I was invited to check out a demonstration of this machine called the “Robo-Cutter” and I got really excited because, WTF, it’s a robot that cuts grass, right?
No it wasn’t what I expected — there wasn’t any artificial intelligence about it, and it couldn’t deploy itself automatically where it sensed the grass was tall. It was really just a remote controlled grass-cutting tractor.
I put my disappointment aside, and spoke to the person who was heading the demonstration, Mr Neo Say Hwee of Ho Eng Huat Construction Pte Ltd.
He had purchased the Robo-Cutter for something close to $100,000. Close to half of it was subsidised by the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), which has a grant called the Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP).
In one fell swoop, Mr Neo cut down on his reliance for cheap foreign labour, which was utilised in landscape maintenance tasks for the old grass cutters. The Robo-Cutter can now do the equivalent job of half a dozen masked men (grass-cutting ninjas), while using only one trained operator.
While I don’t have the exact numbers to crunch, I think that while the government continues to tighten the supply of cheap foreign labour, companies like Mr Neo’s will still stride forward when grants like IGP are applied judiciously to help innovative additions, like the Robo-Cutter.
More importantly, the employees trained to operate these smart machineries will be able to be paid more. The job is also made easier and safer as they are able to operate the machine from a distance under the shade, lowering the possibilities of heat and other injuries.
This, I think is the best way to go about the increasing required wage. A mandatory minimum wage level with nothing else is just going to see companies like Mr Neo’s being forced to pay more for grass-cutting ninjas, and the costs inevitably will be passed on to their clients.
Unfortunately, many maintenance contracts in this particular sector are still mired in old terms and requirements. They restrict companies’ ability to take the leap and innovate, like how Mr Neo has done with his company.
Contracts still stipulate how many persons are required to do the job, and buyers tend to want a discount when you tell them you are going to use fewer men. Worse, some may be shocked and not want to award you the contract when you tell them you are going to use a robot and one man.
Terms need to be changed. Buyers need to know that the essence of the contract is in whether a job can be done well and quickly, regardless of how many people are used. With the labour supply crunch several industries are facing, it will make the most sense to do this, and make the best use of every worker by giving them the best work opportunities and do the best to reward them once the job is done in a safer and more efficient way.
As you can see, it takes an effort in concert — the buyer, the contractor and the worker have to change the way things are done in order to move this along, in order for all three parties to benefit.
When I’ve worn my other hat as a small business and start up consultant, I’ve heard excuses like “I dowan to take Gahmen money sekali got strings attached”, or “Customer don’t want to change contract”, even when presented with really, really attractive grants and cash incentives which have no strings attached (unless you think that “strings” include paying taxes).
It is exasperating. If these companies don’t revisit the opportunities available now to benefit everyone, they’re going to be in for a rough ride when they’re left behind, while the early adopters reap the benefits of a transformed economy.
It is timely this National Day (the one before the Big 50) that we pay heed to these steps and not just wish for it to happen. We need to work towards this transformation. The buck stops with everyone.
Not too long ago, I instituted a paperless policy for my office — I have another hat I wear as a start-up and company consultant — where, as far as possible, I’d force my clients to go paperless as well.
There is no reason to get something printed out on paper when the electronic version was and is the original document of authority. For example, an ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) confirmation on a successful registration of a company is sent via email, and there is absolutely no need to print it out to make it any more successful.
Yet, every single audit firm (and their staff) that I know insist on photocopying or printing these things, because they need to verify the document’s authenticity and originality. This is what I will never understand. But since they’re doing a job for clients of mine (and they’re paid by my clients), I can’t do much except charge them 10 cents for every page printed.
Then there was this client who insisted on having paper invoices sent to him even though he had computers and a working email account, because he claimed that IRAS, ACRA and his auditors required him to collect and keep original paper invoices.
So I told him that IRAS and ACRA had no such rule, and “keeping of accurate records” did not mean that they had to be paper records. He disagreed, and terminated our services for another provider who happily gave him as much paper as he liked.
