Archive for the 'Face2Face' Category

theorycast.66 :: On 938Live’s Raw & Ready with Sarah Cheng

On 938Live's Raw & Ready with Sarah Cheng-De Winne
theorycast.66 :: On 938Live’s Raw & Ready with Sarah Cheng by brainopera

Thanks to digerati Preetam Rai, I was recently introduced to 938Live’s multi-talented radio presenter, Sarah Cheng-De Winne (aka @SarahCDW).

As part of her youth talkshow, Raw & Ready, she interviewed me as a blogger, social cyborg, cyberculturalist, and on my most recent role at The National Art Gallery, Singapore.

This interview was recorded in MediaCorp’s 938Live radio studio on 5th August 2011. You’re invited to take a listen!

FYI: This week on Raw & Ready, it’ll be Juicy & Delicious’ turn!

Download theorycast.66 :: On 938Live’s Raw & Ready with Sarah Cheng (.m4a / 7.8mb) from the Internet Archive, or listen to it on SoundCloud. Feel free to subscribe to theorycast on iTunes.

Macworld Expo 2008: Check out my calendar + Let’s meet up!

Macworld Expo 2003
My first Macworld Expo experience (circa 2003)

Based on my blog entries, I’ve been to Macworld Expo twice so far… my first in 2003, then in 2006 when the MacBook Pro was launched (though I did go to Apple WWDC around 1997).

Back then, videoblogging was at the early adopter stage, so that’s where I scored the earliest video of the MacBook Pro’s debut. This was a milestone in my life as a blogger, with 733,560 Youtube views helping to thrust this blog into a moment’s limelight.

As many of you know, I’ll be making a trip to this year’s Macworld Expo where I’m expecting to see an ultraportable MacBook of sorts. My 12″ G4 Powerbook had served me well back in 2006, but Intel was the way to go for videoblogging, thus the 15″ MacBook Pro. I’d seriously get something smaller as I love getting out and about, without the lug.

While spending a week in San Francisco, I’m hoping to meet up various folks there. Besides checking off interesting meetups listed on, I called out on Facebook and Twitter for anyone interested in catching up. Here’s a tentative plan for my week:

Expand my “Macworld Expo 2008″ Google Calendar and add to your own…

As you can see, the week is abuzz with activities, from Macworld Expo itself (which I’ll be covering extensively here), to various geek meetups (SF has so much going on!), to meeting personalities around the area. Catching up with my SF friends is a must, and some interesting appointments I’ve made include…
Priscilla Tan who works at Yahoo! and is stopping over from CES.
Roy Chean, a Singaporean who works as a Mac specialist in the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Dave Cohn, director of distributed reporting at (see Assignment Zero).
– Also arranging an interview with the Microsoft Mac Business Unit to talk about Office 2008 for Mac.

Drop me a line if you’d like to meetup, especially if you have something that might interest me. I do wish I could visit some of the web companies there, but I don’t think I know anyone there.

Update: Representing Singapore, BAK2U anti-theft software will be at Macworld Expo booth number S-1338. If you’re interested, I did a video interview with CEO Paddy Tan last October.

Face-to-Face with Deborah Abraham (remember A.M. Singapore?)

[Sorry, this photo has been removed]

I’d like to introduce a new comrade involved with social media, Ms. Deborah Abraham. If you haven’t tried googling her name, she was a familiar face on Singapore television having hosted “A.M. Singapore” as well as feature documentaries on National Geographic. If I heard correctly, she’s a journalist by profession, and now works at The Media Campus, where she gives training on print and broadcast communication.

She’s been involved with giving Internet-related workshops for journalists, teachers as well as civil servants. Since the scope of her classes has recently extended to the realm of social media, specifically blogging, we chatted over coffee today. Unlike the undergrad classes I teach at SIM, her professional workshops are shorter, which makes it a challenge when trying to have participants fully grasp the serious applications of blogs.

