Singapore residents have free access to the print version of The Straits Times (Singpass or NLB account)

If you need to read a premium article in the local papers (I.e. paywall), and are a Singapore residents (with SingPass or an NLB account), you can access The Straits Times, The Business and six other SPH publications for free.

The free access was introduced in late April this year during “Circuit Breaker”, the mitigation response to the COVId-19 pandemic. This service was been extended indefinitely.

Just visit this NLB page You can increase the text magnification to a comfortable size.

ST 2 page view

On a related note, NUS staff and students have access to newspaper and media archives in Factiva and Nexis Uni; just look up

Fri 04 Sep 2020: 8.00pm – Woo Chee Yoong shares tales of otters at Kuala Selangor Nature Park

I am really glad to be hosting our Malaysian otter colleague Woo Chee Yoong from Malaysian Nature Society who studies the otters at Kuala Selangor Nature Park. It’s where I first went to see otters in the wild in the early 90’s, and this is still a very important site today.

It’s exciting to be able to showcase otters researchers in Asia. My otter students Tina Liow and Anusha Shivram helped set this up and they get to know Chee Yoong and Annabel Pianzin in the process.

They are keen to visit Kuala Selangor now and we can’t wait to visit once we can.

This is the 4th talk on otters – the third was by Annabel Pianzin from Sabah, while the first two were of otters in Singapore.

Register to join us on Zoom on Fri 4th September 2020: 8.00pm.
WCY Otter Talk Poster Final

That amazing news about the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network

One night in 1990, I trudged in the mud of Lim Chu Kang mangrove and realised it was not as dark as it should be. Walking towards the light, I realised the southern half of that mangrove had been cleared. I would learn later this was for aquaculture, and rue the decision for space was available inland which would have been just as suitable.

Instead a invaluable mangrove visited even by mangrove researchers from around the world had disappeared, just like that. No one had known, nor did anyone speak of it. We’ve been vigilant ever since, grimacing in anticipation of an inopportune interest in that piece of land.

Then came the news in 2017 and 2018 that the mangrove and mudflats at Lim Chu Kang and Mandai had been set aside as nature parks. And now the news in 2020 about the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network. It will take a long time to sink in. Many hands had worked towards this goal over at least three decades, an they hail from many sectors of society: the active activist advocating for the site, the student toiling to build the knowledge their research would contribute, the individual and volunteer who reminded everyone that these sites exist, the managers who had looked after these sites and many a policy minion from behind a desk far from the mud, who all battled to see this day.

Their hearts must have all been gladdened by the news – a network, no less! I hope they took some time to chat with friends and family about the news or just took a break from a typically hectic pace of life to reflect on this wondrous news.


The culmination of all that effort handed baton to current teams from NParks and URA and led by the indefatigable Desmond Lee at MND, to deliver an outcome few would have dreamt about! That tinge of wistfulness and sadness when we talk about the northwest mangroves has suddenly been lifted. We will not pass on a burden of grief to our youth. And everyone can feel proud of this effort of national stewardship which ultimately ensured the conservation of these mangroves and mudflats.

Now conservation requires much more than boundaries, and everyone in various communities still have their work cut out for them. But how wonderful it will all feel now, to work in celebration, without a dark cloud hanging over all of us!

Several old guard have passed on before this news, and they were activists and contributors from our local and international community. I remember them all with gratitude, fondness and love ❤️.

For now, let’s take a deep breath and revel in this news.

Glenn & Neil celebrate on Money FM with interview with Ho Hua Chew (NSS) and Adrian Loo (NParks) with “Sungei Buloh is Growing! ”

Using your iMac camera? A 3rd party 1080p webcam shines a light on your conferencing

I brought my iMac (late 2015) back from work when my MacBok Pro was sent to the shop. Immediately it was clear the iMac camera quality was inferior. Apparently Mac users have been frothing at the mouth for years and that escalated when we all went online and WFH for COVID-19 – especially if your workspace at home is not well lit.

So much so the improved camera on the 2020 iMac is cause for celebration!

If I had to shop for a camera, the options online would have defeated me. Thankfully the department just issued staff with a GSou 1080p T16s webcam which they purchased from the co-op. A quick look online has it on sale for $34. And there are cheaper 1080p cameras for less than $20, if you would care to experiment.

