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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Where am I?

Just in case anyone has been wondering why I haven't written in a while, it's because my life has changed quite a lot, especially after switching jobs. I've been kept busy at the office so much that by the time I reach home, my brain is tired and wants to do something passive, like read.

So I've been reading a lot. News, blogs, email, following links to interesting things. Like blogging, reading takes up a lot of time. And before I know it, the time between 9pm and 11pm flies by so fast, I don't even realise it. Yes, I only have about two to three hours a day to myself, and that's when I'm not watching TV.

Watching TV has been another of my passive activities. Current shows I follow are:
Sunday: Everwood, Joan of Arcadia, Veronica Mars
Monday: Grey's Anatomy (but I'm giving it up after the second season ends, the story winds every which way that I feel disconnected)
Tuesday: The O.C. (will keep watching at least until Marissa dies... oops)
Wednesday: E.R. (if I bother to stay up till 12:30am)
Thursday: Commander in Chief
Friday: Smallville, Ghost Whisperer
Saturday: Teen Titans, The Batman, Star Trek: Enterprise

Yup, that's a boatload of TV, all thanks to the scheduling gods at MediaCorp.

And now, I have a video project on the table. Hopefully, I can get that done by the end of the month. There are a few other projects that I could be involved in as well, which I'm not willing to share right now. And that's not counting my volunteer work at ECO Singapore.

And then there's that short film contest by Canon, which ends in October. Just when I get a good idea...

In short, those are the "standard excuses" for why my blogging frequency has gone down. There are lots of things that I wanted to write, but by the time I had time, inspiration and energy to write, the moment had passed. Anyway, I'll see how it goes.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Drinking with colleagues

I joined a few colleagues for drinks after work. It was a party for a senior ex-colleague who's leaving for Toronto. After work, I went down with my supervisor to Lock, Stock and Barrel at Seah Street. We were the first two there just before 7pm, the scheduled start time of the party. People streamed in later and I found myself in the company of people I'd never met before... and one ex-ACJCian. Oh, and apparently Singapore's "online czar" as well.

And a ton of second-hand smoke. I don't smoke, but my chances of getting lung cancer are very, very, very high.

A colleague, who left early, remarked that she didn't think I was the pubbing/drinking type. I have to say that I surprised myself as well. Without eating dinner, I downed a pint of Heineken and ate some chips. I felt giddy, but I don't think I swayed. At least I was sober enough to catch the bus home at 9pm.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Great Travel Sale winner?

Apparently, there's a Great Travel Sale going on now. Not that I care. What I care was that I received a call from 6887-5706 that I had filled in some questionnaire in a shopping mall, and was selected as a winner.

Firstly, no, I didn't fill in any questionnaire. Secondly, when she was talking about the prize, alarm bells went off in my head: "Time share! Time share!", together with images of being trapped in a small room with some other unlucky blokes and our exits blocked by persistent salesmen who wouldn't let us go till we signed their forms.

But none of that really bothered me. I was ready to blow this whole issue off... except that -- and here's the creepy part -- she knew my Identity Card number! Now, being in Singapore, I'm sure I've provided my I.C. number on numerous occasions. But how it had been leaked to this questionable "travel agency", I have no idea.

So much for privacy protection in Singapore.

Anyway, I didn't qualify for the prize because I don't use a credit card and am single and unattached. Ha, so there is an upside to being single.

Oh yeah, and that number again: 6887-5706

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Friday, August 11, 2006

"Singapore Dreaming"

Singapore Dreaming
In my opinion, there are only two kinds of Singaporean full-length movies:
  1. Those that feature Singapore's seedy underbelly
  2. Those that feature the average layman's failure to achieve the 5Cs*
"Singapore Dreaming" falls under the second category. Why shouldn't I be surprised?

Frankly, I'm quite tired of seeing such movies. It's as if every filmmaker wants the world to know that Singapore is a land of opportunity, but not for the average Joe. Just once, I'd like to see a movie that shows someone succeeding in Singapore. Not because I think the country needs more propaganda, but to balance the impressions that non-Singaporeans are getting.

Okay, with that out of my system...

"Singapore Dreaming" tells the story of a family that is torn apart by ambition and greed. It reminds everyone that the simple life is the best life that anyone can hope to achieve. Family, love, understanding -- these are the ingredients to a happy life. Money is the root of all evil and an overseas education doesn't necessarily make one superior to locally educated graduates.

Any of that sound familiar?

