March 23, 2017

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Authors Posts by Abraham Lee

Abraham Lee

Abraham Lee
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Illustration by Sean Chong

by Abraham Lee

THE G has emphasised that workers have to upgrade and pick up new skills to keep up with the changing economy.

At a Marsiling job fair two weeks ago (Feb 24 and Feb 25), Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob exhorted job seekers to learn new skills. Last Tuesday (Feb 28), Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said in Parliament that “a key focus of the Government’s efforts” would be to “support the development of deep skills in workers”.

Yet, while there is a call for workers to better themselves, it can be an uphill battle without supportive employers. Companies can help develop their employees through mentorship programmes, opportunities to pursue further education, funds and other credits to attend courses, and providing paid time off to attend them. To see how employers help their employees maximise their potential, we talked to two companies about employer best practices and their employees on how they benefited from these skills development initiatives.


1. Funds and in-house credits

DBS Bank provides avenues for skills upgrading by pursuing a “Triple E” approach, “providing staff with experience, exposure, and education”. DBS has conducted digital mastery classes and hackathons to better prepare its employees for the move towards digital in the industry and to gear their mindsets to adopt a “more nimble and digital approach” to problem-solving.

DBS also plans to use hackathons to identify top talent skilled in disruptive technology such as machine learning and Big Data. On Feb 20, the company announced they would hire 100 top coders through a two-part coding and hackathon challenge. DBS hopes to gauge technical ability and problem-solving capabilities through the challenge, to “attract the right talent” and to boost its “digital transformation efforts”.

Bolstering this vision is DBS SkillsFlex, a programme set up in 2015 to complement the nationwide SkillsFuture movement. Employees can use another $500 DBS SkillsFlex credit annually on top of their existing SkillsFuture credit to apply for 90 courses customised to be relevant specifically for DBS employees, and the thousands of courses that employees can use SkillsFuture credit for.

Parenting products retailer Mothercare also supports its employees with further skills training by sending them for various service courses and supervisors for advanced certification courses run by Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS). Employees are also encouraged to use their SkillsFuture credits while time spent in courses are also counted toward working hours. Mothercare helps to cover course fees for its foreign staff by subsidising half and allowing the rest of the fee to be paid in instalments, over a year.


2. Company courses and programmes

DBS has in place structured training programmes for entry level staff all the way to senior management. Managing Director of Group Human Resources Khoo Teng Cheong said, “…we believe in developing our people from the ground up. Building a succession pipeline across the organisation from fresh university graduates to senior leaders is one of our key priorities.”

Of these programmes, Senior Vice President Tan Tsze Shin most notably benefited from was DBS’ Strategic Talent Assignment and Rotation (STAR) programme in which participants spend two years in a cross-country assignment, working in a different role. Prior to the programme, Mr Tan was a business director in the wealth management department but was sent to attend sales courses and trained to better understand DBS products like equities, derivatives and insurance. In preparation to be based in Hong Kong for his new role in the risk management group, Mr Tan also took technical courses in credit management and regulatory requirement. “These courses were largely subsidised by the bank and I was given paid time off work to focus on these courses,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Tan also highlighted the bank’s mentorship programme for its “extremely approachable” senior management team who are “willing to spend time to guide and mentor employees”. He is still in contact with a few managing directors who have guided him in the past few years.

These courses were largely subsidised by the bank and I was given paid time off work to focus on these courses

Mothercare has also conducted coaching programmes. It ran one for its mid-management team last year and is planning to extend another to its store supervisors and assistant supervisors for operations, to equip them with team building and managing skills.


3. Opportunities for further education

Apart from its own courses and programmes, DBS also offers sponsorship for further education in the form of the DBS Group Education Sponsorship Programme (GESP) to those who wish to take up diplomas, degree courses and postgraduate programmes.

At Mothercare, employees with at least one year experience and good performance and attendance records are supported to pursue further education. The company nominated Mr Wilson Ke, an assistant store manager at the time, for the MasterCard scholarship for Diploma in Retail Management with The Retail Academy. He has since graduated and was promoted to store manager upon the completion of his diploma, with his time spent in class counting toward his working hours.

