: vibrators, sexy clothing, toys, etc. I was particularly intrigued by a vibrator that puts a new spin to the name "rubber duckie". The organiser's booths were selling tamer stuff, like calendars, T-shirts and little trinkets.

I also found the booth for Love Airways, Singapore's first adult-themed magazine. I didn't buy it, though the promotional subscription of $10 for 3 issues was tempting. Later, I overheard the sales lady, who had tried to sell it to me, telling her friend on the phone that she hadn't made a sale the entire day, heh.

To the side were two "side shows": one was a dress up area, where for a fee, anyone could dress up in their fantasy costumes and get their pictures taken. The other side show was an exotic dance behind closed curtains. However, the curtains hadn't been drawn shut very well, so from the outside, I could see fully clothed women doing pole dancers. Yeesh, I wasn't going to pay good money nor stand in the long queue to see that!

Right at the rear was a large booth for Axquisite, which is a pageant/agency for foreign award-winning models. I'd never heard of them. "Miss Bikini World Australia"? "Miss Hawaiian Tropic Australia"? But then, I guess no one outside of Singapore has heard of "Miss Chinatown". Anyway, these girls looked like they were models of the more exotic kind, especially judging by their attire. For $15 (I think), anyone could get their picture taken with a model and also walk away with a free poster. While I was there, I saw a "dirty old man" posing with a model, ha.

Along one side of the hall was a small gallery. One part was of nude photographs taken by a member of the Photography Society of Singapore. The other was hand-drawn art of nude models from Chateau d'Arts (I think that's the name). Pictures were selling for between $500 and a few thousand dollars.

The main area in the hall was taken up by the performance area. While I was there, I heard the tail end of a lecture on traditional Chinese medicine, and the opening portion of a lecture on sexual dysfunctions. Unfortunately, I didn't stay long enough to see any of the song/dance/comedy-type performances.

There were scantily-clad women on stilts promoting something. It could've been Halloween costumes, judging by the skull mask that one of them was wearing. (Interestingly, the girls were of one particular race, which I shall not reveal.)

And no, I didn't see any women "dressed" in body paint either.

I ended my stay at the bookstore booth. Almost all of the books were of sex and/or sexual positions. One book that I flipped through was on how to behave correctly for a date, but I didn't buy it. Instead, I bought another, "Jakarta Undercover", which supposedly reveals the seedy underbelly in Jakarta.

After an hour at Sexpo, I decided I'd had enough and left. I think last year's exhibition was better. There seemed to have been a wider range of booths then and more pro-active sales promoters.

However, I might still go for the next Sexpo, if there's one. Wonder if there'll be another wedding too...


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Friday, November 24, 2006

Away Day

Group pic
Today was XM's Away Day, a day when we take off from the office for a time of team bonding. This year's event was held at Bintan Lagoon Resorts, with activities organised by Focus Adventure.

I shared a cab with a colleague to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. From there, all of us took the 8am ferry to Bintan, followed by buses to the training ground within Bintan Lagoon Resort. In what they call the "dialogue room" (but is just like any other meeting room), we were given the usual spiel about "learning through experiencing" and "we want winners, not losers". After a brief tea break, our training began.

One half of the company went for the outdoor activities, while my half stayed behind for the indoors one. We were then split further into two teams for the three indoor activities:

1. "Keypunch"
Behind a closed door is a set of numbers, 1-25. Each member in the group must touch a number in sequential order, and everyone must touch a number at least once. However, surrounding the numbers is a rope/"magnetic field". Whenever someone is inside the circle, no one else can enter it nor point inside the circle. Each group is given three tries (later four), with the objective being to get the lowest time from when it enters the room to when the last person exits. If any rule is broken, then the team has to press the numbers again from 1, and 10 seconds is added to the time.

My team's strategy was that each one was assigned a number to press. That worked somewhat well for the first round, though we fumbled several times. Though the facilitator was surprised, we took our time to familiarise ourselves with the game. First round: over two minutes. But we halved that in the second round.

