Joseph Schooling should not be the last


It was a supreme delight to have been able to sing Majulah Singapura (the video cannot be viewed because the IOC mafia thinks they own the copyright) with Joseph Schooling after being medaled at the Olympics for winning the gold for his 100m butterfly event.

There are plenty of analysis of what had happened over the last eight years that saw him leave Singapore at 14, go to the US, attend a school that has great sporting traditions (and coaches) and the to UT Austin – and benefiting from world class coaches.

Ultimately, if Joseph did not want ths medal, no amount of training, coaching, sacrifice of his parents would have gotten him to where he is today. He wanted it badly. He set his mind to it and made it happen.

But, despite his single minded persistence, his ambition would have been thwarted because of some of the structural blockages we have in Singapore for sportsmen to excel.

If Joseph is not to be last one to achieve that pinnacle of sporting achievement, we have to address a few things:

a) The secondary school system of sports is rather dismal. Back when I was in school, when you got into secondary one, you could go try out what ever sports the school had. The assumption (right one I would say), is that there are never enough opportunities to try things when you are in primary school, let alone become “good” in it. Today, however, secondary schools only ALLOW students who have proven previously to be able to play some sport before they can have that as their ECA. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. I am sure that there are some schools that keep the net wide and open to get all comers to experiment and try. Without that mindset, we will continue to fail in creating champion sportmen/women.

b) Lots of the national sports associations are helmed by well meaning and forward looking people who were themselves sportsmen. But, there are quite a few that have vested interests in play that does not allow for someone not from the annointed group to get involved. I will refrain from naming them here, but will happily share them if you contact me privately.

c) National Service: I don’t think anyone is doubting the value of National Service to build a strong citizenry. The fact that the full-time NS period has been revised and reviewed to make it useful and appropriate, we are, nonetheless, placing a huge premium to serving NS over sporting excellence especially for those who are talented and have potential. This is where Joseph Schooling’s NS stumbling block comes into play. His parents had to fight to get his NS liabilities deferred so that he can continue training and be able to peak just at the right time for him to win the gold medal at the Olympics. And peak, he did.

I am mindful of all those who could have gone on to sporting excellence if only they had the persistence to get deferment (and be granted). We will never know how many there could have been.

Here’s a suggestion

We *must* have a fair and equitable means to assess people who have potential and let them flourish. Grant them the deferment, easily, but ensure that they are encouraged to keep at the vision/goal and if they succeed (like Joseph in getting his gold), grant them the status that they’ve completed their National Service. Naturally, if the person wants to discharge of his obligations, grant him the opportunity to do so. We can be magnanimous and forward thinking like that. We are Singapore. We can do this. Training to excel in sport is no different from training to defend the country. The mental, physical and emotional challenge may be comparable. The rewards are different, but the value accrued in both cases to the individual and country is immense.

d) Creating sporting excellence among the polytechnics, ITEs and universities. Have a league for the various sports. All of these institutions would benefit from having mascots that go a long way to building the school identity and pride. I was from RI and we have the Gryphon although we never did use it as a mascot. It has served the school well (I think) and we must encourage all schools to have mascots.

Look at UT Austin, home of the Longhorns, Joseph’s school. Look at their website today.

Screenshot from 2016-08-14 22-11-05

Sport has pride of place today. That’s outstanding. If you are a UT Austin alum, if you are called upon to donate to the school, would you hesitate? No. I went to Oregon State, and yes, I’m a proud Beaver. The US schools have a tradition of inspiring students via sport even if you are not sport oriented or interested. Sport unites people in amazing ways. Remember the Kallang Roar? It united a people. We stood together. We don’t have that now.

Our schools don’t have any of that as well. Start with schools having mascots, start with a sporting league. Webcast the games (it is 2016, get with it already).