Another employee to benefit from Mothercare’s commitment to developing its staff is Ms Gloria Loh who joined the company as an entry level sales assistant in 2011 while she was still taking a certificate course on retail supervision at SIRS. She continued to study in the subsequent advanced course and eventually graduated with a diploma in retail management in 2013. During this time, Ms Loh attended her classes two days per week and worked full-time during the other five days. She highlighted that the company encouraged her to go for training, provided her with “good managers” and allowed her fixed off days during this time. Ms Loh has since been promoted four times, to her current position as senior supervisor.

Ms Loh said that it was “most important” that her company and family gave her “moral support” when asked how she persevered through working five days and studying two days a week.

When asked whether courses and other skills training impact employee promotions and pay raises, both companies said that the two do not directly correlate and that performance remains a key factor. Mothercare HR Director Pang Shu Xin said that going for courses helps employees to upgrade skills and develop new ones and that they “have better chances for promotion or salary adjustments as their job scope changes”.

And there is recognition, albeit non-monetary, for employers that have “made significant efforts in investing in their employees” in the form of SkillsFuture Employer Awards. The award is open to all Singapore registered entities that show strong support for SkillsFuture and other national manpower objectives, and acknowledge skills and mastery in hiring and employee development. Up to 10 awards will be given out in 2017 and up to 30 awards in the future.

Applications for SkillsFuture Employer Awards 2017 will close on April 30 and can be made here.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Abraham Lee

GIRL cries rape. And you go: You asked for it? That didn’t seem like a smart move on the part of a local teen magazine when a reader claiming that she had been raped asked its columnist for “helpful advice”.

In its November issue, Teenage found itself under a barrage of fire when its columnist, Kelly Chopard, who helms Dear Kelly, gave what many saw as an unsympathetic response which condoned rape and blamed the victim for bringing the misfortune on herself. Facebook user Sara Janelle took photographs of the column and posted them online yesterday. It has since garnered 1,300 reactions, 1,600 shares and 200 comments.

 

The reader, only known as ‘Liar’, said she had lied to her parents about staying over at her best friend’s place when she was actually spending the night at a boy’s place while his parents were not home. A “great day” of “lunch, home movies and conversations” led to dinner, wine, music and romantic lights. Dancing turned to cuddling, kissing and undressing. The girl, who said it was her first time imbibing wine, said she was unable to protest and lost all memory of what happened after that. When she woke the next morning in bed with him, he said: “Wow! I didn’t know you were a virgin, honey!” Afraid to confide in her parents, she wrote to Dear Kelly.

The monthly magazine, first established in 1988, is published by Key Editions and retails at $3 per issue. It displayed her letter and Kelly’s response over two pages under the headline “Raped after lying to mum”, with the last three words emphasised in red. Netizens said Kelly was placing the blame on the rape victim for not asking “for the lights to be turned on fully”, for accepting wine and becoming drunk, and for not stopping the situation from escalating when they decided to dance or when the boy engaged in kissing her. Kelly then said: “I don’t blame him for thinking you were not a virgin. You acted like a girl who has been around”.

Netizens were incensed and remarked that Kelly seemed to be on the side of the aggressor, pointing to lines such as “You can’t blame him for thinking a sexual connection was all right with you” and “You are expected to know what happens when a girl agrees to stay over at a guy’s house when only the two of them are in residence.”

A tirade of comments flew around social media.

 

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The deluge prompted the magazine to respond with an apology on its Facebook page as well as an official apology from the columnist on its website yesterday evening. Except that they appeared to be grudgingly given and more of a defence of the content and tone of the column which they said was intended to send the message that the girl shouldn’t have lied to her parents and that teens shouldn’t indulge in risky behaviour.

Ms Chopard, a teacher, insisted that nowhere did she blame the girl for the rape and had in fact described her as “naive and inexperienced” as well as “a total innocent”. Her intention was to tell teenagers that they should be careful about giving the wrong signals that would lead them into trouble. “I am gravely sorry that this response has garnered a negative response,” she said.

 

From their responses, the magazine and its writer clearly have no idea why people were outraged. They believe that it is helpful advice to tell young women to avoid being left alone with a man lest they are taken advantage of. They do not think that by doing so, this places the responsibility of rape on the victims. At no point in Kelly’s column was the issue of consent discussed. At no point was the wrongfulness of the boy’s actions highlighted.

