Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear Singaporeans, we regret to inform you that you have been outsourced

With all the sound and fury from Singaporeans over the issue of foreigners and (un)permanent residents, one has to ask what is the Government thinking? Normally conservative and risk averse, why would the PAP risk heartlander anger over a policy of importing foreign labour that is so clearly unpopular?

The answer lies not in an analysis of how governments react to public opinion in democracies – the description doesn’t fit. Rather, one needs to consider Singapore Inc. in all its glory to understand what is going on.

As a Family run enterprise, Singapore Inc. and its organs of administration are business oriented and pragmatic. Faced with a population that doesn’t want to work in an increasing number of job categories, indeed a population that has lost interest in even reproducing, the Family has been forced to do what any business in the same situation must do – outsource.

Since emptying the current incumbents from the Company housing flats (HDB) is troublesome, it is necessary to import labour to do the work that needs doing.

So all Singaporeans complaining about foreigners and PR’s, wake up and face reality – you have been outsourced.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Building the perfect music server

The latest addition to the Haunt is the Shuttle X27, a tiny Intel Atom-based box with an external 60 watt power supply. Like BEAST, it is all black, but with a tasteful silver highlight on the front.

With all the other PC's and laptops floating around the place, one might usefully ask, "why?"
There are of course two answers - "Not because we must, but because we can" and an invocation of Bell's Law - "There are only two reasons to buy things - your friends already have it, or your friends don't have it"

I have to blame Paul Chatfield for bringing to my attention a piece of software called VORTEXBOX., which can be found at http://www.vortexbox.org

This is a Fedora-based LINUX distribution that is specifically set up for running SqueezeBox Server, and for ripping CD's to FLAC and MP3. I was intrigued with the idea of having a low power, quiet box to take the place of the ReadyNAS (which proved too slow) or my main PC (which requires the PC to be left running and the software in the background at all times)

The Shuttle X27 as built, uses a mini-ITX motherboard with an Intel Atom 230 CPU, 2 gigs of memory, and a Hitachi 2.5" 500gb SATA drive. Everything is designed to be low power and passively cooled. Ironically, it is the Northbridge chipset that requires a fan, but this is inaudible. The case is heavy steel, perforated on the sides and top. The drive interface is SATA, but can only accommodate a laptop drive.

I chose not to put in a slim DVD drive, as I prefer to rip on the main PC using dbPoweramp.
I used an external USB DVD drive to load the Vortexbox ISO image downloaded from the site and burned to a CD. It installed automatically, just asking for the time zone and a root password.

After installation, the box can run headless - no keyboard, mouse or display required. Instead, access is by web browser and invoking the IP address. The administration GUI is clean and simple, with icons for each of the major tasks.

Squeezebox Server looks exactly the same as it does under Windows. The current release of Vortexbox is 0.9, and after installation, I only had to configure Squeezebox Server and change the Workgroup name under SAMBA (I did this by editing the smb.conf file, but the option to change is actually available from the GUI) in order to be visible with the rest of my Windows PC's.

Since Slim Devices has just updated Squeezebox Server to 7.4.1, I ran the Vortexbox update routine, which connected to the Internet and downloaded 120 updates from the Fedora and Vortexbox repositiories.

The final job was to move all my FLAC files over to the Vortexbox. This was accomplished with a simple drag and drop - and about 5 hours of waiting to move the 240gb of data.

It is hard to describe how simple and painless the whole process of creating this music server turned out to be. I am no Linux geek, and the only questions I had were answered in the FAQ and/or some quick googling.

The result is a small, low power, near silent, music server running SqueezeBox Server and supporting 5 Logitech Slim Devices units (two SqueezeBox 3, one Boom, one Transporter, and one Duet). Of course, you can also just play music by navigating to the FLAC directory on the Vortexbox and using Winamp or similar software.

A very satisfactory result.