We brainstormed a little, and one simple idea we thought of worked around the problem that her participants really didn’t have time to blog. These folks could play the part of a blog reader and leave comments on posts they find interesting via popular aggregators such as,, and so on. In order for them to internalize the blogging experience, they would likely invest time in composing a good comment, and check back on the respective blogs for responses. In essence, it would then become personal interest (and curiosity) to keep the conversation flowing once we help them start the ball rolling. I don’t think you need to have to blog to be part of the blogosphere… our readers play an important role as well.

My personal stake in helping someone like Deborah lies in how I felt that her work parallels some of mine, which involves educating our various publics on the significance of social media (e.g. blogs, Youtube). Especially in Singapore, this media has often been trivialized by the less informed.

Face-to-Face with Adri (aka Popagandhi)

Adri and friends smiling finally...

Adri (far right) is now a proud owner of a Nixon watch, which looks like this but with a brown leather strap instead. We don’t seem to have a lot of them in Singapore, so I also brought back a nice white Nixon called “The Vega” for my then girlfriend. Obviously I still have it, and I am thinking of getting rid of it. It’s a damn pretty watch, but I can’t wear it unless there’s a hidden closet I’m supposed to be coming out of.

So yesterday I finally got to meet Adri (aka Popagandhi) in person. She’s that traveling photographer blogger we’ve all heard about, especially if you’re a traveling aficionado, photography geek or mac evangelist. While haggling over a black Nintendo DS Lite at Funan (a surprise for my brother since it was payday!), I got the call from Adri that her class was over around 3pm. Made my way to SMU where she introduced me to her friends sitting around TCC. The rest of the kids over there seemed to be the “loaded” kind. I even spotted a kid dropping his classy Acer laptop on the concrete floor and not batting an eye about it (he could probably afford ten more).

Adri, her gf (I keep forgetting names) and I left the scene cause we were too cool for school (or so I thought) and as we walked to Fortune Center for a late lunch, we chatted a little. I must admit that it felt weird, since unlike other bloggers I’ve met, we didn’t have an incredible lot in common. It was only when we talked about Blogs, Nokias and Macs that the conversation flowed smoothly.

Not before long, we reached her favorite foodie on the cheapie, Basil Alcove located at 190 Middle Road, #01-07, Fortune Center. Serving a chef recommended menu of Italian / French delights, prices were in the affordable range, which is why you’d find Adri there every other day. Basil Alcove’s chef (picture left) whipped up a tasty Cauliflower Garlic Puree Soup for starters, followed by an entree of aurora sauce pasta which consisted of clam and oyster bits.

As we chatted more, she talked to me about how she worked part-time at MrBrown’s studio. She painted a fascinating picture of an office filled with arcade machines, game consoles, pool tables, toys and comic books, literally a geek’s dream workplace come true. Sharing the place with other creative sorts, it sounded like an office back in the days… I remembered visiting SilkRoute Ventures (the most prominent web design agency back in the day) where project teams of four were made up of people from all walks of life, where passion was all you needed and where energy was pumped through a McDonalds-like loudspeaker announcing every sale the company would clinch, much to the cheer of these unorthodox workers.

Knowing the most popular question off the top of our heads, Adri started answering my question before I could finish: Does MrBrown actually make a living from all this… ?

The short answer was “yes”. There’s a whole untapped business in social media and apparently local companies are starting to open up to the idea of blogs and podcasts. I’m not surprised, and in fact I’m glad, that should anyone be pioneering the commercial aspects of social media, it should really be by people who live and breathe it. Perhaps I’ll get to visit the studio in future… perhaps more can be said then.

Face-to-Face with Jude & Serene (social academics)

Jude and me wearing the same Threadless tee!
Yep, nothing beats face-to-face… yet.

