Friday, December 31, 2010

Jan 1, 2011

Is that a Govt press release? Claus it is

Forget humdrum news, ICA issues offbeat media releases to get attention

ICA's head of public and internal communications Chia Hui Keng (third from left) with her team (from left) Kong Yong Sin, Pricilia Peh, Nazeera Ibrahim, Serene Wong and Brenda Tham. The corporate communications department is making an effort to spice up its press releases to get the attention of editors and journalists. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

YOU better watch out, you better not try, you better not hide, I'm telling you why: ICA and Customs are checking you down.

You might be forgiven if you thought that verse, sung to the tune of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, was a song for the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) Christmas party or even some blogger having a bit of fun.

But it is actually part of an official ICA media release announcing real news.

Titled A Christmas Carol Dedicated To The Smugglers, it was sent to the different media outlets on Christmas Eve to announce the capture of a man who tried to smuggle $1,600 worth of duty-unpaid liquor into Singapore.

Although it is far from the sort of thing one would expect from a government agency, ICA's corporate communications department has developed something of a reputation for offbeat press releases.

It takes the effort to spice it up, the authority says, to attract attention.

Ms Chia Hui Keng, ICA's head of public and internal communications, said: 'Our target audience are the journalists and editors. And we want to make sure they notice our release.

'So we make sure we have a captivating title and we try and use a story to lead into what we want to say.'

And it certainly seems to be working. She says that nearly all of its four to six releases a month get some sort of media coverage.

Indeed, in a sea of otherwise similar sounding formal press releases, ICA's carols and catchy headlines stand out.

Last month, when two men were caught trying to sneak out of Singapore in the luggage compartment of a bus, the press release that announced it featured a picture of them in the compartment with the caption: 'Chassis class sleeper costs $700 per person.'

The two had allegedly paid $700 each to an agent for the trip out of Singapore.

During the last Chinese New Year, when two large caches of contraband cigarettes were discovered at the checkpoints, ICA put out a press release entitled Double Prosperity.

'We've actually got good feedback from newspaper editors and other corporate communications officers. It's very encouraging,' said Ms Chia.

The light-hearted style of the releases began seven years ago, when former ICA communications executive Chia Wei Kiang decided to try something different.

The 36-year-old, who now works at the Permanent Resident Services Centre, said he often found himself bored while reading releases. 'I thought for what we wanted to say, it was going to take more effort. Thankfully, the bosses were very supportive,' he said.

The Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts does not have specific guidelines on how press releases should sound.

However, not all press releases can be fun, and not all ideas are approved.

On Wednesday, they issued a release on the implementation of a double-barrelled race option. 'We had an idea to start with a story but in the end, for a serious topic like that, we decided to play it straight,' said Ms Chia.


Mr Chang C.L.


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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Teaching in a robot fashion South Korea's remote teaching scheme scores with pupils



Dec 29, 2010

Teaching in a robot fashion

South Korea's remote teaching scheme scores with pupils

Robots with human faces started teaching children English at elementary schools in Daegu city on Monday, in a pilot scheme bankrolled by the Korean government to the tune of $1.7 million. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL: Avatar has come to the classroom.

A South Korean city has begun a pilot project in which robots controlled by teachers based in the Philippines are teaching English to youngsters.

The white, egg-shaped robots called EngKey, developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (Kist), began teaching classes on Monday at 21 elementary schools in the south-eastern city of Daegu, in a project designed to give greater prominence to the nation's nascent robotics industry.

The 29 robots, each about 1m high, have a screen displaying the likeness of a Caucasian woman where the 'face' should be. They wheel around classrooms speaking to pupils, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their heads and arms.

They are controlled remotely by English teachers in the Philippines, who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.

Cameras detect the Filipino teachers' facial expressions and instantly reflect them on the avatars' faces, said Kist senior scientist Sagong Seong Dae.

'Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including in South Korea,' he added.

Apart from reading books, the robots also sing songs and play alphabet games with the children, in accordance with pre-programmed software.

Ms Kim Mi Young, an official at the Daegu City Education Office, said: 'The kids seem to love it since the robots look, well, cute and interesting. Some adults have also expressed interest, saying they may feel less nervous talking to a robot than to a real person.

'Having robots in the classroom makes the pupils more active in participating, especially the shy ones who are afraid to speak out.'

'It is awesome and interesting,' said Sim Geun Hae, a third-grade pupil who was in the demo class. 'I felt that I could learn English better.'