What I found confusing was the lack of a lead character. Initially, I thought that it was the father -- until he was written out halfway. Then I thought it was the son, but he didn't have a good ending. It could've been the daughter, but she seemed more like a supporting character to flesh out the motivations of the father and son. That left the mother, but she was in the background so much that I couldn't think of her as the lead.

So throughout the movie, I found my focus flitting from one character to the next, and that left me, well, unfocussed. Everyone had a story to tell, which I felt made the film too multi-layered to follow. Or maybe I've become too accustomed to the hero-centric model of storytelling.

If only the film could have been saved by fine acting. Alas, all of the actors went about their roles in a hum-drum manner. The only stand-out performer was the old woman in the opening portion of the film. Her colourful cursing brought the house down. Alas, that was the only highlight of the film.

"Singapore Dreaming" is a mirror to our own lives in our little nation. Unfortunately, so are a lot of other made-in-Singapore movies, and there's nothing in this one that makes it outstanding. Watch it only if you want to watch a more-or-less English language Singaporean film.

* 5Cs - car, credit card, cash, condominium, country club

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

National Day songs

National Day 2006 logo
I have this year's National Day theme song stuck in my head. It's "My Island Home", sung by Kaira Gong.

Aside: I had never heard of Kaira Gong until August 2006. Turns out that she's a Chinese singer, and it all made sense. (I rarely listen to Chinese songs.)

As usual, the song is laced with propaganda message. But aside from a few cheesy lines, I find the song acceptable. It's not overly cringey like last year's song, "Reach Out For The Skies", which also had coordinated dance movements!

I had the chance to listen to several National Day songs, since they're freely downloadable from the website. Haha, what a trip!

In terms of "rah rah"-ness, nothing beats "Stand Up For Singapore". I was chuckling to myself as I heard that song and two others, "Count On Me, Singapore" and "We Are Singapore". I can't believe I sang them in primary school -- almost 20 years ago! And I stil remember the lyrics! They're cheesy, but they're so cheesy that -- dare I say it -- they're classics! The oldies are goldies!

Since then, though, the songs have become laced with too much propaganda. "One People, One Nation, One Singapore" ("OPONOS")? Even the title is loaded. "One United People"'s chorus ends with the ultimate cheesy and propaganda-ish line, "Together we feel/The Singapore heartbeat". Aaaa! I don't remember the other songs, mostly because I wasn't in the country during those years. And the fact that I haven't heard much of them tells me that they haven't become as rooted in local culture as "Stand Up For Singapore", which means they're probably forgettable.

But 2004's "Home", sung by Kit Chan, is the only standout. I've also heard that it's the best National Day song so far. It's not overly propaganda-ish and cringey. And Kit Chan has a beautiful voice.

Talking about singers, I noticed that almost every National Day song (aside from the classic three and "OPONOS") has been sung by a female singer. Either Singapore lacks male singing talent or the organisers like female singers. (Incidentally, the organisers are the testosterone-loaded military units.)

Someone once asked Corrinne May when she would write and perform a National Day song. She joked that she's never been asked, but would be honoured to do so. Personally, I hope she's never requested to perform this "national duty". I can't see her singing cheesy propaganda. Besides, she'd be villified by the locals because she's based in the U.S. of A. Apparently, the locals weren't too pleased with Taiwan-based Kaira Gong. The idea that a talent has to make it big outside of Singapore doesn't sit too well with the layman. So for the sake of Corrinne May's reputation, I hope she sits this one out.

Happy 41st National Day, Singapore!

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mac OS X's Web Clips and advertising

Web Clip
At this year's Apple Worldwide Developers' Conference, Steve Jobs gave a sneak peek at the next version of Mac OS X, codenamed "Leopard". I won't analyse the whole thing. Rather, I'll focus on one small part: Web Clips.

A web clip is, essentially, a clipping of a web page. A clipping of a newspaper is a small section of a news page, usually an article or advertisement of interest. Similarly, a clipping of a web page is a small section of a web page, again, something that is of interest. It can be a text block, an image, video, or all of them. It can be as big or as small as it needs to be.

It was the first demo that got me thinking. What happened was that Scott Forstall, who was demonstrating it, made a web clip of the Dilbert homepage. He resized the clip so that only the comic strip was shown. Nothing wrong there.

Except the rest of the web page had "disappeared". In particular, advertising. The Dilbert website is free to use. No one pays an extra cent (on top of normal Internet charges) to access the website, read the comic, etc. Yet someone has to pay for the website's bandwidth. Scott Adams probably could foot the bill, but he chose to run advertisements.