The threadless t-shirt gig was totally unplanned. I had told Jude and Serene (see her here) how I saw three other guys at various hawker centers with the same tee. As a testament to the popularity of threadless tees in Singapore, after we split at Marina Square, I bumped into yet another chap wearing the same shirt! We waved like we knew each other from long before (though we were complete strangers) and naturally whipped out our cameras then. Forget eHarmony, this Threadless tee keeps it real! Obviously lots of us are upset about this so-called future, so perhaps we should have a “theyliedtous” t-shirt meme in Singapore

I got to meet Jude and Serene in person this week at the modern “durian-shaped art house” otherwise known as the Esplanade. While we were suppose to try the coffee at the Library @ Esplanade (which Jude raved about), the cafe was closed for some reason. We ended up chatting about our interests at a nearby Japanese restaurant overlooking the harbor.

As proof of how blogs connect people, Jude first contacted me last year after realizing we had similar academic interests. Via their blog, you’ll see that both of them are situated at the University of Michigan (Umich). While they are pursuing their doctoral degrees, Jude is at the School of Information studying social media and collaborative forms of learning, while Serene is at the School of Education studying the sociology of education. I think it’s the perfect marriage, not just in real life, but of academic interests.

On Education
As we pondered about the indistinguishable consumables moving on the conveyor belt, I had to ask them how they first met up. They explained that they first met in the school they taught in, where Serene taught literature and GP, while Jude taught drama. Like my parents who are teachers, they found that the local education system didn’t work for them. Apparently they were not alone… I have friends who left the teaching profession for similar reasons and I’ve seen plenty who have blogged about this. For instance, see “Why I Hate Teaching” and “Why Do Teachers Stop Wanting To Be Teachers?” These two Singaporean blog posts have since disappeared probably due to unwanted attention, but you might find a cached copy somewhere (Please tell me if you do!). As if teaching weren’t a tedious art in itself, I see that the local education system seems to focus excessively on both the present economical (think Return Of Investment) and political (think human embryonic stem cell research) climate, unlike in the States where education has independence and is more diverse (i.e. eggs definitely in more baskets). It seems to me that if I were to teach locally, it would have to be at an international university setting where I’d have the freedom to get creative with what and how I teach. Speaking of which, Jude and I agree that Singapore’s research agenda tends to focus on anything that the rest of the first worlds won’t engage in… like selling upgraded arms and cloning . If this were Star Wars, Singapore would be the Evil Empire!

On Consumerism
On a lighter note, we also lamented on the level of consumerism in Singapore. Serene recent wrote about how our visual landscape is now riddled with shopping malls and what possible trade-off this could mean to Singapore. I mentioned how in my walkabouts around town, I was fascinated by how Singaporeans seem seem to defy spatial physics since they apparently have an infinite amount of closet space, given the amount of things they seem to buy. There were lines of people everywhere, from the clothing boutiques to the hawker at your favorite makan place. It doesn’t matter if we need it, we already want it as long as it’s on sale. I know this for a fact because seeing the same products offered in both the States and in Asia, the packaging is tell-tale of how we want more for less, even though we don’t really need it. While products in the States tend to marketed using facts and humor, products in Asia are sold using adjectives such as “Now With Extra 20%” or “Buy One Get One Free!”. My favorite one is “Limited Edition” even though you know it’s machine-made and demand is artificially created. Variations such as colors and patterns are also highly valued here as seen in the greater need for personalization, from the GMask-covered cellphones to the Blue, Silver and Pink PSPs.

On Jude’s Work
After getting our fill of rice-encrusted seafood, we transitioned to Marina Square which recently saw a transformation which somewhat resembled the new Vivocity mall from the inside. We stopped at one of the infinite Kaya toast franchises to talk about our academic work. While I talked about my teaching plan this semester at SIM (WTH… they went k10k on me!), I focused on my plan to engage students in “collaborative competition” with one another, by meaning of blogging, exposure to one another’s work and exposing themselves to the world (aka blogosphere). Jude then share with me his upgraded thesis which was really about that. Check out his “Learning by Tagging: The Role of Social Tagging in Group Knowledge Formation” paper via JOLT (open access / HTML) or via ACM Digital Library (subscription required)! He also has a relevant paper on JCMC entitled “From Shared Databases to Communities of Practice: A Taxonomy of Collaboratories“. They say great minds think alike, but dull ones also barely differ, so it’s debatable (hah!). Anyway he’s looked at the social network of his students’ blogs and watched how they comment and rate one another’s work through a class aggregator. In his latest paper, he look at how students tag their class posts, by looking at tag frequencies. From there you can determine the amount of consensus and cooperation among them, and what how they formulate meanings in their research.