Ms Kim said some of the robots may be sent to remote rural areas of South Korea, which are shunned by foreign English teachers. She said the robots are still being tested, but officials might consider using them full time if scientists upgrade them to make them easier to handle and more affordable.

She stressed that the experiment was not meant to replace human teachers with robots: 'We are helping to upgrade a key, strategic industry, while boosting the children's interest in what they learn.'

The four-month pilot programme was sponsored by the government, which invested 1.58 billion won (S$1.7 million) in it. The robots cost 10 million won each.

Since last year, scientists have been holding pilot programmes in schools involving the development of robots to teach English, mathematics, science and other subjects at different levels.


Sent from CCL's iPhone4

Monday, December 27, 2010

Travel tips for the festive season


Home > Singapore > Story

Dec 25, 2010

Travel tips for the festive season

EXPECT heavy traffic and delays at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints until Dec 27, and from New Year's Eve to Jan 3, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) in a statement this week. It offered these tips:

  • Avoid driving during these peak periods, if possible.
  • Maintain lane discipline at checkpoints.
  • Ensure you have your own passport. The ICA has found several instances of travellers presenting the wrong passport.
  • Check the traffic conditions at the checkpoints before heading out by calling the traffic information hotline on 6863-0117 or getting traffic updates on the radio or

    Planning to stay out late on New Year's Eve? Here are some timings for the last trains and feeder bus services:

    North-South Line

  • Marina Bay (north-bound): 1.55am
  • Raffles Place (north-bound): 1.57am
  • City Hall (north-bound): 2am
  • City Hall (south-bound): 1.48am

    East-West Line

  • Raffles Place (east-bound): 1.57am
  • Raffles Place (west-bound): 2.02am
  • City Hall (east-bound): 2am
  • City Hall (west-bound): 2am

    North-East Line

  • HarbourFront (north-bound): 2.06am
  • Punggol (south-bound): 1.38am

    Circle Line

  • Dhoby Ghaut (to Marymount): 2.05am
  • Marymount (to Bartley): 2.17am

    Feeder services from some bus interchanges

  • Woodlands: 2.45am
  • Sembawang: 2.50am
  • Choa Chu Kang: 2.55am
  • Yishun: 2.55am
  • Bukit Batok: 3am

  • --

    Mr Chang C.L.


    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    The road to creativity

    ST Forum


    Dec 20, 2010

    The road to creativity

    MR TAN Jiaqi's letter ('No template for creativity'; last Saturday) makes the excellent observation that the considerable absence of creativity among Singaporeans stems not merely from the pressures within classrooms but also from our socio-economic circumstances.

    Far from being an exclusive Singaporean problem, educators around the world are beginning to recognise that a system that emphasises rote learning and the regurgitation of information in tests stifles young minds and limits the application of creative methodologies.

    The situation is far more pronounced in Singapore - with our limited manpower - where parents' and students' expectations are premised on the need to be economically productive, fuelled by materialism and pragmatism.

    Conformity is encouraged from the moment a child enters primary school. Not only are children exposed to standardised assessments and pressures, but they are also forced to go through a framework which places disproportionate emphasis on rigid teaching-learning processes.

    Our society treats differences with disdain and expects everyone to turn out exactly the same. The message we should stress is this: Not every child is meant to be an academic, and so should not be trained or educated as one.

    The problem is compounded when education is seen merely as a means to an end - the end being landing a good job and enjoying the comforts brought by material gains.

    Co-curricular activities and leadership avenues are there to help students further their interests, but many have become obsessed with beefing up their portfolios to 'look good' in scholarship and college applications. Even something like community service has been abused for personal, pragmatic purposes.

    Creativity can be nurtured only by giving a child the space and freedom to pursue his strengths, and interest himself in endeavours or areas that he is passionate about and talented in. An educational institution's role should be to equip the student with the right skills to achieve his dreams and aspirations.

    Kwan Jin Yao



    Mr Chang C.L.


    Sent from CCL's iPhone4

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    Ugly side of cheap mole removal

    Dec 18, 2010

    Ugly side of cheap mole removal

    It may cost as little as $5, but MOH says some need to be examined in case they are cancerous


    SOME beauty outlets are offering to remove moles for as little as $5. But the Ministry of Health (MOH) has this advice: Be careful.

    It says the public should undergo treatment only with registered doctors operating within licensed health-care institutions.

    'Some moles may need to be properly examined and diagnosed to ensure that they are benign,' a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times.

    He cautioned that, depending on the size, location and type of mole, removal could require the specialised clinical skills of a medical practitioner.