There are so many tools available to SMEs to keep everything accurately and safely stored in the cloud that there really is no excuse these days to keep files and reams of paper in the office. With this year’s introduction of FAST internet bank transfers, posting a cheque to pay for a bill is becoming a mere excuse to pay that bill late®.
Detractors point to the dangers of online fraud as a reason not to adopt electronic transfers, even if it’s clear that it’s easier to forge a cheque than to escape the various electronic trails that precede and follow an internet banking transaction.
So, I actually made this “Paperless Pledge” a year ago, and despite getting fired by one client, I’m determined to keep this policy intact. I’m glad to even report that I’m looking for ways to terminate my hire-purchase of my office multifunction printer because we now use it so infrequently.
If you’ve got a similar pledge to mine, let me know, and together we can help plant trees instead of killing them. This is just a small choice to make — whether you print something out or not — but it can make a world of difference.
Make a wish and take the Pledge for Change with me and Kleenex Singapore — You can submit your pledges on Kleenex Singapore’s Facebook Pledge App (https://www.facebook.com/kleenexsg/app_283737521804501). For every 20 wishes placed on the Kleenex Wishing Tree, a real tree will be planted.
When I was in kindergarten, I told my friends I was born on the moon, because I was confused by what my mother and relatives told me.
The Apollo 11 mission had landed on the moon about three hours after I was born, and the excitement was such that my mother said she was asked by the doctors and other people if she’d name me after the mission or parts thereof.
But I remember really believing I was born on the moon, and always dreamt that by the time I turned 30, there’d have been real bases built on the moon for people to, you know, visit and stuff. (I was a big fan of Space 1999).
And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express were taken off the shelves by The Chief Librarian Tay Ai Cheng because they were not “pro-family”, which is now the same thing as anti-gay and anti anything other than “1 father + 1 mother + 3 or more children (if you can afford it)”, as stated in the complaint by Teo Kai Loon.
Please, all who are on the side of compassion and even sanity, nobody is forcing you or your families to be pro-gay or gay. Nobody is asking you to promote teenage pregnancies. Nobody is asking you to promote single parenting.
But I beg you to wake up and look around you. These things happen. Please SUPPORT, not PROMOTE, teenaged, single, widowed parents and whatever is left of their families! These books are part of a community lifeline for children who through no fault of their own, have been labelled “illegitimate”.
You don’t have to borrow these books if you or your children don’t need these stories. But don’t deprive others who do, and for crying out loud, Tango Makes Three is a true story.
The last major training exercise I was part of was held in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland. On the night before the end of the exercise, (which was also an assessment known as ATEC that determines whether a combat unit is fit for operations) the communications radio in my armoured fighting vehicle crackled with a higher than usual urgency. Our vehicle commander pleaded with us to keep quiet so he could listen better.
When someone yells or screams into a radio comms, whatever message that person is trying to send is usually distorted and garbled, and because you don’t know what it is that is making the person so frantic, it tends to scare you a little.
All we could hear was frantic yelling on the radio communications — something about “No Duff”, which was code for “Not Simulated”.
We worked out that one of our tanks had overturned. And when that happens, chances of injury to the crew are likely to be high. There is a vehicle overturn drill which we practice before every exercise, but we had been on the move for over 36 hours and this had been our battalion’s final mission in the assessment. We were exhausted and car (tank) sick and more likely to slip up.
We panicked a little in our vehicle, not knowing if the crew of the tank was ok. There was a bunch of us that night who were from my original NSF unit, and who must have had flashbacks of an exercise in 1989 where one of our unit mates was killed when his vehicle overturned.
That exercise was halted, for about 12 hours, before our commanding officer explained that as operational soldiers, we had to carry on. We stayed on and trained in Thailand for the next 2 weeks.
You never forget something like that — and I remember being unable to control my trembling even when it was finally announced that the tank crew was safe because they’d just managed to duck into the compartments as it flipped over.