On Gaming the Class
In about a week’s time, it’ll be my turn to put some of these ideas into practice. I can certainly add on to Jude’s collaborative education research. One common problem us instructors face is the lack of connectivity between students in class. Even when we have them blog their assignments, few take the initiative to comment on one another’s work, nor to link to one another’s posts (i.e. trackbacks). Jude said he experienced the opposite effect, where competition was high and his students were writing between one another. Perhaps his secret was that these were graduate students (my side worked with undergrads), and that he made his students blog five times a week (vs. our students made to blog just weekly), making it logical for them to gain postings by making meta-blog posts, ones that are reflexive to one another. I might try to institute some rule like that, and to script all this as part of a game they play with one another and with the blogosphere. By setting up the syllabus in th form of game rules, I can have students compete for various awards (e.g. exceptional posts get special web badges for their blogs), and to score extra points when they get mentioned in the blogosphere according to Technorati authority (which gets reflected on a leaderboard, realized on the class aggregator and as a blog widget). Man, I wonder if I can pull this all on my own…

To get a better idea of what I’m trying to achieve with students, take a look at Johnath’s blog post entitled “The Aeroplan Game: An ethnography“. In it, he talks about how reward programs (e.g. flyer miles) is almost like a game, since it has rules, a scoring system and prizes. Using the framework laid out by Amy Jo Kim, online community building guru, there are some patterns we can follow, including: Collecting, Points, Feedback, Exchanges and Customization. Here’s a quick Google persistent search using these five terms to show you how it’s been applied in regular social networks such as MySpace, Youtube and so on. I’m currently done with my syllabus, and will be throwing them on a new wiki I called Theorywiki. I’ll let you know when it’s ready and do contribute if all this makes your cup of tea.

UPDATE: Jude has blogged about his meetups while in Singapore. Though he’ll be flying back this Thursday, distance will be no matter when we’ve got the Net.

Face-to-Face with Benjamin Koe (of

Singapore Day 6

Having been in Singapore for a week already, I’ve been fortunate not just to catch up with old friends, but to meet various folks in the local social media scene. For the next few days leading up to my teaching stint on Jan 15th, I’ll be sharing conversations with some of the people I’ve met in this Face to Face series

“Public Relations + Social Media = Astroturfing?” That would be my typical assessment of it, and I bet so would many of you. I take a gamble by exploring this often misunderstood convergence with someone who works in it.

After the computing trade publication he worked for folded (see TechPlanet Asia), journalist Benjamin Koe took a look at how the local news media scene worked and came up with the idea to build a portal for press releases in Asia, geared at both journalists and PR practitioners.

Armed with Information Science degree, it didn’t take Ben long before he had to release his web project to the world, which he called ScoopAsia. Luck took a turn when he eventually found his calling in a public relations firm, where they gave him the title of New Media Specialist. His ScoopAsia project literally got him the job, and opened the doors to a social media world where people like me live in. That’s how he found me…

Ben emailed me after chancing upon my bookmarks and realizing how I was tracking rather similar things as he did. He introduced himself as the Social Media point man for Hill & Knowlton (Singapore) while I was still in Buffalo and we chatted about the work we were involved in. I met him for dinner this week where we talked about the awareness of social media by local businesses. Unlike the American business counterparts who were willing to experiment, there was a tendency for branches here to work with traditional forms of communication with their consumers, rather than to invest time in social media initiatives where KPIs (Key Performance Indexes) were non-existent.

