March 30, 2017

Authors Posts by The Middle Ground

The Middle Ground

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M1 has responded to criticisms of its 3G disruption last week by saying that its contingency plans had kicked in to cut the downtime from a possible 12 to 16 weeks to less than three days.

The telecom operator yesterday detailed how the fault was created in the early hours of January 15, and claimed that the network was fully restored by 6pm on January 17.

It is keen to prove its case because an upcoming investigation by the government regulator could well determine if it would face a heavy penalty for one of the country’s most serious outages.

In the early hours of January 15, an M1 vendor upgrading the transmission network had created sparks and smoke in its network centre while connecting a power cable to a rack of network equipment.

This set off one of the 88 water sprinklers there as well as a gas that is used to suppress fires. The water damaged one of the network switches that caused all the trouble for the telco and thousands of users islandwide, M1 explained yesterday evening in a press statement.

It said it had two contingency plans that kicked into action. It diverted traffic from the damaged equipment and increased the capacity on its important core network, which handled all its traffic.

Separately, the telco said it had to reconfigure 416 base stations, by connecting to the alternative network switch and making sure the traffic is balanced across the new equipment. This was followed by drive-by tests.

The incident had happened as M1 was creating a “network resiliency” plan that began in 2011 and was to complete by mid-2013, it revealed yesterday.

Understandably, users are still angry a week after the incident, despite an apology by the telco and an offer of free calls, messages and Internet surfing for three days.

Questions remain too about M1′s explanation. For example, why was there so little backup for such an critical mobile network switch and what was its solution if more than one had broken down or been damaged? Is this the standard that other telcos have adopted?

These are likely to be among the questions to be asked by the Infocomm Development Authority. It last week confirmed that it would be investigating this case and urged M1 to address customer concerns actively.

The regulator had fined M1 S$300,000 in 2011 for another network disruption, while handing out a S$400,000 penalty to SingTel for a more serious incident in 2012.

Alfred Siew is the Techgoondu who is not goondu and his article first appeared on this website.

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An online rally instead of one held at an open field sounds like a good idea – you save money on logistics, you reach a potentially vast audience and you get to rehearse as many times as you like to sound your best.

Unfortunately, for the Singapore Democratic Alliance, their online rally is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. In the two videos aired yesterday evening, Desmond Lim looked like a man constantly reading a script and his poor grammar completely distracted from what he had to say – which unfortunately, wasn’t much in terms of substance.

To make things worse, motivational speaker Harminder Pal Singh acted as the host of the two videos and his animated eloquence only served to magnify Lim’s lack of oratorical skills. One wonders if the SDA had reviewed the videos before releasing them into the wild.

The SDA is going to get what it wanted – a video that is going viral on social media. But not in the way it intended.

SDA’s first online rally video

SDA’s second online rally video

*UPDATE – 22 Jan 2013, 10am*
SDA’s third online rally video

*UPDATE – 22 Jan 2013, 12pm*
SDA’s fourth online rally video

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FIRST, a confession. I am relying mainly on MSM news reports and my FB feeds to get news of the by-election. I read so much about the candidates offering practically their lives to get elected. I know so much about their backgrounds. I know what they want to do for those lucky Punggol East people. I suppose this is what a by-election is about.

But I wonder about why no one is talking about the big stuff or impending big stuff. I don’t mean the usual complaints about high transport, health and housing costs but the stuff that people are talking about and want to hear about. And I don’t mean general stuff like whether we need more opposition voices in Parliament. (BTW, I thought SDA’s Desmond Lim paid a huge tribute to the Workers’ Party by calling it a dominant party. He wants to be the third voice in a two-voice Parliament. Diversity of views, I suppose.)

Anyway, here is my own list of ‘missing’ issues:

(a) Why is no one talking about AIM, that PAP-run company that does the town councils’ books? Is everyone waiting for the National Development ministry to finish its report – and then comment? Is it the worry about incomplete information which might get them into trouble? I know WP withdrew its motion and I praised the move. But you know, I think any political party can speak about the subject at a time of election – especially whether town councils are ‘political’ associations. And give its own take about the ‘fundamental nature’ of town councils which even the PM wants studied.