Instead Kelly wrote that she thought the girl was most hurt by the boy’s “casual dismissal of her”. “I was careful NOT to dwell on this so as not to cause her further pain. I tried not to highlight what was going through the guy’s mind. I was careful to downplay his point-of-view so as to spare her additional pain.” You would think that the girl only cried rape because she had regrets the morning after.

In its stiffly-worded post, Teenage Magazine considers this episode as part of raising “awareness about youth issues that have long been swept under the rug”. It’s a laudable aim, if the attempt wasn’t so cack-handed. It would have been a prime opportunity for the magazine to reiterate the importance of consent and how a girl’s absolute sovereignty over her body is protected by the law.

As much as we’re tempted to tell young women to cover themselves up and behave properly, we should be equally forthright in telling our young men to keep their junk in their pants and only act on a sober ‘yes’. Rather than responding with “why did you let the boy get you drunk?” or “why did you not say no?”, we should be reprimanding the boy for preying on the girl and not acting like a decent human being.

There is a myriad of analogies that can explain the absurdity of blaming rape victims for what happened to them but none can fully reflect the gravity of the offence. It would have been better if Teenage published something like this below:

 

Featured image a screenshot by Facebook user Sara Janelle

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by Abraham Lee

THE Middle Ground officially launched on June 15, 2015,  one year ago yesterday. This time last year, I had just ended my penultimate year at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and was about two weeks into my marketing internship at The Middle Ground. The renovation works at our office at Commonwealth had been delayed and so the team had to camp out at Botanic Gardens for our official website launch. Fortunately, Food For Thought had all three things that we required to churn out good work – good coffee, air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi – although my lower back later learnt that the tall stools were not for slouching.

I was the first intern to be brought on, and until more editorial interns were pulled in a week after our launch, I had to handle both our digital marketing efforts and the subediting of our articles. The first day was the craziest. Bertha had stockpiled articles for the launch and at some point, we were pushing one out every half an hour. That meant I had to subedit and format each article, and prepare to share it on TMG’s Facebook page within half an hour. I still remember yowling at Daniel when I couldn’t edit everything quickly enough and him pitching in while being equally busy himself.

For the most part, however, I shadowed Daniel. I joined the meeting with the creative agency handling our branding, I followed him to SingFirst’s pre-GE forum and under his guidance, learnt the ins and outs of using Wordpress, Facebook Ads and MailChimp, the platform on which we set up The Lunchtime Digest, TMG’s email subscription list. It was only when I took a digital marketing class at NTU that I realised that my internship had already taught me what the class was meant to teach and more. In fact, instead of the module helping me to become a better digital marketer, it was my summer internship with TMG that prepared me to do well for the class.

Another aspect of my internship was to do the bidding of my direct superior, making me Daniel’s go-to sai kang warrior. I will never forget the days we spent driving from one end of Singapore to another to collect pre-loved chairs, tables, bookcases, an office fridge we bought off Carousell and even a large sofa – one does not simply underestimate the brute strength of a father of six. We turned a dusty industrial office into a fully-functioning newsroom.

Before, an empty and dusty room, and after, a busy newsroom.
Before, an empty and dusty room, and after, a busy newsroom.

Admittedly, I, like many of my peers, had wished to intern at a large MNC – something that would look great on my CV. However, looking back, I wouldn’t give up my experience at TMG for an internship at a large firm. Unlike many of my friends, I did more than master the art of making coffee or writing minutes. Instead, I pitched ideas to the bosses, carried out ad campaigns on Facebook worth thousands of dollars and had my writing published to a large audience. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like an internship at a small start-up, simply because there’s too much to do and not enough people to go around.

In the past year, I’ve seen TMG grow its staff with the additions of the visual team, various generations of editorial interns and also the breadth of news covered with the incorporation of the lifestyle section. As hoped, the company burst into the online news scene during GE2015 and has since steadily grown its readership.

Though I had left the company for school, I remained on in the Facebook workgroup: Offering ideas, and pointing out typos in articles before readers could get to them. I’ve seen that each generation of interns has brought on different skills, thereby shaping how TMG has moved forward. Some have been proficient at coding, helping the backend team to fine-tune how we use WordPress and expanding the different ways we present stories, with various online tools. Others have been more dogged in their journalism, able to track down elusive pieces of information.