In the third round, we found that not only had the rope been removed, but some numbers were missing as well. The missing numbers stumped us, but we recovered quickly. (Someone attributed it to me for making us move on to the next number.) And though we stumbled once, we still made it out under a minute. By the fourth round, our time was 35 seconds!

Moral: Situations change, and we have to adapt to these changes. Also, if both teams had worked together to exchange strategies, then everyone would have benefitted.

2. Diamond frame
We had to balance a diamond frame using a small pail as the base. Then team members had to cross through the frame to earn points, with different paths earning between one and three points. The objective was to score as many points as possible. Altogether, we were given 20 minutes.

We predictably started with trying to score the three points, which meant carrying someone through the upper portion of the frame. When that proved difficult, we switched to scoring as many points as possible, no matter how little they are. In the end, four people got across, scoring 6 points for the team.

Moral: When a strategy proves untenable, we must be able to relook at our priorities in order to "win".

3. Minefield
Each team is now split into three groups. We have to collect Lego bricks from across a room to construct a little object per group. However, if anyone touches a black brick, we lose whatever pieces we have collected. Also, we have to collect the bricks while blindfolded.

Predictably, we chose to locate the bricks we needed, and then try to bring them back. Of course, with 3 groups in an enclosed room, the loud shouting drowned out our instructions. I suggested strongly that we should just collect bricks without caring about what they were, but that was shot down.

Towards the end of our 20 minutes, the other two groups had formed their objects. And what happened then was that we collaborated so that they would help us collect bricks for our object. Which turned out to be exactly the desired outcome because we were supposed to work as a team to construct the three objects.

Moral: Though we come from different departments, we need to work together as one unit to "win".

So those were our indoor activities. After lunch, we proceeded for the outdoor one, which involved climbing a 25-metre tall tower. As we looked on, many girls and a few guys said that they would never make it. Those who had already completed it (from the other half of the company) said that it was challenging, which just made it seem more daunting.

After wearing our harnesses and helmets and listening to a short safety training session, we proceeded with our climb in groups of five. My group was the fourth one up, with me as the middle member. As we went up, we had to cross certain obstacles. The first one was a bridge comprised of narrow planks. That was easy compared to the next one: crossing a wooden log about five metres across. We made our way slowly, sliding our feet across the log.

From there, we had to go across a rope net. We had to wait here for the earlier teams to move further. It turns out that the next obstacle was to cross a wooden bridge that had a half-metre gap in the middle. One member of the team before us had trouble crossing it. His legs were shaking so wildly that the facilitator joked, "Before climbing, please remember to turn off your vibrator." That got all of us laughing, though I doubt that relaxed that particular person.

My team made our way across that bridge pretty quickly, then rested in a metal cage. We were about halfway up already. But we had to wait a long time here. The first team was at the last obstacle, which was to climb a rope net to the top. Unfortunately, they had a particularly heavier person, who was unable to climb further. So his teammates and a few facilitators had to help to pull him up. Once he was up, everyone applauded.

The next obstacle for us was a rock wall. We had to wait there for an earlier team to clear their obstacle, which involved jumping over a metre-long gap in a metal bridge. For my team, we overcame that obstacle by taking really big steps. I thought that it would be like jumping across a drain, but at more than 20 metres, that would've been a very deep drain!

Finally, we climbed up the rope net to the summit. From there, we took turns on the flying fox down. I wanted to shout something corny while coming down, like "I'm the king of the world!" or something along the lines. But in the end, I didn't... Ah, okay, I chickened out. Just before pushing off, I looked out at the distance and realised that I was very, very, very high up. My mind was blank the moment I pushed off. I finally did manage to let out a loud "whoo!", but on hindsight, that was thoroughly unsatisfying.

BTW a measure of geekness is when you want to say "flying fox" but end up saying "Firefox"!

Altogether, the climb too nearly three hours, though we estimated that we spent nearly half that time waiting. Someone remarked that it was badly planned, because the Indonesian facilitators kept moving us on even when the earlier groups were delayed. Also, the Singaporean facilitators spent the entire day conducting the indoor trainings, though I thought that was fine because of language.