    But this has not stopped a rash of outlets in Housing Board estates from offering such services.

    Some - like those in the Bugis area - even operate at roadside stalls under a tent-like structure.

    These procedures - which cost upwards of $150 when done at the National Skin Centre (NSC) and about $800 when done by a plastic surgeon - range from $5 to about $40 a mole at beauty outlets.

    Administrative assistant Elaine Wee, 28, got six moles on her face removed in a single sitting earlier this year at a beauty salon in Albert Street. The cost: A mere $25.

    The salon, House De Beauty, even extended a seven-day guarantee on the removal.

    She was told the salon would remove them again for free if they grew back within that time. To sweeten the deal, she even got a 'buy five get one free' discount on the procedure.

    Beauty salons typically either remove moles with a 'burning' instrument or with liquid acid.

    The burning method, known as electrocautery, involves destroying tissue by converting an electrical current to heat. A metal probe, which is pressed onto the mole, destroys the tissue.

    The other method uses trichloroacetic acid, which is caustic and destroys skin tissue when applied.

    Beauty salons The Straits Times spoke to said the procedure takes about 10 minutes. The area treated will darken and form a scab that falls off within several days.

    The low price was an attraction for Ms Wee, who said she had expected mole removal to be much more costly.

    'I was not too worried about the risks because my friends went for it first and the results were good,' she said. 'Previously, my moles could be seen in photographs. Now my face looks cleaner.'

    Moles develop when cells called melanocytes - which give skin its colour - grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. They can occur at any stage in life and are usually harmless.

    However, doctors warn that such treatments may not be permanent - they could leave behind some cells that could later lead to a recurrence.

    This could be especially dangerous if the moles are malignant.

    Dr Chua Sze Hon, a senior consultant dermatologist at the NSC, said: 'If the mole is cancerous and is not fully removed, subsequent removal will be more difficult because the recurrent cancer may have spread wider and deeper.

    'In addition, if melanoma is disrupted without fully removing it, there will be an increased risk of the cancer spreading to the rest of the body via the bloodstream and lymphatics.'

    Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer arising from mole cells. Such cancer growths must be removed by more aggressive methods, such as surgery, to ensure that the disease does not spread.

    At the NSC, patients seeking mole removal are examined to check if the mole is cancerous. Only dermatologists are trained to do this, said Dr Chua.

    Superficial light brown moles can be removed with a laser machine and larger, protruding ones via surgery. Both procedures can be carried out only by qualified medical professionals.


    Mr Chang C.L.


    Sent from CCL's iPhone4

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Malaysia summons Singapore diplomat