I was able to witness first-hand the progress TMG had made, at its relaunch event in February. The logo was upgraded and the website had finally become pleasing to the eye.

This month, everything came full circle and I returned to TMG as a Marketing Executive. In brief, I’ll be managing and optimising our distribution channels, like Facebook and other social media, to get our articles out to a greater audience. But unlike last year, I have a proper newsroom to work in, more people to talk to – and an awesome pantry.

Happy first anniversary to us, at TMG.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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by Abraham Lee

THE Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), recently released a draft of digital and social media advertising guidelines on Dec 7. The eight page document pertains to “advertising and marketing communications that use social media to promote goods and services or to influence consumer behaviour”. They are requesting for feedback from the public until January 8, 2016. The draft goes down to the nitty-gritty details of what marketers are allowed to do and how advertisements are to be presented to the consumer. However, while the proposed guidelines try to be thorough, some sound overly restrictive, others outright ridiculous and raise questions on how they will be enforced.

Here are six key ways the new proposal will change your online viewing experience:

1. Endorsements must pass a lie detector test… though it’s unclear who will administer it

What the proposal says: “Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs or experience of the endorser. An endorsement must not convey any express or implied representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser”.

What this might look like:

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2. Marketing communications should be clearly distinguishable from personal opinions

What the proposal says: “The foremost principle is that all marketing communication must be identified as such and distinguished from editorial or personal opinions… Advertisements should not appear like impartial or casual tweets on a user’s Twitter account if they are actually advertisements endorsing a specific sponsor, product or service or product name.”

What this might look like:

3. Disclosures will now be in-your-face

What the proposal says: “Disclosures for paid native advertising units should therefore be clear and prominent”.

In fact, ‘Disclosures’ has a sub-section of its own and Section 3.6 states that marketers must make these disclosures distinguishable from editorial content, discernible, both visually and audibly, and placed where consumers can easily read them.

What this might look like:

(Back to the bling-bling age of the early-2000s we go..! Image from GIPHY)

4. No inflation of social media likes / Marketers can’t ask you to “like, share or comment”

What the proposal says: “Marketers must not induce people to like, share or use social plugins so as to falsely suggest that the contents are more popular than they really are”.

What this might look like:
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5. Companies must be able to prove that their marketing emails are not spam

What the proposal says: “Individually addressed unsolicited marketing communication via digital interactive media should only be conducted where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the consumer who receives such communications has an interest in the subject matter or offer…”

What this might look like:

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6. The onus is on the company to bar minors from entering their age-restricted websites

What the proposal says: “Websites devoted to products or services that are subject to age restrictions such as alcoholic beverages, gambling and tobacco products should undertake measures to restrict minors from accessing such websites.”

What this might look like:

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Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Abraham Lee

AS Malaysia reels from the Wall Street Journal report alleging transfers of US$700 million from 1MDB companies to Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s personal accounts, netizens have turned to Twitter to ridicule the new scandal PM Najib has become embroiled in. The hashtag ‘#1MDBMovies’, a reference to IMDb (the Internet Movie Database), has gone viral on social media.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has reminded Malaysians: “The public is advised to stop spreading modified pictures, unverified news or any speculation on the investigation into 1MDB through social media, including through the WhatsApp application… If found guilty, the punishment is fine of not more than RM50,000 and/or jail of not more than a year”. The warnings were met with outrage and derision.

MCMC strategic communications director Mr Syeikh Raffie Abdul Rahman has since clarified: “When was there ever a ban? There was never a ban. It was totally misinterpreted. It was just an advisory notice”.

We brave the possible weight of the Malaysian law to bring you some of the best of #1MDBMovies.

Some were more lighthearted…

Others took the opportunity to make fun of Rosmah Mansor, PM Najib’s wife, and her reputation as a spendthrift.

Some took issue with financier Low Taek Jho whose accounts have come under scrutiny as part of the probe into 1MDB.

And then there were the more loaded parodies that perhaps betray how confident Malaysians are in PM Najib’s scruples… especially since the Wolf of Wall Street ended up in prison…

Any better ideas? Tell us what parody movie you’d pay to watch.

 

Featured photo by C.K. Koay via Flickr.