Let’s open up and ideate to make sure that Joseph Schooling is not the last one. He succeeded because of his exiting the Singapore system to make it happen. He still honours Singapore. I am sure he will come back after graduation and I hope his achievement will call into question that absurd assumptions we have in place today on how to build a sporting nation.

Congratulations NUS Engineers Class of 2016!


My speech at the Commencement of NUS Faculty of Engineering on July 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm.

Mr Neo Kian Hong, Member, NUS Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Families of Graduands, Graduating Class of 2016, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good afternoon.

To the class of 2016, both my wife and I would like to extend our heartiest congratulations to all of you.

There are, here today, 515 graduates of which 106 getting joint bachelor’s, 3 with multi-disciplinary, 244 bachelor’s in computer and electrical engineering, 115 masters, and 47 PhDs degrees.

In a word, wow. What a fantastic collection of talent, potential and promise. A brain trust that would rival any other. The 2016 World University Ranking by Times Higher Education for Engineering and Technology, ranks NUS lucky 13th globally. Your alma mater is shining and you can rightly be proud of it! Surely that deserves a hearty round of applause!

I feel at home in the company of people who value the pursuit of knowledge with the vision to make this a better world. Engineers are dreamers, doers, builders, risk takers. Engineers are weird like that. That’s in our DNA. Our ethos.

As a child, I was enthralled with the idea of being able to walk on the moon. I wanted to become an astronaut. It has not happened, yet, but that goal has helped open up for me a vast vista of possibilities and opportunities. In its own way, that interest led me down the path of becoming a ham radio operator, 9v1hp is my call sign if you want to QSO, pursuing electrical and electronics engineering, and then computer engineering and computer science.

It was done during the time when technology, largely driven by the NASA space program’s need for high performance computing and semiconductor devices, was showing the way to bring to life, some of the ideas of what was essentially in science fiction.

It was a time when, much of the things we take for granted today, were mere ideas in Isaac Asimov‘s visions of tomorrow.

There is a wonderful interview of Asimov done by Bill Moyers in which they discuss education.

Let me quote you the following:

Bill Moyers asks:

Do you think we can educate ourselves, that any one of us, at any time, can be educated in any subject that strikes our fancy?

Isaac Asimov replies:

“The key words here are “that strikes our fancy.” There are some things that simply don’t strike my fancy, and I doubt that I can force myself to be educated in them. On the other hand, when there’s a subject I’m ferociously interested in, then it is easy for me to learn about it. I take it in gladly and cheerfully – what’s exciting is the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.”

Asimov later goes on to say:

“That’s another trouble with education as we now have it. People think of education as something that they can finish. And what’s more, when they finish, it’s a rite of passage. You’re finished with school. You’re no more a child, and therefore anything that reminds you of school — reading books, having ideas, asking questions — that’s kid’s stuff. Now that you’re an adult, you don’t do that sort of thing anymore.”

Education is never “finished”. It is also not marked by getting pieces of paper, or getting a grade, or even this today’s commencement.

You may have heard of adage “sharpening your saw”. A rusty or dull saw cannot cut you a tree. Sharpening the saw is key to keeping your knowledge fresh, alive and useful. Stop sharpening, you disintegrate.

It is fitting that today’s event is called a “commencement”. You are indeed commencing your next phase of life. It is the culmination of lots of sweat equity you expended to reach a goal, and then to go on to build new things. It is a cycle, not a treadmill. It is a deliberate and positive cycle of life.

There is a word for that. Entropy. And I find entropy a fascinating idea.

You may be wondering why would I want to bring in the “second law of thermodynamics” in the address.

A tl;dr definition of the 2nd law of thermodynamics says that the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time, or remains constant in ideal cases where the system is in a steady state or undergoing a reversible process. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.

What was that all about, you wonder? What has entropy got to do with today’s proceedings? I hope Carnot, Clausius, Kelvin, Planck and Shannon would grant me this non-scientific postulation of their collective work.

Most of you have spent 4 years in this 111-year old institution, those getting their PhDs, a few more.