(b) No one is really getting into Palmergate, at least not the way Yaw Shin Leong’s character was dissected in the Hougang BE. Maybe because he’s too popular with residents to be raised as an issue? Then what about the more general qualities expected of a political representative? I mean, the seat fell vacant because of his indiscretion. So how come there’s no comment on it?

(c) The immigrant issue. I suppose more childcare centres, covered linkways and bus services are ‘safe’ topics. But what about this nagging, niggling problem we have about the foreigners in our midst? Companies say they are suffering because of the squeeze on foreign labour, NGOs think that the G doesn’t treat foreign workers right. And some of the comments being heard are outright xenophobic or racist. We still need foreigners, never mind the $2billion Population package announced yesterday that won’t have us replacing ourselves any time soon. So where do the parties stand on the immigration issue? Too hot a topic?

(d) Then there are the constitutional challenges coming up pretty soon, such as on the PM’s right to call or not call a by-election, which must surely be something parties can take a stand on? Or is it because they think they might run afoul of the court? Surely, this is something that also falls within the political arena?

(e) Now, there’s a row between pro-Section 377a and anti-Section 377a on the criminalisation of homosexual acts. I hope the politicians are not so busy campaigning that they do not notice the heightened tensions and some hysteria online. Religion is getting political. What a dangerous mix which I thought the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act was designed to separate…or am I wrong? Questions are coming up on freedom of expression – both pro-gay and anti-gay. Politicians are being courted to take sides. So many issues here …or is this considered too explosive a mix to bring to the public’s attention? Maybe, again, everyone is waiting again for the court to rule.

Anyway, that’s just my one cent worth. Maybe what the voters really really want to know is exactly when (give exact date please) Rivervale Plaza will be fully ready.

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ST reported today that starting this year, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) is letting “large” donors request an “evaluative” report on charities.

Apparently this will “promote a more transparent and informed giving landscape”, according to the NVPC head.

Now, I’m all for more transparent accounting of charities – but why allow only “large” donors access to this “service”? What’s “large” anyway, and to whom?

And oh, the report isn’t free, by the way. Could maybe cost from $100 to “a few thousand dollars” – money, of course, which most donors would probably rather spend on the cause than on paperwork.

I’m sorry, but having these barriers don’t seem to be promoting transparency at all. I thought charities that receive public funding should already be making their reports public in the first place – I’m sure some already do?

Would be good to know if any of the 30 charities in the pilot programme has received a request for these reports – ST didn’t say, but I doubt it.

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TODAY’s story in ST about the Singaporean stranded in Bangkok seemed really kok to me all right.

Besides the fact that it’s essentially a one-source story (Besides the Singaporean, only his brother was interviewed), it’s strange that the Thai authorities would not allow him to come home because of what seems like a pettyish crime – stealing furniture and damaging a rental property. I’m no expert in Thai law, of course, but maybe ST should’ve spoken to one (or any lawyer) to check this.

Moreover, the guy was acquitted last Jan… so why didn’t he come home then? The opposing lawyer’s appeal was overturned on Dec 4, so the Singaporean had almost a whole year to return home? So now the lawyers are asking for a 60-day extension to submit another appeal. Eh, still cannot come home ah?

I’m sure the case and the issues before it are more complicated than what I’m thinking.. unfortunately, it just isn’t very clear going by this re-telling of the story.

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Surprise! NEA announces new bans for smokers but no one seems to care. ST reported today after tagging along with NEA enforcement officers that smokers who were caught smoking in the newly banned areas mostly claimed ignorance. A few people grumbled about having more warning signs in public places.

I thought it was nice that ST got to follow NEA around for the checks, but probably they could have done some checking on their own – such as how many warnings had been given out in previous extensions of the ban, or whether the number of fines have gone up. This would have told us something about how quickly – or slowly – smokers get use to these bans. (or if they care at all)

Maybe at the next round of bans we could also hear from some experts about this subject. Surely this whole smoking ban business has public health and economic implications too.. and not just about who’s smoking where and more warning signs…

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I opened the newspaper today and saw this: MRT network size to double by 2030.