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by Abraham Lee

CAN you believe it? Not more than four months ago, Amos Yee mocked Christianity, took the mickey out of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and now he’s responsible for Tuesday’s MRT incident?

Just connect the dots – Amos was released on Monday with a scowl on his face, looking like an absolute train wreck, and the worst SMRT breakdown in history happens the very next day? It sure looks suspicious…

It’s like he read our minds! Yesterday, Amos admitted that he was “fully responsible for the breakdown of the MRT tracks“. How so? Because the judiciary’s decision to let him free, instead of stoning him or banishing him to “eternal damnation”, provoked God’s wrath, resulting in the MRT service disruption, a divine intervention. Amazing!

Divine intervention or not, it seems that Amos has made a full recovery – just like the NS and EW lines – for now. Yesterday, he posted on Facebook a love letter to a certain Claire – though, he doesn’t say who she is.

Claire, if you’re out there, please give our love to Amos. And tell him to stop causing more MRT breakdowns.

 

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by Abraham Lee

IN December 2011, Singapore experienced the worst train service disruptions in SMRT’s history. Yesterday’s disruption smashed the record set in 2011 by affecting more sections of the MRT line and thousands more commuters. Here’s a break down of the breakdowns, then and now.

 Dec 15, 2011Dec 17, 2011Jul 7, 2015
Time at which train service disrupted:6:47 pm6:44 am6:52 pm
Stations experiencing service disruption:Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Bishan station were affected.Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Toa Payoh station were
affected.
Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Yew Tee station and, Redhill station and Changi Airport/ Pasir Ris station.
Number of commuters affected:127,00094,000250,000
How quickly service resumed:South-bound service from Toa Payoh station to Raffles Place
station resumed at 8.30 pm. Full service on the North-South Line resumed at 11.40 pm, about five hours after service was disrupted.
Partial north-bound service from Raffles Place station to Jurong East Station resumed at 8.29 am. Full train service on the North-South Line resumed at 1.53
pm, about five hours after service was disrupted.
Services on the East-West Line and the North-South Line resumed at 9.20 pm and 10.35 pm respectively, albeit at degraded service levels and reduced speeds, about 3.5 hours after initial disruption.
Cause of service disruption:Power failure due to a damaged third rail, which supplies power to the trains.Power failure due to misalignment between the trains and the power rail.

The later published COI report cited shortcomings in SMRT's maintenance regime and checks.
A power trip along the North-South line caused the entire network to shut down.

SMRT cited damaged insulation of two power cables along the North-South line, a faulty relay system at Kranji’s power substation, and a water leak close to the third-rail insulator at Tanjong Pagar station as possible causes of the power trip.

It was not clear which of these (if any) caused the power trip, at the time of publication.

The G commissioned a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to examine the sequence of events that led to the December 2011 disruptions, establish the causes and any other contributory factors, and to recommend ways to manage and minimise future such cases. The COI was also required to submit a report of its proceedings, findings and recommendations to Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

The COI summarised the immediate cause of the two incidents as: “…damage to their Current Collector Device (CCD) “shoes” due to sagging of the “third rail” which supplies electrical power to the trains. During both incidents, sections of the third rail sagged after multiple “claws” which hold up the third rail above the trackbed, were dislodged. With their CCDs damaged, the trains were unable to draw electricity from the third rail to power their propulsion and other systems such as cabin lighting and air-conditioning.”

It wanted the LTA and Public Transport Operators to undertake a holistic review of standard operating procedures so that stranded passengers would be able to get off their trains more quickly. The COI offered recommendations on engineering and maintenance issues, and incident management.

For example, SMRT was to examine the viability of using mass SMS alerts to provide updates more quickly during a disruption. Alternative bus services were slated to be increased to cope with passenger volumes while the option of providing free bus services for those at affected train stations should be explored. Also, agencies such as the LTA, the Police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, were to be alerted more quickly in future such crises. Transport Minister Lui promised that he will continue to improve and rebuild confidence in the MRT system.

Yesterday, traffic police could be seen directing traffic.

SMRT updated commuters on the train disruptions via Twitter and Facebook, at 7:16 pm and 7:39 pm respectively.

Free bus services were also provided. However, some of the free shuttle buses did not appear and miscommunication led to much confusion and chaos at bus stops.

