my recent reads..

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs
Red Storm Rising
Locked On
Analog Circuits Cookbook
The Teeth Of The Tiger
Sharpe's Gold
Without Remorse
Practical Oscillator Handbook
Red Rabbit

Friday, February 29, 2008


Organised by Improv EveryWhere

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dreaming in Code

Scott Rosenberg's Dreaming in Code is the first book in a while that I have immediately wanted to go out and buy a few extra copies to give to friends. They would just so get it as a reflection on their current jobs!

The title Dreaming In Code is a bit misleading. At first I thought it was about coding practices - extreme flow state leading to fantasy debugging sessions in your sleep (been there!). But its not.

It's fascinating story following Mitch [Lotus 1-2-3] Kapor's quest to build a revolutionary PIM - Chandler - and the organisation he created to do it - OSAF.

At times, clearly a mild-to-massively disfunctional undertaking, but Rosenberg's reflective and honest reporting presents the situation in all its shades. Life is complex. It's not always so easy to 'pin the blame' for a project failure. Sometimes its not even so easy to tell if the project has failed, which is true for Chandler since it is still running!

What makes Rosenberg's book so engaging is that there are multiple layers to the story that speak to different interests.

On the one hand this is a ripping yarn about a high-risk startup. On another level the book reflects on contemporary management and software development practices. But its also the personal story of the very successful Mitch Kapor potentially facing the biggest failure of his career.

Overall, this makes for a compelling read for anyone in the business of software development.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Quick NLB Catalogue Lookups

Postscript: I've given up all ambitions of hacking NLB now that I have discovered Bookjetty - a bookshelf site with library integration. Check it out!

OK, so this post won't mean diddly unless you live in Singapore, or have a local library using the CARLweb system.

But say you are browsing one of the book retailers on the web - like amazon - and you want to know if the book is available in your local library?

Here's a little trick to help you find that out in one-click (not patented;-). It is inspired by some posts over at The Box Factory.

Below is a link that you save to your bookmarks (Firefox)/favorites (IE). Once saved, when you are on a book page at amazon etc, just select the bookmark/favorite and it will pop-up a window to Singapore's National Library Board catalogue system and try and find the book in the library for you.

NLB Book Lookup <-- Bookmark/Favorite this!

Simple steps: How to Use It

  1. Right-click on the link above, and select Bookmark This Link.. (Firefox) or Add to Favorites.. (IE)

  2. Go thru the steps to save the link. you may get a warning about "javascript:" links not being recognised. Ignore/proceed .. trust me!

  3. Check you Bookmarks/Favourites menu - should now find NLB Book Lookup in the list.

  4. Navigate over to a book retailer and find a book (try the Ruby Cookbook (O'Reilly) at Amazon for example)

  5. While viewing the book page, select NLB Book Lookup from your Bookmarks/Favorites menu

  6. A new window will open to display the NLB Library Catalogue record (if there is one)

Grumpy Stuff - But Looking Forward

The NLB is still using CARLweb, which is an ancient product from TLC.

Once of the really nasty features of this system is that it using session tracking in the URL query string of your request. Not only does this prevent deep-linking (so you can't easily email a catalogue link to a friend for example), it makes the catalogue un-indexable by web search engines like google.

It also means that the Bookmark/Favorite link I gave you above has to go in the front-door, and creates a new session each request. So unfortunately that means that if you use this a few times in quick succession, you may get a maximum sessions exceeded error. Sorry, for now you'll just have to close the windows and wait a while for sessions to expire.

Yes, CARLweb sux. It truely belongs to an earlier era of computing!

The good news: I've heard whispers that the NLB have a project running to upgrade their catalogue search facilities. Hopefully we'll soon have a much better service to use. My top wishes:
  • Support for deep-linking. No user/session-related information in URLs.

  • A nice robots.txt that allows the search engines to fully index the catalogue

  • Flexible RSS feeds - as well as the usual "latest acquisitions" etc, a flexible and published approach to parameterising the feed e.g. by library location, by subject and any other search criteria. Or another way to express this would be "get any search result as RSS"

  • Getting ambitious now ... a published Web Service/REST API

  • A mashup developer's guide - encourage people in Singapore to exploit the NLB catalogue! A competition even?

Originally posted on tardate

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Silverfish New Writing 1

New Writing was published in 2001 by silverfishbooks. It is a collection of works in English by writers from around Singapore and Malaysia.

At the time it was quite a risky business proposition. Was anyone going to buy a book like this? Mainstream sentiment was generally quite negative towards works in English (either because the national languages held more prestige, or a perverse expectation that local writers by definition couldn't be any good if they used English).