To round up the day, we watched some video clips of our time, then sang "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (which I thought was absolutely cheesy!), then collected our certificates of participation.

We then proceeded to Bintan Lagoon Resort. Since I wasn't staying overnight, I didn't have a room. I waited with a few others till 7pm, when we then took a bus back to the ferry terminal to catch the 8:15pm ferry. After the hour-long ride and losing an hour, we arrived in Singapore at 10:15pm. I promptly made my way home to rest.


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mac Meetup

Mac Meetup
I attended my first Mac Meetup this evening. There had been previous Meetups before, like last year or earlier, but I never attended them because of some schedule conflicts. And then when Meetup became a paid service, the local Mac Meetup basically just died.

But recently, it was restarted again, after a paid member revived the group. So there we were, on a Thursday night at McDonald's at Suntec City. I was the third to arrive and was drawn by the prominent Mac Meetup sign on the table.

All in all, there were about 10 people there that evening, with Catherine as the host/organiser. The only familiar face to me was Preetam Rai, whom I know only because he knows my sister. Some of them brought their laptops, which ranged from Powerbooks to the black MacBooks.

There was no fixed agenda, so we just chatted about different things. We got to know one another a bit better, how we use our Macs, provided some troubleshooting assistance, and, among other things, discussed the pros and cons of a .Mac subscription, ha. Charlie, the oldest in the group with some strong -- and loud -- opinions about Apple and Macintosh, also blasted some hits from the past.

At one point, I had a feeling that there was a growing desire to form something like a Macintosh User Group. There's actually already one in Singapore, which is fee-based. But it's apparently quite dead, and Apple doesn't support it anyway because of the small local market. I feel a Meetup is fine for now, since there doesn't seem to be a need for some sort of proper organisation.

I stayed for two hours, then had to leave. When I left, the others were still exchanging troubleshooting tips and other chit-chat. I might consider attending again, though being with a Mac in front of me to show off what I have/know really sucks. Perhaps this is an incentive to get my Powerbook working again.


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"Take it offline"

Another addition to workplace catchphrases.

Here's another phrase used very often. It means to hold a discussion away from the ongoing meeting, which may or may not be online. I find it very irritating when the meeting itself isn't actually online in the conventional sense of the word.

(Originally posted through mobile blogging.)


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Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Think about it"

Yesterday, I had lunch with female colleagues. Today, I had lunch with male colleagues. And somehow, the conversation steered towards a person's "gay quotient". The "test" a colleague came up with was whether you could sing songs by S Club 7 and Clymie Fisher.


He remarked that there's a saying that goes around in gay circles: "Think about it." It's actually directed at heterosexual people. The idea is to make the hetero think about whether he/she really is heterosexual.

The argument for such an idea, at least in Singapore, is that we (men and women) are "trained" from young to follow the heterosexual path, i.e. grow up to be men/women, get married to a member of the opposite sex, have kids, live together happily ever after as man, wife and children.

The problem, if there is one, is that some people who follow that path realise too late in life that maybe they aren't heterosexual. And if only they had thought about it earlier...

Thus, "think about it."

BTW if anyone remembers a beer promotion with that tagline, yeah, it came from my colleague. In bars/pubs, a sign showed a full beer bottle in front with the words "Think about it", and from behind, it's the same bottle but empty, and the words are "Thought about it" (to suggest that the beer has been drunk). Apparently, he was praised for sneaking it into a mainstream commercial campaign.


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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stripper for hen party

I happened to have lunch with two female colleagues today. And towards the end, the conversation revolved around a hen party that one of them had attended. Where they had a male stripper.

Who did the full monty.

Okay, maybe I'm totally out of the hen party entertainment scene, but I really did not know that male strippers who bared all would be allowed in staid Singapore. (Then again, surely I shouldn't be that naïvve?)

The costs are:
  • strip to briefs - $250 (or thereabout)
  • full monty - $400
  • full monty with "extra service" - $800
(These rates would be lower if the stripper performs at the agency's location.)

The stripper was found through an advertisement at a local sex shop. Fortunately, I am aware of the existence of these outlets, so I'm not all that out of it.


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