SMRT was fined the maximum financial penalty of $2 million by the LTA for the December 2011 train service disruptions. In February last year, Parliament approved an amended Rapid Transit Systems Bill, increasing the maximum financial penalty from $1 million for every rail incident to 10 per cent of the train operator’s annual fare revenue.

Minister Lui was at Ang Mo Kio station observing train operations this morning. While there, he told reporters: “I don’t think another COI (Committee of Inquiry) is necessary. LTA and SMRT must focus on finding the root of the problem”.

The hope then is that LTA and SMRT will tell all, even without a COI, to cool commuter outrage. The more bloodthirsty will also be looking at how the LTA will act against SMRT, for deflating commuters’ hopes of better rail reliability, which it had boasted of at its own annual general meeting only yesterday.

 

 

Featured image by Daniel Yap.

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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
An MRT passenger quietly grads some shut eye while waiting for the train to depart.

by Abraham Lee

MRT trains along the North-South and East-West lines ground to a halt yesterday evening at around 7:00pm due to a power surge that tripped the system. Chaos ensued as thousands of commuters found themselves stranded in trains or at stations, unable to go back home. The power failure along the two SMRT lines also affected those in other parts of Singapore as extra buses flooded onto the roads to pick up the slack from the grounded trains. Amid the mayhem however, Minister Chan Chun Sing called on all those affected to “pull together”.

There were those who offered to give rides…

…or refreshments to those stranded.

It was also heartening to see stories of gratitude, that gave a silver-lining to a difficult situation…

It took me more than an HOUR to return home and this is the behind story.😌 Today, MRT (metro) in Singapore had a problem (power shortage) so EVERYONE was trying to grab a taxi. I was around Chinatown and since there was no taxi, I decided to take any bus to Orchard first. (Yes! I took a bus alone! LOL) I asked some random guy at the bus stop bout the route and he was so NICE and HELPFUL. Afterwards, I went on the bus and asked the driver/uncle how much the fare was, and surprisingly, he just asked me to get in and sit, and I didn't have to pay. I don't care whether it is right or wrong for him to do so, but my heart felt so WARM. It is NOT about the money but his action. This uncle knew the situation about transportation shortage and was trying to help fix the situation. Isn't this just so PLEASANT? After exploring the city alone, I really feel that Singaporeans are so NICE and FRIENDLY and I like how they really think for their society/country. I was totally IMPRESSED. And this is definitely why Singapore is so strong n successful as one. Anyway, so I reached the taxi stand in Orchard and waited with other people. Thought it was a long wait, I actually had a good time chatting with some people there.😁 I am glad I extended my flight (was supposed to leave today) because I saw a different side of this beautiful country. Singaporeans should be proud of your own country.😉 Happy SG50! Viva Singapore!❤️ #Xander #Singapore #exploring #alone #bus #taxi #busstop #taxistand #homesweethome #tiredbutworth #eyeopening #impressed #SGsoShiok

A photo posted by Alexander Lee Eusebio (@xander0729) on

…and that we could turn the worst of situations into one that we could have a good laugh at.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget the tireless SMRT staff toiling away through the night to fix the problem and to ensure that commuters get home safely.

There were also others who expressed their gratitude for getting to work on time this morning…

and the free for train rides for those exiting stations on the North-South and East-West lines…

 

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by Abraham Lee

What is it about a train service breakdown that makes people so upset? Is it because they believed assurances that public transport is first class? Or because they realised that buying and maintaining a car had become too costly? Or maybe a combination of both – they’ve ditched their cars for public transport because the system is supposed to get better even as cars get more expensive?

It could well be the timing of the breakdown that adds to the temperature. Just when people are done with work and looking forward to getting home, the train slows down, stalls and they have to, to use an ugly term, “detrain”.

Facebook comment
A comment on The Middle Ground’s video upload on Facebook from a commuter who had been stuck on an affected train.

Besides being in a human jam with bodies reeking after a full day of work, you get conflicting instructions on whether the bus rides are really free as the train operator announced. And you argue with the bus driver who wants you to “tap! tap!”

You did think for a moment about switching trains until you realise that this wasn’t a breakdown involving trips along a few stations. The North South East West lines were all down, which means there’s no point going to any of the 50 stations that line the routes to board a train. This is a real rail meltdown.