What I particularly enjoyed out of our conversation was the part about how Ben said that he wasn’t going to write software for a PR firm. He believed that companies should do what they do best and if need be, either purchase commercial apps or tweak existing open source ones, rather to invest too much time on writing them from scratch (as my friend Ian once joked, “Whole life wasted!”). Not only can companies get going faster, but support can be found either commercially or by communities of open-source software developers.

While Ben gave a technical explanation for this approach, I supported the idea from a social standpoint. Much like open-source software, there already exist social media on the web for all to use as tools or platforms. It was a matter of taking risk by being willing to lose the controls to the users. I find that forward-thinking companies take calculated risks by using spaces such as Wikipedia, Youtube, and Facebook to launch their campaigns. That’s where users are, so instead of begging them to go to you (or your website), it makes more sense to bring it to them by setting up presence there.

Apple has done so by letting users “befriend” their favorite colored iPod Nano on MySpace and letting them join the Apple iTunes group on Facebook, then giving free iTune songs. In a more exciting fashion, Chevrolet asked Youtube users to remix video clips of their Chevy Tahoe commercial, aka consumer generated advertising. It was amazing. From pretty commercials, to subversive ones about destroying the Earth with 13 miles to the gallon. Ford expected this, but the results seemed worth it since it generated more attention than they could hope for.

It can be tricky though. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for the Singapore Garden Festival. Quite comprehensive, factual in Wikipedia standards and local bloggers took it at face value (see comments). But what if you knew that a PR agency was behind it? Would it have been a different story if it was written by the agency themselves? Interestingly, Benjamin proposed to the team in charge of the festival that they should use the Wikipedia. That was his job: To give counsel on what to do with social media. I think it works and it preserves the claim that good public relations is about improving communication, not the stereotypical spinning of stories.

Benjamin loves and Digg since they simply consist of links and are short enough for his busy lifestyle. I urged him to look beyond the “fast food” appetite of links that younger netizens are so fond of, but to consider the occasional beefier content which is what makes stories stick. I do find this hard to explain and perhaps I’m not fully convinced myself, but what is the value of one reading an entire book when you can get the cliffnotes? Perhaps it’s the experience we’d be missing.

Face-to-Face with Brennan


I must be getting weak. As I met up with Brennan yesterday, a pounding headache suddenly hit me. I think it must have been the heat from the day before where I was literally waiting under the hot hazy sun to collect my passport from the US embassy. My winter-trained body compensated by drenching me in my own warm sweat. Not particularly exciting especially when you’re all dressed up from a meeting prior that day.

Using my new found meditation ability, I focused on my matter at hand which was to get to know who the Brennan fellow actually is. As a blogger, I’ve read up on his life online, but I wanted to know who he was in real life. Having rendezvoused at Borders bookstore, we proceeded up to the NYDC upstairs for a chat over drinks. Brennan opted for an Elephanccino while I went for my all-time favorite, Lemon Shiver.

The first thing I learnt about Brennan was that he was in a polytechnic majoring in Electrical Engineering. That struck me as kind of odd since he was too good-looking to be an engineer. As stereotypical as it sounds, my impression of a Singaporean engineer revolves around lots of Hokkien, an equal literacy with dialectic profanities and mathematical equations, as well as countless packets of cigarettes. At least I got the last part right; he admitted that he smokes… way of the land as they say.

As with most engineer friends I know, his personal interests revolved around things other than engineering. For one he was into web development and told me how he’d picked up Ruby on Rails (RoR). Being open source made things interesting as most corporations simply still think that if something is expensive, it must be good.

There’s a stigma towards open source software, mostly revolving on the idea that there’s a lack of professional support, no guarantee of longevity, and that it’s probably buggy. Well, the same can be said for most commercial software, so it’s really all in the head. What’s interesting about RoR is that it’s compatible with almost all known databases out there, which means that simply by learning how to use it, you can work on almost any information management project in existence.