From the time you entered this school, entropy in you has been increasing. As knowledge, experience, wisdom and insights flowed from your dedicated faculty and your classmates to you – entropy increased. I say it increased because I am approximating the university as a closed system – as needed by the 2nd law.

When you take formal leave of this school’s lecture theatres, halls and labs, you will start the process of transferring the entropy – knowledge, experience etc – on to the big world outside these walls.

As you stand at the peak of this phase of your life’s adventure, the “you” sitting here is a very different “you” that entered this school. In giving of yourself to the future endeavours that you get into, you will be putting truth into the statement “that the entropy of the universe will always increase”.

By the end of this evening, all of you would hold in your hands a scroll that records your accomplishment. Savour and cherish that moment but only for a moment. It is an indication and acknowledgement that your next stage of possibilities and responsibilities has now been laid in front of you.

I am frequently reminded of a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the United States.

He said:

He who received an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his candle at mine, receives light without darkening mine. Then there is twice as much light.

Ideas are one of those fundamental qualities that make us all human. In other words, Ideas Maketh Homo Sapiens. It remains to be seen if Artificial Intelligence can generate ideas like we do.

Each of us generate hundreds of ideas every day without breaking a sweat. Most of them are not acted upon, but do serve as building blocks for something else, all done subconsciously. The “ah, ha!” moment is an example of that subconscious confluence of ideas.

If you must judge me, judge me by how good my good ideas are and not by how bad my bad ideas were.

I know you are all brimming with ideas of what to do next. I hope you will not be distracted by, what I consider, a falsehood that ideas need to be guarded, locked up and not shared with others.

I come from the world of open collaboration where software source code, the classic example of the embodiment of ideas, is freely shared and improved upon. The business I am part of, Red Hat, built its US$2b revenue business on 100% open source code, all achieved with open collaboration on ideas and code.

My empirical experience has been that when ideas (and code) are shared, they get sharpened and the outcome is both unpredictable and beautiful. And just last week, the source code of Apollo 11 spacecraft was released and it is amazing to read the code and understand the constraints they had to work with in 1969.

Please don’t hold back on sharing your ideas.

I shall practise what I’ve preached and here’s an idea that I hope some of you will consider picking up:

Electric cars are fun, but the challenge is one of re-charging it. Re-charging is being done today by retrofitting and building new charging infrastructure. And that takes time. So here’s my idea for a start-up which I shall call PowerBuddy:

a) PowerBuddy operates a mobile, battery-powered fleet of “charging vehicles”

b) these charging vehicles are strategically placed all over Singapore

c) As a subscriber to PowerBuddy, your car will be tracked with your permission, so that PowerBuddy will know what the charge level is at all times and, based on pre-arranged settings, provide a quick (or full) recharge wherever the car is parked at.

d) You can then go anywhere and not be worried about running out of juice and more importantly, not have to wait for the current infrastructure to catch up.

I hope some of you here will pick this up, ideate further and execute PowerBuddy. I would be happy to collaborate with you on this. We are engineers, we build solutions to address problems.

Engineering is a profession that loves precision but accepts and is extremely aware of real world approximations.

Any worthy engineer will solve problems in many cases by making assumptions, to a first approximation, and then to iteratively refine the solution until it is good enough. There is a growing community of engineers who recognise that “good enough” engineering is what makes the world happen. I believe in that approximation as well.

It was the French philosopher Voltaire who said: “Perfect is the opposite of Good Enough”. The real world we live in makes it almost impossible to be perfect. Embrace good enough and we can build solutions.

We all love to succeed. But success is a poor teacher – failure, on the other hand, is a fantastic albeit cruel teacher. You can learn lots from failure, but precious little from success.

So, make sure you define success on your own terms, and work to achieve success by your own rules. Fail, fail quick and often, so that you can succeed. And in that process, to build a life you’re proud to live.

Before I conclude, from one engineer to another, well done on becoming an engineer! Together, let’s build a better world.