A screen at Buona Vista MRT station displaying the stations affected by the disruption (Photo by Daniel Yap).
A screen at Buona Vista MRT station displaying the stations affected by the disruption (Photo by Daniel Yap).

You start asking yourself if this is too familiar a story. Was it that long ago when a Commission of Inquiry was held to investigate the two breakdowns in December 2011? But this is far worse. At that time, only NS line was affected. An estimated 127,000 commuters were affected by the service disruption on Dec 15. Two days later, about 94,000 commuters had to go through the same thing.

The breakdowns in 2011 were caused by defective fasteners which resulted in a sagging Third Rail, which carried the power for the trains. The sagging Third Rail eventually caused damage to the Current Collector Devices on the trains and caused trains to lose power. The damaged Third Rail eventually collapsed onto the track bed, preventing the further passage of any trains and shutting down the line.

The damaged fasteners were first temporarily held in place with cable ties before being completely replaced. A Committee of Inquiry found design and maintenance lapses on SMRT’s part.

There was some fallout of course. SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa resigned and Mr Desmond Kuek, former Lieutenant-General and Chief of Defence Force of the SAF stepped in, bringing along with him a whole lot of mates from the SAF. There were some train delays but SMRT put up a much better record of service.

Investments were made to replace the rail sleepers on the aging North-South and East-West lines, overhaul older trains, upgrade the train signalling system and step up the maintenance regime, even as new lines were being opened up across the island.

Then, today happened.

At around 7:00 pm, the first signs that the trains were creaking along the pioneer generation lines were these.

When the trains came to the halt, commuters were told that it was due to a traction power fault.

The SMRT made a series of announcements…

 

The Land Transport Authority, with its motto “we keep the world moving” weighed in as well at 8:42pm.

 

The LTA announced that train service was disrupted “due to a power fault” and that their preliminary investigations indicated that “the incident was caused by a power trip” although it is not clear how this could take out two lines.

In the meantime, all was chaos especially at interchanges as swarms of workers had to find alternative ways to get home.

 

Some Muslims did not make it home to break fast.

On social media, pictures and irate posts were being shared. Some recalled the news a few weeks ago of the CEO who was paid more than $2.25 million last year, double what he made when he first joined the rail operator in October 2012.

Earlier today, SMRT held its annual general meeting to discuss it prospects.

It must have been glad that the meeting took place before the breakdown, which ranks as the worst to have happened in its history. The breakdown provided much fodder for wags on social media. Mr Brown weighed in with #ThingsIDidWhenMRTWasDown while satirical sites suggested that the breakdown was a way for SMRT to celebrate SG50. The more enterprising Singaporeans got into the act offering…Uber services…while the kinder ones offered free rides.

 

Three hours later, SMRT restored reduced-speed service to the East-West line, and the North-South line was also restored at reduced speeds an hour after that, at about 11pm. As train services will cease for the night as usual for inspections, it is unclear if services in the morning will also be at reduced speeds, or if there will still be free bus services in the morning.

Did you get stuck too? Tell us about it.

 

Featured photo by Daniel Yap.

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Mumford & Sons featured on Apple Music's website (Image screen capture from http://www.apple.com/music/discover/).

by Abraham Lee

A lot has been said about Apple Music, the company’s latest development and attempt to enter the music streaming services industry. While Taylor Swift has indeed put Apple Music on everybody’s Facebook news feeds and Twitter feeds, perhaps her recently resolved fracas and all the fanfare surrounding it has distracted everyone from what Apple Music will actually be offering – besides Tay Tay’s latest album of course. Here’s the lowdown on what’s in store for you.

Apple Music will be launching tonight at 11pm, Singapore time, with the release of iOS 8.4. Users can then start streaming the Beats 1 radio broadcast, created and put together by Zane Lowe and his hand-picked team of DJs, later at midnight.

Apple Music will not be selling songs or albums, unlike the iTunes store, and instead will run on a subscription basis, charging customers USD$9.99 (about SGD$13.50) per month. This means that you no longer have to pay USD$1.29 for an individual song on iTunes and can play all 30 million songs in Apple’s database for a flat rate. Users will get to try Apple Music in a three-month free trial, after which the service will auto-renew itself unless you opt out.