The other memorable moment of the exercise was when my company commander calmed everyone’s jangled nerves that night by calling over the comms: “Two-Niner to all stations Two-Niner, if your Zulu (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) drivers or commanders are tired, I will stop and let you rest! I promise you! We will finish this mission safely! …Two-Niner, out!”
To my brothers in the 46th Battalion, Singapore Armour Regiment (1989–91) and 433rd Battalion, Singapore Armour Regiment (1999–2008), I’m proud to have served alongside you. And, even as eras pass and doctrines change, here’s to every soldier, sailor and airman of the Singapore Armed Forces.
Happy SAF Day.
I am honoured to have been invited to speak at this year’s Pink Dot as part of a new segment called “Community Voices”. This is what I said:
When I was in secondary school I was among the fortunate few to have friends who were gay. Some of whom I knew were gay before they knew or cared to admit.
My father was the most concerned, of course, and told me he was worried that I would get affected or influenced — in his own words, “you spend so much time with him, you become a gay then you know”.
I said, “Pa, look at me, I can’t dress to save my life. I wish I could be influenced”.
Then came National Service, the 2 and a half years that was meant to make men out of boys. Interestingly, it was also where I learned how brave my gay army mates were, and how they stood the tallest among the fighting men in my combat unit.
Not only did they endure the physical duress of training, they took the insults — being called Chow Ah Kua, Bapok, Faggot — any derogatory term for a gay man, daily. It was only after my unit became operational that the tables turned somewhat.
The best GPMG gunner was gay. 2 of my company’s best platoon sergeants were gay, and the guy that broke another soldier’s leg during unarmed combat was one of those Chow Ah Kuas.
These NS boys were tortured and I cannot begin to imagine the torment they must have endured, having to hide and deny who they were.
Things are ever so slightly better these days. There’s this civic event right here that celebrates and affirms the right to love, regardless of orientation, even if some people don’t, and even if there is an unjust and unconstitutional piece of legislation that doesn’t.
My hope is that it doesn’t stop here. And I will support this celebration and affirmation until it becomes a right under the laws of this otherwise dynamic country.
I say this because my family and I count ourselves the luckiest people. It’s not because we probably have more gay friends than straight ones. But it’s because many of our gay friends have shown us the ability to sustain love above all manner of obstacles, objection, ridicule.
And more importantly, they love my wife, my son and myself for who we are.
We are without doubt blessed by their friendship, and our family cannot do without their love.
I am glad that we are raising our son amongst friends who share the same family values. That two people can love each other regardless of gender, gender identity or labelling.
If this is the “gay lifestyle”, then my family and I will wholeheartedly promote it.
I don’t know how to write about food except to tell you I like it or not. But there’s a chance I might like a restaurant or cafe simply because the people who run it are nice, and are passionate about the things they make.
But there are places where we would probably have avoided if we looked closer before making a reservation.
Saturday afternoon offered one such place. We’d driven past it several times, and the location had once been a Swiss-German restaurant we liked. So I made a reservation, and picked up the family to go there for lunch. It looked like a pretty hip place from the outside, with the raw, distressed metal and glass and cement finishes.
Plus, it served ribs and wine, because from the name, you’d know it did. But once we opened the door and got in to be seated by the very friendly and attentive wait staff, we knew we were in trouble.
First, they piped-in Kenny G! In place of what you’d expect a hip rib joint to play! Secondly, we were the only people in the restaurant apart from the staff.
Then, when we asked for recommendations, the (really friendly and attentive) waiter obliged by giving us this, his only suggestion: “If you don’t mind spicy, then you should try our spicy pork ribs”.
Thank goodness for the Kenny G muzak, or else we might have had our brains working.
Then came time for us to dabao what we couldn’t finish. We were told, “Takeaway container is 50c”. There would have been complete silence at that moment if not for Kenny G.
We found the food to be pretty ‘meh’ considering the price, but don’t rely on me to tell you, because like I said, I’m not a food blogger, and maybe they’re better known for their wines.
No I’m not going to teach you how to pronounce Roy’s surname. The title is just written in the style of Roy Ngerng’s attention-seeking blog post titles.
