Thursday, December 29, 2005

Which side is Singapore on?

Having survived the Christmas shopping crowds once again, I was struck by the sheer amount of work it takes to walk in Singapore. The problem is that there does not seem to be a shared agreement about which side of the street to walk on, and so one is constantly forced to dodge and weave.

The situation is exacerbated by the government, which periodically puts out public education campaigns with catchy slogans like "Stand left, walk right" for the use of escalators. Trouble is, one can never predict whether the up escalator is going to be on the right or the left, and people generally do the opposite of government campaigns out of sheer bloody mindedness. (or more likely because they just don't care about impeding others...)

The roads are layed out following the British system of right-hand drive, which means cars use the left hand side. One could make a case that people should also walk on the left, which would be fine, as long as everybody agreed. Except they don't. The result is that crowds of people just wander towards each other, and the largest mass wins.

The best way to get a feeling for just how random trying to navigate sidewalks can be is to have a look at this webcam. The view is of an underground link between a subway station and a major shopping mall called Wisma Atria.

As I write this, the mall management have attempted to improve traffic flow by putting barriers down the middle of the passageway to separate incoming from outgoing traffic. In true Singapore fashion, people are randomly walking down both sides.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Singapore - Christmas is Shocking!

In addition to my previous post on Christmas in Singapore, I noticed a new trend this year. The outdoor decorations and many displays in stores now sport signs saying "DANGER - HIGH VOLTAGE. Pretty interesting for a place where it rains just about every day.

This redefines the concept of a "warm and fuzzy feeling" when looking at displays. Either we have hit a new low in public safety, or the theft rate is significant enough that the display owners are trying a fairly pathetic way of trying to keep people off their stuff.

And yes, for those not familiar with the total crassness of Christmas in Singapore, the picture is of an actual Christmas "decoration" on Orchard Road. I could understand the confusion if you thought it was an advertisment or warning sign...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Individual Liberty Is The First Casualty Of "The War On Terror"

I was watching a documentary series on the history of Singapore last night on the Discovery channel. Although parts of it were badly disguised ads for Singapore Airlines, the coverage was pretty fair considering the topic and the location.

What came across perfectly clearly was the absolute determination of the PAP to stay in power by whatever means are required. Starting from the basic assumption that they know what is right for Singapore, all is justified in the maintenance and exercise of power. The documentary showed how key members of the party were jailed in the early days, and how the lone opposition MP in the '80's was bankrupted through court actions.

If 4 million people want to be governed this way, that's their choice, though given the constant manipulation of the election rules and constituencies, choice may be too strong a word. In any case, there is little impact on anyone else, as Singapore has yet to "project" its power the way the US is wont to do.

Which is why legal challenges in the US often have importance beyond their shores. A case in point is the legal challenge brought by John Gilmore against the requirement to produce ID before boarding an airplane.

I won't go into all the details here, as Gilmore has an excellent web site with an explanation of his challenge and the political framework within which he is arguing. Suffice to say that it touches on rights guaranteed under the US Constitution to free speech and freedom of assembly, as well as the right to travel freely within the US.

I believe this case is worth watching and supporting because it touches on everything that has been happening since the relationship between citizens and their government was changed by events. From the Kennedy assassination, which justified extraordinary measures to protect the leader, through Nixon's corruption of state agencies to spy on and harass citizens, we can see the organs of state taking measures to insulate themselves from the public and from scrutiny, all in the name of national security.

We have seen the suspension of basic human rights in the name of the "War on xxx" (take your pick of drugs, terror, regime change, poverty) and the
militarization of the police in America. Comparing a London bobby on foot patrol to the average American cop with Kevlar body armour and automatic weapons, is to realize just how far things have slid when it comes to what is considered normal and acceptable.

The myriad security and intelligence agencies that have been spawned by state actors richly funded and seemingly answerable to no one is truly frightening. Reports of secret CIA flights carrying unnamed individuals to secret prisons in countries around the world under the doctrine of rendition (a fancy name for state kidnapping) only add to a picture of behaviour which values expediency and views human rights and individual liberty as
vexatious impediments to action.

Which brings me back to Gilmore. A self-made software entrepreneur, he has the resources and character to challenge this dangerous tilt towards state primacy over the individual.

The legal briefs filed as part of the case are listed on the web site and are very readable. The next hearing is on Dec. 8, 2005.

I wish him luck for all our sakes.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Singapore Broadband - MaxOnline is actually MinOnline

Have just had another frustrating exchange with the helpdesk at Starhub MaxOnline. Although they are supposed to be providing a broadband cable Internet access service, the result is often little better than using an ISP with a dial-up 56K modem.

I dutifully fired off a message to the helpdesk, and attached a number of trace routes to demonstrate the issues I was facing with slow access. The reply was annoyingly familiar - a request for the information I had just provided, along with enough other questions to put off anyone from actually replying. I guess their strategy is to snow the average user with enough technical questions that they will give up and go away.

I didn't.

Like an outsourced desktop support technician with no training ("we will need to re-format your hard disk, Sir"), the solution to every problem seems to be "the fault is at the customer side".

Even though the trace route showed latencies in the high 290 milisecond range for intermediate router hops, I am supposed to believe that the reason I am getting poor performance is because of my PC. All of them by the way, since I have a number to play with, and was getting similar results from each one.

The final answer I received was that there WAS no problem, as the service was within standards as set by the IDA.

Now this was news to me, since I had never seen a published standard for ISP's, and the contract for service clearly indicates that the customer has no right to expect anything other than a bill every month. Sadly, the standards are truly a set of minimums. If a service met these standards, no customer would be having much fun. Nor would services such as VOIP or media streaming work reliably.

And so here are Singapore's broadband standards, courtesy of the IDA.

QoS Standards for Broadband Access Services

QoS Indicator QoS Standard

Network Availability > 99%

Service Activation Time 5 working days or fewer
(from date of receipt of application)

Network Latency =< 85 msec
(connection within the local network)*

Network Latency =< 300 msec
(for the international portion of the network)**

Bandwidth Utilisation =< 90%
(for connections within the local network)

* This latency figure extends from the broadband user to the broadband service provider’s Internet Exchange (IX).
** The international portion of the broadband network extends from beyond the domestic broadband local network up to the network provider’s first point-of-presence in the U.S., or the first point of entry in the U.S.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

V-Gear Landisk Firmware Upgrade - 021

I noticed that the folks at V-Gear have updated the firmware for the Landisk recently. It is now at version 021, and they have fixed a bunch of nagging issues. It is now possible to set a sleep time for the hard disk, for instance.

The Landisk remains a cheap and simple way to add network accessible storage.