So I added the GSou webcam clumsily on top of the iMac this morning and here is the difference:

iMac (late 2015) 720p (UVC Camera VendorID_1452 ProductID_34065)
GSou 1080p T16s webcam

Although it will break the sleek online of your iMac, add a 3rd party 1080p webcam to improve your appearance during meetings – it will help everyone on your conference too.

Unless you are Deep Throat, and need to embrace the dark.

A peek at Pulau Ubin – sensitising novice visitors with video stories about life there

Pulau Ubin is a truly special place in Singapore with layers of biodiversity, culture, heritage and adventure stories. Since 2014, its role to the Singapore community was enhanced through engagement with various sectors of the community in the Friends of Ubin Network; see the FUN microsite. And since 2015, there is a lovely map!

Since 1998, NUS Toddycats (and its precursor The Habitat Group) introduced members of public to the island through the Pedal Ubin programme. In 2009, all those years of preparation to explain, guide, ensure safety and explore the island was imported into an undergraduate module, LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment.

So twice a year, NUS undergraduates have visited Pulau Ubin to scrutinise the terrestrial habitats on the island and observe birds through bird counts of species and abundance. The class size has varied from 200 at the start to 80+ in recent years. And next Saturday, the 23rd batch visits the island. And typically, for two thirds of them, it will be the first or second time!

This year the students will have move in distanced groups of five, and function more independently of their TAs, in order to avoid congregating, as part of COVID-19 mitigation. We will prepare students with a lab practical to ensure they have a more fulfilling time on the island. they are introduced to the island through maps, photos of avian life and habitats, taught to use a binoculars and we discuss the methods they will use for bird counts.

There are some articles to read, but videos are excellent to sensitise them to several aspects about the island. Several short and good videos have been published about the lure of the kampung feel, nature and various people who work and live in Pulau Ubin. Here I list 14 videos of good quality, all enjoyable, and mostly (11 of 14) less than five minutes long. They were posted online between 2013-2019.

  1. Welcome to Pulau Ubin (Hiking guide; NParks, 2016) [3:59]
  2. Cycling In Pulau Ubin – What to Look Out For (NParks 2016) [4:09]
  3. Pulau Ubin – the last rural land left in Singapore feat Subaraj Rajathurai (The Telegraph 2014) [2:32]
  4. Life on Ubin feat Subaraj Rajathurai (Ethnographica, 2016) [23:29]
  5. The Boat Operators of Pulau Ubin – Heritage in Episodes Season 2 (NHB, 2013) [7:46]
  6. The boatmen of Ubin (Today, 2018) [3:24]
  7. Living in Pulau Ubin till the end – Mr Ahmad Bin Kassim (Today, 2015) [1:02]
  8. Pulau Ubin’s ‘Ah Ma’ (Today, 2015) [1:28]
  9. Pulau Ubin ‘is the place that saved us’ WWII survivor – Ahmad Kassim (Today 2017) [2:06]
  10. The Pulau Ubin Crab Hunter – Satay (Our Grandfather Story 2018) [3:18]
  11. A Day In The Life Pulau Ubin’s Postman – Harom Jomahat (The New Paper 2017) [3:37]
  12. A Journey To Pulau Ubin, In Search Of A Lost Home – Nor Syazwan Bin Abdul Majid (Our Grandfather Story, 2019) [3:20]
  13. Singapore Islands returning home to Pulau Ubin – The Islands That Made Us – Ah Liang (CNA 2019) [10:25]
  14. Pulau Ubin Singapore (Koh Yiwei 2013) [4:26]

I am also glad they will see and hear our iconic and beloved friend of nature, Subaraj Rajathurai, RIP.

SubarajRajathuraiPhoto from The Telegraph (2014) 

“Paul stays at home” is a free illustrated book for children about COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 (May 2020)

I stumbled on this children’s book on the Virology blog after Lekowala pointed me to an article by Vincent Racaniello, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.

Paul Stays At Home

The blog highlights the work of Mexican scientists, story tellers and illustrators – Susana López, Selene Zárate, and Marth Yocupicio and Eva Lobatón, to produce a lovely book. In a lovely gesture to educate kids all over the world, the pdf is available in a few languages and is free to download.


Sat 11 Jul 2020: 11.00am – Annabel Pianzin on “Habitat Choices of Wild Otters in an Oil Palm Dominated Forests in Sabah”

Little is know about the distribution and habitat choice of of wild otters in Sabah, especially in altered forests and oil palm plantations. This information would facilitate wildlife managers in advising managers and owners of plantations about the value of preserving strips of riparian buffers within streams in this landscape.