FORM FACTOR Mini ITX Form Factor

PROCESSOR Intel Atom 230 CPU CPU on board

CHIPSET Intel 945GC + ICH7

MEMORY 1 x 240 pin DDR2 DIMM Slots, 2GB per DIMM (Max 2GB) DDR2 533MHz supported

VGA Intel GMA 950 256bit 3D engine with a powerful 400MHz core

DirectX 9 3D hardware acceleration

Dynamic Video Memory Technology(DVMT)3.0 supports up to 224MB of Video memory

AUDIO Realtek ALC662 5.1 Channel High Definition audio

ETHERNET Marvell 88E8056 IEEE 802.3u 100Base-T specification compliant

10MB/s,100MB/s,1GB/s Support Wake-On-LAN function

STORAGE INTERFACE (1) UltraDMA100 IDE channel Master from ICH7

(2) On-board SATA connector


(1) ATA100 bus master IDE connector

(1) ATX main power connector

(1) ATX 12V power connector

(3) 4pin fan connectors

FRONT PANEL Power-On button

BACK PANEL (1) PS/2 keyboard

(1) PS/2 Mouse

(1) Gigabit LAN port

(1) Serial port

(1) D-sub port

(1) DVI port

(4) USB 2.0 ports

(1) Front out connector

(1) Rear Surround out connector

(1) Center / Bass connector

EXPANSION BAY (1) 2.5' bay

(1) Slim ODD bay

DIMENSIONS 250(L)x185(W)x70(H) mm

POWER 60W Adapter

Input:100- 240V AC


XPC CD Driver(32/64bit)

(1) SATA cable

Other: Screws

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Singapore - Becoming a nation of high-rise squash courts

I have been watching with bemused fascination the return of crowds to the launch of new properties. There is a complete disconnect between the business press reporting about the economic crisis, and the reality of mob scenes at show flats and mall openings.

What is even more disturbing however is what people are buying. The size of the flats that are being marketed are absurdly small. Instead of looking at the utility of the space being offered, buying is reportedly based only on the total price.

This leads to some really bizarre outcomes - in order to keep the total price below 1 million dollars (which is supposed to be an acceptable price), flat sizes are shrinking. At the same time, the use of balconies, air con ledges, and planters is reducing the usable area dramatically.

I am unfortunate to have a number of construction projects surrounding my building, and I have been watching the erection of what can only be described as pigeon holes. Pre-cast concrete slabs are dropped into place by crane, allowing completion of floors in record time. I don't see where the structural integrity comes from, and I certainly wouldn't want to be in one of these structures if an earthquake hit.

One building nearby called the Vida has recently been completed and is being marketed as a luxury building. Driving by at night, I was struck by how much the place looked like a stack of squash courts. The flats have floor to ceiling glass walls, like a squash court, and appear to be roughly the same size.

Intrigued, I decided to check the facts. According to the World Squash Federation, the dimensions of a regulation squash court are 9.75m by 6.4m, yielding 62.4 square metres. For those more comfortable in square feet, this is 671 square feet. Since there are no balconies, aircon ledges or planters, a squash court is really 671 sq feet of usable space.

Looking at the marketing materials for the Vida on their web site, it appears that a 1 bedroom apartment is 517-527 square feet - with aircon ledges and other encumbrances. This is actually considerably smaller smaller than a squash court!

Another way of looking at this is that a standard 40' shipping container is 12.036m by 2.35m giving 28.28 square metres or 304 square feet.

And how much does one pay for the privilege of living in less space than a squash court?

The last transaction listed on the Singapore government property website shows a price of S$1,175,210, yielding the seller S$2,228 per square foot.

I wish I could offer some sage insight to what this all means.

I do know that a squash court or a shipping container is not a home, nor is it a suitable place to raise a family. Even a single individual living in such a small space is going to go stir crazy pretty quickly. The breakdown in family structures can only be accelerated by isolating people in tiny cubes.

This is not housing, this is storage.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Singapore - Red Traffic Signal is Optional

What started as a sense of unease when crossing streets as a pedestrian and driving as a motorist has now become a fact - drivers in Singapore are treating amber and red signal lights as optional indicators to stop.

On my way home from work, I witnessed no fewer than three incidents which could have resulted in fatal accidents. Luckily for me, I was not the first car waiting at Upper Cross Street and Cecil, as a Comfort cab rocketed through the red light, narrowly missing the car in front of me. This was at least 5 seconds AFTER the light had turned green in our favour. Things continued badly as I barely avoided being hit by another taxi running a red light at Orchard Link, and then watched an SBS bus proceed through the red light at Orchard Blvd. and Scotts Road.

Amber appears to mean "accelerate", and Red is for closing one eye and continuing on.

There seems to be a perverse logic at play, in which the time spent waiting determines whether to proceed, not the state of the signal light. A driver forced to wait for pedestrians, or at the end of a long queue appears to believe that his "time served" is sufficient justification for running a red light.

The result is that it is no longer safe to assume one has the right of way because a traffic light is green in one's favour. It is essential to pause when a light turns green, and check to make sure that no vehicle is accelerating towards you.