Wow! Then, lots of numbers: 80% of homes to be within a 10-minute walk; a new 50km Cross-Island Line; extensions of 2-4km on existing lines etc etc.

One big number however was missing: How much was all this going to cost?

Thank you ST for getting an estimate from your sources: between $70 and $100 billion – but… maybe it’s just me being math-challenged but all that said to me was: Wow! That’s a lot!

(Some questions after I picked up my jaw: Is it the most expensive MRT upgrading works to date? How did they come to that figure – just based on length (78km) or did it factor in other considerations – since the Cross Island Line is the “most ambitious” to date?)

What struck me the most,  however, was that apparently no details of the cost were available because “engineering studies have not started”. Reams and reams of text about the big project, but no engineering studies done. Hmm, really?

That seems unlikely.

If true, then perhaps the announcement was premature – hey, maybe the timing was rigged for the by-election, notwithstanding Mr Lui’s chaste denial.

I guess we’ll never know.

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SG Gives, an online donation portal, received $8.5 million in donations last year – this, ST said, was a record amount. Given SG Gives was set up only in 2010, I’m not sure how record-breaking the figure is… it probably would’ve been more record-breaking if the figure had actually gone down I think.

Goes on to explain that the jump is because more people are going online to donate – is this based on just the figures from SG Gives, or is there more info to support this? Have online donations overall gone up? Or off-line donations come down? No idea.

What a shame, because this story could have given some real insight into how technology is changing donation patterns of Singaporeans – these days, you can even donate from your mobile. Instead we get a PR piece about how wonderful this portal is…

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What was most immediately interesting, to me, about The Straits Times’ report on Monday (A6, Jan 14) was not what it reported, but what it didn’t.

Because what it did report was not really new – that a survey by Terence Chong and Hui Yew-Foong, both well-regarded sociological researchers, showed that megachurches appeared to attract an “emergent middle class”; that they saw financial growth as “signs of divine blessing” is also pretty common knowledge these days.

This has become true especially in the last few years, after New Creation announced pans to build a multi-million dollar retail complex in Buona Vista, and the more recent City Harvest scandal, where its top leaders are accused of using millions in church funds to promote its founder’s wife’s fledgling music career in Hollywood.

Among the religious community, megachurches are notorious for recruiting aggressively, compared to mainline churches such as the Anglicans or the Methodists.

If more members of the megachurches are from the working class, it is also because their recruitment efforts have always targeted almost exclusively at the younger generation whose parents are either Taoist or Buddhist, or a combination of the two Chinese faiths.

That’s another reason why church service at megachurches always seem like rock concerts – to attract angsty teenagers.

In fact what the researchers themselves found more interesting was this: That in their survey, conducted from December 2009 to January 2011, they found that mainline church leaders tended to be dismissive of their megachurch counterparts when the subject of its prosperity gospel came up.

In June last year, Dr Chong wrote in the commentary website, New Republic Asia: “Perhaps more interesting for us was the dismissive, even sneering, attitude of some mainline church leaders we spoke to whenever the topic of prosperity gospels was brought up.

“It was not uncommon to see Methodist or Anglican leaders, in private of course, roll their eyes or let fly a rude quip at the expense of megachurch-goers.”

The researcher further noted that because of the megachurches’ tendency to articulate Christianity in the language of business, it was no wonder that they spent so much time and money on branding and packaging.

“The entry of the church into the market as a corporation is the next logical step. The rise of what some have called “pastorpreneurs” is entirely in keeping with the charisma and cult of the CEO,” Dr Chong wrote.

He concluded: “A sober discussion of how the local Protestant middle class community is fragmented is needed. Hopefully, such a discussion will throw some light on the tensions between mainline denominations and the megachurches, and more broadly, on the deeper divisions within our heterogeneous middle class.”

This deeper – and far more interesting – analysis of the two researchers’ survey was completely missing from the Straits Times’ report, which is a shame because it could have sparked exactly the kind of discussion the researchers were hoping would happen.

This is especially relevant given the City Harvest trial is expected to start sometime later this year, and as the religious community in Singapore – not just the Christians, but the Buddhists and other faiths – becomes increasingly diverse.