Beyond the geekspeak, he noted how he was able to chat directly with RoR developers to solve issues he encountered. Over time, the developers told Brennan that there wasn’t any Ruby on Rails user group in Singapore and that he should consider starting one. I told him he should really get to it. Bringing people together is something which I’ve been doing all my life and it’s paid off handsomely. Back in ’97, the local music scene was just growing and I got together some friends to start The same thing for the progressive dance music scene back in 2000, where I got friends together to start I got to know a titanic-load of interesting people along the way. It’s not hard work if you love what you do, and if you have friends who are as serious as you, they’ll help out as well.

Forming user groups can be a powerful on many levels:
• For social networking (make friends, sponsors)
• Sharing ideas, experiences and resources (collaborate on projects)
• Personal career advancement (looks good on CV)

I gave him some contacts I knew who might be into Ruby on Rails, and if you are into it, give him buzz so you can all start something awesome together.

Being ten years my junior, I saw myself at his tender age and realized how much more each generation becomes more apt with computers. At 19, I was merely doing HTML, a bit of javascript, Macromedia Director scripting and lots of non-linear audio and video editing. At 19, he’s already writing web applications. I do wonder what the next generation of 19 year olds will do… produce and sell their own next-gen videogames?

Before we parted, I made sure to ask him how he was in his love life… something I had picked up bits and pieces of via his blog. He mentioned that he went through a break up a month ago, citing a difference in expectations from both sides. The reason why I’m telling you this is because this is one guy who’s got a bright future ahead of him. Ladies, time to make that call…

Face-to-Face with the RamblingLibrarian and VanTan

Kevin meets RamblingLibrarian and VanTan

Yesterday, I had an interesting chat with Ivan Chew (aka RamblingLibrarian) and Vanessa Tan (aka VanTan), both pretty well-known in their circles and both recently dubbed “gahmen” bloggers by The Straits Times.

I’ve had video iChats with Ivan before, so I knew what he was like. He’s a tall, charismatic bloke who loves sharing his joy of librarianship. I knew Vanessa as a web designer by profession, and she came across as fierce-looking at first, but turned out really witty and animated once you get to know her. Both were astute individuals who had an equally humble nature to them.

From our conversation, I had a stimulating time understanding the Singapore blogosphere, specifically from the “civil servant” perspective. Most of us might think that being civil servants, they have simply signed their allegiance with the government… end of story. Little do we realize that these bloggers are a special breed of people who understand the common folk, and take it upon themselves to do what they can to make our lives better.

There was something magical which brought people like them together… their personal mantra to help make the government more accessible to the Singaporean citizen. I call them the unsung heroes because they champion civil causes within their organizations that go beyond the call of duty or even traditional KPIs (Key Performance Index), a rampant (sometimes irrelevant) measure for corporate success. By quietly using social tools such as blogs and forums, people like Ivan and Van literally bridge the government with their citizens, by giving their own agencies an approachable face for ideas, suggestions or complaints. Beyond that, they see people, not numbers, and as such they can often understand issues from the layman’s perspective.

However, as with most bureaucracies, their jobs can be tough since their efforts can sometimes fall on deaf ears. While many might have grown tired and given up on their ideas, an interesting anecdote involved a particular civil servant who remarked that “change at present was almost impossible, but he was gonna stick around till he’s promoted high enough so he can kick things into high gear”. This kind of attitude is almost un-Singaporean, and I was truly amazed that we actually have such people within the government. This form of selflessness is something I really respect.

There are around ten of these government-related bloggers in Singapore, most of them have blogged out of their own accord while being wary not to publish anything internal to their respective organizations (as bounded under the Official Secrets Act). Next time, I’ll be talking more about the three types of gahmen bloggers I’ve seen so far…

Update: My blog radar has detected several incoming links to this post, the most interesting of which is a discussion of the “civil servant mentality” over at the Singapore Palm User Group (SPUG) forum. That forum’s been around like forever man… I used to be an owner of the Palm III with that detachable keyboard and Kodak Camera add-on!