Here's how advertisements work online: the website owner allows advertisers to put their advertisements on his website. In return, he gets a nice sum of cash. But his pile of cash becomes bigger if his website is seen to be valuable to the advertisers.

It used to be that a website's value was based on how many people visited it. Now, it depends on how many people click on advertisements. The more people who click on advertisements, the more ideal the website seems. That's because clicking on advertisements indicates strong interest in the product/service being advertised.

More clicks = strong interest = relevant audience = valuable website = more cash for website owner.

Of course, I'm over-generalising it. But that's the idea behind click-through rates (CTRs). CTR = number of clicks / number of impressions. Therefore, more clicks = higher CTR (good), and more impressions = lower CTR (bad).

Coming from an advertising agency and dealing with analyses, I know that CTRs still carry a lot of weight in reports. If a website fails to garner high CTRs, chances are, we won't bother to recommend it for future advertisements.

Back to Dilbert and Mac OS X's Web Clips. On dilbert.com, advertisements are placed in "strategic" locations, e.g. at the top of the page, at the side, etc., but away from content. What Web Clips does is it "cuts away" all of these extra bits, leaving behind the "meat" of the page. To the end user, that's good news! No more irritating advertisements!

To advertisers, it means fewer people are seeing their ads. If I understand web clips correctly, the whole web page (including advertisements) is loaded, so ad impressions go up. But the user sees only what he wants to see, and since he doesn't see the ads, he doesn't have a compulsion to click on them. Bad enough that CTRs are low (usually below 1%), now they're going to go lower!

Website owners don't like low CTRs. It'll be harder for them to justify their advertising charges. For websites that use advertisements served by Google or Yahoo Overture, it also means smaller earnings. Google and Overture pay the website owner only when someone clicks on their ads. This goes back to the above problem of "the advertisements are cut out", i.e. fewer clicks, and therefore smaller earnings.

So, to summarise:
  1. end users - web clips good! No more advertisements!
  2. advertisers - web clips bad! No one sees my advertisements!
  3. website owners - web clips bad! No one clicks on the advertisements and I don't get paid!
What will Scott Adams (and website owners, in general) do? Well, there are a couple of options, but I thought of three:
  1. Product placement - highly unlikely, website owners like the "purity" of their content
  2. In-strip advertisements, e.g. between panels - are micro-ads understandable?
  3. Pay-per-use - no more free access, but will drive visitors away
Perhaps it's time for advertisers and website owners to have a paradigm shift in their thinking -- again. Once Microsoft implements web clips in Windows ("Redmond, start your photocopiers!"), it'll become more difficult to advertise on websites.

Here's my proposal: the (online) advertising industry needs to be able to track what people are seeing on a web page, and when they're seeing it. In the Dilbert web clip, it would be the moment when someone is reading the comic strip. There's probably a way to do so already. I just can't think of it off the top of my head.

From there, they can insert new kinds of advertising, e.g. an expandable banner that occupies the strip's area momentarily while the person is reading it. Ad impression levels are maintained, click-throughs could increase, and the website's value remains as it is, or improves.

Of course, these new ads will be irritating, but aren't all advertisements?

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How much is that Apple in the window?

Here's my almost complete price list of Apple's products from its Singapore online store. Now with slightly more than a glance, I can see how much something costs in comparison to another item.

Update: Mac Pro, Xserve, removed PowerMac
Previous updates:
  • May 17, 2006 -- MacBook, MacBook Pro, accessories, software, removed iBook, removed PowerBook
  • March 1, 2006 -- Mac mini, iPod Hi-Fi, Leather case for iPod
  • February 8, 2006 -- iPod shuffle markdowns, iPod nano 1GB, removed iMac G5
  • January 11, 2006 -- iMac, MacBook Pro, iLife '06, iWork '06, iPod Radio Remote
  • October 20, 2005 -- PowerBook, PowerMac, Aperture
  • October 13, 2005 -- iPod, accessories
  • September 15, 2005 -- Xserve, Xserve RAID, Apple Drive Module
  • September 9, 2005 -- iPod nano, iPod nano accessories
  • August 3, 2005 -- Mighty Mouse
  • July 27, 2005 -- Mac mini, iBook, software upgrades, bus speeds
  • June 29, 2005 -- iPod, iPod accessories
  • May 4, 2005 -- iMac G5, eMac, accessories

Read more

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

"The Lake House"

The Lake House
First, let me admit that I am a sucker for love stories, especially the kind where the main protagonists know that they are destined to be together but are fated never to meet till the climactic moment.