Now that Roy has ‘been Davindered’ and taken down the alleged offending blog post, applied to be an NMP, and raised questions from dozens of my friends who are none the wiser about what happens to our CPF money, I thought it might be timely to address some of the questions.
In 2011, some of my friends and I had a website called ‘You Say I Say Who Confirm’, and we wrote about stuff that were slightly contentious, but we never got Davindered. Take for example, this post I wrote about the CPF. It basically says the same thing Roy said, and you can get all this information from various Government websites.
But, you cannot and should not implicate the PM or the Government and accuse them of stealing from the population. You’re not doing the rest of us a favor by doing so, although the “hard truths” should be made better known to us — and like I said, most of these ‘truths’ are — you just have to scour the Government, GIC and Temasek sites.
The only real area of contention is where Temasek Holdings says outright that it “does not manage CPF money”. That’s not a lie, but only because by the time the monies in our Fund is in Temasek’s hands, it is no longer in the form of CPF Funds.
The bottom line is this. Although it is in the interest of national security that certain aspects of our monetary reserves are not divulged, there should still be more transparency regarding how our savings are invested.
Meantime, if you’re not sure what Roy said, here’s what I wrote in 2011:
What Do They Do To Make Our CPF Grow?
I imagine the top question at the top 10 frequently asked questions page of the CPF Board would be “What the heck does the CPF Board do to my money to be able to earn 2.5% — 5% interest in an age where banks seem to want you to pay them to keep your money”?
But it is not. It isn’t even an FAQ according to the Board. Does everyone know something I don’t?
So where does the money go? How does the Government guarantee us what they call “risk free interest” of 2.5%? What is risk-free interest?
We’re told that it doesn’t go into GIC for them to invest in UBS and then get annoyed about a rogue trader losing $2bn. (And you never hear about rogue traders making billions, as you can imagine they would, had their coins landed the right side up).
We’ve also been told (Temasek Holdings FAQ No. 8) that it doesn’t go into Temasek Holdings for them to post a 10-year net profit and then spend the last three years fighting off allegations of bad investment decisions because they lost 31% of its holdings in the 2008 financial crisis.
So where does the Board put the money? Under a collective proverbial pillow waiting for the CPF Fairy to pay out 2.5%? Or do they put our money in local banks, saving us the trouble of doing that ourselves and earning a pittance in interest on our own?
Or does our CPF Board, by strength in sheer numbers, get a fabulous deal from our friendly local financial banks that allows them to guarantee us this “risk free” return of 2.5%?
According to the Accountant-General’s Department, there are these things called Special Singapore Government Securities, which are bonds issued only to the CPF Board to, in the Accountant-General’s Department’s own words, “meet the investment needs of the Central Provident Fund”. The AG-D also states that “The investment of CPF funds by the Government relieves the CPF Board from taking on the investment risk of a fund manager to concentrate on its primary role as a national social security institution”.
In other words, our Government borrows our CPF money, guaranteeing the Board at least 2.5%, and in exchange, takes on the risks of a fund manager, and logically, the benefits as well.
In addition, the money that the CPF Board lends to the Government is put into this thing called the Government Securities Fund, where they are blended on high setting for one minute together with proceeds from investment returns, other securities issuances and seasoned to taste. Once that’s done, voila! You can no longer call it CPF money per se, and can therefore confidently tell everyone who asks, that 1) CPF money is not invested in Temasek Holdings, 2) CPF money is not invested in the GIC.
The other stuff I gleaned from the AG-D’s document was that the Singapore Government doesn’t have any external debt. The only people they owe money to are the people they govern. The Government also owes every other nation on this planet zilch, nothing, or as the aunty who runs the kopitiam across the street would say, jilo. And that probably has something to do with the fact that we have AAA ratings across the board from Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poors, although logically, even if we dropped an A or two, it wouldn’t matter to the Government because they can technically still borrow money from the CPF at 2.5%.
So, how do we answer the burning question that is also not on the CPF Board’s Top 10 FAQ list, “How safe is our CPF money?”