What's going on?

There seems to be a positive correlation with the state of the economy - behaviour is deteriorating along with people's finances.

Or is it just another expression of the lack of social graces and sense of community that seems to plague residents of Singapore? Unable to connect personal behaviour with societal consequences, it is every man for himself.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Miele Singapore - Avoid At All Costs

I have long held the view that when it comes to tools, you either buy the cheapest or buy the best. This approach owes its origin to Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog, which I first ran into the late '60s. The idea is that the best way to learn and decide about tools is to start cheap, then when you have determined which features/brands/quality is appropriate, you buy the best.

A domestic tool that we all have to deal with at some point or another is the washing machine. A visit to a local appliance dealer such as Best reveals a huge choice of models at widely varying prices. The question naturally arises as to whether or not there is a measurable difference between the cheapest machine and the best, which is presumably also the most expensive.

Having to set up a new flat some time back, I was faced with this challenge, and decided to purchase the best. Based on reviews and poking around the shops, I settled on a Miele W1514. They are obscenely expensive, but appear to be well built. In fact, Miele makes a big deal about the longevity a customer can expect from their products, as this excerpt from their website shows:

Long life expectancy

A test performed by wfk, Germany's renowned research institute based in Krefeld, proved that Miele appliances last 20 years. Appliances from 6 manufacturers were tested, the result: Only the three Miele washing machines survived in working order. Miele also subjects its appliances to in-house 10,000 hour endurance tests in which they operate day and night. Only Miele sets such a high benchmark.

OK, so we have the Rolls-Royce of washing machines, clearly worth the inflated price.

Except that it broke down after 18 months.

Getting ready to wash a load of clothes before a business trip, the machine turned out to be stone dead. After checking the electrical outlet and fuses, it was clear that the fault was within the machine's power control unit.

While annoying, it would be unreasonable to assume that a single fault is grounds for complaint. A call was placed to the Service number, and after some negotiation, a service man turned up.

Without parts.

It was 4 days later that another service man arrived with the proper part, and replaced the power control unit. Total cost - S$684.57

To put this in context, Best was advertising a Japanese 9.5 litre washing machine for S$320 on the same day. So for more than double the cost of a new washing machine, I had my Miele repaired.

Arriving back from my business trip to find that I had been ripped off by Miele, I wrote a polite letter to the General Manager of the firm in Singapore, requesting a refund based on the fact that the machine had barely been used, and the fault was in a non-moving part, clearly a design problem Miele has with the machine.

It has now been 2 months since I mailed and faxed the letter to Miele, and I have had exactly zero response.

It appears that Miele is trading on its (undeserved) reputation for quality, and simply ignoring customers with product problems.

My conclusion: Avoid Miele Singapore - they are unsafe to do business with.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Singapore - En Bloc Fallout

Having fulminated against the stupidity of Singapore's en bloc legislation, it was my fate to experience the human impact when my home of 9 years was sold, and the building destroyed.

The story has now entered a new, and predictably futile stage.

Wing Tai, the property company that bought and demolished Ardmore Point, has now announced that they will not be building anything on the property. The neighbouring building, Anderson 18 which was also bought en bloc, has been emptied of residents, but will now stand empty as the developer is not going to demolish the building after all.

To the former senior civil servant, Ngiam Tong Dow, who is so proud of his en bloc legislation, notch up another failed outcome. Buildings that were once desirable homes have been turned into empty lots and ghost buildings.

By destroying existing buildings and creating artificial shortages, en bloc sales contributed to the property market bubble that took place over the last two years. The Deferred Payment Scheme, which allowed purchase of property with little money down and no financing in place to actually complete the deal, simply added gasoline to the fire.

The result has been neighbours fighting neighbours, law suits, families forced to leave their homes, buildings being allowed to run down due to lack of maintenance, and unhappiness all around.

To add an absurd touch to the whole sorry mess, I present a letter sent to me and returned as undeliverable by SingPost. You have to admire their efficiency in having made a chop for use by their employees which reads:

Reason for non-delivery: Building Demolished.

Only in Singapore

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK

Unlike other types of farming, growing trees is a relatively leisurely pursuit. One doesn't have to worry about seasonal chores like planting and harvesting. It does require a rather longer time frame though, and patience, and money.

Having said that, it is still necessary to undertake occasional thinnings. Such a long overdue exercise is underway, and I have posted an update to the plantation page on my web site.

Oh, the Monty Python sketch can be seen here, and the lyrics here.