    Dec 15, 2010
    Malaysia summons Singapore diplomat
    KL issues protest note to express 'displeasure' over alleged remarks by S'pore officials revealed by WikiLeaks
    By Elizabeth Looi, Malaysia Correspondent
    KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia yesterday handed a protest note to Singapore to express 'displeasure' over criticism of the country by the Republic's officials as revealed by WikiLeaks last week.
    Foreign Minister Anifah Aman summoned Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia T. Jasudasen to hand over the official protest note.
    A statement from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry said the note was over 'the unjustified comments made by senior officials of the Singapore Foreign Ministry concerning the leadership of Malaysia and the situation in the country'.
    It added: 'The Foreign Minister also conveyed Malaysia's deep concern and displeasure over the comments as revealed by WikiLeaks and subsequently reported in the media.'
    The statement was the government's first official response since the WikiLeaks revelations were reported by two Australian newspapers.
    In the cables, Malaysian leaders were reportedly labelled as 'incompetent' and Prime Minister Najib Razak said to have been called an 'opportunist'. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was also reported to have commented on opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy charges.
    Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry yesterday confirmed that Mr Jasudasen had received Kuala Lumpur's protest note. It also said that Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo had called his counterpart, Datuk Seri Anifah, and the two men had agreed on the importance of good bilateral relations and strengthening cooperation further.
    The Singapore ministry also said that what Singapore officials were alleged by WikiLeaks to have said did not tally with its own records, and that one purported meeting did not even take place. It did not say which.
    Mr Anifah later told reporters in Malaysia that bilateral ties between the two countries were not affected by the issue, but admitted that it would not benefit both countries.
    'Ties are still good. That is why I said...I took solace in the fact that it was issued only by these officials and not the leaders of the nation,' he was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider.
    But he added: 'But then again, these people should have also taken into consideration the feelings of their neighbours. While it is their prerogative to say so, they must take into consideration their bilateral relationship with their closest neighbours.'
    Datuk Seri Najib has yet to comment directly on the issue, though he appeared to hint at it in a speech on Monday evening. 'We can show to our neighbours, that although sometimes they make disparaging remarks about us, that Malaysians can actually achieve,' he said at a fund-raising event.
    However, Bernama yesterday reported former prime minister Abdullah Badawi as advising Singapore not to make hurtful statements against its neighbours to ensure continued close ties.
    Tun Abdullah, who was asked to comment on the reports, said Singapore should respect Malaysia's sensitivities when making statements and create a win-win situation with its neighbour.
    Meanwhile, the vice-president of Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Mr Tian Chua, demanded an official stand from the Singapore High Commission, in a letter delivered to the commission in Kuala Lumpur.
    'I hope the Singapore High Commission, on behalf of the Singapore Government, will explain to the Malaysian public whether the opinions of its officials as revealed on WikiLeaks reflect the Government's official view on Malaysia,' Mr Chua said in the letter, which was received by the High Commission's first secretary Walter Chia.
    Mr Chua said that despite his differences with ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, he found it 'extremely offensive' when Malaysia's image was tarnished by unverified information from a foreign government. 'This is not just about Anwar Ibrahim, it is about Malaysia, and as a diplomatic protocol, Singapore must respond to our letter,' he said.
    A lawyer representing Anwar yesterday said he has received instructions to file a suit against several newspapers and former premier Mahathir Mohamad for reporting and talking about the ongoing court case, the Malaysiakini news website reported.
    Mr Sankara Nair warned the media of sub-judice in relation to Anwar's trial, and accused the media of relying on hearsay to publish matters that are unsubstantiated.
    PKR lawmaker R. Sivarasa yesterday filed an emergency motion to debate the WikiLeaks issue in Parliament. It is expected to be accepted or rejected by the Speaker when the House sits today.
    Local newspapers also expressed displeasure towards Singapore in their commentaries, but urged both countries to move forward and put aside the alleged comments by Singapore officials.
    'The days of being emotional are long gone. It is time to think strategically for the long term and best interest of Malaysia,' wrote The Star newspaper.
    But Malaysia's biggest English daily also warned Malaysia to 'be more alert when dealing with Singapore'.

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    Mr Chang C.L.


    Sent from CCL's iPhone4

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Growing trend of eating local produce


    Dec 7, 2010

    Growing trend of eating local produce

    Sales up as more buyers trust farmers here; some keen to grow own food


  • COLD STORAGE: Sale of locally farmed fish, eggs and veggies up 30% over the past three years.

  • FAIRPRICE: Demand for local fish and veggies up by about 40%.

  • SHENG SIONG: Sales of local veggies and eggs up by 5% to 10% over the past year.

  • Ms Crane, who founded Locavore Singapore to encourage people to eat local produce, now sells an average of 50 meals a day at her restaurant Dapao. This is up from 20 meals a day when her restaurant serving home-grown food first opened early last month. -- ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

    RECENT food contamination scares have brought Singaporeans' taste buds closer to home as locavorism - a trend in eating locally produced food - takes off here.

    At supermarkets, sales of local produce - mostly vegetables, eggs and fish - have gone up by as much as 40 per cent over the past three years.

    At Cold Storage, the sale of locally farmed fish, eggs and vegetables has increased 30 per cent in that period.

    At FairPrice, demand for local fish and vegetables has increased by about 40 per cent in the past three years.

    And sales of local vegetables and eggs at Sheng Siong have increased by 5 per cent to 10 per cent over the past year.

    Being able to trace the source of the produce is a big factor fuelling the trend, said experts.

    'Talk to anyone, the trust in local produce is increasing in tandem with doubts over imported food,' said senior lecturer Sarah Lim from Singapore Polytechnic's business school.

    The episode involving melamine-tainted milk powder from China, which triggered product recalls worldwide in 2008, still resonates among consumers here, she pointed out.

    'People trust local farmers now. They are starting to question and care about where their food comes from.'

    Mr Allan Tan, former president of the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association, said consumers are also starting to realise that it is a win-win situation.

    'When people buy directly from local farmers, their dollars stay within the local community and strengthen it.

    'It also helps farmers have an income and continue to keep their farms,' he said. 'With more education, maybe more people will think that way and in the long run, Singapore will be more self-reliant when it comes to food.'

    Figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) show that the 54 vegetable farms here harvested 19,584 tonnes of vegetables last year, up from 18,967 tonnes from 65 farms in 2008.

