Thank you, and goodbye, Tiwariji

July 28th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

I have just been informed by a friend that my Hindi school principal, Tiwariji (that’s ‘Mr Tiwari’ in Hindi) passed away on Monday.

I’m feeling the loss. He made my life better, in ways I never truly got till now. Tiwariji, along with a few other visionaries like my father’s childhood friend Srinivas Rai, banded together and brought change in the days when Hindi was a minority language in Singapore, and therefore not recognised officially.

Some background: In the Singaporean educational system, all children have to learn English as a first language from the time they enter kindergarten. In additional, they have to learn a second language, designed to be the child’s mother-tongue. When I started school, the options were Malay, Chinese or Tamil. I might be wrong, but I think this followed the major ethnicities in terms of percentage of population. And studying a second language was, and is, compulsory all the way to pre-university level. As a result, I learnt Chinese in kindergarten and Malay in primary school, because being a minority, my own mother-tongue, Hindi, just wasn’t available.

This essentially meant that there was a whole bunch of second-generation immigrant kids who were cut off from their ethnic language and culture. Most could understand it, because their parents spoke to them in Hindi, some could converse in it, and barely a handful could read or write. Despite my mother’s repeated valiant attempts to teach us the script, my sis and I barely knew the alphabets by the time we were able to converse fluently in Malay.
Not being able to study Hindi as a second language also put us at a disadvantage in terms of overall scholastic achievement. Most of us struggled with the second languages we picked. I remember my mother having a conversation with my Malay teacher in Primary 1, basically to alert her that I had no background in the language, and to give me some special attention. My Cikgu was kind enough to repeat instructions to me in English the first few months, but boy did I have to scramble as the term went on. The big picture result was that most minority mother-tongued kids did worse on their overall O and A Level grades, which of course affected the colleges and university courses available to them subsequently.

This was the argument Tiwariji and cohort brought before the relevant authorities. Now, I’m basing this on a 10-yr old’s understanding of the events that happened, but from what I recall, it was a loooong and involved process. It took years of work, all on a voluntary basis, including presentations before Parliament. Once Hindi was allowed as a valid second language in the educational system, they had to solve the practical issues of introducing a minority language in schools – teaching, testing and examination. They set up the Hindi Society, roped volunteers in, and started (what I think was) the first official Hindi School in Singapore. It had to be centralised, as there were too few students to introduce classes in regular schools, and therefore had to be outside school and extra-curricular activity days. And this is how, when I was 10, I found myself whisked off to school on a Sunday morning.

There were two classes back then. One for the ‘big kids’, those in secondary school, one for the small kids, the primary-schoolers. Ages ranged from 10 to 15, starting Hindi knowledge went from those who didn’t speak a word to some who could write numbers in Hindi. Not to mention we were a rowdy bunch, most of us having known each other from childhood, and therefore treating this as play time, instead of ‘serious school’.

Tiwariji became the principal of the school. During the six years I was there, it went from two class rooms in a rented regular school to a class for each different standard in multiple classrooms spanning two different school buildings. Looking at their website now, they have SEVEN different locations, with something called In School Parallel Programming across the country. (I’m guessing that’s where they teach the language in regular school during regular school hours.) They now have school uniforms and text books with the school logo on it. (Fun fact – part of the school logo is from a design my sis and I submitted for the logo competition they had.) All this, and the whole organisation is still voluntary.

On a personal level, I received an A1 grade for my Hindi O Levels. Had I continued with Malay, it definitely wouldn’t have been that. My aggregate O Level score would have gone from a single digit to double digits for sure. I wouldn’t have been writing letters to my mother in Singapore and extended family in India in Hindi when I moved to Australia. I wouldn’t have many of the cultural and historical references one only acquires by studying the language.

And I’m not the only one. My sis, my brother, my childhood friends, and thousands of other kids have benefited from to Tiwariji’s efforts. I’m not sure I ever thanked him. I mean seriously thanked him for all he has done. I remember the last time I met him, but I can’t remember what I said to him. The next time I return to Singapore, I’m gonna make a point to track down all the other elders and thank them in person. Although this is too late, thank you Tiwariji. I’m gonna do my best to leave the world a better place, thanks to you showing me how it’s done.