Well, with six editions now in print, I think the critics have been silenced and the series has I think given the local writing scene more self-confidence.

I recently went back to read some of the stories in the first edition. I like the little sketches of life. Either contemporary such as Hong Wee's The Drive Home, or reminiscing on the past as in 14 Leech Street by Bernice Chauly.

Of course must pay homage to the local fascination with ghost and zombie stories with Kaysidayat bin Ishak's The Last Train. Or something a little more tender and juicily experimental like Plat du Jour by Muslin Abdul Hamid.

And much more. Pick any book in this series to try something new and different. Its a bit like nasi padang - get to sample a whole range of small dishes with great local flavour.


After Jupiter, I went back to start with the first book in Ben Bova's series - Mars.

It is a gripping page-turner of the first manned mission to Mars, and the hopes of making the most startling of discoveries - life on another planet. The book's tension comes from a great balance of the personal story of the astronouts, the hard-science of the mission, and the all-too-realistic dimension of earthly politics. Real drama cloaked in a scifi setting.

Looks like I'll be reading the whole series now!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Singapore wins!

Support Singapore YOG 2010
The perfect choice to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Supporting Singapore's bid to host the Youth Olympic Games 2010

I just discovered the online campaign to support Singapore’s bid for the Youth Olympic Games 2010. It would be truely great to see the event held here, and Signapore's certainly got the location, facilities, environment and culture to do a great job.

And to be fair, better chances than ever hosting the full Olympic Games!

So I've registered my support, and you'll see the logo flying on my blog from now on;-)

If you want to support the bid on your blog, just register here.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Right Way To Do Wrong

The Right Way To Do Wrong - An Exposé of Successful Criminals is a very old book, published in 1906. I was intrigued since it was written by Harry Houdini, as I hadn't realised he was also an author.

Houdini's motive for writing the book is to warn off the righteous by educating them in all forms of devious frauds and scams, and to cause those less well intentioned to give pause before taking up a life of crime.

Reading the book over 100 years after publication, I am amazed but perhaps on reflection not surprised that Houdini manages to describe in great detail just about every Internet-related scam in existence (allowing of course for a transposition of technology).

When he talks of Begging Letter Swindles, think Nigerian Letter or "419" Fraud. For Tricks of Bunco Men, see Advance Fee Scheme. The ease in which Impersonation/Identity Fraud was practiced in a pre-IT age... and just about every other gambit you can find on the FBI Common Fraud Schemes site.

If you are into IT Security, I think you'd enjoy reading this and mulling over the relevance to your day-to-day work. It is salutary to realise there is nothing new in the Evil that Men do, just new ways of doing it.

I listened to The Right Way To Do Wrong in audio from LibriVox. It is also available in print from Amazon.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Boat

The Boat is Walter Gibson's extraordinary account of survival after being lost at sea when the Dutch steamer Rooseboom was sunk by torpedo on 2 Mar 1942. Gibson survived 26 days afloat in a lifeboat with 135 others. Only 5 made it to shore. Three Javanese sailors were seperated to uncertain fate. A fourth was Doris Lim, who after surviving the boat died tragically under Japanese interrogation before ever tasting freedom again.

When the story first broke in the news, the world was shocked by the tales of murder and cannibalism that Gibson witnessed aboard the lifeboat. It is perhaps made even more horrific by the stark, concise manner in which Gibson recounts The Boat (completed for the 10th anniversary of the Rooseboom's sinking).

Find it at the NLB

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Spy Game / That's The Way I Like It

Just started watching Spy Game and got a surprise to see Adrian Pang playing a minor role.

He's a pretty big celeb in Singapore, mainly as a funny guy but also done his share of drama. Probably best know for co-hosting Yummy King (好吃王) with Michelle Chia.

But by far the best thing I've seen him do is a little-know movie called That's The Way I Like It. It's an hilarious transposition of Saturday Night Fever into a Singaporean context. Get it if you can (found at Library@Esplanade if you live in Singapore). Here's a teaser:
Disco hits Singapore. Hock, an ordinary underachiever, discovers disco when his favorite kung fu movie is replaced by a low-budget "Saturday night fever."

iTunes and DRM - Destroy Real Music

Ignatius Low gets nostalgic over music in it's physical form in an article for The Straits Times today (I still want a CD I can hold - Feb 3, 2008 - article is only available to online archive subscribers. ST hasn't quite caught up with the NYT yet!).

ABOUT a month ago, I made my first purchase from the Apple iTunes Store. It was a tedious and deliberate process, given that the iTunes Store hasn't been launched in Singapore yet, but it had to be done..