And finally, thank you NUS for giving me this opportunity to address this afternoon’s commencement (Update: my address starts at around 0:26).

Congratulations Class of 2016.

Thank you.

This is quite a nice tool – magic-wormhole


I was catching up on the various talks at PyCon 2016 held in the wonderful city of Portland, Oregon last month.

There are lots of good content available from PyCon 2016 on youtube. What I was particularly struck was, what one could say is a mundane tool for file transfer.

This tool, called magic-wormhole, allows for any two systems, anywhere to be able to send files (via a intermediary), fully encrypted and secured.

This beats doing a scp from system to system, especially if the receiving system is behind a NAT and/or firewall.

I manage lots of systems for myself as well as part of the work I at Red Hat. Over the years, I’ve managed a good workflow when I need to send files around but all of it involved having to use some of the techniques like using http, or using scp and even miredo.

But to me, magic-wormhole is easy enough to set up, uses webrtc and encryption, that I think deserves to get a much higher profile and wider use.

On the Fedora 24 systems I have, I had to ensure that the following were all set up and installed (assuming you already have gcc installed):

a) dnf install libffi-devel python-devel redhat-rpm-config

b) pip install –upgrade pip

c) pip install magic-wormhole

That’s it.

Now I would want to run a server to provide the intermediary function instead of depending on the goodwill of Brian Warner.

 

Lots of rescued data


I had finally managed to rescue one of many drives that had documents and articles I wrote from the 90s and early 2000s.

I will be putting them up on this blog and would have to back date them. I am not sure how to do this right but I guess placing links into a “catalog” that has a current date and then to point to the older ones would be appropriate.

Here’s one from 2003.

Remember, Remember The Eleventh of September. Majulah Singapura.


My extended family will be voting sometime today. My wife and I will be exercising our right to vote at Qifa Primary School. That was the same place we voted in 2011. The People’s Action Party and Reform Party are contesting in this West Coast GRC.

11940284_10206326379092598_8725255103894262689_oI just came across this Peanuts cartoon done many years ago (and I am not sure of the copyright status of it). It is very appropriate as we go to the polls.

Remember, Remember The Eleventh of September.

After all is said and done, we are all in this together to make our country thrive and flourish for generations to come.

Majulah Singapura.

Ensuring that this gets as wide a read as possible before September 11, Polling Day


This has been circulating in the chat groups on telegram.org and whatsapp.com and want it to be as widely read as possible. I did not wirte it, and I would love to give credit to the author. If you are the author or know who wrote it. please tell me so that I can give credit where credit is due.

A very well written article by a young Singaporean to be read before one votes this coming Friday:

I am a Singaporean voter. I want our policies to be thoroughly examined by different political parties in the Parliament.

I know all the candidates have different strengths, weaknesses and abilities but that is exactly the whole idea. A policy paper can be better scrutinized by different people with different perspectives, angles and insights. Ultimately, Singapore and Singaporeans benefit from better policies. Good policies can withstand scrutiny, no matter who came up with them.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want our anti-corruption department to be completely detached from the power of any government, regardless of political party

The department should be a checks-and-balances asset for the people of Singapore. The anti-corruption department should report directly to the people and conduct regular and random checks on every single branch of the state and government to ensure nobody plays under the table. Nobody.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want our civil service, army, police and judiciary systems to be independent from any politically-motivated decisions from any incumbent government.

I dislike the practice of parachuting newly-resigned civil servants, army or police officers or judges into the political sphere weeks or days before elections. This presents a serious conflict of interests because these newly-converted politicians still hold networks of influence within their old jobs and that may present dilemmas in crucial decision-making. Imagine if we go to war and our generals hesitate to act because they are considering military decisions based on answering to ex-colleagues-turned-ministers on which electoral constituency to defend or retreat from. Wouldn’t that be a disaster if they lost battle initiative due to such considerations?