Audi's A7 live launch – a fan's perspective

July 27th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

I was hanging around the interwebs this morning, and I saw a tweet from @Audi about a live unveiling of the A7. Awesome! Finally, the manufacturer would be bypassing the media and giving me access to a launch! And I don’t even have to physically be there!

Side note: I like the @Audi people. They’re pretty engaging, and have even responded to me to clear up come confusion on my part before. The only criticism I have is that I expected an account called @Audi to be the official global account. This one is US based.

The Facebook A7 Premier page was pretty darn cool too. I didn’t understand why they were sending me to Facebook, until I got there and realised the live stream was embedded there. Finally, a purpose to Facebook pages 😛
As luck would have it, I missed the launch. Got my time zones mixed up. I got to the Premier page about an hour late, and the live stream was gone. I kept checking back hoping they’d put up a recording of the event, but there wasn’t any. So, my first suggestion Audi – please put recordings of live events up. That way I can watch it, share it, embed it, and that’d be spreading awareness fer ya. 😉

A little while later, I saw @Audi tweet “Check out the sexy #AudiA7 rear …warning: maybe NSFW” with a link to their flickr page. (original tweet deleted) Great! I thought. Moar sexy Audi pics! I was all ready to follow em on flickr too. Unfortunately, the images just look like standard brochure fare, and that was disappointing. The brilliant thing about social media – I immediately replied to them on Twitter and let em know what I thought. (No response yet.)
And in case you’re wondering, final check back at the Facebook page shows the same flickr pictures. No event recording. 🙁

Which brings me to my second suggestion Audi – When you ask for and get my attention, please don’t let me down. I like your cars. I follow Audi groups on flickr, I share Audi content on Twitter and Facebook via Posterous. I was willing to invest my attention further in your flickr images. But your content let you down.

Don’t feel too bad Audi. I see this time and time again with brands. They run a social media campaign, vying for a small slice of interwebbers’ already limited attentions, and they forget that hype can get them attention, but it’s content that leads to engagement.
It’s also not your fault Audi that there’s some awesome content out there related to your brand and therefore fighting for my attention. Your ace is that you have original content which makes me feel special when you release it to me directly. Use the moments when you release original content wisely, and make sure it blows my mind. That way I’ll happily stalk you on all social networks. You will have my permission to talk directly to me. You might have influence on my future (purchase) decisions. You will HAVE my attention *and* engagement.

The Brewery: Citizen Exchange Immigration

July 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

As we know, I’m trying to get to the US to work and live for a bit. I was well aware that this wouldn’t be easy, mainly because of the painful immigration processes most countries have in place. I remember swearing to myself that I would NEVER emigrate ever again after going through the process to get my Aussie Permanent Residency.

Governments, and some citizens, seem to be dead against immigration these days. It’s largely regarded as a bad thing, with immigrants seen as people running away from a bad existence in their countries of origin, with little money and education, and therefore a drain on the precious space and resources each nation is so hell bent on protecting. Funny, a huge majority of the immigrants I know have emigrated not because of the bad situation in their countries, but because they had the option available.

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about, which I think would make governments take more kindly to immigration and make it easier for people to move around the world. A straight swap of citizens, one of mine for one of yours. I’m naming it after the Prisoner Exchange programs governments seem more than happy to do. If I want to get to Country X to live for however long, someone from Country X gets to take my place in the country I’m leaving. I’m not gonna suggest any criteria for the citizens being exchanged – bureaucracy is ace at coming up with those as it is – but I do believe it solves the ‘drain on resources’, ‘population control’ and ‘brain drain’ arguments usually thrown up in these debates.

Of course, what I’d really like is for all nations to open up their borders and let us, the citizens of planet Earth, roam around freely. (Do we require that migratory birds apply for visas?) But look governments, I’m willing to compromise. Isn’t it time you do too?

Failure is always an option

July 16th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

I was recently watching an episode of Mythbusters where the team presented their Top 25 moments. There’s one bit that stood out for me which I think everyone should watch which starts at around the 2 min mark:


Failure is always an option.