He goes on to question what would be lost if the world does move wholesale to digital downloads .. nostaligic memories of browsing for music with friends in the local record shop .. the personal stories forever tied to each CD or LP on your shelf.

Travelling and the Real Music Store Experience
Thankfully, we haven't totally lost the music store experience yet, although it is dominated by the major chains like HMV. I hope we never lose it. It would deprive me of one of the most enjoyable travel activities - whenever in a new city, I always try to make time for a few hours at a local music store to browse and buy. It is a great way to get a lock on the local music culture and discover some amazing artists.

DRM - The Worst Idea Ever Foistered on the Music Industry
There is a more insidious side to the whole digital download approach to purchasing music. Its called DRM - Digital Rights Management (or Destroy Real Music if you prefer). Still in use for most music on iTunes, DRM restricts your use to iTunes and iPod, and you only get 5 chances to register with another computer (like if you re-install or upgrade). Apple of course are not exactly forthright in telling you all this, prefering to regale you with all the benefits of digital downloads.

To make a LOTR analogy, its as if DRM is the poison holding Théodred under the spell of the wicked Wormtongue (read RIAA).

When I look at my record collection, I see the albums I inherited from my parents - even grandparents - and remember the thrill of exploring and learning to appreciate all this old and unusual music. I was the new generation rediscovering the musical gems of my elders, and I think a critical step towards musical maturity. It is how I found a place in my collection for Les Paul & Mary Ford, Duke Ellington and Fats Domino along side Iron Maiden, Madonna and Regurgitator.

If DRM and digital downloads become the way of the future, then this is one formative experience I will be unable to bequeath to any grandchildren I may be lucky enough to have.

The Dawn of a DRM-free Golden Age?
Thankfully, DRM seems to be on the way out - at least for music if not movies for the time being. And anyone who really cares about music should add their strength to kill it good and proper as soon as possible. EMI were perhaps the first major label to signal the trend, and break away from Wormtongue's spell.

The EMI move significantly bolstered Amazon's move on itunes with their DRM-free MP3 store (although in a perverse turn of logic, I can order physical CDs from Amazon yet because I live in Singapore I still cannot purchase their mp3 download versions. Go figure!)

Amazon's move was likely no insignificant factor in Apple now moving to dump DRM in their new iTunes Plus service (probably more correctly called iTunes Minus). Aple are still extremely coy in telling their users what's really going on (try searching for DRM on the iTunes site). I think it is scandalous how little information is provided to iTunes users about the DRM restrictions that are still applied to the majority of songs you can purchase on iTunes.

To put it simply: beware!
  • When you purchase music on iTunes, it is still DRM-locked, unless you are clearly given the iTunes Plus purchase option.
  • If you buy DRM-locked music on iTunes which is later made available unlocked in iTunes Plus, you can upgrade but you will have to pay for the privilege of getting you music purchases switched over (currently 40c per song or 30% of the album price)

Personally, I plan to stick to purchasing CDs, especially with so many available today at a nice price (like S$11.95 and up for recent chart albums). When amazon finally make the mp3 store available to me, I'll probably use that for the odd purchase (especially for individual tracks).

But iTunes? Sorry Apple. I love your iPods, but your support for DRM leaves such a bad taste that even now that you are reforming I will run a mile before willingly purchasing from your store.

One Night At The Call Centre

I had the chance to participate in a focus group for the NLB, and as a bonus got a book voucher to put to good use. Within a few minutes of walking into a bookshop, Chetan Bhagat's One Night At The Call Center caught my eye and was immediately locked-in as a purchase.

This is a refreshing read. In one night we meet Shyam and his call center collegues as they each face life: from a plagiaristic, useless boss who can't hold a real conversation with out using MBA jargon .. arranged marriages gone wrong .. manipulative mothers .. and a job that pays just well enough to suck you in and seduce you into giving up your dreams. It would easy to be cynical like Varun (Vroom):
We get paid well, fifteen thousand a month. Fuck, that's almost twleve dollars a day. Wow, I make as much a day as a US burger boy makes in two hours. Not bad for my college degree. Not bad at all

But this is really a book about hope, and what you are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of a better life. It's a story that transcends culture.

Near the end of the book, there's a self-referential discussion of which of two versions of a critical scene should have been used [don't worry, you'll understand how that makes sense when you read the book]. My only criticism of the book is that I think the author choses the wrong version! But it works well enough to not be a major detraction.

All up, a very good read. Highly recommended! I don't think you need to be into IT, outsourcing or Indian culture to "get it"; this is a book anyone would enjoy.