I am a Singaporean voter. I understand all policies cost valuable taxpayers’ monies.

I am not a rabbit. I don’t eat carrots dangling in front of me. I am not a dog. I refuse to be tamed or intimidated by fear-mongering tactics. I am not a crazy person either. I don’t intend to bankrupt Singapore or Singaporeans over poorly-planned policies. I am, however, keeping an open mind to alternative suggestions to current policies. I don’t mind these alternatives be thoroughly debated in Parliament because there is always a chance to find moderation and suitability in them until these policies can meet the needs and wants of Singaporeans.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want my government to work for me, not against me and certainly not for themselves. I want my politicians to earn their keep, not sleep through in Parliament and just nod their heads in agreement to pass policies into bills which are not clearly understood by the people.

Governments are servants to the people. If they lord over their own voters, they are not governments. They are called tyrants. I understand the need for attractive pay to entice the best talents and minds into a government. However, I want such salaries to be pegged to real performance in their terms of office. This is called meritocracy. Any member of parliament who naps in parliamentary sessions should receive a pay cut for that month. No excuses. Any member of parliament who has contributed no constructive suggestions to any policies in a year should receive a pay cut for that year. Any member of parliament who broke the laws of Singapore should receive a demerit ceremony in public and serve the necessary sentence in whichever way deem fit by the people of Singapore.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want Singapore to survive longer than any political squabble or contest.

If any political party claims that Singapore will collapse or be in ruins if they are voted out of power, that means we have built the country in the wrong way. All political parties face the possibility of total dissolution but as a Singaporean, I want Singapore to possess a robust system where it can survive any change of power from any political party. This means the civil service, army, police and judiciary system must remain apolitical if they understand such a national need beyond political competition.

I am a Singaporean voter. Vote not for Singapore’s past. Vote not for Singapore’s present. Vote for Singapore’s future.

#ge2015

As the silly season starts


By noon on September 1st, we will know who are running for the 89 seats in the parliament.

As voters we are all keen to know who the candidates are. The irony is that the majority voters don’t really know who their current member of parliament is to begin with. I know who mine is, but I have not met nor spoken to him ever. That being the reality, how would you go about making a considered and fair assessment of how you should be casting your vote.

Let me offer up a short checklist to help with the thinking:

  1. Is your’s, your family’s and of Singapore’s future important to you?
  2. If you said YES to 1, do you think the candidate(s) in your ballot paper will be able to deliver the future you want?
  3. If you said NO to 1, it does not matter who you vote for.  So VOTE, PLEASE DON’T SPOIL THE VOTE EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SPOIL IT.
  4. If you said YES to 2, have you understood who the candidate(s) is(are) and where they stand on issues that is of concern to you? Have you done sufficient research to be able to be honest to yourself to come to a decision?
  5. If you said NO to 2, are you prepared to find out why you think they cannot deliver the future you want?
  6. If you said NO to 5, it does not matter who you vote for. So VOTE, PLEASE DON’T SPOIL THE VOTE EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SPOIL IT.
  7. If you said YES to 5, do spend time reading, talking to family, friends, colleagues or just about any other Singaporean voter. Do make sure that you get to hear from all sides not just one side.

See, it is quite easy to navigate the silly season.

Do be aware that what is called “Mainstream Media” (MSM), which especially in the Singapore context, has very low credibility in terms of being fair, balanced and critical. These MSM include the newspapers, TV and radio owned and operated by Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp. These entities are government-linked companies and have never been known to challenge or be critical of government policies. Investigative and critical reporting is NOT what they can ever do (or to be fair, allowed to do).

Having said all of that, do take about 10 minutes to listen to this TEDx talk that discusses how entities, like governments and political parties, would do all that they can to astroturf opinion and understanding of issues. Don’t be lulled by catchphrases, innuendoes, carrots, meat etc.

And, yes, this post could perhaps be also playing that game.

Majulah Singapura!

#ge2015