I love how Adam explains it. That’s been something I’ve believed in since my own epic failure about 10 years ago. I went from being a good student to getting suspended from uni. *grin* Mind you, I wasn’t grinning much when it happened, but as life went on and I reflected on what had happened, what I done, where it led me, I became increasingly convinced that it was the best thing that had to happen. I stopped regretting and started putting the data it produced to use. A lot of where and what I am now comes directly from that failure. (Not that there haven’t been others :P)

One thing I’ve realised about failure – a lot of how one reacts to it and how much one learns from it depends a lot on how people around you react to your failure. For example, my parents don’t quite share my enthusiasm about my failure. They get upset when I say it was a good thing. My dad insists I wasted those years of my life. I claim it’s not a waste if you learn. I’ve also learnt that a sure way to get him mad, but I digress….

What I hear from them is fear. They are concerned about me, but they also think that I shouldn’t be taking any risks because I’ve already messed up badly once. I shouldn’t be wasting time and resources on something which might not work in my favour.
That kind of reaction to failure can be very debilitating, especially when it comes from the more prominent people in one’s social circle. And so the other lesson I’ve learnt is to focus on the lessons when someone shares their failure with me.

I’m grateful that many of the people I know in the tech startup scene are great when dealing with failure. But I think it can be better, especially in the Aussie context. (I know this because I’ve experienced reactions to failure here – not very pleasant to say the least.) I think it is our duty to create an environment where failure is treated as a good thing, not something to be brushed under the rug or looked upon with pity. If we support one another, we’ll all learn. We’ll all grow. And we’ll all be free to start succeeding.

“Any experiment that yields data is a viable experiment. Information is key, not what you expected the outcome to be. Therefore, any kind of failure of what we perceive might happen, is an option”

I can fix this: Vodafone’s borked mobile broadband system

July 9th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I decided a while ago that instead of ranting on Twitter about borked sites, I’d be more constructive and e-mail the company with issues and suggestions. Now, this works really well for startups/Web2.0 sites. Not only do they have ways to contact them prominently displayed, they actually read and respond to communication. Not quite the same with ‘corporation sites’. Save for a couple of instances (MSFAustralia for example) they don’t wanna hear from ya. So here’s my solution – presenting the Pro Bono series!

Vodafone’s (prepaid) mobile broadband gets the honour of being the first to be on the recipients’ list. Vodafone have a desktop app that you have to install in order to get connected:

The ‘View Usage’ panel in the image doesn’t actually give you the total amount of data you’ve used in a credit period. Which is kinda important when on a prepaid account with usage limits. Also, what’s with the 3G and GPRS columns? I don’t understand why I need to see that, unless it’s an advertisement of sorts – “oooh look at how much 3G you got!” Trust me vodafone, when I can’t load Gmail in basic HTML mode even while on 3G, it doesn’t count for a damn thing.

The real pain point comes when one clicks on ‘Check Prepay Balance’ or any of the options in the Service Info section. Clicking on those takes you to a web page. (In the image I’ve mistakenly highlighted ‘Other Programs’ as well. Those don’t redirect to a web page) A generic page, which has nothing to do with the option you clicked on in the first place.

Now listen up Vodafone, here is what should happen when I click on ‘Check Prepay Balance’: show me the balance in the desktop app. A lesser option would be to redirect me to a web page already logged in and displaying the relevant info. The least desirable option would be to redirect me to a log in page where I will be redirected to a page showing the Balance immediately after I log in. Notice how launching a generic page IS NOT AN OPTION. Making me jump through hoops just makes me feel you’re wasting my time and precious data limit. Not to mention how painfully slow pages load when your network is crawling.
The same applies to all the other options in the Service Info Category. I don’t see why the desktop app doesn’t already handle these, but if you have to redirect me to a web page, log me in, and send me to a page directly addressing the option I’ve clicked on.

Oh, and one last thing – EVERY TIME the desktop app launches, the software goes through an update loop. There are never any software updates, and it does it even if I use the app everyday. Cancelling it doesn’t stop it. Honestly, sometimes it’s like this app was built just to annoy.

Dear Vodafone, please fix it.

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