Such refugia will be critical for buffering the impact of altered landscapes on wild otters and other animals of aquatic ecosystems. So Annabel Pianzin, a Master’s student from the Universiti Malaysia Sabah set out to figure out exactly that!

In the second talk of the series, the Otter Working Group Singapore & IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group are extremely delighted to host Annabel in this Zoom session chaired by N. Sivasothi aka Otterman from NUS.

Annabel will discuss how wild Asian short-clawed otters and smooth-coated otters utilise crucial bankside vegetation along in a palm plantation dominated landscape in the region of the Kalabakan Forest Reserve in Sabah.

See you on Sat 11 July 2020 @ 11.00am! Registration is free, at!

Annabel pianzin

Are you backed-up and protected? Predators are prowling amidst the COVID-19 WFH prey!

In the 80’s and 90’s, many a thesis writer lost their minds after a hard disk crash. Tears would flow freely and those were tough times. On one instance, someone thumped the door of the Ecolab at the Department of Zoology. It was middle of the night but door thumper Adrian Elangovan knew we’d be awake and set me on the problem. It was a PC of a PhD student in a very warm room full of humming equipment, while under-powered air-conditioners creaked in defiance of the though of providing cool air.

Thankfully, it was merely a Windows OS crash, so some commands for the underlying DOS system saved the day! I left him with an F2 key which would back up his wordprocessor files to an external 135MB disk.

No more adventured these days, thankfully, because of cloud storage. This is why all my research students get a Dropbox Pro account once they begin.

Research student folder
Research student’s project Dropbox folder, all synced with me

A new problem has emerged for the times ad its ransomware! An honours student was ransomed but didn’t cough up the required bitcoins. Instead she alerted me to stop sync-ing at my end and to stop my occasional local backup. Her warning delivered, she for Dropbox’s help to recover the most recent healthy version of the file and all was well.

My current cloud and local back up protocol has been in place at least since 2015 which has allowed me to shrug off the sudden death of several overworked laptops and that of a new soldier most recently.

Well, fast forward a few years later and it seems we are still a juicy target in Singapore; just two weeks ago, “Microsoft has warned that Singapore has suffered from more drive-by download attacks [malware insertions] than any other country in the Asia Pacific region in 2019.

While there was a 27% decline in region, “…Singapore experienced a 138.5 per cent rise.” [“Microsoft warns of spike in drive-by download attacks in Singapore,” by Hariz Baharudin, 17 Jun 2020 (link)]

Keir Thomas at MacWorld write recently to remind us of the good news: all this while, macOS has anti-malware protection built in. Go to Apple > About this Mac > System Report > Software > Installations > XProtect – I checked and it had just been updated (30 Jun 2020). Just as well, since ere are always new variants afoot.

macOS antimalware
macOS has anti-malware called XProtect, which gets updated

Now, with lots of us working from home during COVID-19, many of us will fall short of enterprise-level protection and this has surely meant more mischief must be afoot. While government and corporates fight off daily attacks, we need protection too. And not all feel macOS’ XProtect will suffice.

I have been using Sophos’ free antivirus and there is no performance bump on my 32GB RAM Macs. Get this free software if nothing else. And if you feel jittery, the paid plans add further protections including ransomware, and come well recommended by MacWorld.

Sophos Plans
Basics are free, more protection with payment

Mind you, Tom’s Guide and TechRadar Pro and PCMag all say BitDefender, which you can get for an even cheaper price right now.

Do we macOS users need any of it? Attacks are not unheard of, but not common, so it all depends on your appetite for risk, doesn’t it? But before you check out software, let’s attend to some basic settings first.

“Lessons Learnt from the SingHealth Breach” – NUS IT shares highlights

NUS IT sent staff this “Refresher on Security: Lessons Learnt from the SingHealth Breach”. The video provides the highlights and so spares us having to read the Public Report published by the Committee of Inquiry in Jan 2019.

Many important (and surprising) lessons are embedded in this animation, and I congratulated them on producing it for us.

This two minute video is definitely a watchable primer in my “Digital Literacies for the 21st Century” class next year. Students  can watch this and then we shall discuss the wider implications.

Interestingly, at the core of all this are the same old problems because it stems from human behaviour.


In this part of the class I ask students about what they do for passwords and many confess to having just the one to two. And there is no password manager in use by for these folk.

Digital natives may not necessarily be digitally savvy, hence the class.