As good as gold? As safe as houses? Solid as a rock?
We’d need a whole lot more information to be able to get something definitive. But still, on a hunch and some good old fashioned agak-ration, I think it is.
Redemption is a difficult thing. You know when you’ve done something wrong and you’re thinking of what you can do to make things right and it never seems to be adequate?
Well, no, I’m not talking about that kind of redemption. In our uniquely Singapore parlance, “redemption” usually means you get rewarded for your loyalty to some kind of consumer brand or product.
StarHub is one such brand, and if you’ve been a customer long enough, you’d know that for every dollar you spend on your StarHub service — like your mobile subscription, cable TV or internet connection, you’d have earned points for them.
These points would then qualify for “redemption”. This is where things used to be difficult. You’d go to the Rewards site, scroll through how many products you can redeem for your number of points and end up maybe only getting some voucher to redeem again against your next phone bill or something.
How many of you have signed up for some telco, earned loyalty points and gone to the rewards website JUST ONCE AND THEN GIVEN UP NEVER TO RETURN AGAIN?
GOT, RIGHT? WAH LAO EH! I’ve been a StarHub customer for more than a decade, and I’ve never redeemed anything. Or at least anything that I remember.
But, that’s about to change as StarHub relaunches its new StarHub Rewards website at www.starhub.com/redeem
I recently checked out the website and they have a much wider range of items to redeem. After all those years of painful phone bills, I’ve actually accumulated quite a few points. Dammit, if these could be exchanged for real cash, I’d be a bit richer.
But if you look at the site, you’d see it’s not that bad. They have a good range of adult and kid-friendly rewards. I might consider a short stay at a hotel on Sentosa, a dinner at a big-name (got signboard) seafood restaurant, and seeing as how expensive aquarium tickets are and how persuasive a five year old boy can be, I might cash in for a two adult, one child reward.
Better yet, it’s now even easier to redeem your hard earned points because you can get it off your mobile devices and tablets too.
Come to think of it, you may want to use your points for friends’ birthday presents. Just ‘cos you used points to get them stuff doesn’t mean that the thought didn’t count.
This is a reward site that is finally serious about giving you something for your loyalty. If you have points, BBBMTL!
I had great fun at the last minute pop-up Talkingcock In Parliament 3 organised by Colin, Yen Yen and others on Saturday evening. There was a great variety of speakers anyhowly hum-tumming what Mother Tongue means to us because it’s been anyhowly hum-tummed into our lives.
This is what I said:
My Hokkien mother spoke no Mandarin, was educated in ACS in Malaya, and my father taught himself English, but spoke Hainanese mostly. Although most days you couldn’t tell which he was speaking. Older Hainanese men have accents as thick as the slab of butter in your kaya toasts.
But my father spoke just enough rubbish for people in Australia to lump him together with other East Asians and he scored a job as a translator with the Japanese Olympic team in the 1956 Melbourne Games.
That did not end well. He was fired before the closing ceremony because a Japanese boxer was taken to hospital for an emergency appendectomy he didn’t need to have. He had simply tried to tell my father that he needed to lose some weight to get down to the weight class he was supposed to compete in. That’s my father. Accidental pioneer of weight loss surgery.
My mother, a slightly better English speaker, joined my father in Australia and together they lived there between 1957 and 1965. That’s a lot of time for them to pick up enough Aussie slang to scold my siblings and I with.
So my early childhood years were marked by my parents’ Aussie nicknames for me, which were all prefixed by the word “bloody”. They called me bloody fool, bloody idiot, bloody nong, once in a while, bloody bastard, before they realised the implication of what they were calling me, and retracted it and instead called me a bloody chink.
I have a five year old son and sometimes when he whines or whinges about something, my wife would tell him, “Use your words, Kai”. And he would compose himself, and make his request known in a full sentence.
My mother was slightly different with me when I was a kid. If I whined or whinged, she said, “Bloody Chinese boy cannot speak english properly issit?”
I understand now that they were scarred by their experiences Down Under, and passed on that anxiety to their kids.