Apple Music will support all PC, Mac, Apple Watch and iOS devices that can run at least iOS 8 while a version for Android devices will be launched in the third quarter of this year. iPhone users can download Apple Music by downloading the iOS 8.4 update.

What’s so great about Apple Music?

1. Special Features

Apple Music is touted to help users listen to the best music at any time of the day with its live radio station, Beats 1, which will feature appearances by celebrities like Elton John and Pharrell, and interviews with stars like Eminem. The service will also feature Connect, a social feed through which artists can share exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and videos, and engage their fans directly.

2. A More Integrated Apple Experience

Apple has tried very hard to make the transition to Apple Music a smooth one by consolidating your music collection into one place via your Apple ID. The service will upload tracks from a user’s library that aren’t available in the Apple Music catalog, to an iCloud account. This will allow users to stream music from any device, minimising the need to use scarce phone space. Also, users will be able to store up to 25,000 songs in iCloud, even as Apple plans to raise this limit to to 100,000 in the third quarter.

Besides the Single membership, you can also subscribe for the Family membership which allows up to six people to enjoy the services for USD$14.99 (about SGD$20.20) per month. Set up iCloud Family Sharing on your iOS device or Mac, invite family members to join and you’re ready to go. This feature will also be part of the three-month free trial.

3. Exclusive Releases

Apple has lined up exclusive deals like being the first site to stream Taylor Swift’s album, 1989, along with Dr Dre’s album, The Chronic, Pharrell’s latest track, Freedom, and more.

4. Personalised music selections

Apple has previously struggled with the algorithmic limitations of iTunes Radio, which may be why Apple Music will be curated by humans. This feature, derived from the Beats Music service which Apple bought over in 2014, will better help discover the music you want to hear. The initial set up will have you choose at least three overarching genres, allowing the service to find music according to your tastes and adapt accordingly as your preferences evolve.

How does Apple Music compare with its competitors?

1. Free Services

Like Pandora, Apple Music offers a live station, Beats 1, and artist and genre-specific online radio stations for free. Streaming under the limited-time free option won’t have ads but rather announcements from sponsors at regular intervals, to minimise interruption. Other services like Google Play Music and Rdio also have free tiers with online radio channels as opposed to on-demand streaming. However, while Spotify’s free service runs ads, it remains the most comprehensive of the free services as it allows desktop users to play songs on demand and mobile users to curate playlists, to be enjoyed in random order.

2. Social Media Integration

Spotify retains pole position in social media integration as it allows for collaborative playlists and tight integration with Facebook. Apple has yet to mention collaborative playlists but has allowed you to create playlists and save them for offline listening or share them on Facebook, Twitter or Messages.

3. Sound Quality

Apple Music will stream at a maximum bitrate of 256kbps, falling short of the industry average of 320kbps offered by Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal and Rdio. This means that the sound quality from Apple Music will be slightly lower than that of its competitors. If you’re a casual listener, you might not notice the difference. You can use songs bought from iTunes as a gauge as it also offers songs at 256kbps.

So what’s the bottom-line?

Apple Music doesn’t seem to be bringing anything new to the table. Artists are already sharing their behind the scenes activity and connecting with their fans on established social media like Facebook and Twitter. Taylor Swift has hinted that her latest album won’t be exclusive to Apple Music and will be available on other sites sooner or later. Apple may want to hype up its exclusive deals but the music scene is greater than Dr Dre and Pharrell. You’re not likely to miss out on anything. And personalised music selection has been offered by incumbents Pandora and Jango for years. If Apple Music is going to impress, it better be smart enough to adapt quickly and predict what users would like to hear before they even hear it.

Compared to its main competitor, Spotify, Apple Music has a long way to go. Spotify is more comprehensive and allows you to curate playlists collaboratively. It also offers songs at a higher bitrate which can be noticed by the more serious audiophiles. You’d think that a company that prides itself in constant innovation would at least have caught up to what Spotify offers.

It appears that Apple Music’s main draw is giving Apple users a place to consolidate their music into one place, which can then be accessed from any device, via their iCloud accounts. And that’s about it. It seems like Apple is trying to sell us its brand instead of a great music streaming service.

In any case, it probably won’t hurt to enjoy your three-month free trial before coming to your own conclusions. Remember to opt-out of the auto-subscription if you aren’t won over.

 

Featured photo from apple.com

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