So when I saw the trailer for "The Lake House", I knew that this would be a must-see movie, at least for me. And it starred Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Ever since I saw them in "Speed", I've thought that thay have good chemistry together. So to me, this was perfect casting.

I'd never seen the original, "Siworae", because I think Korean movies are made to be too dramatic to be believable. But from what I heard, "The Lake House" was a more even-handed and believable story.

Well, it's believable if you can get past the idea of a magical mailbox that handles mail two years apart. (Which must be terrible when receiving and sending legitimate mail!) Also, I like the idea of the two characters writing actual letters to each other. In this 21st century of emails and instant messaging and SMSes, there's a romantic notion about writing physical, "snail mail" love letters.

Fortunately, the film isn't all about the characters reading and writing mail. There are actual conversations that occur between them. While it boggled my mind about how that would work in actual letter writing, it helped the movie move along and brought the lovers closer together. My favourite scene was when Alex was telling Kate about his father. Although he was writing in a cafeteria, she was brought "magically" to him so that their letters became a to-and-fro talk between them. Such scenes made me appreciate their relationship more intimate.

Acting-wise, a lot of people will say that Keanu Reeves can't act beyond looking like he's on drugs. In this film, though, I found Sandra Bullock to be the weaker actor. She had this perpetually depressed look throughout the film. I suppose it was called for in the script, but she had such a long face throughout the two-hour movie that I felt put off when seeing her.

What I took away from this film was something that I think is very relevant for fast-paced Singapore: to get something that you really want, sometimes you have to be patient and wait for it. Even if it takes eight years.

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Mozilla Firefox commercial

Mozilla Firefox
Some time back, I teased about a collaboration. Now, I'm ready to give the full story.

Announcing... my Mozilla Firefox commercial!

Making this commercial turned out to be almost a year-long project. For nine months, it was nothing more than an idea in my mind, waiting to be turned into celluloid -- or bytes, as the case may be. In the process, I missed the "Firefox Flicks" contest, which was my original intention, but that's the price I pay for procrastination.

Finally, it was at the prodding of a friend that I finally got down to doing it. I did a quick storyboard on two sheets of notebook paper, then worked on the logistics.

It turned out that the location was the most difficult area. Would I need to ask for permission from the property's owner? Would they turn me down? At my friend's suggestion, I went with "guerilla" filming.

The other area that worried me was casting. I had my female lead already, but wondered who would be my male lead. As luck would have it, I was brought to the attention of a friend who was enthusiastic about acting.

Shooting took place on June 20, 2006 at Funan the IT Mall, Singapore. The original location I had in mind didn't work out due to poor lighting, so we moved to the food court. The session lasted about two hours, followed by drinks with my actors.

Editing proved to be my most challenging portion. "Challenging" in that I had to bring myself to sit in front of the computer and edit two hours of footage and a few graphics into a 30-second commercial. Not only that, I had to compose the music without any proper musical instruments.

But I've done it, and I'm glad I did it. I learned one thing about myself: it took me a while to warm up to it, but I love directing! It's not the feeling of power in telling people what to do. It's that I'm the one who's making it happen! Translating my mental vision into physical reality was really a liberating moment for me.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story behind this commercial.

Watch it now!

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Another work-based catchphrase

One more to add to the two gems:

3. "I'm stupid, but it's your fault!"
What it means: Self-explanatory.

Background: a colleague was stressing over a client who was unable to perform what seemed to be a simple task. The colleague got the impression that the client was blaming her for it. Thus the phrase came up.

Usage: "She blames me for not knowing the sky is blue??? She's stupid, but it's my fault!"

But I think "comms" still takes the cake.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Work-based catchphrases

Here are two gems:

1. "path" (verb)
What it means: to send the location of a file that is residing on a network server.
(This is computer lingo. The path is, as the name suggests, the route that one "travels" by opening successive folders until the required file is accessed.)

Background: in my company, almost every file is stored in the network. The major pro is that it does away with file attachments in emails. The major con is that you have to hunt down these files, assuming you don't know where they are. Thus, the party that is aware of a file's location sends its path to you, or in short, "paths" the file.

Usage: "I saved the file in the network. Let me path the file to you. Then you can open it and read it in your own time."

2. "move forward" (verb) / "next step" (noun)
What they mean: as they imply, what's coming up next in a process or plan or programme.

Background: in truth, there's really nothing wrong with these two phrases. It's just that I've heard them more times in the past three months... than in my entire life!

Usage: "This is something new to us. Moving forward, we should take note of how exactly it is done, so that we won't repeat our mistakes."

Note that I'm not being cynical at all. These amuse me entirely.

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