    As for fish, 5,689 tonnes were produced locally last year, up from 5,141 tonnes in 2008.

    For eggs, demand has remained relatively stable. Last year, the five farms here produced 333 million eggs, a dip from 338 million in 2008.

    AVA said all produce from local vegetable and chicken farms is for local consumption while a portion of produce from the fish farms is exported.

    Currently, the local production of fish, eggs and leafy vegetables make up 4 per cent, 23 per cent and 7 per cent respectively of total local consumption.

    AVA hopes to strengthen Singapore's food resilience by raising local production of fish to 15 per cent, eggs to 30 per cent, and leafy vegetables to 10 per cent of consumption here. The Republic imports 90 per cent of the food consumed here.

    Meanwhile, there are other signs pointing to the fact that the locavore movement - a term coined by an American food writer in 2005 - is catching on here.

    The group Locavore Singapore, which was founded in May, already has 200 members. Its founder Christina Crane, 39, owner of Dapao - a restaurant in Amoy Street that serves home-grown food - has seen business expand.

    She sells an average of 50 meals a day now, up from 20 meals a day when she first opened early last month.

    More people are also interested in farming their own food.

    Mr Tay Lai Hock, founder of Ground-Up Initiative, a non-profit organisation that aims to get people to reconnect with land, has attracted 1,000 volunteers since April. These volunteers tend herbs, vegetables and fruit trees at the Bottle Tree Park in Yishun.

    The National Parks Board, which runs the Community in Bloom programme to promote gardening projects, now has 390 community gardens under its belt - up from 100 in 2005 when the project was first launched.

    Consumers like Miss Olivia Choong started going local about two years ago.

    'I don't think it's good to always buy imported food. Eating local food reduces my carbon footprint,' said the 31-year -old, who eats only local vegetables and rears her own egg-laying hens at home.

    'We have a lot of good produce here and I trust our farmers.'

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    Mr Chang C.L.


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    Wednesday, December 1, 2010



    Dec 1, 2010

    Family of drowned expat drops suit

    Relatives of German who died in condo spa pool end High Court case against three parties

    Mr Arndt Starke was stuck to a hole leading to a suction drain in the spa pool (above) at Goldenhill Park condominium. The plastic grates covering it were broken, contributing to a force equivalent to that exerted by 16 people. -- ST FILE PHOTO

    A CHAPTER has closed on the case of a German expatriate who drowned after he was sucked to the bottom of a condominium spa pool exactly four years ago.

    The family of finance director Arndt Starke has ended their lawsuit in the High Court against three parties they held responsible for his death.

    Last year, they sued the management corporation of the Goldenhill Park condominium in Mei Hwan Drive, its managing agent Knight Frank Estate Management and Aquatech Products & Services, which was hired to maintain the spa pool.

    The discontinuation is believed to follow a settlement made on confidential terms in recent months. All three parties could not be reached yesterday.

    One of Mr Starke's two brothers told The Straits Times from Germany that the family took the case to court to raise awareness.

    Dr Henning Starke, a lawyer, said: 'Emotionally, it wasn't a pretty exercise. But I am extremely happy we did it... we tried to add something to the process of changing things in the future.'

    Mr Starke was in the 0.9m-deep condominium spa pool with his fiancee when he drowned on Dec 1, 2006. The 34-year-old fiancee went to restart the system when the spa jets weakened. She returned and saw Mr Starke, who was 2m tall and weighed 88kg, sprawled at the bottom of the pool.

    He was stuck to the hole of a suction drain. The plastic grates covering it were broken, contributing to a force equivalent to that exerted by 16 people.

    A Coroner's Court hearing found no evidence of criminal negligence. But the Starkes remained unconvinced, and sued the parties in court.

    The freak incident raised questions on the safety of spa pools. In May this year, a national standard to make aquatic facilities safer and cleaner for use was launched.

    Dr Henning Starke, 45, said the family is not in contact with his brother's fiancee, who was so traumatised she underwent psychiatric treatment in Germany after the death.

    It is not easy for the family members either, but they try to focus on fond memories of Mr Starke instead of his tragic end. He is also survived by another brother, Dr Jochen Starke, 40, and his mother, Madam Ursula Starke, 73.

    Said Dr Henning Starke: 'We even make jokes about what he would have done or said in a certain circumstance. So he is definitely present. But of course, on a day like the (death) anniversary, he is more absent than present.'


    Mr Chang C.L.


    Sent from CCL's iPhone4