So that’s my heritage. Outcastes of empire, speaking in the tongues of the former convicts of our former colonial masters. It’s a rich heritage, full of stolen riches.
So you can imagine I wasn’t surprised when I discovered just last week, that our National Heritage Board is the governing body of the Speak Good English Movement. I’m actually working on this year’s Speak Good English launch. Director of Speak Good English? Is Eck Kheng here? Movement nochet launch this year, so this event not counted hor?
Let me say that I strongly support the speak good english movement. I have one every morning. Usually after breakfast. And my family doesn’t let me bring the newspapers in with me.
Eh… It could have been worse. I could’ve demonstrated what a Speak Good English Movement sounds like.
Last week, I read about our Air Force and how they outfoxed American counterparts in war games, although I don’t believe they used the word outfoxed.
We all know that our Armed Forces have had this advantage over the years. I mean, come on lah, which other military can boast having marching commands in Malay, instructions in English, and at one time really had a platoon that spoke only Hokkien?
And they say the US got drones, we also have! How many did you see in the Young PAP video? That video? It was supposed to be a secret weapon, to be used when our enemies are making their way to invade us. We will jam their networks and the video would be transmitted to all their smartphones and tablets, so when they watch it, they’ll U-turn and go back because, wah lao, really? This is the prize? Dowan lor.
There were three bids for this defence weapon. This was one of them. The other two were of course the STB ad and the Singtel nipple ad.
“Honey, look! You know the expensive seafood dinner we had last night? We really got screwed, I’m even pregnant!”
Ten years ago, I was in a reservist In camp training — see that’s another word that’s been ingrained. 20 years after changing the term to NSman, we’re still calling it reservist. You call up some business to look for someone, and they’ll say, “oh, got reservist, won’t be back until next week”.
I think we love the word reservist because we really don’t want to be on the front line. We’re reserved. Of course, my ten year cycle has long since been completed, so I’m an even more reserved reservist.
So anyway, this was in 2004 and we were still transitioning from the old conventional ways of warfare to a post 9–11 Al Qaeda-JI doctrine. We had training to tell us that it was no longer ok to clear a room with grenades and put our weapons to full auto to finish the job. We had to look out for civilians and enemy combatants.
So part of the training package consisted of being shot at from a simulated HDB block, and being shot at from a simulated market. The second round got worse. We got grenades thrown at us by a simulated pregnant woman played by one of our own reservists on Attend B excuse heavy lifting.
We didn’t know how to react. We were tired, hungry and getting frustrated.
As we ran up one last HDB stairwell we encountered a simulated couple in close embrace, just as you would in real life, only this time it turned out to be a terrorist-hostage situation. Our training kicked in. We trained our weapons on the party and opened negotiations:
Our section commander shouted: “Terrorist har? What the fuck you want, you ninabeh cheebye motherfucker?”
The simulated terrorist replied, “er…. I want an airline ticket”
Because we are a considerate 3G army, our section commander asked him, “airline ticket? Cheebye what airline?”
The terrorist considered this quickly and shouted his preference, “Emirates!”
Something snapped in my section commander. He flicked the safety catch on his SAR-21 to full auto and opened fire, emptying his magazine of 30 rounds of blanks as he screamed. “Emirates hah? SQ not good enough for you is it? Nabeh! Limpehshootjiliaphorlisee!”
- Robo-cutter To Change Landscaping Landscape
- My Paperless Pledge
- My Birthday Wish? A Sea Of Tranquility
- And Tango Makes A Fascist Chief Librarian
- SAF Day
- Pink Dot 2014
- I Am Not A Food Blogger: Some Food In Our Hood
- The CPF And How To Pronounce Roy Ngerng’s Surname
- Good Things Must Share: StarHub Rewards New Site
- Your Grandfather’s Mother Tongue Is it?
- May Day Rally 2014
- Why We Must #SayNo2Ivory
- Good Things Must Share: Budget 2014
- Climate Change Is A Matter Of National Security
- Things I Will Cherish Forever #10forkeeps
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